Voters, puzzled as to why Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is calling an election now and unimpressed by opposition alternatives, may shun the Dec. 14 election in record numbers.
That could help Abe’s ruling coalition win the Lower House election but also erode any claim of a new, strong mandate for his economic revival plan.
A survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun published Sunday showed that 65 percent of voters are interested in the election, down 15 points from the 2012 campaign that brought Abe back to power — with record low turnout of about 59 percent.
With his LDP-Komeito coalition holding two-thirds of the seats in the Lower House and two years left in lawmakers’ terms, many voters are perplexed.
“I don’t understand why they are calling an election,” said Hiromi Tanaka, a music teacher. Tanaka said she plans to vote but thinks many who, like her, don’t hold regular jobs, will not. “They don’t think it has anything to do with them.”
It hasn’t always been this way.
Just shy of a decade ago, the electorate eagerly turned out to hand Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi a huge mandate for a reform agenda that was supposed to reboot the stagnant economy.
Four years later, in 2009, they even more enthusiastically gave the novice Democratic Party of Japan a chance to see if its pledges to put more cash in consumers’ hands would work.
Then, in 2012, voters turned back, but somewhat wearily if the record low turnout is any guide, to Abe’s conservative LDP, hoping the new leader would rev up the economy with his recipe of hyper-easy monetary policy, spending and structural reform.
Now, Abe is asking for a fresh show of confidence in his struggling “Abenomics” strategy in hopes he can cement his grip on power before his soggy ratings slip further.
The 60-year-old prime minister insists Abenomics is the “only path” to pry growth out of the shrinking, fast-aging population. Indeed, Tokyo share prices have surged and big corporations’ profits ballooned since the LDP returned to power.
But real wages have not kept up with the inflation generated by a massive Bank of Japan stimulus program and an initial consumption tax rise to 8 percent last April, part of a plan to curb the mountain of public debt. Abe said last week he will postpone for 18 months plans to raise the consumption tax to 10 percent from next October.
The main opposition DPJ says its “bottom up” strategy focusing on the middle class will do better. But even the party’s No. 2 leader, Yukio Edano, admits the party has not fully regained voter confidence after a bashing in the 2012 election.
Given doubts about Abenomics after the economy slipped into recession in the second quarter, and disillusionment with the opposition, voters may stay home in record numbers, experts say.
Surveys show those intending to vote for the LDP far surpass those who will opt for the opposition, but many are undecided.
A survey by the Nikkei business daily published Monday showed 35 percent plan to vote for the LDP in proportional representation districts compared with 9 percent for the DPJ. But 45 percent are undecided, in line with other media surveys.
Tanaka, no fan of the LDP, says she’s at a loss over which opposition party to back given how weak they appear.
“I don’t want to waste my vote,” she said.
Some, figuring the LDP-led coalition will win a majority anyway, could register protest votes, leaving Abe in power but weakened, said Columbia University professor Gerry Curtis.
“More likely is that those who feel there is no choice don’t vote so turnout is low, the LDP gears up its machine and the opposition splits its vote,” he said.
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