TOKYO: Japan was voting on Sunday in a snap general election which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has billed as a referendum on his economic policies after the success of his first two years faded as the country slumped into recession.
The premier is seeking public blessing for “Abenomics”—his signature plan to fix the country’s flaccid economy—with observers expecting that an underwhelming and underprepared opposition will be routed.
Opinion polls predict his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner Komeito will sweep the ballot, probably with an unassailable two-thirds majority which would give them the power to override the upper house.
“I have been pushing for Abenomics, the policies designed to create jobs and raise salaries,” Abe told hundreds of voters in Tokyo’s neon-lit Akihabara electronics district on the eve of the election.
“Japan can be much richer,” Abe said, sporting a knee-length white windbreaker emblazoned with his campaign slogan: “This is the only way.”
Abe, 60, was only halfway through his four-year term when he called the vote last month.
The first two of his “three arrows” of Abenomics—monetary easing and fiscal stimulus—have largely hit their targets; the once-painfully high yen has plunged, sending stocks higher.
And prices have begun rising after years of standing still—proof, says Abe, that this is the beginning of a virtuous circle of economic growth, with higher wages soon to follow.
However, a sales tax rise in April snuffed out consumer spending, sending Japan into the two negative quarters of growth that make a recession.
Economists say more important than the temporary highs offered by easy money and government spending is structural reform of Japan’s highly-regulated and protected economy—the third arrow of Abenomics.
Critics say Abe has not been bold enough in taking on the vested interests that are the real key to reversing nearly two decades of economic underperformance.
A four-year mandate from the electorate may embolden the prime minister’s hand and see off opposition from within a vast and ill-disciplined LDP, too often given to bouts of regicide.
But heavy snow across swathes of Japan on Sunday looked set to further dampen enthusiasm among already-uninspired voters, raising fears of a record low turnout.