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Japan

Japan PM Shinzo Abe pledges pressure on North Korea after big election win

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition is set for a two-thirds majority in Sunday's election, according to exit polls. Abe says his imminent task is to deal with the crisis over North Korea.

Watch video 02:36

Japan takes cover as N. Korean missile flies overhead

Prime Minister Abe said his victory in national elections had hardened his resolve to "firmly deal" with North Korea after its recent nuclear and missile tests that angered Pacific region neighbors and prompted extra UN sanctions.

"For that, strong diplomacy is required," said Abe, who has courted both US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in past months.

The prime minister had called a snap election in order to strengthen his mandate to deal with threats to Japan, including that of North Korea.

As results emerged, a Cabinet spokesman said Abe and Trump had spoken by telephone and agreed to raise pressure on Pyongyang.

Near complete projections showed Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and junior coalition partner Komeito on course to win at least 312 seats in the 465-seat lower chamber of parliament.

Photographers watch a TV report about exit poll results

Exit poll predictions suggest Abe was justified in calling the election at a time of plummeting popularity

What the result means

The two-thirds majority would allow Abe to proceed with debate he has long sought on amending Japan's post-World War II pacifist constitution.

It also means a likely continuation of the policies Abe has pursued since taking office in 2012, including:

Tokyo's benchmark share market extended its record streak by 1 percent on Monday, reflecting Abe's trademark "Abenomics" strategy of loose monetary policy and high government spending – despite doubts held by many voters.

Abe had vowed to use a planned sales tax hike to fund free child care and thereby encourage more women to enter Japan's workforce.

"I think the results reflected the voters' preference for a solid political foundation and their expectations for us to push polices forward and achieve results," Abe told national broadcaster NHK.

The victory boosts Abe's prospects of securing another three-year term as leader of the LDP next September. This could extend his reign as prime minister until 2021, which would make him Japan's longest-serving head of government. 

Supporters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party attend an election campaign rally

Turnout was just 54 percent as Japan was hit by a typhoon on election day

A weakened opposition

National media such as the Asahi newspaper attributed Abe's win to a weak opposition and lack of convincing rivals. Some 51 percent of voters distrusted Abe, according to a survey run by Kyoto News.

"People are reluctant about Prime Minister Abe, but then who would you turn to? There is no one," said Tokyo Gakushuin University professor Naoto Nonaka.

Heading the opposition with at least 54 seats will be the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) led by former chief Cabinet secretary Yukio Edano.

Tokyo mayor Yuriko Koike addresses crowds on election night

Tokyo mayor Yuriko Koike addresses crowds on election night

Projected to be on 49 seats was the opposition Party of Hope, formed by  Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike only weeks before the poll.

Speaking from Paris, where she was attending consultations between big cities, Koike described her party's result as "very severe" and said she took full responsibility.

ipj/rt  (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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