In a news conference on July 11 after the ruling coalition won over half of the contested seats in the July 10 House of Councillors election, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stayed quietly focused, stating, "It's no time for us to be basking in victory." Yet he appeared confident and relaxed.
Forces open to amendment of Japan's Constitution now have a two-thirds majority in the upper house, just as they do in the House of Representatives, creating a base of unprecedented solidarity for the Abe administration. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) managed to rake in over 20 million proportional representation votes for the first time in 15 years. This was 1.65 million more than during the previous election -- a powerful showing.
There was a hint of elation in Abe's remarks, as he stated that Japan must move forward "more powerfully" with economic and diplomatic policies. "That's the way to respond to the responsibilities the public has charged us with," he said.
It's true that the ruling coalition made great advances in the July 10 election. But when looking at the results in detail, there are some things that it surely cannot be happy about.
For one thing, though candidates for the LDP won 21 of the constituencies where one seat each was up for grabs in the upper house race and lost only 11, this was a far cry from the 29 of 31 such constituencies the party snared in the previous election. It appears that the opposition parties' strategy of avoiding an overlap of candidates in electoral districts with one contested seat each paid off to a certain degree.
The July 10 race was also the first upper house election in which two incumbent Cabinet ministers lost their seats. Ministers were toppled in Fukushima, which suffered a nuclear disaster in the wake of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and in Okinawa, which has been burdened by U.S. military bases. For the Abe administration, these losses would be a serious blow.
Furthermore, in six prefectures in the Tohoku agricultural belt, LDP candidates were defeated everywhere except for Akita. This is likely a sign of farming prefectures' deep mistrust of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, which the government has promoted.
A news conference by Abe left the impression that he sidestepped what he should have talked about. Most of his opening remarks were devoted to economic measures. Talking of "investment in the future," he listed a wide-reaching policy agenda covering infrastructure development, child-rearing, the issue of people without pensions, and student loans and scholarships. However, he avoided talk that would be burdensome for the administration, such as how it will prioritize policies supporting the weak amid a shortage of funds due to the repeated delay in increasing the nation's consumption tax.
Furthermore, Abe did not talk, without prompting, about his desire to alter Japan's Constitution. In a response to a question, he merely repeated, "It is hoped that deliberations will converge in the Commissions on the Constitution of Japan (in the Diet)," and did not attempt to elaborate on the issue.
The prime minister says that achieving constitutional amendment is his "responsibility as head of the LDP." Naturally, careful deliberation is needed in forming public consensus on the issue, and haste ought to be avoided. But at the very least, surely Abe has a responsibility to explain to the people of Japan how he intends to achieve change.
Constitutional revision requires the backing of public opinion. It seems that Abe envisages a scenario in which he will boost public support through economic measures and use that as momentum to fully embark on changes to the supreme law.
If Abe's confidence turns into arrogance, public trust will recede. He should frankly discuss the pros and cons of constitutional change. Precisely because the ruling coalition has overwhelming strength in the Diet, we hope to see it run the administration with humility.