After win, Abe calls for debate on Japan constitution

An emboldened Shinzo Abe called Monday for debate on Japan's pacifist constitution, which he said it was his "duty" to revise after scoring a strong win in weekend elections. Voters backed the hawkish prime minister, despite a lacklustre economic performance, handing his Liberal Democratic Party and its allies control of more than half of the upper house of parliament. Analysts say with the support of small nationalist parties, Abe may now have the numbers to push through a change to the constitutional bar on Japanese troops waging war. "We have always set a goal of revising the constitution...that is my duty as president," Abe said. "But the party does not have more than two-thirds of seats in both chambers by itself, so I don't expect the draft would pass as is," he said, referring to the parliament's lower house as well, and suggesting compromise was needed. "So I hope debate will steadily deepen." Japan's constitution, imposed by occupying United States forces after World War II, prohibits the use of aggression to solve international conflicts. The provisions are popular in the public at large, but reviled by rightwingers like Abe, who see them as outdated and punitive. The LDP's own draft amendment plan calls for keeping the war-renouncing spirit of the constitution, but wants to remove language it sees as infringing on the country's means to defend itself. Unofficial results from Sunday's vote compiled by media show the LDP and its Buddhist-backed allies, Komeito, now occupy more than half -- at least 147 -- of the seats in the upper chamber of parliament. Full official results are expected Tuesday. With backing from fringe parties that also favour consitutional change, Abe could now have the two-thirds majority that he needs in both houses to push through amy proposal to amend the country's basic law. However, observers point out that corralling support for a revision from its coalition partner Komeito which has traditionally shied away from nationalist posturing could be difficult. - 'Too early' - And the proposal would still face a referendum, with pollsters saying the vast majority of the public are wary of any softening of the country's pacifist stance. The conservative mass circulation Yomiuri Shimbun daily described the expansion of the pro-amendment bloc as "progress" but expressed caution about prospects for change. "It is too early for an amendment proposal to be realistic as opinions on specific revision points vary between parties," it said Monday in an editorial. Abe had soft-pedalled his constitutional ambitions during the campaign, preferring to stress his management of the economy. The 61-year-old was swept to power in 2012 on a promise of kickstarting growth after decades of lassitude and underperformance. But despite massive fiscal stimulus, his "Abenomics" programme has largely failed to deliver, having done little more than weaken the value of the yen -- which is now back on the rise. Voters, meanwhile, appeared to hold out little hope for the dissolute opposition to do a better job, and Abe seems to have benefited from his incumbency and perceived competence. He also garnered support from the young after Japan's voting age was lowered from 20 to 18, with Jiji Press exit polling data showing more than half of votes from those 18 and 19 years of age went to the ruling coalition. Abe said the election result shows that he has popular support for his economic policies. "I take it as people's strong confidence in Abenomics and for its acceleration." Stocks surged on the election results, with expectations high Abe would unleash yet more stimulus. The Nikkei 225 surged 3.98 percent, or 601.84 points, to 15,708.82, while the broader Topix index of all first-section shares climbed 3.79 percent, or 45.91 points, to 1,255.79. He said he would direct the government's minister in charge of boosting the economy to "prepare economic measures" but did not specify their size.

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