Though the Dec. 16 Lower House election may shake up the chamber, who will end up taking the helm of state is likely to depend on subsequent negotiations.
Observers say it is unlikely the ruling Democratic Party of Japan will secure a majority, but if it ties up with minor parties, or even the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, it may be able to cling to power.
Media polls show that the LDP is likely to become the biggest party in the Lower House, but whether the LDP-New Komeito alliance can secure a majority remains to be seen.
If the DPJ or the LDP-New Komeito coalition fails to secure a majority, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), headed by former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, may hold a decisive vote.
Following are possible outcomes of the election for the lower chamber and anticipated subsequent developments:
DPJ stays in power
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said his aim in the election is for his DPJ to remain the biggest force in the 480-seat Lower House.
Many lawmakers have left the DPJ in protest against Noda’s decision to raise the consumption tax. The exodus continued even after the Lower House was dissolved Friday for the election, reducing the party’s effective pre-election strength to 232 seats against the 308 won in the previous election in 2009.
One veteran DPJ member bleakly predicted that his party’s strength could slump to as few as 60 to 80 seats.
To ensure the Diet nomination of DPJ President Noda as prime minister, the party needs to secure a majority by holding onto at least 241 seats. The situation, however, is too daunting for the DPJ to set such a target.
DPJ members have not lost all hope. One executive said the party “can regain some support if we make our positions clear.”
If the DPJ successfully differentiates itself from other parties and the strategy pays off, it may still be possible for the party to keep around 150 seats. The DPJ could remain the biggest party in the Lower House if the LDP loses some supporters to the “third-force” camp.
If this happens, Noda would ask the LDP and New Komeito to cooperate with a DPJ-led government, as they did to enact social security and tax system reform bills.
But LDP President Shinzo Abe has opposed such cooperation. The DPJ could be ousted from power even if it is the biggest force, as the LDP was after the 1993 election.
Calling the election an opportunity to pass a “guilty verdict” on the DPJ, the LDP has set a more ambitious target of securing a majority in the Lower House on its own.
“A Lower House majority seems within easy reach if our seats are combined with New Komeito’s,” said an LDP politician, voicing the view of many party members.
The allies would attain a majority if the LDP wins 210 to 220 seats. The two parties would then form a coalition government with Abe as prime minister.
But in the Upper House, the DPJ and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) will remain the biggest force, so an LDP-led administration would face a divided Diet.
The new ruling and opposition camps would need to find a way to avoid the unnecessary standoffs that have led to years of political paralysis.
No outright majority
Besides the three major parties, another key player may be Nippon Ishin no Kai, created by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto. The party has welcomed Ishihara as its new leader after a merger with his short-lived Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party).
Traditional parties are braced for a strong performance by Nippon Ishin no Kai behind the immensely popular Hashimoto and Ishihara.
“Ishin could become the second-biggest force after the LDP,” one politician said.
If the “third force,” which could also include Your Party, gains more than 100 seats, and neither the LDP-New Komeito pair nor the DPJ is able to secure a majority, the political situation would become fluid. In such a case, battles among parties vying for control of the government would intensify.
LDP leader Abe has personal ties with Hashimoto, so it may be possible for the LDP to try to return to power by wooing Nippon Ishin no Kai. To win cooperation, the LDP could even agree to support Ishihara as prime minister.
But many in the traditional parties don’t like some of the extreme policy proposals coming out of Nippon Ishin no Kai, such as halving the number of Lower House seats to 240.
Uneasiness about the rise of Nippon Ishin no Kai could drive the traditional big parties — the DPJ, the LDP and New Komeito — to form a grand coalition.
There may be little choice but to keep the three big parties as the “responsible players” in national politics, a DPJ executive said.
Holding dual offices eyed
Both Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui will run in the next Upper House election in 2016 if the law is revised to allow a politician to serve concurrently as a local leader and as a Diet member, Matsui said Tuesday.
“We’ll run in the next Upper House election if the rule that forbids local government leaders from serving jointly as Diet members is eliminated, and we’d run as a pair,” Matsui said.
There has been much speculation, especially in Tokyo, that Hashimoto, who is now the No. 2 man in Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), might resign his position to run in the Dec. 16 Lower House election.
Previously, Hashimoto denied he had any intention of running, citing unfinished work as mayor and a likely backlash among Osaka voters, who voted him and Matsui into office only a year ago, if he quits his current job.
At a news conference Saturday to announce the merger of Shintaro Ishihara’s Taiyo no To with Nippon Ishin no Kai, both Hashimoto and Ishihara indicated he will not run.
However, on Monday, Hashimoto, delivering a stump speech on behalf of Nippon Ishin no Kai candidates, said that if the law is changed to allow a local head to serve concurrently as a Diet member, he would accept the challenge.
Noda sets ambitious goal
The Democratic Party of Japan aims to remain the largest force in the Lower House after the Dec. 16 general election despite flagging public support for the Cabinet, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said.
During a meeting Monday with reporters in Phnom Penh, Noda refrained from indicating whether he will step down as DPJ chief if he fails to meet that target.
Asked which party the DPJ will be interested in forming a ruling coalition with after the election, Noda said, “I’ll determine that after seeing how other parties fare.”