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Narrowing Upper House race could signal DPJ changes

Date Posted: 2010-07-01

The opposition Liberal Democratic Party is rebounding, and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan is wary as the Upper House elections are now little more than a week away.

DPJ and LDP candidates are set to square off in 27 of the 29 prefecture-based constituencies, where candidates are battling for a single seat. Of those, the LDP has large margins in three and the DPJ in five, while the rest are hotly contested. In the 12 two-seat constituencies, each party is expected to score one seat, while the rest are up for grabs.

The DPJ’s predictions and hopes of achieving the 56 seats necessary to maintain a majority in the House of Councilors is now nip-and-tuck, with many pollsters calling the election battles too close to call. The LDP is now being projected to pick up at least 45 seats, a gain of seven from their current number in the 242-seat chamber. The problem is that a weekend telephone survey of 30,000 potential voters said they’re still undecided about which way to vote.

With 48 of the 121 seats at stake filled under proportional representation provisions, the DPJ is expected to capture 15-19 while the LDP grabs 10-14. Smaller coalition partners are not expected to fare well, including the Kokumin Shinto, the People’s New Party. New Komeito, a smaller opposition party, will fight to keep 11 seats at stake, while the Japanese Communist Party must work to keep its four, and the Social Democratic Party is facing difficulties in retaining its three seats.

The shifting political winds has Prime Minister Naoto Kan looking ahead to prospects his Democratic Party of Japan cannot win an outright majority, and must again turn to building a coalition. Kan says he may need to look for and find new partners, and cause his government to “face a difficult situation in managing government. It would be necessary,” he says, for the DPJ “to have talks with other parties. Kan’s indicated he would be happy with winning 54 of the seats on the line July 11th, down from earlier government banter they’d easily take 60 seats.

Kan says it is too early to decide whether to reshuffle his cabinet after the upcoming elections. He’s also hoping his personal popularity can carry his party past voter displeasure over plans for a future sales tax hike.

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