Japan’s LDP set to return to power

Polls suggest Liberal Democratic Party of ex-prime minister Shinzo Abe would take the lead in Sunday’s elections.

The governing DPJ is forecast to perform badly in the election in which small parties are also competing [AFP]

Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe could return his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to power as opinion polls suggest he is poised to win Sunday’s election.

The polls by the Asahi, Yomiuri and Nikkei newspapers on Friday forecast that the LDP, which led Japan for decades until 2009, was headed for a hefty majority in the powerful, 480-seat lower house of parliament.

The LDP and its smaller ally, the New Komeito party, are projected to win two-thirds majority needed to break through a policy deadlock that has plagued the world’s third biggest economy since 2007.

The surveys showed that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which came to power three years ago,  could win fewer than 70 seats.

That would be its worst showing since its founding in 1998, the Nikkei said.

“All the candidates are speaking out ahead of the election, but I’m not so sure they’ll carry out any of their promises. I’m hopeful about the new parties, but I also wonder if I should trust one of the older parties,” Hiroko Takahashi, a 51-year-old part-time worker from Machida, west of Tokyo, told the Associated Press news agency.  

Tomohiko Taniguchi, professor of politics at Keio University, speaking to Al Jazeera from Tokyo, said: “People are feeling very much insecure about two things: economic job security and nuclear security … on top of that, national security.”

These insecurities, especially national security fears, are rare in Japan, said Taniguchi.

The public is frustrated by DPJ leaders’ failure to carry out election promises, including government subsidies for children, eradication of wasteful public spending and getting US military bases off Okinawa, the tiny southern island that holds the majority of US troops. 

New party struggling

The new right-leaning Japan Restoration Party, created by popular Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and now led by outspoken nationalist Shintaro Ishihara, was struggling and might win fewer than 50 seats, the Asahi newspaper showed.

If the LDP and the New Komeito control two-thirds of the lower house they could enact legislation even if it is rejected by the upper chamber, where they currently lack a majority.

However, if Abe’s party is successful, it will still face tough challenges in the coming months, Taniguchi said.

“His party has to prove to the nation that they can deliver on the economic front”, ahead of another round of elections in July.

Since 2007, no ruling bloc has had a majority in the upper house, which can block bills other than treaties and the budget.

The election comes at a time when Japan is grappling with its fourth recession since 2000.

Business sentiment worsened for a second straight quarter in the three months to December and will barely improve next year, a central bank survey showed on Friday.

The newspaper surveys showed  between 30 per cent and nearly 50 per cent of voters were undecided just days before the election.

Experts said that was unlikely to affect the general trend, although turnout will probably fall below the 69.28 per cent seen in the last lower house election in 2009.

A fragmentation of the political landscape has contributed to indecision, resulting in a dozen parties, some of them just weeks old, contesting the election, and confusion over policy differences between the main contenders.

“Unlike the past two [lower house] elections, the main points of contention are not so clear and in that sense, it is hard for voters to understand,” said Yukio Maeda, a political science professor at the University of Tokyo.

“But if there is no huge news, bad or good, in the next few days, there is unlikely to be a shift that is beneficial or detrimental to any particular party,” he said. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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