Japan votes in national elections, 1st key test for Kishida
TOKYO (AP) – Japanese voters vote in national elections on Sunday, a first big test for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to determine if he has a mandate broad enough to tackle a coronavirus-battered economy, a population and aging and rapidly declining security challenges China and North Korea.
Up for grabs, 465 seats in the lower house, the most powerful in the Japanese two-chamber Diet, or parliament.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Kishida is expected to lose a few seats from pre-election levels, but retain a comfortable majority with its junior coalition partner Komeito.
Kishida, 64, was elected prime minister on October 4 after winning his ruling party’s leadership race because his conservative leaders saw him as a sure successor to the status quo of Yoshihide Suga and his influential predecessor Shinzo Abe .
Kishida’s immediate task was to rally support for a party weakened by Suga’s perceived authoritarian approach to pandemic measures and his insistence on hosting the Tokyo Summer Olympics despite widespread opposition.
Kishida dissolved the lower house just 10 days after taking office, calling for this election and saying he wanted a voter mandate for his new government before going to work.
The short 17-day campaign period following the LDP leadership race, which had dominated media coverage, unfairly gave Kishida’s party an advantage over the opposition, some experts say.
Kishida’s long-term grip on power will depend on her election results.
Kishida has repeatedly stressed his determination to listen to the people and respond to criticism that Abe-Suga’s nine years of leadership has caused corruption, tamed bureaucrats and muzzled opposing views.
The campaign has largely focused on COVID-19 response measures and revitalizing the economy.
While Kishida’s ruling party has stressed the importance of having a stronger military amid concerns over growing influence from China and the nuclear and missile threat from North Korea, parties in opposition have focused on diversity issues and in favor of gender equality.
Opposition leaders complain that recent LDP governments have widened the gap between rich and poor, failed to support the economy during the pandemic, and blocked gender and diversity initiatives.
Kishida has set a modest target for the PLD and its coalition partner Komeito. He wishes to jointly retain their majority, which would be 233 seats in the 465-member lower house. This is a low bar, given that the PLD alone had 276 seats before the elections. A big drop, even if the party retains its majority, would be a bad start for the weeks-old Kishida administration.
Media polls suggest the PLD is likely to lose seats, in part because five opposition parties have formed a united front to unify candidates in many small constituencies and are expected to win positions there.
If, as many predict, the ruling coalition wins around 261 seats, it could control all parliamentary committees and easily pass any divisive legislation.
Most of the results are expected Monday morning.
The opposition has long struggled to gain enough votes to form a government after a brief reign of the now defunct center-left Democratic Party of Japan in 2009-2012.
Economically, Kishida has focused on growth by raising incomes, while opposition groups focus more on wealth redistribution and call for cash payments to low-income households affected by the pandemic. .
The LDP opposes legislation guaranteeing equality for sexual minorities and allowing separate surnames for married couples.
Of the 1,051 candidates, only 17% are women, despite a 2018 law promoting gender equality in elections, which is toothless because there is no sanction. Women make up around 10% of parliament, a situation that gender rights experts call “democracy without women”.