Japan Heads to Polls as Kishida Seeks to Limit Losses
(Bloomberg) -- Japanese voters went to the polls Sunday for the country’s first general election in almost four years, with new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party expected to lose seats but hold on to power with its coalition partner.
Voting for the 465-seat lower house is set to end at 8 p.m. and exit polls released soon after are expected to give an early indications of the results. Voters get to pick a candidate in their constituency as well as select a party in the proportional representation section of the ballot.
Voter turnout was at 21.49% as of 2 p.m. compared with 21.83% at the same time in the last election in 2017, according to public broadcaster NHK.
The LDP and Buddhist-backed Komeito controlled more than 300 seats before the election. Severe losses could weaken Kishida’s grip over the LDP, increasing the chances he might be dispatched through the “revolving door” of Japanese politics that claimed six premiers between 2007-2012. His immediate predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, also lasted only a year.
While details are still sparse, Kishida is touting plans to spread the fruits of economic growth more evenly, after low-paid workers were disproportionately hit by falling incomes during the pandemic. He’s also promised tens of trillions of yen in economic stimulus. The left-leaning main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party argues it’s better qualified to achieve the goal of narrowing disparities.
Almost a decade after its predecessor crashed out of power, the CDP has allied itself with smaller parties to field unified candidates in more than 200 constituencies, resulting in a tough fight in many of them. The CDP and its partners, however, are not generating the level of interest that could lead to a change in government, surveys have shown.
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Even if the LDP loses its outright majority, the party is expected to retain control of government with junior coalition partner Komeito providing enough seats for the group to stay in power, surveys have indicated.
The Yomiuri and Nikkei newspapers said Friday the LDP was in danger of losing the single-handed majority it has held since 2012, with the CDP set to gain some seats. The conservative-leaning opposition Ishin party is likely to win seats and may become the third-largest party in parliament, according to the Nikkei.
The Asahi newspaper and Kyodo News said separately earlier in the week their surveys indicated the LDP would maintain its majority.
The election campaign has been comparatively little affected by the pandemic, with new daily cases dwindling from a peak of more than 25,000 in August to 291 on Friday.
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