Yuriko Koike's Party of Hope loses steam two weeks before Japan election: Poll

Tokyo Governor and head of the Party of Hope Yuriko Koike (right) answers questions beside Japanese Prime Minister and President of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe during a political debate ahead of the general elections in T
Tokyo Governor and head of the Party of Hope Yuriko Koike (right) answers questions beside Japanese Prime Minister and President of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe during a political debate ahead of the general elections in Tokyo, on Oct 8, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Support for Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike's nascent Party of Hope fell in a weekend poll, indicating that her bid to upset Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party in a general election less than two weeks away may be losing steam.

Thirteen per cent of respondents to a Yomiuri survey said they would vote for her party in the proportional representation section of the Oct 22 lower house election, down from 19 per cent about a week ago.

Support for Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) fell slightly to 32 per cent in the telephone poll of 1,099 eligible voters.

Twenty-seven per cent said they were still undecided.

The poll results are good news for Mr Abe, who is seeking a fresh mandate ahead of an LDP leadership vote next year that could put him in line to become Japan's longest-serving prime minister.

Ms Koike had launched Kibo no To (Party of Hope) last month (September) in a surprise move just hours before Mr Abe said he would call an election, rallying a weakened opposition in a race that had been widely seen as relatively comfortable for the premier.

The Yomiuri poll was conducted over a weekend that saw a series of debates between the leaders of the main political parties.

Mr Abe said the escalating North Korea threat showed that Japan needed his leadership, and pointed to the nation's growth record. He also said that his goal in the election is for the ruling coalition to win a majority of parliamentary seats. It currently holds about 68 per cent in the 475-member body.

Ms Koike, meanwhile, pushed her "Yurinomics" economic platform, saying the prime minster had not delivered on promised reforms.

She also repeatedly denied she would quit her governor's post to run in the election and give her a chance of becoming prime minister.

She has to decide by Tuesday (Oct 10), when the election campaign formally opens.

In the Yomiuri poll, 71 per cent of respondents said Ms Koike should stay in her current role, with just 7 per cent saying she should stand in the general election. She has not said who she would support as prime minister.

Only a few issues clearly separate Ms Koike's Party of Hope and Mr Abe's LDP.

She wants the nation to ditch atomic power by 2030, while the prime minister has pledged to raise the nuclear share of the nation' energy mix.

Citing falling real wages, Hope has also promised to freeze Japan's sales tax rate at 8 per cent, while the ruling party has vowed to raise the levy to 10 per cent in 2019 to pay for greater spending for families in areas such as education.

On other policies, what Ms Koike calls her "reformist conservative" party sounds much like the LDP, from which she resigned just months ago. She backs Mr Abe's handling of North Korea, wants to discuss changes to Japan's pacifist constitution and says party members must back laws that Mr Abe passed to expand the role of the military.

More than half of respondents to the Yomiuri poll said the nation's most appropriate government would centre around the LDP with support from opposition parties.

Only 7 per cent said they would vote for the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, a group formed last week by left-leaning members of the former main opposition Democratic Party, which saw many of its lawmakers joined Ms Koike's new group. The CDP has allied with the Communist and Socialist parties for the election.