Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party is headed for a landslide victory in lower house elections, according to projections released seconds after polls closed today. The projections show the ruling Liberal Democratic Party easily retaining its majority in the 475-seat lower house of parliament. Exit polls have been reliable predictors of the final results in past elections. The vote was seen as less of a verdict on Abe's policies than an acquiescence to the ruling party's growing power. "I think Mr. Abe is the only choice we have considering from what I heard and saw in the reports," retiree Hiroshi Yamada said as he came out of a downtown Tokyo polling station earlier today.
He was echoing sentiments shared by many Japanese. Despite weakening popularity ratings, a recession and messy campaign finance scandals, the Liberal Democratic Party was virtually certain to triumph thanks to voter apathy and a weak opposition. Tokyo's municipal government said turnout in the city was lower than the last election two years ago, with 26% of voters showing up as of midafternoon, compared with nearly 32%. The final nationwide turnout in that election was a record-low 59.3 million people. A landslide victory could improve Abe's chances of pushing ahead with ambitious political and economic reforms—including revising Japan's pacifist constitution—with or without the support of the Liberal Democrats' coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed Komei Party. (Read more Japan stories.)