Abe kicks off poll bat­tle

Koike’s party steals the lime­light

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

TOKYO, Sept 28, (Agen­cies): Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe dis­solved par­lia­ment Thursday, ef­fec­tively kick­ing off a na­tional elec­tion cam­paign where he faces an un­ex­pected and for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge from the pop­u­lar gov­er­nor of Tokyo.

Mem­bers of the lower house raised their arms and shouted “Ban­zai” three times — the Ja­panese equiv­a­lent of “three cheers” — af­ter the speaker read out a let­ter of­fi­cially dis­solv­ing the cham­ber.

Vot­ers in the world’s third-big­gest econ­omy will go to the polls on Oct 22, as Abe seeks a fresh pop­u­lar man­date for his hard­line stance on North Korea and a new tax plan.

“A dif­fi­cult bat­tle starts to­day,” Abe told re­porters, shak­ing his fist.

“This is an elec­tion about how to pro­tect the lives of peo­ple,” said the premier. “We have to co­op­er­ate with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity as we face the threat from North Korea.”

Abe asked for pub­lic sup­port for his “strong diplo­macy” on Kim Jong-Un’s regime, which has threat­ened to “sink” Ja­pan into the sea and fired mis­siles over its north­ern Hokkaido is­land twice in the space of a month.

“We need to fight for our chil­dren’s fu­ture.”

Sur­prise

Abe stunned Ja­pan on Mon­day with a sur­prise call for a snap elec­tion, seek­ing to cap­i­talise on a weak op­po­si­tion and a boost in the polls, as vot­ers wel­come his hawk­ish pol­icy to­ward Py­ongyang.

But Tokyo Gov­er­nor Yuriko Koike has up­ended Ja­panese pol­i­tics in re­cent days, steal­ing Abe’s lime­light with her newly launched “Party of Hope” that seeks to shake up the coun­try’s lethar­gic po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

Koike’s new party, for­mally un­veiled Wed­nes­day, has at­tracted an in­flux of law­mak­ers from a wide range of ide­o­log­i­cal back­grounds and has suc­ceeded in uni­fy­ing op­po­si­tion to Abe, pre­sent­ing Ja­panese vot­ers with a cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tive to the premier.

Ja­pan’s main op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Party later Thursday de­cided not to run can­di­dates in the elec­tion, ef­fec­tively join­ing forces with Koike’s jug­ger­naut.

For the mo­ment, al­though Koike is lead­ing the party, she is not run­ning for a seat in par­lia­ment, pre­fer­ring to con­cen­trate on gov­ern­ing the world’s most pop­u­lous city in the run-up to the 2020 Olympic Games.

“I’ll fo­cus my en­ergy on Tokyo. Lead­ing Tokyo will be a plus to the whole of Ja­pan,” Koike told re­porters.

But pun­dits say the charis­matic for­mer TV pre­sen­ter, 65, could yet go all-in on her high-stakes gam­ble if she thought she could de­flect crit­i­cism for ditch­ing her cur­rent job af­ter only a year.

Risk

“The party may gain some seats in the Tokyo area, but a risk for her is that vot­ers may feel betrayed as they voted for her as Tokyo gov­er­nor and now she is work­ing in na­tional pol­i­tics,” Ken­suke Takayasu, pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Seikei Univer­sity, told AFP.

A sur­vey by the Mainichi news­pa­per showed 18 per­cent of vot­ers plan to vote for Koike’s party, com­pared to 29 per­cent for Abe’s rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party (LDP).

An Asahi news­pa­per poll showed 13 per­cent planned to vote for her party, ver­sus 32 per­cent for the LDP.

Both sur­veys asked vot­ers their pref­er­ence for pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion districts where bal­lots are cast for par­ties, rather than can­di­dates.

“Vot­ers in many coun­tries have shown they are will­ing to take a risk, even a se­vere risk, in terms of what will ac­tu­ally hap­pen be­cause they are dis­ap­pointed with the sta­tus quo,” said Martin Schulz, a re­searcher at Fu­jitsu Re­search In­sti­tute. But Schulz, who drew a com­par­i­son to French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s me­te­oric rise, added that Koike’s plat­form might not be so ap­peal­ing, given its sim­i­lar­i­ties to LDP poli­cies. Abe’s per­sonal rat­ings have risen to about 50 per­cent from about 30 per­cent in July, partly on the back of his lead­er­ship dur­ing the cur­rent North Korea cri­sis.

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