Shinzo Abe has declared victory in Japan’s national elections with polls indicating his party has won a majority of seats in the upper house of Parliament, and is now set to become the country’s longest-serving prime minister.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won 71 of the 124 seats in the 245-member House of Councillors, according to public broadcaster NHK, falling short of the super majority required to complete its longstanding goal of changing the county’s pacifist constitution.
The Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), the main opposition body, won 53 seats, according to NHK.
“I would like to express my gratitude to the voters,” said Abe in a press conference, Monday afternoon. “This is a choice about the political stability and chaos. We asked the voters to choose between these two options and many people listened to our speeches on the streets.”
Abe laid out a variety of challenges his party intends to tackle during the next term, including social security reforms, free education, strengthening the economy, and addressing the aging population and shrinking workforce.
Sunday’s result leaves Abe with a clear majority in both houses of Parliament, following a landslide win in the lower house in 2017. However, Abe failed to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution – a signature goal for which Abe has set a 2020 deadline.
“In this election, the constitutional amendment was also a big issue — it will be finally determined by the national referendum,” Abe said on Monday, calling the two-thirds requirement “a very tall order.”
“The people of Japan will have a final say on this matter.”
He added that the LDP has already drafted an amendment proposal, but that they will pursue further discussion to win support from the opposition parties.
The LDP’s strong performance in the election will disappoint the opposition, which is still struggling to form a coherent anti-LDP coalition, and those who hoped to see greater gender balance in the second chamber. A record number of women ran for election this year, but the LDP fielded comparatively few female candidates to its left-leaning rivals.
Ahead of Sunday’s vote, Waqas Adenwala, an analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), said the LDP’s popularity had been boosted by a fractured opposition and the party’s “successful track record of economic and political stability.”
Opposition parties have attempted to balance the dominance of the LDP, which has been in power since 2012, by fielding so-called unified candidates in an attempt to not split the vote, but this appears to have had a limited effect.
Japanese politics is still dealing with the Democratic Party’s disintegration. The onetime opposition party split for good in 2017 after years of turmoil, into the right-wing Party of Hope, led by Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, and the CDP. Both failed to make gains in that year’s general election, splitting the anti-LDP vote and leaving Abe more powerful than ever.
Although Abe has won the general election, the lack of a two-thirds majority will make it difficult for him to achieve a longtime goal of changing the country’s post-WWII constitution, which contains language that bans the country from maintaining armed forces.
Japan’s current constitution came into effect in 1947 after its defeat by allied forces in World War II. Article 9 of the document says that “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential will never be maintained.”
Despite this, Japan maintains a large military known as the Self-Defense Force. Abe and other supporters of constitutional change argue there is a contradiction between the constitution and the existence of the SDF.
To call a national referendum on amending the constitution, Abe needed a two-thirds majority in both houses. Not only did he fall short, but “polls suggest that the public remains mostly unconvinced about the need to amend the constitution, which is seen as less of a priority,” said Adenwala.
“This will make it hard for Abe to eventually amend the constitution, as the public may not approve of the proposal in a referendum,” the analyst said.