Japan votes for new PM Kishida and political stability

TOKYO, Oct.31 (Reuters) – Japanese voters went to the polls on Sunday to decide whether to back the conservative government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida or weaken the new prime minister and possibly bring the world’s third largest economy back to a period of political uncertainty.

The vote is a test for Kishida, who called the election shortly after taking the top post earlier this month, and for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has been battered by its perceived mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic.

Already, Kishida has struggled to push forward policies aimed at helping the poorest people, while securing a sharp increase in military spending and taking a tougher line on China.

With its lackluster image that does not inspire voters, the PLD is on the verge of losing its only majority in the lower house of parliament for the first time since 2009, opinion polls show, though its coalition with its partner junior Komeito should remain in charge. .

Japan’s vaccination campaign initially lagged behind other advanced countries. More than 70% of the population is now fully vaccinated and infections have dropped sharply, but some voters remain suspicious.

“It’s hard to say that the pandemic is completely hushed up and society is stable, so we shouldn’t have big changes in coronavirus policy,” doctor Naoki Okura said after voting in Tokyo.

“Rather than demanding a change of government, I think we should demand continuity.”

DIFFICULT COMPETITION, ROTATING DOOR?

Several key PLD lawmakers also face particularly difficult competitions, including Akira Amari, the party’s general secretary.

“Revolving-door prime ministers are a weakness many outside of Japan fear,” Sheila A. Smith, senior member of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a blog post. “Prime Minister Kishida will need a unified party and strong electoral representation on October 31 if he is to successfully tackle Japan’s difficult national agenda.”

Turnout will be crucial, as higher turnout tends to favor opposition, but many choose to vote away.

The largest opposition group, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, is expected to win seats but will not come close to toppling Kishida’s coalition.

Yet a great loss of PLD seats could lead to internal strife between the parties, returning Japan to an era of short-lived administrations that diminished its global stature, until Shinzo Abe ruled the country for eight. years, a record until September 2020. The conciliatory Komeito could also gain more weight within the coalition.

Uncertainty is high, with the Nikkei newspaper estimating that 40% of single-member districts have tight races and recent polls showing around 40% of voters undecided.

Voting closes at 8:00 p.m. (11:00 GMT), with expected results likely to come out shortly after exit media polls.

Kishida’s publicly stated goal is for his coalition to retain a majority of at least 233 seats out of the 465 in the lower house. Prior to the election, the coalition held a two-thirds majority of 305, the LDP holding 276.

Investors and political observers wonder if the PLD – in power for brief periods since its formation in 1955 – can retain its majority as a single party. Losing this would erode Kishida’s power base in the LDP party and the party’s stance against the Komeito.

The usually divided opposition is united, arranging for a single party – including the largely shunned Japanese Communist Party – to confront the coalition in most districts, analysts claiming this creates a number of side-to-side battles. elbow.

But the opposition has failed to win the hearts of voters, with just 8% supporting Constitutional Democrats while 39% supporting the LDP, according to a poll carried out last week by state broadcaster NHK.

“The other political parties are all scattered around so I can’t leave them in confidence,” said Hiroki Kita, 49, and publicist.

“There is only the LDP, but it is a negative choice.”

Reporting by Sakura Murakami, Elaine Lies, Irene Wang and Daniel Leussink; Writing by Sakura Murakami and Elaine Lies; Editing by William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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