As Japan braces for a snap election later this month, Toshihiro Nikai, the No. 2 man of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, on Wednesday dismissed it as “impossible” that his party will lose big enough to put the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the LDP in jeopardy.
Questions are mounting over the low bar Abe set for the ruling coalition’s victory, aiming to win a simple majority, or 233 seats, in the 465-member Lower House in the Oct. 22 vote.
Some critics say the goal is intentionally unambitious, citing the LDP and Komeito coalition’s overwhelming pre-election strength of more than 320 seats. That margin means the LDP alone could afford to lose as many as 89 seats before the two parties hit the minimum 233-seat threshold needed to maintain a majority in the Diet.
Even a loss of about 50 LDP seats would be bad enough for the party, as it means the LDP would be close to forfeiting its own majority in the chamber.
That opens the question of whether Abe would have to take responsibility in a scenario where the coalition maintains a safe majority but sees a substantial loss of seats that would signal a stern public rebuke of the LDP. When asked about this, Nikai, secretary-general of the party and known for his abrupt attitude toward reporters, said it won’t be an issue.
“That’s a very grim hypothetical question to ask me before the election,” Nikai said in a joint interview with local media outlets on Wednesday. “Don’t worry. Such a scenario is impossible.”
The LDP’s primary opponent in the election is Kibo no To (Party of Hope), which is led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike.
The latest polls suggest the LDP is headed for a reasonably solid win now that the initial hype for Kibo no To appears to have fizzled out. Koike, despite wide speculation, decided not to run for a Lower House seat in the upcoming poll, thereby failing to establish for her party a potential rival who could replace Abe as prime minister after his nearly five years in power.
As yet Abe’s main challenger for prime ministership remains faceless since Koike still hasn’t named the candidate to succeed the incumbent if her party wins a majority. This leaves voters confused as to whom exactly Abe is pitted against for the nation’s top office.
“At the risk of sounding rude, it’s almost unthinkable the next prime minister can be chosen from that party,” Nikai said, referring to Kibo no To.
Koike, however, has dropped some hints as to whom she may have in mind.
In what may have been an ingratiating gesture, her party refrained from fielding its own candidates in districts where some prominent “post-Abe” lawmakers — including ex-Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, ex-Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and internal affairs minister Seiko Noda — are running.
According to media speculation, should the LDP lose a majority after the election, Koike may support one of these names to become the next prime minister and seek to join forces with the LDP to form a new coalition.
“I don’t care,” Nikai said when asked about this scenario. “I don’t think (a partnership with Kibo no To) is likely.”
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