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Abe support falls as Koike steals spotlight before election

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Support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe fell in two polls released Monday, three weeks before a general election where Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike's new Party of Hope threatens to eat into his majority.

[TOKYO] Support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe fell in two polls released Monday, three weeks before a general election where Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike's new Party of Hope threatens to eat into his majority.

The premier's approval rate dropped below his disapproval rate in polls by Kyodo News and the Asahi newspaper.

Almost 46 per cent of respondents to the Kyodo survey said they saw Mr Abe as an appropriate person to be prime minister, compared with 33 per cent who chose Ms Koike, whose power base is largely in and around the capital.

About 24 per cent said they'd vote for Mr Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party with nearly 15 per cent opting for Ms Koike's party in the proportional representation section of the Oct 22 election. Forty-three per cent said they hadn't decided.

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While Ms Koike may fall short of unseating Mr Abe - her party plans to field candidates in only about half of the 465 seats up for grabs - her rise to national prominence has shaken up an election that Mr Abe called to capitalise on public support for his tough stance against North Korea and what had been seen as an opposition in disarray.

Ms Koike last week succeeded in swinging much of what was the country's second-largest political force - the opposition Democratic Party - behind her.

Mr Abe's LDP unveiled its election manifesto Monday, formalising the premier's economic pledges, including diverting some revenue from a 2019 sales-tax hike to fund education.

With six straight quarters of growth and confidence among large manufacturers at the highest level in a decade, Mr Abe is likely to point to his economic record to garner support.

The document also incorporates more divisive plans to change the pacifist constitution to make explicit the legality of the Self-Defense Forces.

Mr Abe called the snap election more than a year ahead of schedule, seeking to nip in the bud the challenge from Ms Koike. But despite the short timeline to the election, dozens of former Democratic Party lawmakers are likely to run under the banner of her fledgling party.

She could potentially deprive Mr Abe's LDP of its single-handed majority, putting him under pressure to step down as party leader when his term expires in September.

The Party of Hope has taken an opposing stance to Mr Abe on two key issues. It will seek to phase out nuclear power, and is calling for the planned sales-tax hike to be frozen for fear of damaging the economy.

Ms Koike is preparing to field more than 220 candidates, according to the Yomiuri newspaper. While she can't win a majority with such a limited list of names, it remains to be seen if she forms other alliances. She has agreed with a regional conservative group, Nippon Ishin no Kai, that the two parties will not run candidates against one another in Osaka.

On Monday, left-leaning former Democrat Yukio Edano announced that he would form another new party, called the Constitutional Democrats.

More than half of respondents to the Kyodo poll said they opposed any change to the constitution under Mr Abe, compared with a third who were in favour.

Mr Abe said earlier this year he wanted to add wording to the US-drafted pacifist document to make explicit the legality of the country's Self-Defense Forces.

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