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Politics

Unaffiliated voters hold the key to Japan's elections

These free agents could decide to 'punish' Shinzo Abe's LDP

SHOTARO TANI, Nikkei staff writer | Japan

TOKYO -- Japan's election campaign for the lower house of parliament officially kicked off on Tuesday, with more than 1,100 candidates contesting 465 seats. It has shaped up to be a battle between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's new Party of Hope -- and unaffiliated voters hold the key.

Unlike in the U.S., where two parties battle it out, Japanese politics is dominated by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, with several other parties vying for smaller slices of the electoral pie.

If polls are to be believed, however, the LDP does not have the backing of a majority of Japanese. According to a weighted average of opinion polls from 11 news outlets by Real Politics Japan, the LDP had a 34.3% approval rating in August. Enjoying the largest 'approval rating' were the "unaffiliated" -- those who answered they did not support any party, at 44.5%.

The August surveys were conducted before Koike's Party of Hope was formed, and the exact approval rating for the Tokyo Gov.'s party remains unclear. What is certain is that Koike looks to galvanize the unaffiliated, who often vote to punish the incumbent, and have her party win enough seats to dethrone the two-time prime minister.

Her task is a difficult one, though. Yukio Edano and his newly formed left-leaning Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is trying to steal Koike's thunder.

Voting takes place Oct. 22.

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