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Abe to face unexpected headwinds in election race as opposition parties realign

TOKYO (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's dissolving the lower house of parliament Thursday and calling a snap election for October 22 was supposed to be a straightforward piece of political brinkmanship aimed at seeing his grip on parliament tightened and his tenure at the helm extended.

Abe has seen the support rate for his cabinet tumble to historic lows following a string of gaffes and blunders linked to his ruling Liberal Democratic Party's and Komeito coalition ally's representatives.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, ( centre ) shakes hands with a lawmaker at lower house of the parliament in Tokyo. -- Photo AP

None more so than a double cronyism scandal implicating the Japanese leader himself in both a cut price land deal which favored a nationalist school operator with alleged links to the prime minister, and favoritism shown to a personal friend of Abe in the selection of a veterinary school to be opened in a special deregulated zone in Japan.

“In theory, Abe has more than a year left in office, but he is aware of the fact that his support levels are unlikely to improve much more,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of Japanese politics at Tokyo's Sophia University.

“He has been pushed into a corner by the scandals and he is afraid that once parliament is reconvened, he will face further questioning and another sharp drop in the polls,” asserted Nakano.

But no sooner had Abe believed he had ridden the waves of controversy and seen his support rate increase somewhat, he opted to call a snap election and in doing so made sure there would be no parliamentary session at which the opposition parties could take Abe to task over the alleged scandals, political commentators here said.

“There is nothing coincidental about the timing of Abe calling the snap election. As things stood at the time, his support ratings weren't that bad and the main opposition Democratic Party, under its new leader Seiji Maehara, was in a state of disarray with its members defecting to join other parties,” Asian affairs commenta tor Kaoru Imori told Xinhua.

Imori added that while there were embryonic signs, no one could have predicted the extent to which the opposition camp, with their backs against the wall numerically speaking, could bring about such a monumental realignment that has taken Abe and his ruling LDP-led coalition aback.

Along with other commentators, Imori said that political insiders had been keeping a keen eye on popular Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike who announced she will launch a new national political party called “Kibou No To,” which means Party of Hope in English.

The Tokyo Gov.'s move follows Koike's Tomin First no Kai's (Tokyoites First party) sweeping victory in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly race in July, which saw off challenges from rival parties, including the ruling LDP, which Abe is also the president of.

The Tokyo metropolitan assembly race is widely regarded as a barometer for the future direction of national politics and triggered rumors among political insiders that Koike was eyeing a return to national politics after her landslide win.

Koike, certainly not a political novice, served as a lower house member between 1993 and 2016 at which time she resigned to run in the gubernatorial election, which she won.

(Latest Update
September 29,

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