His Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) could sweep more than 300 of the 475 seats in the lower house of parliament, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and Kyodo News said in their pre-election surveys.
That would mean the LDP, which held 295 seats before Abe dissolved the powerful chamber last month, will maintain its two-thirds super majority with junior coalition partner Komeito, the Nikkei newspaper said. Sixty-year-old Abe still has two years left of his mandate, but called the vote in the wake of his decision last month to delay a sales tax hike due for October 2015.
But, media said, the predicted victory may be less a resounding endorsement of the prime minister and his signature “Abenomics” programme, than a symptom of the parlous state of the opposition and the lack of credible alternative on offer. Chief opponents the Democratic Party of Japan, which governed haphazardly from 2009 until Abe unseated them in 2012, are expected to gather around 70 seats, a minor improvement on the current 62 they hold.
However, the final numbers could change, Kyodo said, with about half of poll respondents saying they have not yet decided who to vote for. Voters are unenthusiastic about the election, with some 67 per cent saying they are “very much” interested or engaged “to a certain degree”, down from 80 per cent in the December 2012 lower house election, Kyodo added.
Many of the media surveys were carried out earlier this week and covered more than 100,000 voters, of whom more than half gave valid responses. A previous sales levy hike in April – from five per cent to eight per cent – slammed the brakes on growth and pushed the country into recession during the July-September quarter.
The tax increase, aimed at tackling Japan’s eye-watering national debt and huge public welfare costs, dealt a serious blow to Abe’s plan to conquer years of growth-sapping deflation.
Ratings agency Moody’s on Monday downgraded Japan’s credit rating by one notch to A1, citing “rising uncertainty” over the country’s debt situation and Abe’s faltering efforts to kickstart growth. Critics have derided the vote – which will cost taxpayers about US$500 million – as “an election without a cause,” but Abe has insisted the poll is necessary as a referendum on his controversial big-spending, easy-money policies.