With polls predicting an easy win for PM Abe and his party, some view Sunday’s vote as a move to solidify power.
Media exit polls in Japan point to a commanding victory for Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition in Sunday’s elections.
The vote was dubbed a referendum on the incumbent prime minister’s reflationary recipe for reviving Japan’s economy.
|Notes from the field: Harry Fawcett in Tokyo|
There was a fairly steady stream doing their democratic duty on Sunday – but the sense was of a duty reluctantly performed, among supporters and opponents of Shinzo Abe’s government.
One Abe voter told me he needed to be given more time, but in almost the same breath she said she didn’t believe in Abenomics, and that it was a shame there was nobody else to vote for.
The opposition is so weak and so atomised that Japan’s prime minister knows he can give them a pasting by going to the polls right now.
His economic reforms – Abenomics – have had mixed reviews. The first two phases – fiscal stimulus and monetary easing – do appear to have killed off deflation, even if growth has proved elusive.
But it’s the third “arrow”, structural reform, that is proving the most difficult to fashion.
The industries that have long benefited from Japan’s regulated, protected economy, along with the vast constituency of elderly voters, stand to lose the most. And their friends in Abe’s own party, the LDP, are loathe to back measures that will bring them pain.
The polls show the coalition – Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner Komeito – winning a two-thirds majority in the 475-seat lower house, but with the LDP falling short of such a “super-majority” on its own.
Abe, 60, called the election two years early in order to obtain a fresh mandate for his “Abenomics” strategy of hyper-easy monetary policy, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms after his decision to put off an unpopular sales tax rise next year for fear it would derail a recovery already in doubt.
Abe could use the big win – which appears to have come on the back of rock-bottom turnout – to push ahead with painful economic reforms, analysts say, but might instead turn more attention to his conservative agenda that includes revising Japan’s pacifist constitution to ease limits on the military.
“I have been pushing for Abenomics, the policies designed to create jobs and raise salaries,” Abe told voters in Tokyo’s neon-lit Akihabara electronics district on the eve of the election.
“Japan can be much richer. Please let our coalition have power.”
Despite weakening popularity ratings, a recession and messy campaign finance scandals, the governing coalition was projected to win thanks to Japan’s tendency towards a one-party political system, voter apathy and a lack of viable alternatives.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Tokyo, said the election had been met with confusion rather than enthusiasm.
“A poll showed around 63 percent of voters were baffled as to why this election had to take place, there has been criticism of its cost, and the delays it will cause to government business,” he said.
Abe’s two years in power have been characterised by a bid to reinvigorate Japan’s sagging economy with what he has called the “three arrows” of Abenomics – monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and structural changes.
The policies are aimed at revitalising the economy through lavish injections of cash into the economy, strong public spending and reforms intended to improve the country’s waning economic competitiveness.
Since Abe’s return to power in 2012, share prices have risen and many companies have reported record profits as the Japanese yen has weakened in value, thanks to aggressive monetary easing.
But the economy fell back into recession after a sales-tax increase in April.
Critics say Abe has not been bold enough to take on the vested interests that are the real key to reversing nearly two decades of economic underperformance.