Ruling coalition likely to win 70 seats: poll

Kyodo, JIJI

The ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is likely to win a comfortable majority in Sunday’s Upper House election — a necessity to control all standing committees in addition to the chamber itself, a Kyodo News survey showed Tuesday.

The coalition aims to win at least 70 seats in the upcoming election, and the telephone opinion poll of some 44,000 voters nationwide conducted from Sunday through Monday shows they will likely meet that goal.

Securing a comfortable majority requires Abe’s LDP and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, to obtain a total of 129 seats, including the 59 seats already held that are not being contested. Half of the chamber’s 242 seats come up for election every three years.

Opinion polls by domestic media have indicated the ruling bloc is almost certain to cement its power base after winning last December’s general election for the more powerful House of Representatives. Abe is eager to wrest control of the Upper House, which he lost in 2007 during his previous stint as leader, in order to accelerate his reform initiatives.

Of the 121 contested seats, 73 will be filled by the winners from 47 prefectural electoral districts and the remaining 48 by those chosen under the nationwide party-list proportional representation system. Each voter casts two ballots on election day.

Opposition parties are widely seen as fighting an uphill battle.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the biggest among them, is likely to see its 44 contested seats halved, while Your Party is expected to gain only around seven seats. Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), co-headed by former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who currently serves as a Lower House member, and scandal-hit Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, will likely garner around six, the poll results showed.

The Social Democratic Party is projected to lose one of its two contested seats, while People’s Life Party and the Green Wind party might not gain any.

The Japanese Communist Party, which gained seats in last month’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, might take seats in Tokyo and Osaka as well as several in the proportional representation section of the poll.

Abe, stumping on Okinawa’s Ishigaki Island on Wednesday, said that his government would never make concessions to China on the Senkaku Islands.

“The Senkakus are an inherent part of Japan’s territory in terms of history and international law and there is no territorial dispute” between the two countries, Abe said.

The Senkakus are controlled by Japan and are under the jurisdiction of Ishigaki, but the islets are claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu.

It is rare for a prime minister to visit remote islands like Ishigaki ahead of a national election. Abe’s remarks will likely harden Beijing’s stance on the issue.

Abe also visited the Ishigaki Coast Guard Office in an effort to win support for his Senkaku policy. Abe said he wants “to decisively protect people’s lives and property, the country’s territorial lands, waters and airspace.”

Abe was briefed by Coast Guard officers on their work, which he said has been increasingly affected by Chinese and other vessels approaching or roaming around the islands, particularly after Japan brought them under state control last September.

Abe was also visiting Miyako Island to meet with Air Self-Defense Force personnel stationed there.

During a campaign speech Tuesday evening, Abe promised to carry through with the contentious plan to build an airstrip in Okinawa to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is in Ginowan, also in the prefecture.

“The Futenma base should be relocated at the earliest possible time,” Abe said in a speech to rally support for the party’s candidate in Sunday’s election. “The base should not be allowed to remain at its present location permanently.”

But Abe did not mention the Japan-U.S. agreement to replace the base with the new airstrip planned for the Henoko coastal district of Nago, apparently out of consideration for the LDP’s Okinawa chapter, which has insisted on moving the base out of the prefecture.

Okinawa, where one seat held by incumbent Keiko Itokazu will be contested in the coming election, is one of the prefectures the LDP has been focusing on since the party’s candidate, Masaaki Asato, is facing an uphill battle.