Oct. 22 (UPI) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coalition appears on track to win a supermajority in the House of Representatives, exit polling data suggests.
Public broadcaster NHK said exit polling data from Sunday’s election indicates Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party won between 255 and 300 seats in the 465-seat House of Representatives, while coalition partner Komeito won 26 to 37 seats.
Observers speculated a strong win could bolster Abe’s chances of holding onto party leadership in next September’s contest, which would extend his term as prime minister. If he remains in the office for a full four-year term, Abe would preside over the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and officially become Japan’s longest-ever serving prime minister.
A supermajority would also put Abe in a strong position to strengthen Japan’s military and initiate a national referendum to revise the country’s pacifist constitution.
Japan requires more than two-thirds of the House of Representatives support a national referendum in order for such a move to go forward, and Sunday’s vote appeared to give the prime minister the votes he needs to formally propose a referendum during the regular Diet session that begins in January.
Polls have suggested built-up frustration with Abe’s government, and the nation remains sharply divided over a proposal to revise the war-renouncing Article 9 to define the status of the Self-Defense Forces.
Despite the apparent outcome of Sunday’s vote, Abe could still face strong opposition to his goals.
An opinion poll conducted by the left-leaning Asahi Shimbun on Tuesday and Wednesday found 51 percent of 1,574 respondents said they do not want Abe as prime minister, compared to 34 percent who support him staying in office.
The poll indicates many voters may have cast ballots for Abe’s LDP for want of a clear alternative.
NHK projected Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s newly-formed Party of Hope won 38 to 59 seats in the House. The Constitutional Democratic Party, another newly-formed party that opposes amending the constitution, was believed to have won 44 to 67 seats.
The turnout rate for Sunday’s election was reported by local media outlets as 31.82 percent as of 30 minutes before polls closed at 8 p.m., a drop of 5.9 points from the same time during the 2014 elections. The number does not account for early votes.