Japan’s new opposition Party of Hope led by popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike may have some of its hopes dashed in the general election on October 22 if newspaper opinion polls on voter preferences are accurate.
A raft of surveys released this past week suggest the current coalition government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party will win as many 300 of the 465 seats up for grabs, according to a report by Jiji Press.
Still, with some elections forecasts proven well off the mark in other elections around the world this past 12 months (read, Donald Trump) Abe and Koike’s parties are both emphasising they are not distracted by the surveys, even with just over a week left to polling day.
That approach is supported by surveys that suggest 30% to 50% of voters have yet to make up their minds about who they will support in single-seat constituencies.
“The situation will change day by day,” Abe said in a campaign speech in Shibata, Niigata Prefecture, on Thursday, according to Jiji. “We should fight the tough battles to the end.”
LDP party officials have been emphasising the same to rank and file staff, the message being focus on the campaign, not opinion polls.
In the face of what looks like flagging support, Governor Koike took a similar tack, pointing out the campaign only kicked off on October 10 and that there is much to fight for.
Despite the initial buzz surrounding the Party of Hope it was always going to be a long shot.
It was cobbled together in a matter of days from independents, LDP defectors and the remnants of the opposition Democratic Party, with the latter effectively dissolving itself and mostly remerging under the Party of Hope banner.
All heady, exciting stuff for newspapers and TV chat shows, but short on the time and organization needed for the Party of Hope to stage an effective, nationwide challenge to the LDP and its election machinery built over decades.
Yet, upsets happen and the LDP has been unseated before, though that’s much more the exception than the rule.
Abe’s popularity took a nosedive earlier this year over allegations he’d been using his clout to extend favors to associates: Cronysim in most dictionaries.
North Korean missiles flying over Japan then came to his aid and deflected attention from the uncomfortable grilling he was getting in Parliament. His strong words in response to Pyongyang’s provocations sent his popularity numbers back in a northward direction.
However, it’s been pointed out that the latest opinion polls for the election itself won’t have reflected Japan’s most recent corporate scandal engulfing Kobe Steel Ltd. and its falsification of manufacturing data.
The steelmaker joins a long list of Japanese companies caught fiddling the books in recent years – Toshiba (accounts), Nuclear plant operators (safety checks), Nissan Motor (car inspections) to mention a few – and all on the LDP’s watch.
For those partial to symbolism, Shinzo Abe, before launching a career in politics, was an employee at Kobe Steel. The coming days will show if his opponents decide there is political capital to be made there.
One other candidate to emerge from the aforementioned collapse of the Democratic Party is Yukio Edano, who set up the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which aims to win 50 seats in the election.
While Edano may not be immediately recognised, he is the same man who appeared daily on Japanese television six years ago, usually dressed in something resembling a boiler suit, and the nation hung on his every word.
Edano was chief cabinet secretary when Japan was hit by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami and became the government point man in giving the nation daily updates on the unfolding Fukushima nuclear disaster.
He won extensive plaudits for how he handled that crisis, so if Japan is looking for a leader who has been there, done that, and has the boiler suit, perhaps it’s useful to know Yukio Edano is ready and waiting in the wings.