BY SATOSHI SUGIYAMA, STAFF WRITER
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is projected to lose 40 seats in the Oct. 31 Lower House election, campaigning for which kicked off Tuesday, but will still gain a large enough majority to exert significant influence within the Diet by combining its seats with that of its junior coalition partner, a pollster has found.
The projection by Takuma Ohamazaki, a political analyst and CEO of election consulting firm J.A.G Japan, showed the LDP would retain 236 seats in the election — 166 in single-seat districts and 70 of those allocated according to proportional representation. Coalition partner Komeito, meanwhile, would see its number of seats stay the same at 29. Together, they would get 265 seats.
“It may be better to say that the LDP would get away” with a loss of 40 seats, Ohamazaki said in an interview, adding that the LDP might have performed better had the party elected a leader more popular with the public.
The prediction was made Saturday based on data available at the time. When the Lower House election takes place, a total of 465 seats will be up for grabs.
Based on those figures, the LDP would exceed a simple majority of 233 seats by itself, while the LDP-Komeito coalition would pass the threshold of 261 seats, meaning all standing committees could be chaired by a ruling party member and the majority of all committee members could belong to the ruling coalition — enabling the ruling parties to pass bills smoothly. Nonetheless, they would still fall short of the number of seats needed to proceed with constitutional amendment and override vetoes in the Upper House — 310.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida beat three other candidates — including former vaccine czar Taro Kono, the public’s favorite — in the LDP leadership contest last month, becoming prime minister in early October.
Replacing Yoshihide Suga with Kishida as prime minister improved the LDP’s public image, increasing its chances of winning more seats in the election.
The Cabinet support rate, which was 30% when Suga was in office, improved to 49% after Kishida took the helm, according to public broadcaster NHK. Before the change, the LDP was projected to lose as many as 70 seats had Suga stayed on, according to internal party polling reported in the media.
Meanwhile, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) — the largest opposition group — is predicted to have 133 seats, up from 110, thanks to the coordination of candidates among most opposition parties.
In this election, opposition parties excluding the right-leaning Nippon Ishin no Kai have thrown their support behind one contender in many single-seat constituencies to shore up their chances of winning against a candidate backed by the ruling parties.
The CDP, the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), the Democratic Party for the People, Reiwa Shinsengumi and the Social Democratic Party have agreed to support unified candidates in more than 210 single-member districts, or over 70%.
Referring to the CDP’s jump in its number of seats, Ohamazaki said he attributes it to the opposition parties forming a united front. In several districts, he noted LDP candidates were struggling to gain support from voters, as they are embroiled in scandals, giving opposition party contenders an edge.
The JCP is expected to increase its seats to a total of 17 as a result of better performance under the election’s proportional representation system.
In Lower House polls, two votes are cast — one for a specific candidate in a local electoral district and the other for a specific party at the regional level.
Meanwhile, Nippon Ishin is projected to increase its seat count from 10 to 30. The party, which originated in Osaka, has nominated 94 candidates nationwide, fielding more than 40 additional contenders compared with the last general election in 2017. Ohamazaki said the increase in candidates and Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura’s frequent media appearances in relation to the pandemic have given the party a boost.
This general election will serve as a report card on the LDP-Komeito coalition, which has governed Japan for the past nine years, and whether the opposition could serve as an alternative force, said Jun Iio, a professor of Japanese politics at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
“This election was supposed to be an opportunity for voters to assess (the ruling parties’) achievements. But since they replaced the prime minister, the key point in the election will be how voters will judge (the fact the LDP replaced Suga right before an election),” Iio said.
“It wouldn’t be a good trend if everything is reset when prime ministers are replaced.”