Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe and his conservative party, along with the ruling Liberal Democratic party and their coalition partner, looked set to capture a majority in Sunday’s national election.
But the vote for parliament’s lower house is an early test of Abe’s popularity, as well as his close ties with the president of the powerful military, the defense minister Shigeru Ishiba, both of whom are seeking re-election in their districts.
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Abe, who is seeking a third consecutive term, has campaigned on a domestic agenda that includes promises to foster faster economic growth, boost the supply of domestic energy and ease restrictions on public pensions.
The upper house election for 60 seats in August is seen as a more likely gauge of support.
Abe also wants to rewrite the pacifist constitution, considered a touchstone of postwar Japanese history. Critics say he is acting to the detriment of Japan’s post-war peace process.
The leftwing opposition Democratic party sought to keep the focus on Abe’s support for the military, which it says was weakened by his economic policies that have seen the military refocus on securing wartime threats, rather than responding to domestic emergencies.
The opposition party is led by Banri Kaieda, who had led polls for the premiership before Abe’s surprise announcement to seek a third term as prime minister. In a debate last week, Kaieda denied his party was weak, saying it has the capability to form a single bloc that could win an absolute majority in the lower house.
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“The prime minister may be able to take this view at the time, but the upper house elections are closer and it will likely take more than the leadership of one person to win there,” Junichi Fukuda, a former defence minister and a Democratic party candidate, told Reuters.
The Liberal Democratic party, which has held a majority in the lower house since 1989, could see its control over the lower house whittled down to less than 50 seats.
Abe has signalled that his top choice for defence minister if he wins a third term is Ishiba, a close ally who has remained influential even after leading the ruling bloc to a disastrous defeat in a general election last year.
He is also seen as keen on having the hawkish Ishiba run the ministry, even though rivals for the job have criticised Ishiba’s ties to rightwing groups that lobby for a greater role for the military, especially in naval security.
Ishiba, 70, has said it was “unrealistic” to expect the armed forces to serve as guardians of democracy and he opposes the ban on extending the pacifist Article 9 into the conflict-ridden seas.