TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s lower house was dissolved on Thursday ahead of an expected snap Oct. 22 election being called by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as he seeks to confirm his mandate in the face a rising challenge from a popular new conservative party.
Abe, a conservative who returned to power in 2012, is hoping a boost in his voter support in recent months will help his Liberal Democratic Party-led (LDP) coalition maintain a simple majority. It currently holds a two-thirds “super” majority.
A number of opposition lawmakers boycotted the session at which the lower house was dissolved in protest at Abe calling the election and creating a potential political vacuum at a time when tensions are high with North Korea.
“This will be a tough battle, but it’s all about how we will protect Japan, and the lives and peaceful existence of the Japanese people,” Abe told a group of lawmakers.
Popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s new Party of Hope — only formally launched on Wednesday — has upended the election outlook after she announced she would lead the group herself.
Koike, a media-savvy former LDP lawmaker and defense minister often floated as a candidate to become Japan’s first female prime minister, said on Wednesday she would not run for a seat herself, but speculation that she will persists.
A survey by the Mainichi newspaper showed 18 percent of voters plan to vote for Koike’s Party of Hope compared to 29 percent for Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
An Asahi newspaper poll showed 13 percent planned to vote for Koike’s 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 specific candidates.
Abe’s personal ratings have risen to around 50 percent from around 30 percent in July, partly on the back of his leadership during the current North Korea crisis.
The emergence of Koike’s party – which she describes as pro-reform and conservative – has thrown the main opposition Democratic Party into turmoil. The Democrats are struggling with defections and single-digit ratings and now appear in danger of being absorbed by the Party of Hope.
Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara will propose that the party run no candidates in…