Opposition parties have decided to field unified candidates for 21 of the 32 single-seat constituencies up for reelection in this summer’s House of Councillors election. On April 24 in a by-election for the Hokkaido No. 5 district to fill a House of Representatives seat, the opposition’s unified candidate ran neck and neck with the candidate on the ticket of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) although the candidate was defeated. Around the time of the by-election, opposition parties announced their decision to field unified candidates in the Upper House poll. The question is whether the opposition can prevent the ruling bloc from obtaining a two-thirds majority in the Upper House—a majority that would enable Abe to propose constitutional reform to the Diet.
According to Tokyo Shimbun’s tally on April 14, the opposition decided to field unified candidates in 16 single-seat constituencies. After that, since the JCP withdrew its candidates in at least five districts, including Gunma, Niigata, and Akita, opposition parties have decided to contest the Upper House election by fieling unified candidates. As they are still making arrangements, the number of unified candidates may increase.
The coalition of opposition parties was somewhat effective in the Lower House by-election in the Hokkaido No. 5 constituency. The number of votes obtained by the candidate endorsed by the DP, JCP, and SDP was almost the same as the combined votes secured by the candidates backed by (then) Democratic Party of Japan and by the JCP in the Lower House election in December 2014. In exit polls conducted by Kyodo News on the by-election, almost all DP and JCP supporters voted for the unified candidate of the opposition parties. So it is not true that “cooperation with the JCP will have a negative impact on the results of the election because conservative supporters will not vote for the opposition candidate.” Rather such cooperation gave momentum to the opposition.
What kind of impact will the coalition of opposition parties have on the results of the Upper House election if the opposition candidates win votes as in the Hokkaido No. 5 district? In an estimate by the Tokyo Shimbun based on the outcome of the previous Upper House election in 2013, if non-LDP forces join hands in single-seat constituencies, the number of electoral districts in which the opposition wins will increase from two to nine.
In order to secure a two-thirds majority by the ruling parties and Initiatives from Osaka and the Party for Japanese Kokoro, two minor opposition parties in favor of constitutional reform, they are required to win 78 Upper House seats. They need to add 16 seats to the number of seats up for re-election. Hurdles to achieving a two-thirds majority are expected to be high. If there is keen competition in single-seat districts, it will be more difficult for the ruling camp to gain a two-thirds majority in the Upper House.