Japanese Voters Weather Typhoon To Vote In Presidential Election
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
It's Election Day in Japan, where voters have been choosing members of Parliament after the prime minister dissolved the House and called a snap election. NPR's Elise Hu is in Tokyo covering the race for us. Hi, Elise.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey, there.
BLOCK: And it's evening there now. Polls have closed. What kind of results are you seeing at this point?
HU: Well, the Liberal Democratic Party - the LDP - which is led by the sitting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is likely to win and win big. I am at the LDP headquarters tonight as the vote tallies come in, and there are 465 seats up for grabs. And the LDP is likely to bring in about 300 of those seats for its ruling coalition.
BLOCK: When you went around to polling places today in Tokyo, Elise, what were voters saying that they cared about the most? What are their issues?
HU: Pocketbook issues - so jobs and the economy and a possible hike in the sales tax here - they come up a lot. And that's actually where stability has helped Abe's party, which has argued that you don't want to change things up with untested rivals. The other issue is national security. That's the bailiwick of Abe's LDP, which, despite its name, is actually the right wing or conservative party in Japan. The threat of neighboring North Korea has really stoked voters' anxieties.
And Abe made the case in this election that Japan is in the middle of a national security crisis, so let's not leave it to any upstart opposition parties. He seems to have won that argument, Melissa. And we should mention, though, that Abe is personally not that popular of a guy. His approval dropped into the 20 percent range earlier this year because of cronyism scandals. But after North Korea's missiles flew over Japan two times now this year, Abe's popularity shot back up. His party is winning tonight, but Abe as prime minister still doesn't have the support of the majority of voters.
BLOCK: Elise, the prime minister has also said that he would favor reinterpreting Japan's pacifist constitution. What would that mean if that were to happen?
HU: It's highly controversial, but reinterpreting the constitution would essentially let Tokyo come to the military defense of its allies - for example, the United States. Now, Abe would need two-thirds of parliament, a two-thirds majority, to get that reform through the lower house and the upper house. But, you know, personal popularity also helps and - in making that call. And that's what Abe lacks. So there's still a question as to whether Abe will be able to get that constitutional reform through the Parliament.
BLOCK: OK. So polls closed. Final tally is not yet in, but as you say, his party does look to be heading toward a strong victory. What does that mean for the U.S.-Japan alliance just weeks before President Trump heads to Tokyo?
HU: Well, Abe has cozied up to President Trump. He supports the U.S.'s hard line tactics on North Korea, which is to try and freeze out Pyongyang through sanctions and pressure. The voters here have actually told pollsters they want to see more diplomatic efforts tried with regard to North Korea, but Abe is largely in lockstep with the U.S. administration's line there on maximum pressure. But, again, Abe likely to win big because enough voters decided they were comfortable with his party's leadership as those North Korea tensions remain high.
BLOCK: OK. NPR's Elise Hu covering the elections in Japan. Elise, thanks very much.
HU: You bet.
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