By political reporters Kensaku Fujiwara, Akihisa Ota
Yomiuri Shimbun’s survey in the initial stage of the House of Councillors election campaign shows that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito are likely to win a majority of the seats being contested (61). This is because the LDP is leading in most of the 32 single-seat districts. However, there are still many constituencies where the common candidates of the Democratic Party (DP), the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), and two other opposition parties are engaged in a close battle with the LDP candidates. How well the opposition united front will be able to appeal to voters is likely to hold the key in the outcome of the election.
In the multi-seat districts electing three or more Upper House members, Komeito and JCP candidates are fighting fiercely to grab the last seat. The results in these constituencies may also affect the election outcome.
Inasmuch as ruling and opposition parties often share seats in multi-seat districts electing two to six Upper House members, both the LDP and the DP are sending top party leaders to focus on campaigning in the single-seat districts because results in these districts may decide the outcome.
In Yomiuri’s survey at the present stage of the campaign, LDP candidates are leading the common opposition candidates in 16 of the 32 single-seat constituencies. Although this is not comparable to the previous election – where the LDP achieved a landslide victory by winning 29 seats out of the 31 single-seat districts – it is, nevertheless, conducting a credible campaign. It is proceeding to widen its lead over the opposition candidates in three prefectures of northern Kanto and Hokuriku, which are traditional LDP strongholds, as well as in western Japan constituencies.
The support of unaffiliated voters is actually behind the LDP’s lead. In most of the 16 districts where the LDP is leading, the LDP candidate has appealed to them better than the common opposition candidate. A senior LDP official observed that the high cabinet support rating is translating into a tailwind for the party.
However, the LDP is fighting an uphill battle in Tohoku, with its candidates lagging behind the opposition candidates in Iwate and Yamagata. The party had been concerned that because of the TPP, farmers who used to form the backbone of regional chapters might defect. It has taken steps to remedy the situation, such as by appointing highly-popular Shinjiro Koizumi as chief of its Agriculture and Forestry Division. It appears that its concern has now become a reality.
Another cause of concern is that two incumbent cabinet ministers, Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki (Fukushima) and Okinawa Affairs Minister Aiko Shimajiri (Okinawa), are fighting tough battles in their constituencies. An LDP source is worried that the defeat of incumbent ministers may “reduce the mood of victory by half.”
Meanwhile, the opposition camp is enjoying a lead in Iwate, Yamagata, and Okinawa. It is fighting a close battle in 13 single-seat districts, including Miyagi, Niigata, and Nagano, which have newly become single-seat constituencies. It appears that the common opposition candidates have been successful in attracting anti-LDP votes to a certain extent.
However, the united front has not necessarily succeeded in winning over the supporters of the individual parties. In Kagawa, where the common candidate is from the JCP, only around 40% of DP supporters are backing this candidate. On the other hand, in Mie – DP leader Katsuya Okada’s home constituency — and Saga, 50-60% of JCP supporters are voting for the common candidate. The opposition parties had failed to pick a common candidate in these two constituencies until right before the campaign started, partly due to an aversion to the JCP among supporters of other parties. One issue in the campaign from now on is how well the opposition parties will be able to persuade their supporters to back the united front. (Slightly abridged)