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Japan’s ruling coalition to retain power

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Tokyo: Japan’s ruling coalition is on track to retain power but lose seats in parliament, media predictions said after polls closed in Sunday’s general election, the first major test for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

In forecasts based on exit polls, public broadcaster NHK said the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito would win between 239-288 of the 465 seats in the lower house.

TV Asahi said the coalition was expected to win 280 seats, down from its previous total of 305 — weakening the dominance of the LDP, which has held power almost continuously since the 1950s.

Kishida, 64, became party leader a month ago after Yoshihide Suga resigned just a year into the job, partly due to public discontent over his response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Cases have dropped precipitously since a record wave that pushed the Tokyo Olympics behind closed doors, but voters in the capital said the pandemic was a major factor in their decision. “The economy is suffering because of the coronavirus, so I compared the politicians’ responses,” said Chihiro Sato, 38, a housewife and mother of a toddler.

But engineer Hiroyasu Onishi, 79, said he was more concerned by “the military threat from China”. Kishida has pledged to issue a fresh stimulus package worth tens of trillions of yen to counter the impact of the pandemic on the world’s third-largest economy.

He has also outlined plans to tackle inequality heightened by the neo-liberal policies of Suga and his predecessor Shinzo Abe, saying he will distribute wealth more fairly under a so-called new capitalism, although the details remain vague.

Japan’s 106 million voters have “struggled to get excited about the new prime minister”, said Stefan Angrick, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics. “Kishida will need to convince the public and younger members of his party that continuity does not mean status quo, but rather maintaining what has worked and improving on what has not.”

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