As Japanese voters have given him the fresh endorsement he wanted, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has swept to a comfortable victory in a snap election on Sunday, handing him a mandate to harden his already hawkish stance on North Korea and re-energies the world’s number-three economy.
Split opposition vote helps premier to fifth election victory. 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. 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.
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.
PM Abe’s ruling coalition was forecast to win a convincing majority of the seats in Japan’s lower house in Sunday’s election, easily seeing off a challenge from a divided opposition, exit polls by major news organizations show.
The poll, conducted Tuesday through Thursday, finds 207 single-seat districts and 55 proportional-representation seats leaning toward or strongly favoring Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, roughly the same as in an Oct. 10-11 poll conducted as campaigning officially began. The party held 290 seats before Abe dissolved the lower house in September for the snap election. Junior coalition partner Komeito looks to reach 35 seats, up one from the earlier survey and an increase of one seat from the party’s previous standing in the lower house.
The poll suggests the coalition may capture 63.9% of the chamber, down from 68.2% before the election. This would leave it just short of the 310 seats — a two-thirds supermajority — needed to advance Abe’s goal of revising Japan’s pacifist constitution to formally acknowledge the role of the country’s Self-Defense Forces. The coalition would be forced to seek opposition support, and how that proceeds would depend on which party gains the upper hand in the opposition.
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.
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.
Speaking from Paris where she was attending an event in her capacity as leader of the world’s biggest city, a sullen-faced Koike told public broadcaster NHK she feared a “very severe result”.
The new centre-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, told AFP.
It was unclear in the immediate aftermath of the vote whether Abe’s coalition would retain its two-thirds “supermajority.” Such a “supermajority” would allow Abe to propose changes to Japan’s US-imposed constitution that forces it to “renounce” war and effectively limits its military to a self-defence role.
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 hardline stance throughout, stressing that Japan “would not waver” in the face of an increasingly belligerent regime in Pyongyang.
The exit polls for lower house election put Abe’s ruling coalition far ahead of the Party of Hope, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s new party that was once thought to pose a serious challenge to the status quo. Koike’s decision to bar left-leaning opposition members from joining the party is haunting her: The Constitutional Democratic Party, formed by those very rejects, is polling better than the Party of Hope. Explore the Nikkei Asian Review’s in-depth election coverage here.
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, told AFP: “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.
As the campaign for Sunday’s general election enters its final stretch, new polling shows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition on track to win around 300 of the 465 seats in the Diet’s lower house, while Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s upstart Party of Hope has lost much of its initial momentum. But The Nikkei Inc. survey indicates that some uncertainty remains on the eve of the Japanese election, with 23% of the 289 single-seat constituencies and 16% of the 176 proportional-representation seats still considered close races.
The 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.
Despite the sabre-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 are wages getting better. I don’t feel the economy is recovering at all,” said 67-year-old pensioner Hideki Kawasaki.
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. “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 Party of Hope — or Kibo no To — which picked up many candidates from the former Democratic Party in an effective merger, was favored in the earlier poll to lead the opposition, with 69 seats. But the party has failed to gain widespread support, owing partly to Koike’s comments about “excluding” Democratic lawmakers deemed too liberal. The governor acknowledged in a news conference Thursday that her phrasing “may have been harsh.” The latest survey shows her party winning just 55 seats — fewer than its individual members held before the election.
The left-leaning Constitutional Democratic Party, which includes many of those former Democrats left out by the Party of Hope, is rapidly catching up. The party’s projected seat total has risen from 45 to 54 as it attracts more of the opposition interest away from the Party of Hope. The Constitutional Democrats, headed by Yukio Edano — who served as chief cabinet secretary in a former Democratic Party of Japan government, could become the second-largest party in the lower house.
The Japanese Communist Party looks set to lose three seats, bringing its total to 18, while the Japan Innovation Party would drop from 14 to 10 amid struggles in its main support base of Osaka. Independents are expected to take 30 seats, up from 28 in the earlier poll. The gains likely owe to growing support for former Democrats who chose not to join the Party of Hope.
In the post poll scenario, Japan-US relations would be watched carefully. Though there are no cracks in the bilateral ties, there seems to develop some albeit small distance between Abe and Trump
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