The Japanese keep trying to be up to date, even in a political system that hasn’t changed much since the post-World Occupation period of the 1950s and ’60s.
Candidates in Sunday’s House of Councillors’ election were hot to use social media to bring out the youth vote. One opposition party emphasized running female candidates. Another fielded “experts” who had experienced the social problems it railed against.
Never mind. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling bloc was on track Sunday to retain its majority in the upper house after an election for around the half the seats in the body, local media forecast. No surprise here. Abe is the grandson of a former prime minister and his father also was expected to rise to that position but died prematurely.
The same old same old result would shore up Abe’s ruling coalition ahead of a tax hike later this year and keep alive the prime minister’s plan to amend the country’s pacifist constitution to something that would be more to the liking of his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who had been a wartime official in the Imperial government.
The 64-year-old Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito are forecast to take between 67 and 77 of the 124 seats – about half the chamber — up for election on Sunday, public broadcaster NHK said.
NHK’s projection, based on exit polling and other analysis, came immediately after polls closed at 8pm (1100 GMT).
The two parties control 70 seats in the half of the 245-seat chamber that is not being contested, putting them on track to maintain their overall majority.
Other local media had predicted that forces in favor of revising the constitution, led by Abe’s LDP, were set to win close to 85 of the seats up for grabs,which would give them a “super majority” in the chamber.
Abe, who is on course to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, was widely expected to maintain his majority, mostly due to a lackluster opposition.
Pollsters had suggested turnout could be lower than 50 percent, significantly less than usual.
“I support the current government because I see no alternative,” said Yoshiko Iida, a 45-year-old beauty therapist.
“Opposition parties are woeful,” she told AFP. “I don’t want to leave power to them.”
Susumu Rokkaku, an 85-year-old male pensioner, said: “I voted for an opposition candidate but whoever is elected, nothing will change. I have no expectations.”
“Abe’s strength is largely based on passive support resulting from disarray in the opposition camp and a lack of rivals,” Shinichi Nishikawa, professor of political science at Meiji University in Tokyo, told AFP.
If he wins, Abe should be able to stay in power at least until November when he will break the record of the nation’s longest-serving premiership held by Taro Katsura, a revered politician who served three times between 1901 and 1913.
Abe’s ruling coalition has sought during campaigning to win voter support for a rise in the consumption tax to 10% later this year as part of efforts to ease swelling social security costs in the radically aging country.
He also hopes to secure a two-thirds majority in the upper house to keep alive his plans to amend the constitution’s provisions on the military.
Abe vowed earlier this month to “clearly stipulate the role of the Self-Defense Forces in the constitution,” which prohibits Japan from waging war and maintaining a military.
The provisions, imposed by the United States after World War II, are popular with the public at large, but reviled by nationalists like Abe, who see them as outdated and punitive.
“Since the ruling coalition is widely expected to win the election, attention is now focused on whether the pro-revision forces can win a two-thirds majority,” Nishikawa said.
Any constitutional revision also requires approval in a national referendum. And the voting then, even among voters who gave him the green light this time. could be different.
“I feel a sense of danger in the way the Abe administration is heading,” a retired Tokyo career woman who lives in the nearby mountain area Chichibu told Asia Times. “I have a strong doubt whether Japan needs to amend the constitution. We have to think more carefully on this.”
– With reporting by AFP –