LDP lead shrinks in run-up to December 16th election

The crucial Lower House elections set for a week from Sunday will set the tenor for Japan’s next year, and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party is struggling to hang on to its lead against the incumbent Democratic Party of Japan.

The latest polls still have former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his LDP ahead, and in line to sweep the largest number of seats in the powerful Lower House.  That would give him the right to form a new government in concert with the LDP’s long-time New Komeito ally.  What is potentially troubling for the LDP is that the lead is dwindling, which could let Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s DPJ have a little more influence than before.  “I thought the LDP and New Komeito together would scrape by with a majority,”  says the executive director of the Asian Forum Japan think tank, Katsuhiko Nakamura. “Now I wonder.”

The latest polls show 20% of voters plan to vote for the LDP, down 3% points from last month.  The DPJ could pick up 15%, up two percentage points, while the right-leaning Japan Restoration remains unchanged with an expected 9% of the votes.  “This is going to be a tough election,” says Noda. “but I see a trend emergency where the LDP is slipping a little and the DPJ is gaining somewhat.  In the election campaign, I’m determined to do my utmost and fight to the bitter end.”

Few political observers think it likely Noda and his allies could alter the ultimate result of Abe sweeping to power, but they’re predicting Abe will have a rough road ahead. Abe’s hawkish stance on security issues will make his coalition and consensus-building more difficult.  Abe will have to forge a solid alliance since no party will have a majority in the Diet’s Upper House, which is gearing up for elections next July.