Japan’s Voters Poised to Give Abe Fresh Mandate

Updated on
  • Polls show Abe’s coalition headed for landslide victory
  • Typhoon means that turnout may be lowest since World War II

Voters at a polling station in Tokyo on Oct. 22.

Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg

More than 100 million voters are casting ballots Sunday in an election that may clear the way for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to become Japan’s longest-serving leader.

Voting opened at 7 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m., when major domestic media outlets will publish the results of their exit polls. In the past, they have accurately predicted the outcome. A large typhoon hitting the nation is expected to drag turnout down to the lowest level since World War II.

As of 4 p.m., turnout was down 2.81 percent from the last lower house election in 2014, which was lowest since the war, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. Heavy rain is expected to continue throughout Sunday in most parts of Japan as the typhoon is projected to reach around Tokyo after midnight.
Polls project that Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner Komeito will maintain control of parliament while two opposition groups vie for second place. It’s unclear if Abe’s coalition will retain its two-thirds majority, which would make it easier for them to pass changes to the constitution.

A victory for Abe would bring continuity to economic policies, including the massive monetary easing that has weakened the yen and bolstered exports in Asia’s second-biggest economy. He’s campaigned on his economic record, which includes six straight quarters of growth and low unemployment even as he’s struggled to defeat deflation and boost pay.

PollAbe’s CoalitionKoike’s GroupCDP-led groupOthers
Total312 seats (67%)63 seats (14%)70 seats (15%)23 seats (5%)

(NOTE: Totals are mid-points of ranges of polls published Oct. 16-Oct. 20)

Trump, North Korea

Abe has cultivated close ties with President Donald Trump this year in a bid to keep the U.S. alliance strong amid growing unease over North Korea’s ballistic missiles. He’s seeking the first-ever change to the 70-year-old pacifist constitution to affirm the legality of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.

Shinzo Abe at a campaign rally on Oct. 21.

Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Abe called the election more than a year early in apparent bid to capitalize on fears over North Korea and a weakened opposition. The Constitutional Democratic Party, running second in most polls, was set up only about two weeks ago by former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano after its predecessor split up. Other opposition lawmakers defected to populist Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s upstart Party of Hope.

The CDP has adopted a center-left agenda, with pledges to increase the minimum wage and resist attempts to revise the constitution. Koike’s Hope party is closer to Abe’s LDP on many issues, though has criticized him over cronyism scandals that hurt his popularity earlier this year.

Why the world should care about Japan’s election: QuickTake Q&A

"It will be a victory by default for Prime Minister Abe," said Tobias Harris, a Japan analyst at Teneo Intelligence in Washington. "The LDP is going to win most of the single-district seats, but the proportional representation section is where it gets more interesting. The CDP could have a surprisingly strong result."

If the ruling coalition performs well, the LDP may keep Abe as its leader in a party election next September. This could open the way for him to stay on as prime minister until 2021.

The general election on Sunday is the first to be held since the legal voting age was changed to 18. Turnout may be hurt by a typhoon on course for the south of the country.

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