Abe eyes stability in Japanese politics after election

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Wednesday to restore stability to Japanese politics by winning the upper house election later this month, adding he is facing the "last chance" over the next decades to lift the Japanese economy out of its chronic deflation.

In a debate with other party leaders a day before official campaigning commences for the July 21 House of Councillors election, Abe said he will not clarify whether he will visit the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which China and South Korea see as glorifying Japan's militaristic past.

"I will address the twisted relations between the two chambers of parliament by winning the upper house election, and will secure stability in politics," Abe said during the debate organized by the Japan National Press Club, reiterating his strong desire to end the dominance of opposition parties in the chamber.

While the ruling coalition led by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party holds an overwhelming majority in the more powerful House of Representatives, opposition parties control the upper house, making it difficult for the ruling camp to pass legislation.

Half the 242 seats in the upper house come up for grabs every three years. The LDP and its junior coalition partner, the New Komeito party, need to win a total of 63 seats in the election to secure a simple majority, as they have 59 seats that will not be contested this time.

Abe is seeking a public endorsement in the election of his economic policies, dubbed "Abenomics," which are mainly aimed at replacing nearly two decades of deflation with mild inflation.

"I don't want to miss this first and last chance over the next 10 or 20 years to beat deflation," the premier said.

Banri Kaieda, head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, criticized Abenomics, saying, "Prices are increasing as a side effect of the economic policies," and the country must achieve "sustainable economic growth." He pledged to stop the government's policies that "could destroy (people's) lives."

Abe, who took office in December after the LDP beat the DPJ in a general election, underscored his reform initiatives will continue.

He said the government will closely look at economic data for the three months through June and then "decide appropriately" whether it can raise the consumption tax rate from April as planned to enhance fiscal rehabilitation. There is concern that the sales tax increase could hamper efforts to revive the economy.

Abe also said the government will resubmit a bill to the Diet this fall to reform the nation's electricity sector and expose utilities to greater competition. The bill was scrapped with time running out as the parliamentary session came to a close last week.

On relations with China and South Korea, which have been strained over comments related to history by some Japanese lawmakers as well as territorial disputes, Abe apparently chose his words carefully, given that the neighbors, which suffered wartime atrocities by Japanese forces, have been alarmed by the perceived shift to the right in Japanese politics under his leadership.

The prime minister declined to comment on whether he will visit Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II. "Saying whether I will go or not could develop into a diplomatic issue by itself," Abe said.

The Shinto shrine honors convicted Class-A war criminals as well as millions of Japan's war dead.

The pre-election debate was also joined by the head of the New Komeito party, the LDP's junior coalition partner, as well as the leaders of the opposition Your Party, People's Life Party, Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party, Green Wind party and Japan Restoration Party.

Opposition parties are struggling to erode the relatively high public support for Abe's administration.

Japan Restoration Party co-leader Toru Hashimoto, whose recent remarks about Japan's wartime military brothels sparked fierce criticism in Asia and the United States, tried to enhance his reformist image.

While underscoring the need for deregulation to revitalize the Japanese economy, Hashimoto, who doubles as Osaka mayor, said he will "implement truly necessary reforms without fear of criticism."