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26 October 2021

Japan’s new prime minister enjoys the upper hand as elections loom

The omens are good for Fumio Kishida but the newly united opposition is determined to deny him an easy ride.

By Ido Vock

Japanese voters will go to the polls on Sunday 31 October after the new prime minister, Fumio Kishida (previously profiled in the New Statesman), called an election.

Current polls show the coalition formed by Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the conservative Komeito party is likely to hold on to its majority, though perhaps with a small reduction in its share of seats. That is no great surprise: the LDP has governed Japan for all but six years since 1955.

Kishida came into office with somewhat more favourable conditions than his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who for much of his one-year term battled increasing coronavirus infection rates and oversaw the widely unpopular Tokyo Olympic Games in summer 2021. By contrast, Kishida inherits a country where vaccination rates have surged in the second half of this year and infections have plummeted.

Seventy per cent of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated, ahead of other wealthy nations including the US, UK and France. In August, cases peaked at over 23,000 a day; now, they’re at fewer than 400 a day.

Japanese voters cast two votes: one for a constituency MP, and one for a national party list. Although they disagree on some issues, such as whether to boost Japan’s military capabilities, the LDP and Komeito run single candidates in most constituencies, ensuring fewer pro-government votes are wasted. In contrast, several opposition candidates normally stand in every constituency. This splits the anti-government vote, often meaning the LDP-Komeito candidate wins by default.

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This time, though, that policy appears to have changed. Several parties, including the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), have coordinated candidates in over 200 districts, potentially ensuring that fewer anti-government votes will go to waste.

Still, few ever get rich betting against the LDP.

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