Abe to Face Japan Election Challenge From Tokyo Governor Koike

  • Premier set to announce dissolution of parliament later Monday
  • Abe is seeking to take advantage of rising public support

Japan's Abe May Call Snap Election

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party is set to face an election challenge from a new political group headed by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.

Koike, a former member of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, announced on Monday that she would lead candidates across the country under the “Party of Hope.” She spoke ahead of Abe’s 6 p.m. press briefing in Tokyo, at which he’s expected to announce a general election.

Voting will be set for Oct. 22, according to three people with knowledge of his ruling coalition’s plans. Heightened tensions with North Korea have boosted Abe’s approval rating after a series of scandals, and may help him retain his coalition’s two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament.

A poll published in the Nikkei newspaper on Monday said Abe’s LDP received 44 percent of support, compared to 8 percent for both Koike’s group and the main opposition Democratic Party. Another survey by Kyodo News published on Sunday showed the LDP with a more than three-to-one margin against its closest rival, with 42 percent still undecided.

While the Democratic Party is splintering, Koike has a history of local election victories over the premier’s party. After defecting from the LDP, she crushed it in a July election for the metropolitan assembly.

Abe has served a total of almost six years as prime minister: he had a truncated term a decade ago, and came back to power in a landslide in 2012. He could serve until 2021 if re-elected as party leader next year, making him the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history.

Inappropriate Timing

The Nikkei poll showed that 20 percent were undecided, and a majority said it was inappropriate for Abe to dissolve the lower house this month -- more than a year before his government’s term is set to expire. Nikkei Research Inc. surveyed 1,044 people aged 18 or older by phone.

Kyodo reported that its survey conducted over the weekend showed 27 percent of respondents saying they would vote for Abe’s LDP, compared with 8 percent for the Democratic Party. Sixty-four percent said they don’t support his drive for a fresh mandate, the report said, without giving details on the number of respondents or margin of error.

Abe’s support is likely to be buoyed by the economy, which has grown for six straight quarters. While unemployment is less than 3 percent, the premier has said wage rises haven’t met his expectations.

The ruling party’s campaign will focus on a pledge to increase education spending by putting off a target for reining in the budget deficit, as well as a more divisive plan to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, according to domestic media reports.

Abe will seek backing for a 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) economic package, the Yomiuri newspaper reported Monday, without attribution. The premier may also renew his pledge to implement a planned increase in the nation’s unpopular consumption tax.

The ruling coalition currently controls 68 percent of seats in the 475-member lower house, including 288 for the LDP and 35 for its coalition partner Komeito, according to the parliamentary website. The total number of seats is set to be cut to 465 in the next election as part of a reform aimed at reducing the excessive weight given to rural votes under the current system.

— With assistance by Takashi Hirokawa

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