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    Dec 15, 2014

    Abe's polls win marred by low voter turnout


    JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition cruised to a big election win yesterday, but feeble turnout could weaken his claim of a mandate for policies including reflationary steps to revive the economy.

    Most media exit polls showed his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner, the Komeito party, winning more than 317 seats in the 475-member Lower House, enough to maintain its "super-majority" that aids parliamentary business.

    But many voters - doubtful both of the premier's "Abenomics" strategy to end deflation and generate growth, and the opposition's ability to come up with a better plan - stayed at home, putting turnout on track for a record low, interim figures showed.

    Turnout had already hit a post-war record low of 59.3 per cent in the 2012 polls that returned Mr Abe to power for a rare second term on pledges to reboot an economy plagued by deflation and an ageing, shrinking population.

    Hopes for Mr Abe's "Three Arrows" of hyper-easy monetary policy, government spending and reforms such as deregulation were tarnished after the economy slipped into recession in the third quarter, following an April sales tax rise.

    He decided last month to put off a second tax hike to 10 per cent until April 2017, raising concerns about how Japan will curb its huge public debt, the worst among advanced nations.

    "I worry that Japan's public finances will get even worse," said 38-year-old Tokyo voter Akihiro Fujihara. "I wish there was a party out there that would come up with actual proposals to make Japan a better place to live."

    The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was unable to gain much traction, largely due to voters' memories of a 2009-2012 rule plagued by policy flip-flops, infighting and three premiers in three years.

    Exit polls showed the DPJ gaining from the 62 seats it held before the vote, but falling well short of the 100 seats it had unofficially targeted.

    Mr Abe called the election in a bid to strengthen his grip on power before tackling unpopular policies such as restarting nuclear reactors taken offline after the 2011 Fukushima disaster and a security policy shift away from post-war pacifism.