TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party may increase its seats and his coalition keep its two-thirds majority in parliament’s lower house, media projections showed, allowing him to claim a fresh mandate for his economic revival policies.
The conservative premier called the Dec. 14 election after just two years in office as a referendum on his “Abenomics” strategy, following his decision last month to postpone a planned rise in the sales tax to 10 percent from 8 percent.
Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is on track to take 300 or more of the chamber’s 475 seats, according to the projections in the Asahi, Nikkei and Yomiuri newspapers on Thursday.
The LDP’s alliance with the small Komeito party may win more than the 317 seats needed for a “super majority” that enables the lower house to override the upper house, two surveys showed.
The projected landslide - echoing the win that returned Abe and the LDP to power in 2012 - would make it easier for the premier to silence dissenters inside the party to his three-pronged growth strategy that combines hyper-easy monetary policy, government spending and structural reforms.
The likely victory comes despite the fact that a large chunk of voters say Abenomics is not working and Abe’s own support slipping. Experts said it was largely due to the opposition’s failure to regain public trust after a 2009-2012 term by the novice Democratic Party of Japan that was marred by policy flip-flops and infighting.
“The LDP will be stronger than it has been at any time in its entire history,” said Columbia University professor Gerry Curtis, of the party founded in 1955. “It’s a vote of no-confidence in everyone else.”
In a sign of voter disaffection, turnout could hit a new low, while the Japan Communist Party is expected to make gains on its eight seats.
Tokyo stock prices jumped to a near 7-1/2 year high and the yen weakened on expectations that Abe would stick to his economic policies after the election.
Some market experts, however, worried that Abe might use the victory to focus less on the economy than a conservative agenda that includes easing the limits of the pacifist constitution on the military’s ability to fight overseas in aid of allies and recasting Japan’s wartime past with a less apologetic tone.
“If Abe wins by too much, it’s possible that he’ll focus too much on the things he really wants to do ... instead of the economy,” said Masayuki Doshida, a senior market analyst at Rakuten Securities.
Economic issues are overshadowing security and other matters, such as restarting off-line nuclear reactors, in the campaign. Abe also needs to draft a new fiscal consolidation plan to curb what is already the worst public debt among advanced nations.
“In policy terms, at best we’ll be back where we were before Abe called the election,” said Tobias Harris at political risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence.
“He still has to come up with a credible fiscal consolidation plan, you still have the nuclear issue and ... the LDP is still capable of making life difficult for it’s own leaders,” Harris said.
The LDP held 295 seats and the coalition 326 in total when the premier dissolved the 480-seat lower house. The number of seats will decline by five because of electoral reforms.
The survey results indicated the coalition would easily beat the 266-seat goal that would allow control of all key committees in the lower house, smoothing parliamentary business.
Abe has said he would resign if the LDP and its junior coalition partner fail to win a simple majority of 238 seats, a low bar that experts said the ruling bloc would easily clear.
The Democrats are expected to add to their 62 seats but struggle to hit the 100 seats it has unofficially targeted, the projections indicated. Its leader, Banri Kaieda, was facing a tough fight to retain his seat, some media said.
Some members of Abe’s cabinet could also face tight races.
Among those are Yasuhisa Shiozaki, who as health and welfare minister oversees reforms of the $1.2 trillion Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF).
Additional reporting by Thomas Wilson and Daiki Iga; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alex Richardson