Jul 23, 2013

    Abe vows to stay on the money

    JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, fresh from a strong election victory, vowed yesterday to stay focused on reviving the stagnant economy and sought to counter suspicions that he might shift emphasis to his nationalist agenda.

    The victory in Sunday's Upper House election cemented Mr Abe's hold on power and gave him a stronger mandate for his prescription for reviving the world's third-biggest economy.

    But, at the same time, it could give lawmakers in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), some with little appetite for painful but vital reforms, more clout to resist change.

    "If we retreat from reforms and return to the old LDP, we will lose the confidence of the people," Mr Abe told a news conference.

    He emphasised that his priority continues to be proceeding with his "Abenomics" programme of hyper-easy monetary policy, government spending and economic reform, describing it as the cornerstone of other policy goals.

    "It is not easy to overcome 15 years of deflation," he said. "It is a historic project. We will concentrate on that. We won't be able to strengthen the financial base for social security without a strong economy. The same goes for security and diplomacy."

    The LDP and its coalition partner, New Komeito, won 76 of the 121 seats contested. Along with seats that weren't up for election, the bloc now has a commanding 135 seats in the 242-seat upper chamber.

    It ends a parliamentary deadlock that began in 2007 when Mr Abe, then in his first term as premier, led his party to a humiliating Upper House defeat that later forced him to resign.

    Since he stormed back to power with a big win in the December Lower House polls, some - including Japanese businesses with a big stake in the matter - have worried that the hawkish leader will shift focus to the conservative agenda that has long been central to his ideology.

    That agenda includes revising the post-war pacifist Constitution, and strengthening Japan's defence posture.

    For now, many experts suggest, Mr Abe will stick with economic matters as he tries to beef up his so-far disappointing economic-reform plans.

    "My understanding is that Abe-san has three faces: Abe as a right-winger, Abe as a pragmatist, Abe as the economic reformer," said Dr Shinichi Kitaoka, president of the International University of Japan. "He has been showing the third face so far and will try to do the same after the election."