Kazuo Hayakawa, a 73-year-old retiree living in the Azabu Juban district of Tokyo’s Minato Ward, voted for the Democratic Party of Japan, the nation’s largest opposition party, in the 2009 Lower House election. But he will not be casting his vote the same way again.
With campaigning in full swing across the country ahead of Sunday’s Lower House election, Hayakawa was listening on Tuesday to a stump speech by Liberal Democratic Party candidate Miki Yamada. Yamada is running against DPJ President Banri Kaieda for the Tokyo No. 1 district, which spans the city’s central Shinjuku, Minato and Chiyoda wards.
Asked which party he would vote for in the upcoming poll, Hayakawa said he had already made up his mind.
“Frankly speaking, I can no longer trust the DPJ,” he said, referring to a number of key DPJ election pledges that went unfulfilled after the party’s victory in the 2009 general election.
“(The DPJ) advocated lots of things that sounded good, but all came to nothing,” he added.
This time, Hayakawa said he will vote for Yamada, not Kaieda.
“The economy is recovering, although it’s still half-way through. I want (the LDP) to carry out their (economic polices) to the end,” he said.
Hayakawa is one of millions of urban swing voters whose shifting allegiances have dramatically altered the political landscape not only in Tokyo but across the country.
Swing voters — those not loyal to any major party — have played a key role in recent national elections. They were instrumental in buoying the DPJ-led administration in the 2009 Lower House election and helped put the LDP back in power in 2012, installing Shinzo Abe as the country’s new nationalist prime minister.
Many swing voters have voiced deep disappointment with the DPJ — a trend likely to work in favor of the LDP and reduce voter turnout.
Polls conducted by major media outlets have all predicted a landslide victory for the ruling LDP party, which is tipped to snap up more than 300 seats in the 475-seat Diet, further empowering Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s and his administration.
But the slump in the DPJ’s fortunes has been particularly conspicuous in Tokyo, where a Dec. 4 report by local daily Tokyo Shimbun gave LDP candidates strong leads over DPJ rivals in a vast majority of the 25 single-seat constituencies — including Kaieda’s No. 1 district.
A defeat for Kaieda there, combined with the loss of other DPJ seats in the party’s proportional representation segment, could see the end of Kaieda’s Diet career, and would make him the first-ever party leader to lose a seat in the chamber through a national vote.
Party executives in both the ruling and opposition camps say voters have so far shown little interest in their campaign speeches, with LDP officials conceding that voters’ disappointment with the DPJ, rather than their strong support for the LDP, is likely to be the key factor behind an LDP victory.
“No tailwind is blowing for us,” Sadakazu Tanigaki, secretary-general of the LDP, was quoted in the media as saying in Tokyo on Sunday. “I, as a politician who has experienced many elections, wonder if you can trust a prediction that the LDP alone will win 300 seats.”
Executives at the election campaign offices of Yamada and Kaieda, who were interviewed by The Japan Times separately, said voter enthusiasm had been particularly weak in this election.
“(In the 2012 election campaign), we felt people’s anger toward the DPJ, and many voters wanted the LDP to take back the power. But this time, we don’t feel anything like that,” a close aide to Yamada said Tuesday.
Even with all the polls and surveys of major media outlets suggesting a win for Yamada, the aide admitted being worried “because we haven’t felt a strong reaction from voters . . . It’s a complete lull.”
A Dec. 2-3 poll by Kyodo News found that 67.1 percent of respondents were “interested” in the election, down more than 10 points from to the corresponding period in the previous 2012 election.
Observers are concerned that voter turnout could hit a record low, dropping from the tepid 59.32 percent participation rate in the 2012 election.
A low turnout is likely to be advantageous for the ruling LDP-Komeito coalition, which commands a higher number of core supporters than the opposition parties, which rely heavily on swing voters, particularly in urban areas.
This concern has prompted several DPJ candidates to plead with voters to head to the polls in greater numbers on Sunday.
The DPJ has yet to fully recover from its 2012 defeat and has so far failed to recover its popularity among voters, perhaps because the party has yet to put forward an attractive alternative to the economic policies, dubbed “Abenomics,” that are at the heart of the LDP’s rule.
But other opposition parties, rather than the DPJ, are likely to be the biggest losers in the election, media surveys suggest.
Major news organizations predict that the LDP alone could win as many as 300 seats, with the DPJ increasing its share from 62 seats and Komeito retaining its current 31 seats.
In the 2012 election, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Renovation Party) and Your Party were touted as a potential “third force” in Japanese politics, which split anti-LDP voters and helped put the LDP-Komeito coalition back in power.
But Nippon Ishin no Kai has splintered this year into Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) and Jisedai no To (Party for Future Generations), while Your Party has disbanded amid a fractious internal rivalry and declining popularity.
Both Ishin no To and Jisedai no To are expected to lose some of their seats in Sunday’s vote.
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