Komeito is agonizing over the optimal distance to set in relation to the Kantei [Prime Minister’s Official Residence]. Komeito won the recent Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election through cooperation with the Tomin First [Tokyoites First] party led by Governor Yuriko Koike. The administration is under fire over such issues as the UN peacekeeping operations (PKO) activity logs in South Sudan so Komeito ought to be distancing itself from it right now. Instead, though, the party has limited itself to demanding “accountability.” Leaving the ruling coalition is not an option for Komeito, so it has begun to take steps to mend ties, with sights set on the next House of Representatives election.
Support ratings for the Abe cabinet have been sliding rapidly with various issues being raised against the administration. While senior Komeito officials have repeatedly asked the government to offer explanations, they have carefully stopped short of criticizing it directly.
Komeito’s handling of the upcoming cabinet reshuffle on Aug. 3 also reflects its awkward relationship with the administration. Asked by reporters on July 20 about the possibility of two Komeito members joining the cabinet, party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said: “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has no such plans.” He is expected to meet with Abe on July 21.
Komeito did not cooperate with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the Tokyo assembly election. This resulted in the LDP suffering a crushing defeat because it lost Komeito supporters’ votes. On the other hand, all 23 Komeito candidates were elected. Certain Komeito members are elated by this outcome, asserting, “The LDP must have realized how valuable electoral cooperation with us is. We will now have a stronger voice in the ruling coalition.”
However, Komeito leadership keeps insisting that “national administration is a different matter from Tokyo politics,” thus showing eagerness to improve ties. Since it used to be that a word from a senior Komeito official could cause a cabinet minister undermining the administration to be sacked, Komeito members in regional areas are now clamoring “why be so timid with the Kantei?”
There are several reasons. If there were a rival party that could take over political power, such as the former Democratic Party of Japan, Komeito could threaten to leave the coalition to put pressure on the government. That is not an option right now. Rather, the Kantei is moving closer to Nippon Ishin [Japan Innovation Party] to keep Komeito in check. Even though the cabinet support rating has dropped, the dissolution of the House of Representatives for a general election is not imminent. Even the simultaneous local elections and the House of Councillors election are two years away. Therefore, Komeito wants to avoid souring its relationship with the LDP in consideration of the next Lower House election.
Komeito used to boast of its policy achievements as a ruling party in past elections, and electoral cooperation with the Komeito has been the LDP’s weapon. The ruling parties are facing off with the opposition parties in the Sendai City mayoral election on July 23. LDP-Komeito cooperation will also be tested in the Ibaraki gubernatorial election in August and the by-election in the Lower House third district of Ehime in October, which will be the first national election after the cabinet reshuffle.
A senior Komeito official says: “We need to build up trust again step by step.” (Slightly abridged)