LDP could rule in own right, says poll

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 October, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 October, 1996, 12:00am

A new poll yesterday suggested the country's post-election government will look much like it has always done.

The Liberal Democrats (LDP), the party that ruled Japan for decades before a crushing 1993 defeat, could be returned to power in its own right, according to a poll conducted by Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan's leading economic newspaper.

It found the LDP had already secured its pre-election strength of 211 seats in the lower house and could win as many as 251 seats in the October 20 election. In the 500-seat house this would give the LDP a simple majority.

A number of independents or disaffected members of other parties might also switch to the LDP after the election, ensuring it could form a stable government in its own right.

The LDP heads the current Government, in coalition with two smaller parties, the Social Democrats (SDP) and New Party Sakigake.

The largest opposition party, the New Frontier Party, appears to be in trouble. It may have difficulty securing even 160 seats, its pre-election strength.

But pre-election polls have been wrong in the past. Surveys before Japan's most recent upper house election suggested New Frontier would be routed. The party in fact outpolled the LDP.

'I have my sights set on winning a majority so I am not concerned about a specific poll,' responded New Frontier leader Ichiro Ozawa.

A new opposition party, the Democrats, is doing well according to the poll, and seems guaranteed to get at least 50 seats, although the party is aiming for at least 70.

The two smaller coalition members, SDP and Sakigake, look like they will lose as many as half of their current seats. The SDP has 30 seats and Sakigake nine.

The possibility of a return to LDP dominance of the political scene may help to explain why this election is being seen as dull and virtually issueless among voters and analysts alike.

Most parties are campaigning on the same themes: a new, fresh Japan and administrative reform. The only divisive issue is a proposed increase in a sales tax. The LDP plans to increase the tax from three per cent to five per cent from April next year. New Frontier and the SDP oppose the move.

But voters may view the tax debate cynically.

In government in 1994, New Frontier proposed an even higher rise. The SDP, as a coalition government member, approved the planned April rise. New party leader Takako Doi wants a review of the tax.

The LDP is making full use of New Frontier's altered stance. Adverts last week focused on earlier comments by party leaders calling for a tax rise of up to 15 per cent.