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Opposition alliance could have cost Abe his supermajority

TOKYO — Japan’s four main opposition parties would have won 60 more lower house seats in 2014 if all their votes were combined, depriving the ruling coalition of the supermajority it needs to revise the constitution, Nikkei Inc. has found.


The Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito secured a two-thirds majority in the election, winning 232 single-seat districts and 94 proportional-representation seats for a total of 326 out of 475. But combining the votes for candidates fielded by the opposition Democratic Party, Japanese Communist Party, Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party would have pulled 60 seats from the ruling coalition.


Assuming that the proportional-representation seats remain the same, the LDP and Komeito would have 266 seats — still a majority but well short of two-thirds of the chamber. Even adding the 15 seats held by the Japan Innovation Party, which cooperates with the ruling coalition in such areas as managing Diet affairs, would not bring the total to the 317 needed. The LDP would also lose its majority, requiring Komeito to make up the difference.


The change would put such figures as former Democratic Party of Japan leader Banri Kaieda back in the chamber while removing such ruling party lawmakers as Kozo Yamamoto, state minister for revitalizing local economies.


The impact would be most dramatic in eastern Japan. Half of Hokkaido’s 12 seats would flip to the opposition, slashing the ruling coalition’s seats from nine to three. In the Tohoku region, the ruling parties would have won just 11 seats, rather than 19, to the opposition’s 14. The opposition gained seats in both regions in July’s upper house election, winning votes from farmers and others concerned about the impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.


But the ruling coalition would have largely held firm in the western half of the country. The Chugoku and Shikoku regions would each see just one seat change hands out of 20 and 11, respectively.


Cooperation in the next election would not necessarily yield precisely these results, since both sides plan to run different candidates in some districts.


Concerns have also been raised that closer cooperation between the Democratic and Communist parties would turn off conservative voters. And the electoral map itself could differ depending on the timing of the election, with a seat reallocation set to take place next May.


The Democrats and Communists will be key to answering the question of whether the opposition can pull off anything like what these calculations suggest. Few, if any, of the districts in question could be flipped without cooperation between the two parties.


The parties were competing in about 140 districts as of Thursday. While the Democratic Party hopes to just divvy up the districts between the two to avoid competition, the Communist Party wants actual cooperation, including drawing up shared platforms and governing plans. Deciding who will run will be tricky as well, with both parties looking to field candidates in districts they skipped last election.


Progress on this front will likely affect Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision on when to dissolve the lower house. Holding a snap election before the two sides can reach an accord would be to the ruling coalition’s advantage.

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