Japanese PM Fumio Kishida’s party expected to narrowly hold on to House lead

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Oct. 31 (UPI) — Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party was set to narrowly hold onto its control of the House of Representatives as voters took to the polls in the nation’s general election Sunday.

The vote is the first test of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida who was expected to remain in power after being elected last month as he faces criticism over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and failure to deliver on his promises to draw younger people into the party.

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Kishida’s LDP was projected to maintain its majority in the lower house while losing dozens of seats to opposition parties, Kyodo News projected.

Kishida on Sunday said he will claim victory in the election if the LDP’s coalition with the Komeito Party retains its majority in the House.

He added the outcome provides “a valuable public mandate” to govern and that he will “analyze the results and firmly accept them.”

The Japan Innovation Party, which is in line with the LDP on issues such as constitutional reform, was set to nearly triple its seats amid the election that saw a record-low 1,051 candidates run.

Data showed that voters were more engaged this year than the previous general election in 2017 as nearly 1 million more people voted early.

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Activist groups have also placed a greater focus on engaging younger voters who have traditionally turned out in low numbers.

Kishida took office earlier this month after former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga resigned after about a year in office amid intense criticism over his own pandemic response.

He formed a Cabinet that aims to tackle COVID-19 and jump-start the world’s third-largest economy, with 13 first-time ministers and three women among the 20 cabinet members.

However, Kishida faced criticism after appointing older, longtime leaders of the LDP to top cabinet positions and for walking back a key proposal that would redistribute wealth and raise taxes on capital gains after proposing a “new capitalism” on the campaign path.