Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe, second from left, marks a successful candidate from his Liberal Democratic Party with a red flower at the party headquarters in Nagatacho district in Tokyo on Oct. 22. (Takeshi Iwashita)

Although opinion polls showed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's unpopularity with voters, his Liberal Democratic Party dominated the Oct. 22 Lower House election as red flowers denoting wins bloomed across the election board at party headquarters.

What boosted the party’s fortunes was the dramatic plunge in popularity of Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who leads opposition Kibo no To (Hope).

“We should be grateful to Koike,” a senior LDP official said. “The prime minister was No. 1 among the politicians whom voters disliked the most. But he became No. 2 as she overtook him.”

The ruling party also benefited from the split in the opposition bloc, which failed in bolstering their chances against a candidate from the LDP or its junior coalition partner, Komeito, by forming a united front and fielding only one challenger in a single-seat constituency.

The LDP was campaigning with worrisome numbers warning of danger on election day.

For example, an Asahi Shimbun poll on Oct. 17-18 found that 51 percent of respondents said they did not want Abe to remain as prime minister, compared with 34 percent who answered otherwise.

Ranking LDP officials were well aware that Abe was not popular among voters.

“I understand that no small percentage of voters say they back the LDP, but not Abe,” a former Cabinet member noted.

Even a Cabinet member who has close ties with the prime minister said, “When I addressed a crowd, I called for support to a ‘stable administration,’ rather than the ‘Abe administration.’”

The prime minister, aware of the adverse headwind against him, did not announce his stump schedule for several days ahead of the start of official campaigning on Oct. 10 in an apparent attempt to stave off hordes of protesters showing up and blaring out anti-Abe slogans.

That partly explains why he started the first day of campaigning in a farming area in Fukushima, the capital of Fukushima Prefecture, rather than in an urban area easily accessible by his critics.

When Abe decided to dissolve the Lower House for a snap general election, he chose the timing to exploit the disarray in the main opposition Democratic Party.

The party, led by its newly elected president, Seiji Maehara, was reeling from a scandal surrounding a leading candidate for its No. 2 post, who resigned from the party amid rumors of an affair that surfaced in a weekly magazine.

The defection of members critical of the Democratic Party’s efforts to cooperate with the Japanese Communist Party in elections continued the negative publicity.

The political landscape appeared to favor the LDP, despite Abe’s sagging approval ratings.

However, the establishment of the Hope party, which was announced on Sept. 25 with major fanfare, instantly transformed the LDP's prospects.

The new party represented a serious threat to the LDP, given Koike’s popularity, demonstrated in the Tokyo gubernatorial race last year and the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election in July. The LDP suffered a crushing defeat in the metropolitan assembly poll.

Two days after the announcement of the Hope party’s foundation, the big wigs of the LDP and Komeito decided to set a low bar with a joint target of a simple majority in the election.

“That represented how seriously we took the challenge by the Hope party,” said a senior ruling party official.

Even in the Lower House election in 2014, the ruling coalition cited “270 seats plus some” as the targeted outcome.

But as the days passed, Koike’s party lost steam.

It was triggered by her remarks to weed out Democratic Party members who sought to enter the race under her party's banner.

“We have absolutely no intention of accepting everyone,” she said on Sept. 29 after meeting with Maehara.

She wanted to ensure that hopefuls were on the same page concerning ideology and other key issues the Hope party stood for.

But Koike's remarks backfired among voters and also painted her party in a negative light.

In addition, the split in the opposition again proved a major factor in contributing to the LDP’s hold on power in the recent election.

An LDP candidate, or a Komeito candidate, likely has the upper hand in a race when ballots critical of the prime minister are cast for multiple candidates from opposition parties.

The opposition bloc won 11 of the 32 single-seat districts in the Upper House election last year by rallying under one unified candidate.

In the 2013 Upper House election, opposition candidates won only two of the 31 electoral districts as a result of the lack of collaboration.

The number of constituencies where a ruling coalition candidate took on multiple challengers from the opposition bloc stood at 226 of the 289 single-seat districts in the latest Lower House election.

The ruling coalition captured 183 seats of 226 such districts, or more than 80 percent, as of 11 a.m. on Oct. 23.

In the 57 electoral districts with one-on-one matchups, the opposition bloc took 18, in excess of 30 percent.

In summing up the election, Finance Minister Taro Aso, who also serves as deputy prime minister, said opposition parties lacked unity during the campaign.

“The opposition forces do not appear to be fighting together,” he said. “They all are going their separate ways, and we are coherent. That is the difference.”