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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Abe Vows to Seek Consensus on Constitution After Election Win

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe speaks at the headquarters the Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo on October 23, 2017, a day after parliamentary elections that saw Mr Abe's ruling coalition retain its two-thirds majority. Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe speaks at the headquarters the Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo on October 23, 2017, a day after parliamentary elections that saw Mr Abe's ruling coalition retain its two-thirds majority. Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg

A day after a landslide election victory, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe pledged on Monday to seek a broad consensus on revising the country's 70-year-old pacifist constitution and to prioritise spending on education over balancing the budget.

Mr Abe, 63, saw his ruling coalition retain its two-thirds majority in the 465-member lower house on Sunday, bolstering his chances of staying in office until 2021. While the margin of victory makes it easier to change the constitution, any shift could spark unease in China and South Korea, where memories of Japan’s past aggression run deep.

“This was the first election in which we made constitutional change a main pillar of our policy platform,” Mr Abe said. “We want to consider a revised draft within the party” and “make efforts to build a broad agreement among ruling and opposition parties”.

Mr Abe's ruling coalition also campaigned on promises to invest more heavily on education and childcare, aimed partly at encouraging more women to join the workforce.

While the economy has been recovering gradually under the "Abenomics" policies introduced by Mr Abe after he swept to power in 2012, sluggish wage growth has held back consumer spending and inflation. At the same time, corporations are facing labour shortages because of the low birth rate and fast-ageing population.

Mr Abe said he would go ahead with a planned sales tax hike to 10 per cent from 8 per cent in 2019 and use some of the revenue to create a "social security system for all generations", by diverting the funds to education instead of paying down public debt.

He promised to offer free preschool for all children aged three to five and for children aged two or below from low-income households, as well as free higher education for low-income households.

"The key to Japan's sustainable growth is how we respond to ageing of the population, which is the biggest challenge for Abenomics," Mr Abe said.

He said he would continue to press Japanese firms to spend their record cash piles on boosting employee wages to stoke growth.

Unofficial vote tallies on Monday showed Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party winning 284 seats and its coalition partner Komeito taking 29 — roughly similar to the split after the 2014 election. Five parties and independents took the rest. Two seats had yet to be called.

Meanwhile, a rapidly weakening typhoon Lan made landfall in Japan on Monday, setting off landslides and flooding that prompted evacuation orders for tens of thousands of people, but then headed out to sea after largely sparing the capital.

Four people were reported killed, hundreds of plane flights cancelled, and train services disrupted in the wake of Lan, which had maintained intense strength until virtually the time it came ashore west of Tokyo in the early hours of Monday.

Rivers burst their banks in several parts of Japan and fishing boats were tossed up on land. A container ship was stranded after being swept on to a harbour wall but all 19 crew members escaped injury.

Some 80,000 people in Koriyama, a city 200 kilometres north of Tokyo, were ordered to evacuate as a river neared the top of its banks, Japanese broadcaster NHK said, but water levels began to drop by the afternoon.