In Japan, the first opinion polls have predicted victory for the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party in the 16 December elections, which would make LDP leader Shinzo Abe the next Prime Minister. In South Korea, the ruling Saenuri Party's candidate Park Geun Hye is the frontrunner for the 19 December vote, which would make her South Korea’s first-ever female president. Meanwhile, North Korea has successfully launched a rocket (pictured), which other countries claim is a thinly-veiled test of missile technology. The UN Security Council has issued an initial statement condemning the move.
Polls Predict LDP Victory in Japan
Opinion polls and the Japanese media are predicting major gains for the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the 16 December elections, with the LDP projected to win a majority in the lower house - gaining some 230 to 240 out of 480 seats.
The Japan Restoration Party and other minor parties are expected to win only a few seats in the single-seat districts.
According to the Asahi Shimbun, about 40 percent of voters are still undecided, but analysts say that such voters in Japan tend to go with prevailing sentiment.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has acknowledged the poll results. He has vowed to turn things around, but said the DPJ faces a “difficult situation."
"Political reform and reducing the number of Diet members will not be possible if the DPJ loses seats," Mr. Noda said in a speech in Nagoya on Thursday. "I feel a sense of crisis."
However, LDP leader and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has warned that his party has not won the elections.
"We will not be able to gain victory if we reach election day without having solidified support because we had our heads in the clouds over reports that we were in front," Mr. Abe said in a message to his party last week.
The LDP has failed to live up to media forecasts in past elections, notably in the 1998 Upper House election and 2000 Lower House election.
Report: Election forecast sends shock waves through parties; Abe fears overconfidence [Asahi Shimbun, 7 Dec 2012]
South Korea's First Female President?
In South Korea, despite the fact that outgoing President Lee Myung Bak's approval ratings have fallen amid public discontent with growing inflation and a widening income gap, the ruling Saenuri Party's candidate Park Geun Hye has maintained her lead in the polls. She is the daughter of former South Korean President Park Chung Hee, and previously served as acting First Lady under her father. She is aiming to become South Korea's first-ever female president. South Korea's election will take place on 10 December.
The main opposition candidate is the Democratic United Party’s Moon Jae In. According to a poll by Realmeter and JTBC, a South Korean television channel, Ms. Park has 50.6 percent support, while support for Mr. Moon stood at 43.8 percent.
In a televised debate this week, Mr. Moon accused Ms. Park of failing to take responsibility for her ruling party's failure in managing the economy, leading to slowing growth and rising inflation. Ms. Park has in turn blamed the policies of President Lee's predecessor, Mr. Roh Moo-hyun, whom Mr. Moon served under as chief of staff.
Both Ms. Park and Mr. Moon have pledged to re-engage with North Korea, even despite North Korea's recent move to launch a rocket in defiance of international pressure.
Report: Park Clashes With Moon Over South Korea Economy Before Election [Bloomberg, 10 Dec 2012]
North Korea Launches Rocket
North Korea successfully launched a rocket on Wednesday, which it says was designed to put a weather satellite into orbit. However, the United States, South Korea and Japan believe the rocket also serves a test of technology which could carry nuclear warheads.
The rocket was launched in the morning, and easily surpassed a failed April launch that flew for less than two minutes. North Korean media has confirmed the launch, and said it succeeded in placing a satellite into orbit. There has not yet been independent confirmation of their success, but there have been reports of debris falling into the sea along the flight plan announced by Pyongyang, which could be spent stages of the rocket.
UN Security Council condemned North Korea in a statement. The Council president, Moroccan ambassador Mohammed Loulichk, described the launch as "a clear violation of Security Council resolutions". The US says Pyongyang will face "consequences" for the launch, calling it a "highly provocative act that threatens regional security". Reports say Western diplomats are seeking a UN Security Council resolution to tighten sanctions on North Korea, but such a move would depend on China's approval, as a permanent member of the Council.
On Wednesday, China's state news agency Xinhua said North Korea had the "right to conduct peaceful exploration of outer space."
But it added: "Pyongyang should also abide by relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 1874, which demands (North Korea) not to conduct 'any launch using ballistic missile technology' and urges it to 'suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program.'"
In Japan, LDP leader Shinzo Abe has called on the UN to adopt a resolution "strongly criticizing" Pyongyang.
The launch was officially timed to mark the first anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il. But as it also coincides with elections in South Korea and Japan, some critics have suggested North Korea is attempting to influence the elections.
Report: North Korea's new leader burnishes credentials with rocket [Reuters, 12 Dec 2012]