why the outcome of the snap election was an act of political craftsmanship of the electorate - given the circumstances, voters got the best result they could: a strong shinzo abe with a clearer mandate and his right wing clipped
'politics is the art of the feasible', spoke the iron chancellor (not angie - the other one, von bismarck). in that sense voters proved to be the most skilled of all artists. they worked with what they have got and they made the most out of a pitiful political setup.
the outcome of the snap election is as good and allows as much optimism for the future as possible for an election that most people did not know why it was held in the first place (considering this, admittedly, the bar is not very high then).
so what kind of setup did the voters have to work with?
a prime minister whom most people did want to remain in power for hope of him finally delivering on his promises, of him finally changing things for the better - and of course for fear of banri kaieda taking over. and an opposition that only exists in name; a political landscape, hence, that did not offer any real choice.
abe thus was allowed to keep his majority (curiously often called a 'landslide victory', although a landslide usually implies some kind of movement, not everything remaining the same, and victory usually implies winning seats, not losing three). there was no way around that and abe was still the best on offer; on a very meagre offer, admittedly. but voters took the opportunity to clarify his mandate and what they expect of him as much as circumstances allowed without threatening his grip on power - narrow confines to operate in, looking back on recent months.
they did so chiefly in three ways: first, by letting the ultra right next generation party haemorrhage eighteen seats; now only a geriatric rump of two remains. second, they caused abe's ldp to lose three seats, wandering off to his pacifist and more moderate coalition partner komeito. with these two instances voters made it very clear - especially by switching to komeito, and thus without threatening abe's overall mandate to rule - that they expect less right-wing cajoling and more economic policy delivery. the electorate refused to help abe onto the saddle of his nationalist hobby horse.
and of course then there is the communist party, which usually no one seems to reckon with since it is just too far outside the usual political spectrum as to amount to more than just a bemusing curiosity. but in this instance actually, its strong showing should not be shrugged off as an unimportant side note or diffuse protest vote but actually an important sign of voters' more specific malcontent with abe's economic policies. after all, to express their unhappiness with certain outgrowths of abenomics, they could not just go and vote for the main opposition parties, such as the dpj, since they did not have any real alternative platform amounting to more than just mere tweaks and footnotes to abenomics. so by voting the communists with the only real alternative to abenomics, a platform that fundamentally rejected the entire premise on which abe's policy is standing, the electorate could show their desire for a shift in economic policy without undermining abe's mandate as much as a vote for the dpj would have done, strengthening the opposition shadow government (the jcp, of course, is too far off to be seen as in any way governing material).
with their activism on the fringes of the political spectrum japan's voters thus nudged their politicians in the right direction without destabilising the core: the electorate made it very clear that they still - in broad strokes - back his economic reform agenda and want abenomics to succeed, handing him a super majority for the second time in a row in an election that was half about abenomics and half about hair (cf. koizumi jr. vs abe).
given these circumstances, japanese voters got the best result they could: a strong abe with his right wing clipped. he will stay in power, strengthened to tackle vested interest (if he finally chooses to spend some of his still immense political capital) and with a mandate as clear as it can get: to fix the economy, not to pamper the right fringe. on shisaku, michael cucek wrote how abe lost the election in five respects. but he overlooked to mention one winner: voters, who got what they wanted as far as circumstances would possibly allow.
abe better heeds the electorate's wishes. this will be the last election he can win on promises and hope alone.