Shinzō Abe received a vote of confidence on Sunday when his party came out the big victor in local assembly elections in Tokyo. The victory could bode well for his Liberal Democratic Party’s chances in key national elections for the upper house of parliament next month.
Sunday’s election to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly is viewed as an endorsement for Abe and his reform plan. His party gained twenty seats after the vote. In alliance with the conservative New Komeito, it now holds a comfortable majority. Both parties had all of their candidates elected.
The outcome is especially important in light of Abe’s legislative goals and the Liberal Democrats’ control of the lower house of parliament. If the party takes control of the upper house, the prime minister will be given a freer hand to pass structural economic reforms he believes are necessary to spur economic growth. He has also said he wants to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution to allow the military to participate in more overseas missions.
The opposition Democratic Party took a heavy hit, coming away with just fifteen seats. It is now the fourth largest in the assembly behind the Japanese Communist Party which doubled its seats. With 43 seats before the vote, the Democrats continue to suffer from Yoshihiko Noda’s failure as prime minister last year.
The Tokyo election was the first major election since Abe assumed office in December on a promise to reform the economy. The three arrows of what has been dubbed Abenomics consist of fiscal stimulus, monetary stimulus and a restructuring of the economy. Abe has announced a fiscal stimulus plan worth ¥10.3 trillion ($116 billion) and the Bank of Japan followed suit with additional monetary easing with its announcement to lift its inflation target to 2 percent.
However, Abe has largely held off in detailing his plan to restructure the economy until after the July upper house elections. Financial markets, worried that the reforms will fall short, have experienced increased volatility with the Nikkei 225 index losing 20 percent of its value from its peak in May. The market reentered bear market territory after many began to openly doubt the government’s seriousness in passing reforms.
Now that Abe has received something of a vote of confidence from voters in the capital, the Liberal Democrats look set to achieve victory in national elections in July as well. The prime minister will then have an opportunity to restructure his cabinet ahead of an unveiling of his restructuring plan.