TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a commanding majority for his party in parliamentary elections Sunday, fueling his hopes of revising the nation's pacifist constitution.
Final results will be delayed until later today because a typhoon that battered Japan on Sunday prevented votes from being counted in 12 precincts. But public broadcaster NHK said Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito together have won 312 seats, two more than needed for a two-thirds majority in the 465-member lower house.
The Constitutional Democratic Party, set up only about two weeks ago, won 50 seats, according to unofficial results. The Party of Hope, started last month by popular Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, won 49 seats, according to the unofficial results. Independent candidates and three other parties took the rest of the seats.
Abe on Sunday deflected questions about his future, saying, "I will humbly face the victory and continue to work humbly and sincerely."
However, he said the victory showed that "the people want us to move forward based on a stable political foundation and achieve results."
The landslide win allows Abe to continue a monetary policy that has boosted Japanese stocks to record highs and helped Asia's second-biggest economy expand for six consecutive quarters. Yet pressure is also growing for Abe to tackle Japan's swollen debt, increase stagnant wages and overhaul the labor market to replenish a rapidly aging workforce.
For Abe, the results were a vindication of his strategy to call a snap election a year earlier than expected, and they created the possibility that he could move swiftly to try to change the constitution to make explicit the legality of the Self-Defense Forces, as Japan's military is known.
The constitution, in place since 1947, calls for the renunciation of war. But Abe said in May that it should be amended to remove any doubt about the military's legitimacy, a view he reiterated Sunday evening.
Amending the constitution requires the support of two-thirds of both houses of parliament. Abe's party and its allies had those numbers before Sunday's elections, but accusations earlier this year of government favoritism toward people connected to the prime minister, along with the public's doubts about a constitutional change, created the possibility that he would lose the supermajority in the lower house.
Even with the votes he needs in parliament, Abe now must convince the public, as any constitutional change needs to be approved by a majority of voters.
Sunday's parliamentary victory could also embolden Abe to run next year for a third term as leader of the Liberal Democrats. If he won and served until 2021, he would become Japan's longest-serving prime minister.
Abe's public approval ratings dipped below 30 percent over the summer as he was dogged by scandal, and opinion polls taken during the campaign found that more voters disapproved of Abe's hawkish strategy toward North Korea than approved of it.
Analysts said Abe's victory did not represent an endorsement of his platform so much as a lack of strong alternatives.
"Abe's reading was right that this was the right timing because the opposition was not ready," said Ichiro Fujisaki, a former Japanese ambassador to Washington. "People have no other choices, really."
SPLITTING THE VOTES
Koike, after starting her own party last month just hours before Abe called the election, probably helped the prime minister by setting off a further split in the opposition.
The leading opposition Democratic Party initially offered to free all of its candidates to run under the banner of Koike's Party of Hope. But after she said she would submit candidates to a litmus test and require them to sign a loyalty pledge, the left wing of the Democrats split off and formed yet another new party, the Constitutional Democratic Party, which gained momentum during the campaign.
After Koike decided not to run for office, voters lost interest.
Koike said she regretted her "choice of words" in excluding candidates from her party, noting that the party was not an alternative but "a target of people's criticism."
"It's a very tough result. We have to analyze the reasons properly," Koike said in a televised interview from Paris, where she is attending a conference on climate change. "But I am sorry that I caused unpleasant feelings through my words and actions."
Analysts said that because Japan's electoral system is based on awarding victories to candidates who get the most votes in a constituency, the proliferation of parties favored the incumbent Liberal Democrats, who have dominated Japanese politics for most of Japan's postwar era.
At a time when North Korean missiles have been flying over Japan and some people worry about the unpredictability of the United States under President Donald Trump, Abe capitalized on voters' desire for stability.
That message resonated with voters like Natsuyo Kobayashi, 38, a caregiver at a center for the disabled. She cast her vote for the Liberal Democratic candidate in Sayama, a suburban town outside Tokyo.
"The LDP has been serving such a long time and knows what to do," Kobayashi said. "And I think Japan should become a country that can protect itself with amending the constitution. Missiles have been flying over, but I don't think the U.S. will actually come to protect us."
With the economy slowly improving, voters also seemed willing to accept Abe's plan to raise a sales tax that he has vowed to use to support child care and offer free university and college tuition.
"Right now, the world and Japanese economy have been recovering, which is good timing for Japan to increase the sales tax," said Eiji Ikebe, 47, a human resources consultant who voted for Abe in the Chofu neighborhood of Tokyo. "The important thing," he added, "is not to create too much confusion and turbulence in politics."
Information for this article was contributed by Motoko Rich of The New York Times; by Isabel Reynolds, Emi Nobuhiro, Jason Clenfield, Takahiko Hyuga, Marika Katanuma, Hiroshi Miyazaki and Yuki Furukawa of Bloomberg News; and by Ken Moritsugu, Mari Yamaguchi and staff members of The Associated Press.
A Section on 10/23/2017
Print Headline: Japan's Abe wins race, seeks charter tweak