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Heavy snow may cast chill on election, send turnout to record low

AFP-JIJI

Heavy snow hit large swaths of Japan on Saturday, the eve of the general election, fueling speculation the ruling coalition is on course to an even easier victory thanks to low voter turnout.

It was already snowing heavily in large areas of the country along the coast of the Sea of Japan on Saturday, though Tokyo remained clear and sunny.

The Meteorological Agency warned of snowfall of up to 80 cm in central and northern regions by Sunday morning, when polls open.

The poor conditions could put off already unenthusiastic voters and push turnout to a record low for the House of Representatives election, which was called two years ahead of schedule.

Early opinion polls have shown Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling coalition is likely to secure more than 300 of the 475 contested seats, giving them the supermajority it needs in the powerful Lower House to force through legislation.

The ruling camp’s predicted victory is largely thanks to an unprepared and underwhelming opposition, political pundits have said. A recent survey found just two-thirds of voters expressed any interest in the election, down from 80 percent before f the December 2012 general election that saw Abe seize power.

“Abe’s expected victory is the result of the self-destruction of the opposition,” Shinichi Nishikawa, a professor of politics at Meiji University in Tokyo, said in an interview earlier in the week. “For many voters, there is no alternative but the LDP.”

Abe has billed Sunday’s election as a referendum on his pro-spending growth policy.

His two years in power have been characterized by his bid to reinvigorate Japan’s sagging economy with what he has called the “three arrows” of “Abenomics,” monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and structural changes. The first two arrows have largely hit their target, sending the once-painfully high yen plunging and stocks soaring.

But the structural reforms arrow remains in the quiver; critics say Abe has not been bold enough to take on the powerful vested interests that are the true key to reversing nearly two decades of economic malaise and deflation. A new mandate from the electorate would in theory give Abe a new four-year term to take a run at some of the more difficult reforms.