Low voter turnout could erode Japan PM Abe's call for fresh mandate

Low voter turnout could erode Japan PM Abe's call for fresh mandate
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo November 21, 2014.

TOKYO - Japanese voters, puzzled as to why Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is calling an election now and unimpressed by opposition alternatives, may shun a Dec. 14 election in record numbers.

That could help Abe's ruling coalition win the poll for parliament's lower house, but also erode any claim of a new, strong mandate for his economic revival plan.

A survey by the mass circulation Yomiuri daily published on Sunday showed 65 per cent of voters were interested in the election, down 15 points from the 2012 poll that brought Abe back to power - with record low turnout of about 59 per cent.

With his coalition holding two-thirds of the seats in the lower house and two years left in lawmakers' terms, many voters are perplexed.

"I don't understand why they are calling an election," said Hiromi Tanaka, a music teacher. Tanaka said she planned to vote but thought many who, like her, don't hold regular jobs would not. "They don't think it has anything to do with them."

It hasn't always been this way.

Just shy of a decade ago, Japan's electorate eagerly turned out to hand then-premier Junichiro Koizumi a huge mandate for a reform agenda that was supposed to reboot the stagnant economy.

Four years later in 2009, they even more enthusiastically gave the novice Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) a chance to see if its pledges to put more cash in consumers' hands would work.

Then, in 2012, voters turned back, but somewhat wearily if the record low turnout is any guide, to Abe's conservative LDP, hoping the new leader would rev up the economy with his recipe of hyper-easy monetary policy, spending and structural reform.

Now, Abe is asking for a fresh show of confidence in his struggling "Abenomics" strategy in hopes he can cement his grip on power before his soggy ratings slip further.

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