Election kicks off in Japan with political landscape

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TOKYO, Oct. 22 – Japanese voters went to more than 47,000 polling stations on Sunday as election of the Japanese parliament’s House of Representatives, or the lower house, kicked off.

The vote will see whether the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) coalition could win two-thirds “super majority” to revise constitution and which party will replace the collapsing Democratic Party to become the largest opposition.

The largely “three-horse race,” pits Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative LDP and its junior partner Komeito against two newly formed parties, the “reform conservative” Party of Hope and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ).] While Abe campaigned on the nation’s economic “achievements” and security concerns, the opposition leaders, including Yuriko Koike of the Party of Hope and CDPJ leader Yukio Edano, called for breaking Abe’s dominance in politics.

Before the election, the LDP, with its 290 seats and Komeito’s 34, controlled 68.2 percent of the 475-seat lower house.

After a revision, the lower house now has 465 seats, 289 of which are elected from single-seat districts and the remaining 176 through proportional representation in 11 regional blocks. A simple majority of at least 233 seats is needed for a party to govern.

Eligible voters are expected to cast two ballots – one for an individual candidate in a single-seat district and another for a political party for proportional representation.

Abe has set a relatively modest goal of 233 seats, or a simple majority, for the ruling camp, saying that he would resign if failing to achieve the target. Despite the prime minister’s tumbling approval ratings over a string of scandals, polls showed that the ruling block is projected to garner 290 to 320 seats, while the opposition parties, caught off guard and split up, seem to be failing to win trust from the voters.

The expected victory will likely pave the way for Abe to realize his long-term ambition of amending Japan’s postwar pacifist constitution, said local analysts.

Meanwhile, the “reform conservative” Party of Hope led by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the CDPJ, which is opposed to constitutional change, is vying for the largest opposition. The Party of Hope, while sharing the LDP’s conservative views on constitutional change and security laws, is against consumption tax hike and criticizes Abe’s economic policies dubbed Abenomics.

The CDPJ, set up only about a couple of weeks ago by the collapsing Democratic Party’s liberal wing, was quick to rise after voters’ initial enthusiasm for the Party of Hope ebbed.

The election on Sunday is also the first one to be held since the legal voting age was reduced to 18. As of Friday, a record high of more than 15.64 million people who are unable to vote on the scheduled day have cast their ballots.

But heavy rains and an approaching typhoon might weigh on the turnout, which hit a record low of 52.66 percent in the 2014 election. The voting will end at 8:00 p.m. local time (1100 GMT) and the results are expected early Monday. Exit polls by local media will forecast early results shortly after the vote.

(Copyright National News Agency / Xinhua, 2017)

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