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Editorial: Opposition bloc needs to build on success in Upper House elections

  • July 23, 2019
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 2:25 p.m.
  • English Press

The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, Komeito, won more than half the seats that were contested in the July 21 Upper House election.

 

But the parties that support amending the Constitution–the LDP, Komeito and opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party)–failed to retain the two-thirds of Upper House seats needed to initiate an amendment.

 

The election results indicate that the broad coalition of opposition parties, under which they fielded unified candidates in all 32 single-seat constituencies nationwide, was effective, at least to a certain degree.

 

Opposition candidates won in 10 of the 32 constituencies, one short of the 11 the opposition parties took in the Upper House poll three years ago, when they forged such a strategic alliance for the first time. But this is still a much better performance than six years ago, when the opposition parties won only two as they fought with the powerful ruling coalition independently.

 

In seven prefectures including Akita, where the election mostly revolved around a controversy over the government’s plan to deploy a U.S.-made Aegis Ashore missile defense system, the incumbent LDP Upper House members were defeated by unified opposition candidates.

 

The opposition alliance apparently worked as an effective platform to attract votes against the administration.

 

Of the 10 opposition winners in these constituencies, nine were rookie candidates and five of these were women.

 

These facts seem to suggest that the opposition strategy succeeded in appealing to voters wishing to see change and new possibilities in Japanese politics.

 

Eight of the 10 victorious opposition candidates ran as independents. Their successes have shown that even rookies without party affiliation could beat ruling party incumbents if they receive solid coordinated support from opposition parties.

 

The overall picture of the election, of course, underscores a slew of serious problems with democracy in this nation.

 

Voter turnout stood at 48.8 percent, the second lowest on record for an Upper House election. The LDP won 17.71 million of the votes for proportional representation, down sharply from the 20.11 million it garnered three years ago. Despite its waning appeal to voters, the ruling coalition scored a victory thanks primarily to weak opposition.

 

The opposition parties were slow to select their unified candidates, deciding on their roster of candidates as late as the end of May. They could manage to agree on a unified campaign platform composed of 13 policy planks, which was created under the leadership of a citizens union called Civil Alliance for Peace and Constitutionalism.

 

But their commitment to the agenda as the common political banner was in doubt as the parties have different policy priorities.

 

The next national election will be a Lower House poll, which must be held within two or so years. In a July 22 news conference, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he has no plan at the moment to dissolve the Lower House for a snap poll, but added he does not rule out any option.

 

The opposition parties should take home important lessons from their experiences concerning the election alliance and start making efforts to build on them.

 

But it will be much more difficult for opposition parties to forge such an alliance for a Lower House election, which is about choosing the parties to rule the nation.

 

It will be a tough challenge for opposition parties to field unified candidates in many of the 289 single-seat Lower House constituencies.

 

To do so, they need to develop a reliable common policy vision by overcoming their differences over basic policy issues.

 

After the July 21 election, Yukio Edano, chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, pledged to lay out a solid vision about what kind of coalition government the party would form with its allies if they win a public mandate.

 

The CDP should go about tackling the challenge by focusing on its mission as the largest opposition bloc, which should play the leading role in offering a viable alternative to the ruling coalition, which has shown many signs of political arrogance and lax discipline.

 

The Reiwa Shinsengumi party, founded in April, won two seats by garnering more than 2.2 million proportional representation votes.

 

The campaign by party head Taro Yamamoto, who made effective use of social media and held serious discussions with citizens on the streets, seems to have struck a responsive chord in many voters.

 

The party’s impressive performance has highlighted one crucial challenge confronting all the parties–how to narrow the distance between politics and the people.

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