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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Wins Big in National Elections

TOKYO — Japan's ruling coalition appeared headed to an impressive win in national elections on Sunday in what would represent an endorsement of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's nearly five-year leadership.

A victory would boost Abe's chances of winning another three-year term next September as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. That could extend his premiership to 2021, giving him more time to try to win a reluctant public over to his longtime goal of revising Japan's pacifist constitution.

IMAGE: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gestures after placing rosettes on the names of candidates expected to win the lower house election in Tokyo on Sunday. Issei Kato / Reuters

In the immediate term, a victory likely means a continuation of the policies Abe has pursued in the nearly five years since he took office in December 2012 — a hard line on North Korea and close ties with Washington, including defense, as well as a super-loose monetary policy and a push for nuclear energy.

Japanese media projected shortly after polls closed that Abe's LDP and its junior partner, Komeito, might even retain their two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament.

In unofficial results in the early hours of Monday, the ruling coalition had won 312 seats in the 465-seat lower house, exceeding a two-thirds majority at 310, and other parties had 143 seats, the Japanese public broadcaster NHK said. Final results may not be tallied until Monday.

Abe's ruling coalition already has a two-thirds majority in the less powerful upper house. Having the supermajority in both houses gives them virtually a free hand in pushing even divisive policies and legislation.

Abe's support ratings had fallen to around 30 percent in the summer after accusations of government favoritism to people connected to him, sparking talk that he might be vulnerable as leader of his party and prime minister.

Abe dissolved the lower house less than a month ago, forcing the snap election. The lower house chooses the prime minister and is the more powerful of the two chambers of parliament.

Analysts saw Abe's move as an attempt to solidify his political standing at a time when the opposition was in disarray and his support ratings had improved somewhat.

Abe's party and its nationalist supporters have advocated constitutional revisions for years. They view the 1947 constitution as the legacy of Japan's defeat in World War II and an imposition of the victor's world order and values. The charter renounces the use of force in international conflicts and limits Japan's troops to self-defense, although Japan has a well-equipped modern military that works closely with the United States.

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Any change to Japan's constitution, which has never been amended, requires approval first by two-thirds of parliament and then in a public referendum. Polls indicate that the Japanese public remains opposed to amendment.