The exit polls from yesterday's Upper House elections confirm that Japan has returned to one-party democratic rule.
The all-powerful Liberal Democratic Party again faces a rabble of small opposition parties, none with a serious chance of taking power for the foreseeable future. The Liberal Democratic/Komeito coalition is estimated to have won 74 seats of the 121 contested and retaken control of the Upper House it lost in 2007 during Shinzo Abe's first, attenuated, term as prime minister. No other party is expected to win more than 17 seats.
Shinzo Abe is now the most powerful Japanese leader this century: popular with the people, with majorities in both houses and, unlike Junichiro Koizumi, well liked within his again-dominant party. The real political and policy contest in Japan is again within the Liberal Democratic Party and the real test is again the prime minister's ability to rein in his politically safe caucus to support his reform agenda. Abe's plans to boost defence spending, take a firmer line on Japanese territorial integrity and restart more nuclear reactors will likely not be opposed internally.
Can Abe translate his strong political position into policy success? The litmus test will be his commitment to economic reform through free trade agreements (which led to the commencement in 2007 of Japan-Australia free trade negotiations and Japan recently joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the need to raise consumption taxes. If Abe, in his uniquely strong position, cannot deliver, then Japan's political system will truly have experienced a back-to-the-future moment, and one that does not augur well for Japan's future.