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Apprehension ripples through ruling coalition as Koike's new party enters fray

House of Representatives members give three cheers as the chamber is dissolved at a plenary session on Sept. 28, 2017. Members of key opposition parties, including the Democratic Party, boycotted the session. (Mainichi)

The campaign battle to win the hearts, minds and ballots of Japan's voters has effectively begun, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolving the House of Representatives on Sept. 28 for a general election.

In a Sept. 25 news conference, Abe defined the line for winning the election as having his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito obtain a simple majority in the lower house -- meaning the coalition aims to win at least 233 seats. This target had appeared to give Abe sufficient leeway. However, with the largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) set to merge with the newly formed Kibo no To (Party of Hope) led by popular Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, a sense of crisis has rippled through the ruling coalition.

A total of 465 seats will be up for grabs in the lower house election, cut from 475 before the lower chamber was dissolved. At the time of dissolution, the LDP held 287 seats and Komeito 35 for a total of 322.

An LDP survey conducted at the beginning of this month found that the coalition could lose up to 30 seats, but even in such a scenario, the ruling party would still be able to secure a simple majority. But it could leave the ruling coalition short of the two-thirds majority of 310 seats it needs to initiate constitutional amendment -- one of Abe's cherished goals. However, Koike has been a supporter of constitutional amendment from the outset, and with the possibility of Nippon Ishin no Kai and Kibo no To collaborating with the ruling coalition on the issue, Abe avoided criticizing Kibo no To in his news conference on Sept. 25, saying that the he saw eye-to-eye with Koike in terms of security and basic principles.

Now, however, the DP has effectively disbanded. If its members sign up with Kibo no To, then the election could end up a showdown between the LDP and the new party over who forms the next administration. In a more recent survey conducted by the LDP, the results were even worse for the ruling coalition, with analysis predicting that it may not be able to secure half the lower chamber.

On Sept. 28, Abe clarified his confrontational stance toward Kobo no To, saying, "We can't leave the future to political parties that have just gathered for the election, changing their banner."

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