TOKYO, Tokyo province (AFP) – Japan's ruling coalition pledged Monday it would push on with rebuilding the economy and turning the corner on two lost decades after securing a handsome majority in weekend upper house polls.
Party leaders said the victory for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner New Komeito was vindication of his economic policy blitz mixing big stimulus and aggressive monetary easing.
The landslide victory means both legislative chambers are now under government control until at least 2016, unblocking the bottleneck that has hampered legislation for the last six short-term premiers.
It allows Abe to push through painful structural reforms aimed at dragging Japan out of two decades of economic malaise.
The LDP and Komeito now have 135 of the 242 seats in the house of councillors.
The country's main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, has just 59.
Voter turnout was low, at an estimated 52.60 percent, according to Kyodo projections.
There are 242 legislators in the upper house, serving six-year terms. Elections are held for half of the seats every three years.
Although the thumping victory had been expected, investors cheered the outcome, sending the Nikkei index at the Tokyo Stock Exchange up 1.23 percent shortly after the opening bell, although it lost nearly all of that by the lunch break.
LDP leaders pledged the party would speed up decision-making and policy implementation, attempting to dispel speculation that they might shy away from reforming the labour market and removing trade barriers now elections are out of the way.
"Honestly we are grateful for the results," LDP secretary-general Shigeru Ishiba told national broadcaster NHK.
Now that the ruling bloc has control over both chambers, "we will push for politics that can make prompt, appropriate decisions", he said.
Since romping to power in December's vote for the more powerful lower house, the hard-charging Abe has unleashed a wave of spending and pressured the central bank to flood the market with easy money.
Economists are still divided over the long-term merits of Abe's project, dubbed "Abenomics", which comes at the expense of even more state borrowing at a time government debt already stands at more than twice the size of the Japanese economy.
The Nikkei business daily said Abe has an unprecedented opportunity to tackle economic reforms, to deregulate, promote free trade, and to rebuild tattered government finances.
Abe should "focus all of his political capital on the success of Abenomics", the Nikkei said in an editorial.
"We hope this election will become a turning point for Japan to rid itself of two decades of lost economy and politics," it said.
Abe's detractors fear Abenomics is a Trojan Horse aimed at securing the hawkish premier enough power to implement his conservative social agenda.
They fear this will mean a loosening of Japan's constitutional commitment to pacifism, a boosting of the military and a more strident tone in already-strained relations with China and South Korea, both of whom have territorial disputes with Tokyo.