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Ultimately, it all comes down to numbers

by Alex Martin

All signs seem to indicate Prime Minister Taro Aso and his Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition face a tough battle in trying to hold onto their Lower House majority in the Aug. 30 election.

If the Democratic Party of Japan-led opposition camp wins a majority in the Lower House, it will be able to select the prime minister, most likely the current DPJ president, Yukio Hatoyama, ending more than five decades of almost uninterrupted LDP rule.

Following are questions and answers regarding how the Lower House election works:

What are the terms of office, the chamber’s electoral breakdown and the length of the campaign period?

The Lower House has 480 members, elected for four-year terms. Of these, 180 are elected from 11 multimember districts via proportional representation, and 300 from single-seat districts.

But the Lower House can be dissolved by the prime minister at any time, as Aso did on July 21.

By contrast, the Upper House has 242 members who each serve six-year terms, with half standing for re-election every three years on fixed dates. The next Upper House election will be in 2010.

The Lower House is the more powerful chamber, able to override votes on bills imposed by the Upper House with a two-thirds majority. The LDP-New Komeito coalition currently controls the Lower House, while the opposition, with the DPJ the largest force, controls the Upper House.

The official campaign period for the Lower House election will last 12 days beginning Tuesday.

Candidates for the Lower House must be at least 25 years old, while anyone running for the Upper House must be at least 30.

Who can vote and how?

The minimum voting age is 20, and prospective voters, who must be Japanese citizens, must satisfy a three-month residency requirement.

Each eligible voter can cast two ballots, one for a candidate in their local single-seat district and one for a party, which will field a list of candidates for each of the 11 regional blocks for proportional representation.

Winners of single-seat districts are decided by those who collect the most votes.

Proportional representation seats are handed out to the parties proportionate to their share of the votes. Seats are given to candidates at the top of their party’s list.

Parties often put single-seat candidates on their block seat lists so even if they fail to win in their local district, they have a second chance to get in the Diet.

Proportional representation candidates must belong to a party with five or more Diet members, or which gained 2 percent or more of the total valid votes in the previous poll.

How many seats did each party hold?

Before the Lower House was dissolved, the LDP had 296 seats and New Komeito 31. The DPJ had 113, the Japanese Communist Party had nine and the Social Democratic Party had seven.

The DPJ wants to win a majority on its own but will probably try to form a coalition with the SDP and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) because it will still need their numbers to keep the opposition camp’s majority in the Upper House.

What is the expected voter turn-out?

Turnout in the 2005 election was 67.5 percent.

A recent NHK poll found 67 percent of respondents would “definitely be voting” and 23 percent “planned on voting,” indicating a high turnout.