Japanese PM Kishida's coaltion set to retain power: Exit polls

World Sunday 31/October/2021 16:37 PM
By: DW
Japanese PM Kishida's coaltion set to retain power: Exit polls

Japan's ruling coalition is projected to stay in power following the country's general election Sunday, public broadcaster NHK said.

But the conservative party of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is forecast to take a drubbing, a blow that could mean political instability in the world's third-biggest economy.

In forecasts based on exit polls, NHK said the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito would win between 239-288 of the 465 seats in the lower house.

TV Asahi, meanwhile, said the coalition was expected to win 280 seats, down from its previous total of 305 — weakening the dominance of the LDP, which has held power almost continuously since the 1950s.

Kishida's first public test

Sunday's vote was the first test for Kishida who took over as the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party a month ago. Kishida became party leader and prime minister after Yoshihide Suga resigned just one year into the job.

The LDP-led government has faced criticism for its mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new government will face the task of steering the world's third-largest economy, battered by the pandemic, tackling a fast-aging and dwindling population and security challenges from China and North Korea.

Kishida called the election soon after taking the top job to shore up his mandate in the 465-seat lower house.

LDP setback likely

The LDP previously boasted a commanding majority of 276 seats on its own.

NHK predicted the party would hang on to between 212 and 253 seats on Sunday, while TV Asahi said it would win 243, still a simple majority without Komeito.

While Kishida is expected to remain prime minister, observers say the ruling party may have trouble retaining its commanding majority.

The 64-year-old premier did not have a political honeymoon, with his approval rating lagging at around 50%, the lowest for a new administration in two decades.

He has promised to issue a fresh stimulus package worth tens of trillions of yen to counter the impact of the pandemic.

Stability or return to revolving-door era?

A weakened majority for the LDP could mean further losses in the upper house election next summer.

While the LDP has held power almost continuously since the 1950s, only five politicians have hung on to the prime minister's office for five years or longer.

A poor showing could embolden Kishida's rivals within the party, threatening to return Japan to an era of short-lived administrations.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the biggest opposition group, is expected to gain seats but will be nowhere close to toppling Kishida's coalition.

Handling of the pandemic

Public discontent has been growing over the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan initially lagged behind other developed nations in the vaccination drive. But it soon caught up and now more than 70% of the population is fully vaccinated.

While infections have dropped sharply, some voters remain wary.

"It's hard to say the pandemic is completely snuffed out and society is stable, so we shouldn't have any big changes in coronavirus policy," said Naoki Okura, a doctor, after voting in Tokyo.

"Rather than demanding a change in government, I think we should demand continuity."