SEOUL — The ruling coalition of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has won control of both houses of parliament, ending years of political deadlock.
Japan's Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, the New Komeito party, won 76 of the 121 contested seats in the upper house. That gives Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition 135 of the 242 seats in the upper chamber.
It is the first time in six years the LDP has a comfortable majority over both houses, raising hopes Abe has the political backing to reform the ailing economy.
Speaking at his party headquarters, Prime Minister Abe warned they would face a backlash if party politicians retreated from reform.
He says they must further speed up the pace of their policies. If they return to the old LDP, that would ignore public opinion or would look to run away from reforms, he says, then they will lose the public's support.
The LDP lost control of Japan's parliament in a 2007 election defeat when Abe was last prime minister. He returned as leader last December after an election victory in the lower house.
Since then, he won praise for the fiscal stimulus policy known as “Abenomics" that lowers interest rates, and increases money supply and government spending. The policy also includes structural reforms, such as deregulation of markets and breaking up monopolies.
But Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Japan, says taking on some big businesses who back the LDP will be more difficult to implement.
“The problem is that those vested interests are very well represented in Mr. Abe's own LDP party," he said. "And, now that the pressure is off, they won big, the chances are they are going to become a bit more complacent about reform. And, they are more likely to defend the vested interests that put them into office. And so, I think one of the big challenges Abe faces is maintaining discipline within the ranks of his own party.”
Many in Japan are also concerned that Abe will push a nationalist agenda, perhaps at the expense of focusing on the economy.
The prime minister is emphasizing the need to protect island territory Japan disputes with China and South Korea. The calls for protecting territorial claims have raised tensions between Japan and its neighbors and worries it could lead to conflict.
Kingston says one reason Abe lost public support from 2006 was his emphasis on nationalist ideology. Unfortunately, he says, although Abe now has the political freedom to try to tone down regional tensions, the Japanese leader appears to be holding firm.
“In fact, after his election victory he is saying, you know, that Japan needs to be a country that protects its territory. So, [it]does not sound like he is offering the 'olive branch' there. And, I think that this is worrying, not only to people in the region, I also think Washington is very concerned that Abe may be a tad too nationalistic and a little bit too provocative,” he said.
More controversially, Abe has made numerous comments playing-down Japan's World War II aggression and atrocities.
His government is also considering the idea of re-writing Japan's pacifist constitution, raising further hackles from neighbors who suffered during the war.