07/26/2007, 00.00
JAPAN
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Opinion polls predict Abe’s defeat on July 29, but many voters still undecided

The governing coalition appears far short of the number of seats needed to retain control of the upper house. Many voters are still undecided. Abe announces he won’t quit even if he loses because he has a majority in the lower house, but a resounding defeat might lose him smaller parties’ support and weaken the yen.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Only a “miracle” can save Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) from defeat in the July 29 elections, and the loss of control of Japan’s upper house of parliament, said LDP lawmaker Taro Kono, who last year lost out to Abe in the succession fight to replace former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Abe hinted today that he had no plans to quit. “I want to carry out my duties by promoting reforms whatever the circumstances may be,” he said.

LDP policy chief Shoichi Nakagawa agreed. “This isn't an election related to selecting the prime minister,” he said.

Public mistrust in Abe's government is high. His approval ratings plummeted after the suicide of one minister and the resignations of two others.

A government agency three months ago acknowledged mismanaging 50 million pension records, resulting in possibly millions of dollars in unpaid benefits.

Opinion polls have shown voters find reform of the pension system—not the constitution—to be the top priority. And Abe has come under fire after the pension agency admitted its bungling.

Half of the upper house's 242 seats are being contested in the elections. Whilst not as powerful as the lower house, the upper house can block laws.

The LDP and its coalition partner, New Komeito, need to win 64 seats to keep their majority.

A Yomiuri Shimbun survey indicated that the Liberal Democrats and their coalition partner New Komeito were struggling to win even a combined 53 seats.

Still with about 40 per cent of the voters surveyed undecided, their vote will be crucial on Sunday.

Experts note that although the lower house more is powerful and elects the prime minister (and where the LDP has a two-thirds majority), a defeat this time might compromise the coalition by weakening the support of smaller parties. This would make it hard to enact laws, putting pressure on Mr Abe to resign and usher in an era of policy paralysis

A defeat might also negatively impact the yen, which has already fallen to a record low against the euro after six media polls showed a LDP defeat. (PB)

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