TOKYO – The campaigns for the snap elections in Japan on Oct. 22 officially started on Tuesday as new political parties enter the fray.
Around 1,100 candidates will vie for 475 seats in the country’s lower house, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved at the end of September alleging the need for a new mandate to tackle North Korea and continue with his economic policies.
In these elections, Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has been in power for the last five years with a vast majority, will face a recently reorganized opposition, which includes the new party of the governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike.
The Party of Hope leader gave a speech Tuesday morning outside the bustling Ikebukuro railway station in northern Tokyo, in front of several hundred people.
Her 20-minute speech was reportedly upbeat and well-received by listeners, who clapped in response.
Koike’s party, which polls have put in second place in the upcoming elections behind the LDP, comprises a large part of the defunct Democratic Party – dissolved last year – which had been the main opposition party.
Most observers believe Abe’s decision to hold elections more than a year before the end of the current legislature seeks to take advantage of a moment of weakness in the opposition and give it as little time as possible to organize an alternative government.
Despite the enormous popularity of the Tokyo governor and the impact of the surprising launch of her new party hours after the announcement of the call for early elections, the latest surveys show it will be difficult for the party to take power away from Abe.
The premier started his campaign Tuesday morning in Fukushima, some 235 kilometers north of Tokyo, and the prefecture where the 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.
Speaking by a rice field to some 200 enthusiastic supporters, Abe sampled local foods including rice and Fukushima-grown apples.
The latest polls by the Yomiuri newspaper have tipped the LDP as the favorite and shown that 32 percent of the voters plan to vote for the party, which will help it retain its majority despite losing seats.
The conservative prime minister, who is projecting himself as a veteran at a time of instability in the opposition, has said that if the LDP and its ally so far, the Buddhist New Komeito party, fail to secure the simple majority of 233 seats, he will step down to assume responsibility for the worse-than-expected results.
Some 13 percent of voters support the Party of Hope and the party is aiming to become the second largest political force in the Asian country after Koike decided not to lead the list of candidates and remain governor of Tokyo.
Last week, Koike presented her party’s economic program as an alternative to Abe’s economic policies known as Abenomics.
Koike’s plan, dubbed Yurinomics, includes measures such as freezing the sales tax hike planned for 2019 and taxing corporate cash reserves to resolve the problem of Japan’s high debt.