The Oct. 31 House of Representatives election has taken the form of a face-off between the ruling coalition parties and opposition forces building a united front. Five opposition parties — the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP), Reiwa Shinsengumi and the Social Democratic Party — have fielded unified candidates in over 70% of single-seat constituencies across the country. They prioritized uniting against the ruling parties over their own interests.
In the previous lower house election in 2017, the now defunct Democratic Party, the main opposition at the time, split right before the campaign period kicked off. The opposition forces fell out of step, and as a result they allowed the long-running reign of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration to continue.
In a single-seat constituency, just one candidate gets elected. It makes sense for the opposition parties to unite against the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito, rather than splitting votes among themselves.
This election is about the people’s judgment on the past nine years since Abe came back to power for his second stint as prime minister. By creating a one-on-one picture, the opposition is able to showcase its presence as an option for those critical of the government.
The united front of the opposition forces became possible after a citizens’ group that opposed the controversial security-related laws enacted under the Abe administration urged them to work together. Four opposition parties, except for the DPFP, agreed on 20 common policies, including opposing constitutional amendments and conducting a renewed probe into favoritism scandals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution as well as the controversial cherry blossom-viewing parties that all surfaced during the Abe administration.
This is the first time the JCP is working together with the main opposition party in a general election directly linked to the selection of a prime minister. The party put off fielding its own candidates in many single-seat constituencies, and in the event the opposition forces flip the lower house to form a new government centered around the CDP, the JCP says it will cooperate as “a non-Cabinet partner in a limited manner.”
However, the CDP and JCP remain apart over issues relating to the foundation of Japan, such as on the Self-Defense Forces, the Japan-U.S. security alliance and the imperial institution. The JCP, in its own election campaign pledges, talks about abolishing the Japan-U.S. security treaty.
For the CDP, forming a united front with the JCP is in a way gambling as it could spark a backlash from conservative and moderate voters. In fact, it has caused friction with the national labor union center Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), the CDP’s main support base.
LDP Secretary-General Akira Amari has claimed that this election is about “choosing between a liberal democratic government and a government involving communism for the first time.” The ruling party should not try to shift the point of contention by labeling its opponents but instead it should participate head-on in policy debate with confidence.
According to the Mainichi Shimbun’s survey on the early stage of the campaign, candidates from the ruling and opposition camps appear to be neck and neck in about 20% of the constituencies. Independent voters hold the key, and their evaluation over the opposition’s united front is likely to sway the situation.
What kind of a government do the opposition forces aim to form? This is a question particularly for the main opposition CDP to answer to be fully accountable to voters.