Japan began voting Sunday in a general election seen as crucial to providing Fumio Kishida, the country’s new leader, the public mandate he needs to avoid a return to the previous era of precarious and rotating premierships.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party faces its biggest electoral challenge in nearly a decade as it confronts an aging constituency tired of the COVID-19 pandemic and an economy in a near-permanent state of stagnation and falling prices.
Kishida dissolved Japan’s powerful lower house of parliament within 10 days of being appointed prime minister this month. After winning the LDP leadership race by promising stability and appealing to powerful factions in the party, his first task is to gain popular support to focus on his economic and foreign policy initiatives.
Analysts and opinion polls conducted by Japanese media predict that the LDP will lose dozens of seats but narrowly maintain a majority control of 465 seats in the House of Representatives. However, the outcome is highly uncertain as the competition looms even for heavyweight liberal leaders such as new General Secretary Akira Amari.
The LDP, along with its coalition partner Komeito, has not faced strong headwinds in the polls since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led the party to a stunning victory in 2012, raising hopes of Japan’s economic recovery and an end to prime ministers’ revolving door.
However, in this election, the long-dispersed Japanese opposition camp is showing an even greater sense of unity.
The five opposition parties fielded one candidate in 213 of the 289 priority districts. As a result, only 1,051 candidates – the lowest number ever – are vying for the 465 Baldet House of Representatives seats, including proportional representation votes.
“We are facing very tight battles across the country,” Kishida admitted in his final campaign speech in Tokyo on Saturday. “It is an election to choose the future of Japan.”
Business leaders and analysts say winning the election is critical for Kishida to address urgent issues, such as the environment and defense. Once the elections are over, he is expected to make his world stage debut at the COP26 climate summit in Scotland and explain how Japan will reach its carbon emissions targets by 2030 and 2050.
The new prime minister also emphasized strengthening Japan’s economic security and defense measures in view of a more assertive China. Once the general election is over, he must win the Senate election next year to solidify his position.
Kishida has promised to inherit the strong fiscal and monetary stimulus of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But he has not yet made clear how he will break with his predecessors to create a “new form of capitalism” and fund his economic measures to achieve wage increases for all.
“His economic plan is not concrete because what matters now are the elections,” said one of the CEOs of a large Japanese company. “He cannot create a new economic theory unless he has made a review of what is good or bad in Abenomics, but he cannot do so until the elections are over.”