Shinzo Abe won his snap election on Sunday and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and coalition partner maintained a supermajority, according to media exit polls, giving the Japanese prime minister a fresh mandate for his struggling strategy to revive the economy.
The leading LDP party along with its coalition partner, New Komeito, won at least 317 seats in Japan's 475-seat lower house, most polls showed, maintaining a 'supermajority' with over two thirds of the lower house. Official results will be released on Monday morning, but, historically, media exit polls have proven accurate.
"I am relieved the ruling party coalition has won a majority and the government has been maintained," Abe said on NHK news.
The low voter turnout is disappointing and shows "we need to improve voters' trust in politics," he said. "The economy is our priority - we will ask business leaders to raise wage in April and make sure the recovery spreads to the whole economy."
Abe called for a snap election on November 18 and dissolved the lower house of parliament a few days later after the impact of a consumption tax hike to 8 percent from 5 percent in April pushed the economy into recession. Abe also delayed a second sales tax hike to 10 percent, initially scheduled for October 2015, by 18 months amid concerns that it could further derail growth momentum.
The decision to call elections came as Abe's approval ratings faltered. In November, a poll by national broadcaster NHK showed support for Abe's LDP-led government declining 8 percentage points from the previous month to an all-time low of 44 percent amid increasing uncertainty over his effort to spur the economy.
Despite his low approval rating, many were confused by Abe's decision to call an election as elections weren't due until late 2016. Analysts believe the prime minister took the gamble of an early election in order to gain leverage to push through unpopular reforms deemed necessary to achieve his economic and political aims.
Abe's 2014 campaign pledges echoed those of his 2012 campaign, with promises to revitalize the economy, pursue fiscal reconstruction, promote the participation and advancement of women in the workforce and to revise the constitution.
"This is a big victory for the LDP," Finance Minister Taro Aso said on NHK. "This would be a clear endorsement of Abenomics."