Outsider party looks to upstage Japan's Abe as election campaign kicks off

Japan's Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo on September 25, 2017. The prime minister called a snap election, hoping to capitalize on rising support as tensions with North Korea escalate.

Story highlights

  • Campaigning begins Tuesday for October 22 election
  • Ruling party could face stiff challenge from upstart party formed by Tokyo's governor

Tokyo (CNN)Japanese politicians spring into campaign mode Tuesday as the countdown to the country's snap general election -- scheduled for October 22 -- begins.

In the course of the coming weeks, candidates will take to the streets, plastering neighborhoods with fliers and posters, and drumming up support via car-mounted loudspeakers as they contest 465 seats in the Diet, Japan's parliament.
    Final registration for candidacy takes place Tuesday, and while it remains unlikely, former defense minister and current Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has not yet ruled out running for a seat in the Diet, as the leader of the newly-formed Party of Hope.
    The sudden appearance of Koike, a former TV anchor, as a populist and astute political player has upended the normally staid, male-dominated world of Japanese politics.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has held power for five years, has seen his popularity fall significantly in the wake of two corruption scandals. His decision to call a snap election, analysts say, was aimed at taking advantage of a recent uptick in ratings.
    However, the rise of the New Hope Party on the national stage makes it harder to predict the result, which could now become a referendum on the Prime Minister himself.

    Upstart governor's influence

    Abe has said that the election will be "very tough" for his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and the question of whether it can hold a majority of seats as the ruling coalition party is a focus of attention in this election.
    "In theory, Abe has more than a year left (in office), but he is aware of the fact that his support levels are unlikely to improve much more," said Koichi Nakano, a professor of Japanese politics at Tokyo's Sophia University.
    Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo, delivers a speech during a reception party at the official residence of French ambassador to Japan in Tokyo.
    A recent pre-election poll shows 13% of respondents would vote for candidates from Party of Hope, down from 19% at the end of September when Abe dissolved parliament.
    By contrast, the LDP have the support of over 30% of respondents in the poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

    Security front and center

    In calling the early election, analysts say, Abe hopes to secure a stronger mandate as the country prepares to respond to increasing threats from North Korea.
    Key to the country's security, Abe believes, is rewriting Japan's pacifist constitution to allow restrictions on the country's Self Defense Forces, the de facto military, to be relaxed as they engage in more exercises and other activity with US and allies amid growing tensions with North Korea.
    Earlier this year, Abe set a 2020 deadline for changing the document, which was imposed on it by the US in the wake of World War II and bars the country from maintaining armed forces.
      "We must not give into the threat of North Korea. I hope to gain the confidence of the people in the upcoming election and push forward strong diplomacy," Abe said at the time.
      The move, which Koike also supports, is opposed by China and South Korea -- who suffered under Japanese colonial occupation -- and only has limited support within Japan, according to recent polling.