Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition is on track for a big win in Sunday’s general election – even though almost half the country’s voters don’t want him to keep his job, a media survey showed on Monday.
Behind that paradox is a fizzling challenge by an upstart party led by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, a divided opposition and jitters about a volatile North Korea that incline wary voters toward a safe pair of hands, political analysts said.
Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is set to win between 281 to 303 seats in the 465-member lower house, while its junior coalition partner the Komeito is on track to take 30-33 seats, the Mainichi newspaper said, based on an Oct. 13-15 survey.
That would put the ruling bloc on track to maintain the two-third’s “super majority” it held before the chamber was dissolved for the snap election.
That means Abe’s grip on his post is all but assured when parliament convenes to elect a premier after Sunday’s poll.
The Mainichi survey, however, showed 47 percent of voters would prefer not to see Abe stay in his post. Abe took office nearly five years ago promising to bolster defence and boost growth with his “Abenomics” strategy.
Thirty-seven percent want him to remain.
“Abe is not popular, but his party is trusted by enough voters to win big if only because the new parties are untested and have not generated excitement,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan.
An electoral system where 289 seats are from single-member districts where the candidate with a plurality of votes wins and others get no representation at all also means a split opposition benefits Abe’s LDP. The rest of the chamber’s seats are from proportional representation blocs.
Koike’s fledgling Party of Hope, which the former LDP lawmaker launched last month as a “reformist, conservative” alternative to the LDP, is likely to win between 42-54 seats.
The Party of Hope absorbed a big chunk of the failed main opposition Democratic Party. But an early burst of voter enthusiasm seems to have dissipated after Koike declined to run for a lower house seat or say whom her party would back as a candidate for premier.
The party’s platform also shares much of Abe’s hawkish security agenda, but differs by promising to freeze a planned sales tax hike and to exit nuclear power by 2030.
A smaller Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), formed by liberal members from the Democratic Party, was set to win between 45-49 seats, the Mainichi said – raising the possibility that it might become the leading opposition group.
The CDPJ “crept up from nowhere,” Kingston said. “It is clear there are a lot of people who feel left by the wayside by Abenomics.” The Mainichi forecasts were based on responses from 73,087 voters nationwide.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Michael Perry)