Japan braces itself for election-day typhoon

A banner in Tokyo to encourage participation in the election. Turnout has declined to below 60 per cent in Japan's last two general elections.
A banner in Tokyo to encourage participation in the election. Turnout has declined to below 60 per cent in Japan's last two general elections.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Abe urges voters to cast ballots early as heavy rain could affect turnout rate

TOKYO • A typhoon is expected to lash Japan with heavy rain tomorrow, potentially weighing on turnout as millions of voters head to the polls in the world's third-biggest economy.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appealed to voters to cast their ballots early as Typhoon Lan moves towards Japan, bringing driving rain across the country on election day.

"It's rare to see typhoon rain over such a large swathe of the Japanese archipelago in October," Japan Meteorological Agency official Eiju Takahashi told Agence France-Presse, adding that only the northern island of Hokkaido is expected to be spared the downpour tomorrow.

Mr Abe himself cast his vote on Wednesday in Tokyo, telling reporters that the weekend election "would decide Japan's future" and urging voters to cast ballots early in anticipation of the bad weather.

Turnout has declined to below 60 per cent in the last two general elections, with the last election in December 2014 witnessing a record-low rate of 52.66 per cent.

"If it rains on Sunday, the turnout rate will not rise and that would benefit the ruling bloc," said political scientist Mikitaka Masuyama at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

Swing voters tend to abstain on rainy days, while staunch supporters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito show up at voting stations whatever the weather, observers say.

IF TURNOUT FALLS...

If the turnout rate hits a new record low, that would probably mean the ruling bloc maintains a two-thirds majority.

MR HIDENORI SUEZAWA, financial and fiscal analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities.

"If the turnout rate hits a new record low, that would probably mean the ruling bloc maintains a two-thirds majority," said Mr Hidenori Suezawa, financial and fiscal analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities. That is significant as Mr Abe's conservative LDP needs a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament in order to propose changes to Japan's Constitution.

"On the other hand, if the turnout rate rises to the 60 per cent level, new (opposition) parties may make a leap forward," said Mr Suezawa.

The key question is how bad the weather would be, he added. "If it is cloudy or there is light drizzle, turnout may rise... but if it rains heavily, it could weigh on the turnout rate," he said.

Most polls show Mr Abe sailing to an easy victory in the election, potentially putting him on track to govern Japan until 2021 if he wins a party leadership vote next year.

Retaining his two-thirds majority in Parliament would boost his chances of changing Japan's pacifist Constitution, as well as approving gambling resorts and pushing forward with a sales tax increase.

A convincing victory would also keep in place the ultra-easy monetary policy that weakened the yen, propped up exports and helped stocks rise to heights not seen since before the financial crisis. Diplomatic policies, including cosying up to President Donald Trump to keep the US alliance strong in the face of North Korea's threat, will also be maintained.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2017, with the headline 'Japan braces itself for election-day typhoon'. Print Edition | Subscribe