Dreary initial forecasts by major newspapers for Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s new political party, Kibo no To (Party of Hope), in the Oct. 22 Lower House election have triggered alarm in the upstart party while the ruling bloc remains on guard despite a predicted victory.
According to newspaper forecasts published Thursday and based on recent public opinion and polls and surveys, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito coalition is likely to win around 300 of the 465 seats in the powerful Lower House.
Kibo no To is expected to slightly top its pre-election share of 57 seats, while the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), launched earlier this month by former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, is expected to win two- to three-times its 15 current seats.
Still, much remains obscured, with 30 to 50 percent of voters yet to decide their picks in single-seat constituencies.
“The situation will change day by day,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also serves as LDP president, said in a campaign speech in Shibata, Niigata Prefecture, on Thursday. “We should fight the tough battles to the end.”
The LDP approach was illustrated in a joint letter sent to the party’s candidates by Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and Ryu Shionoya, election strategy committee chairman, urging them not to overly focus on the opinion polls.
Many candidates, they warned, have in the past been defeated at ballot boxes after overinflated leads were reported in the media.
“We won’t relax as we consider that survey results could change,” Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi told reporters in Tokyo.
Yamaguchi said he was expecting his party to maintain its grip on at least 35 seats, the same number it held when the Lower House was dissolved Sept. 28.
For her part, Koike took the reports of Kibo no To’s dwindling momentum in stride.
“The campaign has only just begun,” she said at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office. “We’ll fight hard to the end.”
Kibo no To sources said the party’s reported sluggishness was possibly due to Koike herself having ruled out a run in the election.
The sources also pinned some of the blame on confusion over its selection process for candidates from the Democratic Party, the largest opposition party at the time of the Lower House breakup.
The DP has effectively split into two, with one group running under the Kibo no To banner in the election and another linking up with the CDP. Some DP members, including former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and ex-Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, are running as independents.
Edano has tried to stifle talk that his party may have harnessed the energy earlier displayed by Kibo no To.
“Our party was reported to have some momentum, but there’s no proof of this,” CDP head Edano said in a speech in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.
“The point is whether we can win enough seats to meet public expectations for our party,” Edano told reporters later in the city of Fukuoka.