Abe sweeps to big win in Japan vote

Japan’s Prime Minister and ruling Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe, left, waves to supporters during his last stumping tour for the October 22 general election. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2017
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Abe sweeps to big win in Japan vote

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe swept to a comfortable victory in a snap election Sunday, handing him a mandate to harden his already hawkish stance on North Korea and re-energize the world’s number-three economy.
Abe’s conservative coalition was on track to win 311 seats in the 465-seat parliament, according to a projection published by private broadcaster TBS, putting the nationalist blue blood on course to become Japan’s longest-serving leader.
The comfortable election win is likely to stiffen Abe’s resolve to tackle North Korea’s nuclear menace, as the key US regional ally seeks to exert maximum pressure on the regime in Pyongyang after it fired two missiles over Japan in the space of a month.
Millions of Japanese braved torrential rain and driving winds to vote, as a typhoon bears down on the country with many heeding warnings to cast their ballots early.
“I support Abe’s stance not to give in to North Korea’s pressure,” said one voter, Yoshihisa Iemori, as he cast his ballot in rain-swept Tokyo.
Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) benefitted from a weak and splintered opposition, with the two main parties facing him created only a matter of weeks ago.
Support for the Party of Hope founded by popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike fizzled after an initial blaze of publicity and was on track to win around 50 seats, the TBS projection suggested.
A new center-left Constitutional Democratic Party fared slightly better than expected but was still far behind Abe.
“The LDP’s victory is simply because the opposition couldn’t form a united front,” political scientist Mikitaka Masuyama from the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said.
The short 12-day campaign was dominated by the economy and the global crisis over North Korea, which has threatened to “sink” Japan into the sea.
Nationalist Abe stuck to a hard-line stance throughout, stressing that Japan “would not waver” in the face of an increasingly belligerent regime in Pyongyang.
Despite the saber-rattling from North Korea, many voters said reviving the once-mighty Japanese economy was the top priority, with Abe’s trademark “Abenomics” policy failing to trickle down to the general public.
The three-pronged combination of ultra-loose monetary policy, huge government spending and structural reform has catapulted the stock market to a 21-year high but failed to stoke inflation and growth has remained sluggish.
“Neither pensions nor wages are getting better ... I don’t feel the economy is recovering at all,” said 67-year-old pensioner Hideki Kawasaki.
Although voters turned out in their millions to back Abe, support for the 63-year-old is lukewarm and surveys showed his decision to call a snap election a year earlier than expected was unpopular.
Voter Etsuko Nakajima, 84, said: “I totally oppose the current government. Morals collapsed. I’m afraid this country will be broken.”
“I think if the LDP takes power, Japan will be in danger. He does not do politics for the people,” added the pensioner.
Koike briefly promised to shake up Japan’s sleepy political scene with her new party but she declined to run herself for a seat, sparking confusion over who would be prime minister if she won.
In the end, the 65-year-old former TV presenter was not even in Japan on election day, preferring an official engagement in Paris as head of the world’s biggest city.
“I thought that I would vote for the Party of Hope if it’s strong enough to beat the Abe administration. But the party has been in confusion ... I’m quite disappointed,” said 80-year-old pensioner Kumiko Fujimori.
The 12-day campaign was marked by a near-constant drizzle in large parts of the country and rallies frequently took place under shelter and a sea of umbrellas.
But this did not dampen the enthusiasm of hundreds of doughty, sash-wearing parliamentary hopefuls, who have driven around in minibuses pleading for votes via loudspeaker and bowing deeply to every potential voter.


North Korea puts reunion of war separated families in doubt

A woman and a young child walk down a street together in Pyongyang, North Korea, July 7, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 33 min 56 sec ago
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North Korea puts reunion of war separated families in doubt

  • South Korea's current liberal President Moon Jae-in wants to expand ties with North Korea, but repatriating any of the women would be a delicate matter
  • There has been mounting speculation that some of the 12 North Korean women might have been truly duped into coming to South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea said that an August reunion of Korean families separated by war may not happen if South Korea doesn’t immediately return some of its citizens who arrived in the South in recent years.
The 2016 arrival of a group of 12 female employees from a North Korean-run restaurant in China has been a source of contention between the rival Koreas. North Korea has accused South Korea of kidnapping them, while South Korea says they decided to resettle on their own will.
North Korea has often used the women as a reason to rebuff South Korea’s repeated request to allow elderly citizens split during the 1950-53 Korean War to reunite with each other briefly. But Friday’s statement is the North’s first attempt to link the fate of the women to the August reunion and comes amid worries that a global diplomacy to push the North to give up its nuclear weapons is making little headway after a detente of the past several months.
The North’s state-run Uriminzokkiri website said that the reunion and overall inter-Korean ties will face “obstacles” if Seoul doesn’t send back the women.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said it has no comment on the Uriminzokkiri dispatch.
There has been mounting speculation that some of the 12 North Korean women might have been truly duped into coming to South Korea.
After meeting some of the women earlier this month, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations’ independent investigator on human rights in North Korea, told reporters in Seoul that they told him they did not know they were heading to South Korea when they departed China.
“Some of them, they were taken to the Republic of Korea without knowing that they were coming here,” Quintana said, referring to South Korea by its formal name. “If they were taken against their will, that may (be) considered a crime. It is the duty and responsibility of the government of the Republic of Korea to investigate.”
South Korean media had earlier carried a similar report, citing interviews with some of the women and their North Korean male manager who came to South Korea with them.
The women’s arrival happened when South Korea was governed by a conservative government, which took a tough stance on the North’s nuclear program. South Korea’s current liberal President Moon Jae-in wants to expand ties with North Korea, but repatriating any of the women would be a delicate matter, with many experts saying relatives of those who decide to stay in the South will certainly face reprisals by the North Korean government.