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LDP wary of election losses despite rosy poll results

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe poses for a photo with voters at JR Sendai Station in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, on Oct. 10, 2017. (Mainichi)

Though an Oct. 11 Kyodo News telephone survey shows the governing parties are set to win a commanding 300 seats-plus in the Oct. 22 House of Representatives election, administration figures are warning against any let-up in the campaign fight.

"This is a very tough battle," Prime Minister and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Shinzo Abe told audiences at four campaign stops in Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures on Oct. 11. Meanwhile, one governing bloc executive told the Mainichi Shimbun that the 300-plus Kyodo seat projection "is just not possible. Right now, the wind isn't blowing in our favor at all, and I can't see how things will develop from here on out. I can't be optimistic." A source close to ruling coalition junior partner Komeito commented, "The (Kyodo poll) seat number is a little too high."

When Prime Minister Abe dissolved the lower house in September, his administration's popularity was recovering after a sharp decline stemming from the Kake Educational Institution favoritism scandal and other missteps. Nevertheless, due to the lingering effects of those issues, there were those in the ruling coalition who thought Abe had erred in calling an election. Their alarm only increased when Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike launched her Party of Hope to much fanfare.

And yet the ruling parties are flying high in the most recent poll, likely because the new opposition parties have mismanaged the situation. First of all, Koike decided to take on only select candidates from the Democratic Party (DP) as the latter began to disintegrate, ultimately leading to the emergence of another new party and splitting the opposition. This meant more than one opposition party member would stand against a ruling party candidate in many single-seat constituencies, dividing the anti-government vote.

"The opposition parties snapping at each other will stop us from losing a lot of seats," one source close to the LDP commented. However, as the main cause of the LDP's sunny election prospects originates in the opposition, this does not mean the ruling parties have scored any points with voters. One LDP executive said, "I don't think we're really this far ahead. We are definitely going to lose seats," reflecting the majority opinion in the party. Rather, the LDP is focused on getting a simple election win rather than a landslide.

Abe has set a ruling party majority as his standard for calling the Oct. 22 poll a victory, and a senior official with the prime minister's office commented, "If our losses stay within 30 seats, then the administration can continue stably." However, if the ruling parties lose 52 seats or more to fall below 268 seats while Komeito maintains its seat count of 35, the LDP will lose its single-party majority. In that case, Prime Minister Abe's power to hold an administration together would certainly begin to bleed away.

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