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The major Japanese newspapers that conducted polls on the June 25 Lower House election this week made these stunning forecasts:

* The tripartite ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the Conservative Party will win a comfortable majority that will allow it to chair all standing Lower House committees.

* The LDP itself will win more than half of the seats up for grabs.

The results were surprising because the approval rating for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, published by one newspaper at the same time as an election poll, stood at only 18.6 percent, the lowest Cabinet rating in recent memory. The disapproval rating was 64.1 percent.

The key question is: Do most voters disapprove of the Mori Cabinet but think highly of the LDP-led coalition?

To clear up this and other questions surrounding the poll results, several political journalists, including myself, met with Takayoshi Miyagawa, president of the Center for Political Public Relations.

The center also conducted an election poll, which produced almost the same forecasts as the newspaper polls but put the Mori Cabinet’s approval rating at a dismal 9 percent. Miyagawa concluded that most voters were likely to vote for the ruling-bloc candidate in their single-seat constituencies, disregarding the performance of the prime minister, who could be replaced anytime.

Nevertheless, the polls indicated that nearly 50 percent of eligible voters have not yet decided which party to vote for. Most of these undecided voters live in urban areas.

Some journalists said the forecasts of a strong LDP victory could cause a reversal of the poll results, as was the case in the 1998 Upper House election. In that election, widespread forecasts of an overwhelming LDP victory led unaffiliated urban voters to flock to the polls and vote for the underdogs. The LDP lost all the seats up for grabs in electoral districts in urban areas in and around Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. These locations account for 70 percent of Japan’s population and gross domestic product, as well as 90 percent of its information transmission.

Miyagawa, however, said a similar result was unlikely this time. Before the 1998 election, the LDP government of then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto made a few bad mistakes, including raising the general consumption tax from 3 percent to 5 percent. The LDP has made no comparable mistake before this election, noted Miyagawa.

Miyagawa also said most voters were offended by Prime Minister Mori’s remark that Japan is “a nation of gods centering on the Emperor,” but did not think it was a decisive election issue. Voters were more concerned about the state of the economy, the quality of everyday life, welfare and growing problem of juvenile crime. Most voters are likely to vote for the LDP because they see it as the only party that has the power to solve such problems, Miyagawa said.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the top opposition party, made a bad campaign mistake when it called for a reduction of the minimum taxable income, Miyagawa said. The DPJ says the proposed cut, which will be combined with an increase in public aid to families with children, should benefit the public. However, most people see the proposal as tantamount to bullying the poor. In Miyagawa’s opinion, the proposal will not attract many swing votes in urban areas.

I agree with Miyagawa’s view that LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka has pursued a successful election strategy, which is based on cooperation with New Komeito, the party backed by the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai. Miyagawa estimates that about 20 LDP candidates are likely to win their elections as a result of their party’s cooperation with New Komeito.

The opposition forces are likely to lose badly because they have failed to coordinate their election strategies, unlike the LDP-led ruling coalition, which has pursued a closely coordinated election campaign. This failure of the opposition to coordinate their efforts stems from disunity in the DPJ.

We all agreed that it was unlikely that the LDP would suffer a setback like that of the 1998 Upper House election, and that the ruling coalition may even strengthen its power base.

Nothing is certain in an election, however. In the latest turn of events, Mori made another slip of the tongue Tuesday, expressing his hope that voters without a party preference would not go to the polls. This could cause strong resentment among such voters and lead them to vote against the LDP.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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