TOKYO (The Straits Times/ANN) – Although polls show a comfortable win for the ruling bloc, the upcoming typhoon may affect voter turnout.
If media surveys are to be believed, Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is on course for a huge victory in today’s general election despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tumble in approval ratings earlier this year.
This is the result of an opposition that, caught off guard by Abe’s snap election call, has not captured voters who are beginning to feel an improvement in the economy.
The question, however, is whether Abe’s LDP-Komeito coalition will keep its two-thirds “supermajority” in Parliament by winning 310 out of the 465 seats in the lower chamber.
Support from two-thirds of the Lower House will help pave the way for Abe to realize his grandiose ambition of becoming the first leader to amend Japan’s 70-year-old pacifist Constitution, to specify the role of the military. But critics worry this could be the start of a slippery slope which eventually leads to a remilitarized Japan.
Polling stations open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. today. But voter turnout, which hit an all-time low of 52.7 percent in the 2014 elections, could again be affected by heavy rain as Typhoon Lan makes landfall.
Abe battled the rain last night at his final rally, held in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district, addressing a packed crowd fervently waving the national flag. He said Japan has grown economically since the LDP took power in 2012, and that the party provides stability in the face of the North Korean threat.
Even if the LDP-Komeito coalition does not win two-thirds of the seats, the good news for Abe is that rivals Kibo no To (Party of Hope), run by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, as well as the Osaka-based Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) are both in favor of revising the Constitution.
But the challenge for Abe is that he will have to strike concessions with these other pro-revision groups over the clauses to change.
Besides amending the war-renouncing Article 9, Abe also wants to change the law of the land to mandate free education, and to give the prime minister emergency powers during crises.
Though the LDP and Komeito look to be on course for a comfortable majority, Abe has set a modest goal of winning 233 seats, or a simple majority, for the bloc, failing which, he said, he would resign. The LDP had 290 seats and, with the Komeito’s 34, held 68.2 percent of the 475-seat Lower House. There are 10 fewer seats this time.
Even though surveys show the opposition challenge is fizzling out, analysts said Abe’s position as LDP leader may still be in jeopardy in the event of a poor showing, with an internal party leadership election due next year.
University of Tokyo political observer Yu Uchiyama said: “If the LDP alone is unable to win a simple majority, or if the ruling coalition loses more than 50 seats, Abe will lose influence and there may be voices – within the LDP – asking him to take responsibility.”
Rules were revised this year to allow Abe a third consecutive term as LDP chief, and hence, prime minister. But Internal affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda, former foreign minister Fumio Kishida and former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba are all eyeing the role.
The snap elections were called after a bruising year for Abe, whose approval fell to below 30 percent at one point in the wake of two cronyism scandals. •
By Walter Sim