Abe May Keep Two-Thirds Majority in Japan's Election, Polls ShowBy
Big victory would help Abe win a party leadership vote in 2018
Challenge from Tokyo Governor Koike’s upstart party fades
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looked set to retain his coalition’s dominant position in parliament after the Oct. 22 general election, according to a series of large opinion surveys carried out by domestic media.
The main ruling Liberal Democratic Party is likely to win about 289 seats, according to Kyodo news, which polled 90,261 people on Oct. 10-11. It estimated Abe’s coalition partner Komeito would win 30 seats, giving the ruling coalition a total of 319 -- more than two thirds of the 465 seats up for grabs. The Asahi and Nikkei newspapers also predicted that Abe’s coalition would win about 300 seats, based on similar polls.
A victory by that margin would pave the way for Abe to win a third straight term as party leader next September, potentially enabling him to become Japan’s longest-ever serving prime minister. A two-thirds majority makes it easier to move forward with a consumption tax increase and a divisive plan to revise Japan’s 70-year-old pacifist constitution.
The Kyodo poll showed that opposition seats would be re-distributed among the various smaller parties. An upstart "reformist conservative" party headed by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is likely to win about 60 seats and the left-leaning Constitutional Democratic Party 33 seats. The Communist Party may lose a third of its lawmakers to end up with about 14, the agency said.
The forecasts come even as the Nikkei newspaper poll showed support for Abe’s cabinet at just 37 percent, compared with 48 percent who said they didn’t approve of him. Initially stronger backing for Koike’s nascent party has faded, with the CDP siphoning off some support.
“Trying to insert herself into the center of national politics only a year after becoming Tokyo Governor was going too far,” said independent analyst Minoru Morita, who has followed Japanese politics since the 1970s. “The opposition has split and weakened, so even though the LDP and Komeito were in a crisis situation, they are set to overcome it because of opposition errors.”
Rising tensions with North Korea may be playing to Abe’s advantage as incumbent, with polls showing national security among the issues voters see as most important. Abe called the election more than a year before parliament’s term expired after Kim Jong Un’s regime twice fired a missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean.
Abe, 63, has also based his campaign partly on his economic record, with six straight quarters of growth under his belt and unemployment at less than three percent. Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average closed at its highest level in more than two decades on Wednesday.
Abe initially billed the snap election as a chance to test public opinion on his plan to increase the sales tax in 2019 and divert some of the proceeds to funding education. The total number of seats in the lower house is being cut to 465 from 475 as part of a reform aimed at reducing the excessive weight given to rural votes.
— With assistance by Takashi Hirokawa