The Reaction to Japan’s Election Results

Results for Japan’s snap election are in: The ruling coalition, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, won by a landslide, capturing 291 parliamentary seats. What happens now that the LDP has a new mandate is up for debate. While Abe justified the move as asking for a renewed public mandate for Abenomics and to delay his planned tax increase, observers speculate that Abe will use his new mandate to instead strengthen Japan’s use of military force in its constitution.  

Japan Observers Speculate On What the Election Results Mean for Japan
Financial Times reports that the election has bought the party four additional years before the next big election, which would make Abe one of the longest serving prime ministers in the post war period. The ruling coalition can use this time to push through tough structural reforms in agriculture and in industry.
Source: Financial Times

Brookings Provides its Take
Mireya Solis of the Brookings Institution discussed the election results in a new Bloomberg interview. She notes that half of the voters did not show up because it was not clear to voters why the election was necessary and that there were no alternatives to the LDP. The LDP message that there is no other alternative is true: No other party had any viable ideas, according to Solis. She said Abe must restart the economy, and beyond the three-pronged Abenomics approach there are many other projects, including womenomics. 

Demographics is a main economic concern in Japan. The population is going to decrease and is aging fast. But Japan’s strength is its human capital and much of the labor force is very talented and underutilized women, according to Solis. In a strategy called “womenomics,” the government is encouraging women to enter the workforce by making it easier to also raise families as a working mother. Recent studies, which the Abe administration has noted, show that increased female employment also increases fertility rates as income increases. But it only works if men help out with house chores, so a change in culture will be necessary. 

Another economic opportunity under consideration is increasing flexibility in labor markets to avoid the dual system of part timers without training opportunities and the full timers who have strong job security. Japanese domestic demand is also fragile. A generation of Japanese has grown up during deflation, and the expectation was that prices would go down. As prices go up without an increase in pay — which has been the story recently — people will not consume. Also, the energy bill has gone up significantly. In their pocketbook, so most people are not feeling the benefit of Abenomics.
Source: Bloomberg

The Guardian reports that a day after the election Abe signaled his intent to change the U.S.-authored constitution. He seeks to remove what he sees as unfair restraints on Japan’s military nearly 70 years after the war. Abe promised that he would seek public understanding as he pushes forward. His move has angered China, which promises to closely watch Abe’s security policy. Japan’s relations with China have deteriorated amid a dispute over sovereignty of the Senkaku islands and attempts by Abe to sanitize the record of Japanese troops in China and other parts of the Asian mainland before and during the war.
Source: The Guardian 

What Does it Mean for the United States?
The White House congratulated Abe for his win, calling the U.S.-Japan alliance a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, and citing examples in which Japan has stood side by side on international issues ranging from the Ebola crisis to counter terror operations against ISIS. According to the Associated Press, the United States would welcome a stronger Japanese military to allow the country to share more of the military burden of their alliance. 

The Washington Post reports that Abe’s victory is mostly good news from the U.S. perspective — the LDP lost in Okinawa, where the hosts of the U.S. largest military base want the base closed. Located in a populous area, there has been a movement to move the base to a less populous area farther north. But political resistance to opening a new air force base may have been strengthened by LDP’s loss on the islands.
Source: Washington Post (1,2)