Japan’s ruling coalition is on track to retain power but lose seats in parliament, media predictions said after polls closed in Sunday’s general election, the first major test for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. In forecasts based on exit polls, public broadcaster NHK said the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito would win between 239-288 of the 465 seats in the lower house. TV Asahi said the coalition was expected to win 280 seats, down from its previous total of 305 — weakening the dominance of the LDP, which has held power almost continuously since the 1950s. Kishida, 64, became party leader a month ago after YoshihideSuga resigned just a year into the job, partly due to public discontent over his response to the Covid-19 crisis. Cases have dropped precipitously since a record wave that pushed the Tokyo Olympics behind closed doors, but voters in the capital said the pandemic was a major factor in their decision. “The economy is suffering because of the coronavirus, so I compared the politicians’ responses,” said Chihiro Sato, 38, a housewife and mother of a toddler. But engineer Hiroyasu Onishi, 79, said he was more concerned by “the military threat from China”. Kishida has pledged to issue a fresh stimulus package worth tens of trillions of yen to counter the impact of the pandemic on the world’s third-largest economy. He has also outlined plans to tackle inequality heightened by the neo-liberal policies of Suga and his predecessor Shinzo Abe, saying he will distribute wealth more fairly under a so-called new capitalism, although the details remain vague. Japan’s 106 million voters have “struggled to get excited about the new prime minister”, said Stefan Angrick, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics. “Kishida will need to convince the public and younger members of his party that continuity does not mean status quo, but rather maintaining what has worked and improving on what has not.” Kishida had set a comfortable target of winning 233 lower-house seats, a simple majority including LDP and Komeito lawmakers. The LDP previously boasted a commanding majority of 276 seats on its own. NHK predicted the party would hang on to between 212-253 seats on Sunday, while TV Asahi said it would win 243, still a simple majority without Komeito. Kishida has not enjoyed a political honeymoon, with approval ratings around 50 percent, the lowest in two decades for a new administration in Japan. In recent decades, votes against the LDP have been split between multiple major opposition parties, but this time five rival parties boosted cooperation in a bid to dent its stranglehold. The LDP wants to put a tumultuous year behind it, but “the fact that they are still having to fight so hard is, for them, highly embarrassing”, said Michael Cucek, assistant professor of Asian studies at Temple University. “If (Kishida) leads the party into a loss of seats, a clock starts ticking in the minds of his rivals in the party, saying ‘maybe he is only a one-year prime minister’,” he told AFP. Only five politicians have hung on to the prime minister’s office for five years or longer since World War II, including Abe, who was in power from 2012 to 2020 after a previous one-year term. Turnout stood at 31.6 percent as of 6 pm on Sunday, higher than the 30.0 percent at the same time during the 2017 general election, when overall turnout reached 53 percent. As well as vowing to tackle the pandemic and working to boost the middle class, the LDP has said it will aim to increase defence spending to counter threats from China and North Korea. Meanwhile, some opposition parties have emphasised their support for social causes that Kishida has so far distanced himself from, such as same-sex marriage and allowing married couples to have different surnames. “I focused on the candidates’ policies on same-sex marriage and LGBT issues. I have many friends in gay or lesbian couples. I hope public understanding on these issues will deepen,” said 18-year-old Eko Nagasaki as she voted for the first time.