Prime Minister Shinzo Abe secured a crucial victory in Japan's parliamentary elections, with his ruling bloc maintaining a supermajority that could allow it to push for a revision of the nation's pacifist constitution.
Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led (LDP) coalition won a combined 312 seats election, keeping its two-thirds "super majority" in the 465-member lower house, local media say. With its smaller partner, Komeito, the LDP will pass the 310-seat threshold in the House of Representatives.
The result further illustrates the political savvy of 63-year-old Abe, who has proved to be an enduring force in Japanese politics despite scandals and fluctuating approval ratings.
"This is a win for Abe," Sheila Smith, a Japan expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, adding that the supermajority showed "a real endorsement of Abe's leadership".
The decisive victory will bolster Abe's hopes in an upcoming leadership contest within his party, potentially cementing the prime minister's place in history. If Abe serves out a complete four-year term, he will remain at the helm during the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and also become Japan's longest-serving prime minister.
However, any attempt to amend Japan's postwar constitution may end up being Abe's most controversial legacy. With the vote, Abe and his allies have retained the two-thirds majorities in both houses of Parliament that are required to call for constitutional amendments.
Abe has long sought to revise Article 9, which renounces war, and remove the ambiguity surrounding Japan's military, known as the Self-Defence Forces.
While many conservatives view the amendment as overdue, many voters remain sceptical. South Korea and China, which neighbour Japan, also are nervous about what they see as the potential return of a militaristic Japan.
In an interview with NHK after polls closed, Abe said he would push for an amendment. "The ruling parties have been granted a majority," Abe said. "I think it was the people's voice telling us to make progress in politics and bring results with a stable political base."
For a leader touting stability, the election had been a gamble. Abe had called the vote more than a year early, justifying it by saying that he needed a new mandate to deal with the threat posed by North Korea and to work through the details of a consumption tax increase.
Many analysts said Abe's motive was more opportunistic, however, with the Prime Minister taking advantage of the disarray of the Democratic Party, Japan's main opposition party, and a small bump in his approval ratings after a number of scandals earlier this year.
For a while, it didn't look as if the bet would pay off. After the vote was announced, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, a staunchly conservative former LDP member, formed her own party, which soon attracted many members from the Democrats. Some, including Koike herself, compared her mercurial rise to that of France's Emmanuel Macron earlier this year.
Unlike Macron, Koike's challenge did not live up to the hype. The Governor opted against running in the election - and then left for a scheduled business trip to France on election day. Koike's Party of Hope is now battling for a distant second place with another new party - the anti-amendment Constitutional Democratic Party - which also rose from the ashes of the Democratic Party.