Their combined seats will exceed the parliamentary majority of 233, a loss compared to the previous 305 seats.
Kishida, 64, was elected prime minister on October 4 after winning a leadership race in his ruling party, and the lower house was dissolved just 10 days after taking office. Conservative party leaders saw him as a safe successor to Yoshihide Suga and his influential predecessor Shinzzo Abe.
Exit polls were more or less in line with media forecasts. Whether Kishida’s party can retain a majority on its own and how many seats it will lose from 276 before the election is still unclear. Official results are expected by early Monday.
Kishida’s immediate task was to garner support for the party, which was weakened by Suga’s apparent approach to pandemic measures and his insistence on holding the Tokyo Summer Olympics despite widespread opposition due to the large number of coronavirus cases that have fallen sharply since then.
Kishida has repeatedly stressed his determination to listen to the people and respond to criticism that Abe-Suga’s nine-year leadership has fanned corruption, tamed bureaucrats and jammed opposing views.
The campaign focused largely on measures to respond to COVID-19 and revive the economy.
While the ruling party stressed the importance of a stronger military due to concerns about China’s growing influence and North Korea’s missile and nuclear threat, opposition parties focused on diversity issues and worked for gender equality.
Opposition leaders complain that recent LDP governments have widened the gap between rich and poor, failed to support the economy during the pandemic, and stalled initiatives for gender equality and diversity. This year, Japan ranked 120th in the World Economic Forum’s 156 countries on the gender gap.
The opposition has long struggled to get enough votes to form a government after the brief reign of the now-failed center-left Democratic Party of Japan in 2009-2012, as it failed to present a grand vision for the country.
As for the economy, Kishida highlighted growth with rising incomes, while opposition groups are focusing more on the redistribution of wealth and calling for cash payments to low-income households affected by the pandemic.
In his last speech in Tokyo on Saturday, Kishida vowed to boost growth and “distribute the fruits” to people as income. “It’s up to you to decide who can do it responsibly.”
The LDP opposes legislation that guarantees equality for sexual minorities and allows separate surnames for married couples.
Of the 1,051 candidates, only 17% are women, despite a 2018 law that promotes gender equality in elections, which is toothless because there are no penalties. Women make up about 10% of parliament, a position that gender rights experts call “democracy without women”.
Voters, including young couples with young children, began arriving at polling stations in central Tokyo early in the morning.
Shinji Asada, 44, said he compared COVID-19’s measures to select a candidate, hoping for a change of leadership, as he felt the ruling party did not have enough clarification and transparency about its pandemic measures. He said that despite Kishida’s promise to pay more attention to people’s votes, “I thought nothing would change (below him) when I saw his cabinet,” whose seats mostly belonged to the party factions that voted for him. .
A 50-year-old part-time worker, Kana Kasai, said she voted for someone she thought would “work fingers to the bone” for a better future.