Abe coalition in the lead for Japan Upper House election, polls show

Posters of election candidates put up on a board in Yokohama, ahead of Japan's Upper House election on Sunday. There are concerns of a low turnout, despite a recent rule change allowing Japanese aged 18 and 19 to vote for the first time, adding some
Posters of election candidates put up on a board in Yokohama, ahead of Japan's Upper House election on Sunday. There are concerns of a low turnout, despite a recent rule change allowing Japanese aged 18 and 19 to vote for the first time, adding some 2.4 million people to the electoral rolls.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Surveys predict ruling LDP and allies will secure majority in Upper House

Japan will vote in an Upper House election this Sunday, with latest nationwide polls showing the ruling coalition has an unassailable lead despite the unpopularity of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policies.

Separate polls this week by at least five news agencies, including Kyodo News, Yomiuri Shimbun and Asahi Shimbun, indicate that Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its allies can secure a two-thirds majority in the 242- seat Upper House chamber.

The ruling LDP-Komeito coalition already controls the more powerful Lower House. Achieving this victory in the Upper House will allow Mr Abe to call a nationwide referendum on revising the pacifist Constitution.

The opposition has vowed to block any such attempt by Mr Abe, who previously stressed that giving the military more bite does not mean Japan will be more easily drawn into armed combat abroad. He has tried to frame this election as a vote on his Abenomics economic policy, shying away from the controversial security issues despite the LDP having previously released a draft Constitution.

The Upper House has 242 members, each serving six-year terms. An election is called every three years, when the terms expire for half - or 121 seats - of the chamber. The LDP-Komeito coalition wants to build on its majority: it already holds 76 of the 121 uncontested seats and needs another 86 seats to reach the two-thirds mark.

Constitutional revisions must be proposed by at least two-thirds of the members of the Lower and Upper Houses, and then approved by a majority of voters in a referendum.

UNHAPPINESS OVER POLICIES

Public dissatisfaction with Mr Abe's signature policies is well established in a series of polls over the past few years. His trump card is the feeble opposition.

PROFESSOR JEFFREY KINGSTON, director of Asian studies at Tokyo's Temple University.

Media polls predict the ruling bloc will win 75 seats, placing Mr Abe within striking distance of the two-thirds mark, which he could reach by working with smaller parties and independent candidates.

Yet the same polls also show Japanese voters want an Abenomics review as they do not "feel" the recovery Mr Abe touts, and do not trust plans to change the Constitution.

There is also unhappiness over the opposition's weak track record: Then-Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was in power from 2009 to 2012, but its reign is remembered for incompetence and infighting.

The DPJ merged with the Japan Innovation Party in March to form the Democratic Party (DP). And for Sunday's polls, the DP has joined forces with three other parties to field joint candidates in single-seat wards so as not to dilute the opposition vote.

But political analysts say the DP name remains anathema to most voters, who favour stability over change.

Professor Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Tokyo's Temple University, said: "Public dissatisfaction with Mr Abe's signature policies is well established in a series of polls over the past few years. His trump card is the feeble opposition."

What this also means is that with a growing apathy towards politics, Japanese citizens may not turn out to vote in droves.

There are concerns the turnout will be even lower than the 52.61 per cent recorded at the last Upper House election in 2013. And this will be despite a recent change in election laws to allow Japanese aged 18 and 19 to vote for the first time, adding some 2.4 million people to the electoral rolls.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2016, with the headline 'Abe coalition in the lead, polls show'. Print Edition | Subscribe