Japanese Upper House Election Puts Abe in a Strong Position

Over the weekend, Japan held elections for 124 of the 245
seats in the upper house of Japan’s legislature, the House of Councilors, and
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s political party, the Liberal Democratic Party,
maintained its majority and how holds 113 seats.

Upper house elections in Japan are held every three years,
which means Abe, whose tenure ends in 2021, has faced his last upper house
election.

Elections often prove to be bittersweet affairs for both the
victorious and the defeated. This was certainly the case in Japan on Sunday.
Abe’s coalition looked to stave off opposition, maintain the majority in the
upper house, and more or less guarantee him the title of longest-serving prime
minister in Japanese history.

The election forecast leading up to Sunday had the Liberal
Democratic Party and the Komeito Party, a second member in the prime minister’s
coalition, projected to secure a comfortable
majority
in the upper house. Sources predicted this coalition would secure
more than 70 of the 124 seats being contested. They won 71 seats—easily
allowing Abe to retain his leadership over the Diet.

The Liberal Democratic Party has lost seven seats since the 2016
upper house election
. The Komeito Party has gained three seats, and Japan’s
Constitutional Democratic Party, which is opposed to Abe’s plans for
constitutional reform, is gaining traction, though it’s still in the minority.

Sunday’s outcome was obviously good news for Abe and his
coalition, but it was still shy of securing the two-thirds majority necessary
to pass any reform to Japan’s constitution.

Abe has campaigned on reforming Japan’s constitution since
he came into office and during the 2013
upper house elections
, but has failed to garner significant backing from
the public.

According to recent
polling
, only 32% of voters support the idea of reforming Japan’s
constitution, and 56% oppose it.

Although Abe’s administration has helped to increase
resources for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, Japan’s constitution stipulates it
essentially can have no official armed forces and that it will forever renounce
war as a means to settle international disputes—a condition Abe
would like to see changed
.

In Japan, the upper house is the inferior body of Japan’s bicameral Diet, with the lower house, or the House of Representatives, possessing the power of the veto, jurisdiction over the passage of laws, and formulation of the budget.

Abe’s coalition already holds a super-majority in the lower
house, this power dynamic makes Sunday’s vote more a reflection of the public’s
opinion of Abe and his policies than an opportunity to change the legislative
landscape.

Social security stability, a potential consumption tax
increase, volatile foreign relations, and amending Japan’s constitution were
the issues of
greatest concern
to the Japanese people in these elections, and Abe
campaigned on promises to provide peace and stability.

With the election behind it, the Abe administration now has
a number of politically sensitive issues coming down the pipeline—and fast.

There’s the ongoing dispute between Japan and South Korea
over Japan’s decision to revise its export control laws, as well as other
outstanding historical disputes.

Abe is looking to further increase Japan’s consumption tax
from 8% to 10% later this year, which can be domestically unpopular for an
economy that continues to stagnate and a population that continues to age.

In addition, the U.S. and Japan are looking to enter the
next round of negotiations toward a U.S.-Japan free trade agreement. A possible
reshuffle of the prime minister’s cabinet may be in the works as well, which
could affect how some of these negotiations pan out.

But for now, Tokyo will take some time off from politics.
Much like Washington entering August, the summer season is just beginning for
Japan as leaders return to their hometowns to celebrate the festival of Obon.

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Source material can be found at this site.

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