TOKYO - Voters are turning away from Japan's ruling party in virtually every district and the opposition is on track to win in a landslide when elections are held this weekend, a senior Cabinet minister said Tuesday.
At stake in the elections are all 480 seats in the Japanese parliament's lower chamber. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan has been widely projected by the media to win 300 seats or more - which would likely force Prime Minister Taro Aso out of office.
With just days left before the elections Sunday, Aso and other leaders of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have tried to play down the polls, saying many voters remain undecided and arguing that the opposition does not have the capability to lead the country effectively.
But on Tuesday, Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano acknowledged the party, which has governed Japan for almost all of the past 54 years, is in serious trouble.
"Each constituency across Japan, without exception, is in a difficult situation," Yosano said at a news conference. "My constituency is no exception. A huge wave of the DPJ is sweeping over Tokyo. It looks like they could control the parliament under a one-party dictatorship."
Yosano, one of the ruling party's most powerful members, has been elected from his Tokyo constituency for nine consecutive terms.
Aso - in office as prime minister for less than a year - and his party have seen their support levels plummet amid voter anger over growing unemployment, plans to raise taxes and a perceived lack of vision for the future of the nation.
Japan's opposition, meanwhile, has strengthened dramatically over the past two years, when the Democratic Party took control of the less powerful upper house of parliament.
The Democratic Party has never controlled the Cabinet, or fielded a prime minister.
But they have continued to gain under the leadership of lawmaker Yukio Hatoyama, the scion of a political family who is now poised to take over as prime minister if Aso's party loses as the forecasts predict.
Hatoyama, who was campaigning in the Tokyo area on Tuesday, has promised to cut wasteful spending and spur the economy by putting more money into the pockets of consumers.
He has also vowed to make Japan's foreign policy less dependent on the United States, Japan's main military ally and trading partner.
His messages appear to be getting traction.
In the latest poll, the Kyodo news agency projected Sunday that his party could win more than 300 of the 480 lower house seats being contested in the elections. That would allow it to comfortably unseat the Liberal Democrats, who have governed Japan since 1955, with the exception of nearly 11 months in 1993-1994.
Other polls have made similar predictions.
Still, Aso told his Cabinet on Tuesday that the results in the previous lower house elections held four years ago were better than media projections.
"So let's not wince, and do our best until the very end," he was quoted as saying by Kyodo.
Aso has repeatedly argued the opposition has not proven itself capable of running the country.
"This is a special summer for Japan," Aso said in an appeal televised Tuesday. "Our party is the one that has the responsibility to govern."
Other ministers, however, have echoed Yosano's concerns.
"If the outcome matches the media polls, the number of Liberal Democratic lawmakers will sharply decline and the country's political world would turn into a disaster," Kyodo quoted Health and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe as saying at the Cabinet meeting.
Reform Minister Akira Amari told reporters "the tailwind for the DPJ is stronger than ever."
It had 112 seats in the lower chamber before parliament was dissolved July 21. The Liberal Democrats, a conservative party that has traditionally represented big business and rural voters, held 300 seats.