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249 candidates to run in Upper House election as LDP seeks outright majority

JIJI

A total of 249 people are planning to compete for the 121 seats up for grabs in the triennial election for the House of Councilors this summer, a Jiji Press survey said Saturday.

After a resounding victory in the Upper House election in 2013, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is setting its aim high and looking at the possibility of gaining a single-handed majority in the chamber for the first time in 27 years.

To thwart that, the Democratic Party of Japan is trying to unify the other opposition parties to prevent the LDP from tightening its grip on power.

Every three years, half of the 242 seats in the Diet’s upper chamber are contested.

The crucial election is drawing attention because 18- and 19-year-olds will be allowed to vote for the first time. The voting age was lowered to 18 from 20 when the public offices election law was revised last year. The revision takes effect in June.

But vote-value disparities have been declared to be in “a state of unconstitutionality” by the Supreme Court, challenging the legitimacy of Japan’s recent elections. To narrow the gaps, the number of constituencies will be reduced to 45 from 47 by combining two pairs of sparsely populated prefectural districts that neighbor each other in western Japan. This action will turn Tottori and Shimane, as well as Tokushima and Kochi, into two constituencies, marking the first merger of prefectural constituencies in the history of Japanese constitutional politics.

Also, the number of seats allocated will be reduced by one each in Miyagi, Niigata and Nagano prefectures, with the number of single-seat constituencies rising to 32 from 31.

The number of seats will rise by one each in Hokkaido, Tokyo, Aichi, Hyogo and Fukuoka. Three or more seats will be contested in nine constituencies, up from six constituencies.

The LDP will see 50 of its seats contested in the Upper House election; 65 others will not be put to a vote. If the party wins 57 seats, it will achieve a simple majority of 122 seats.

The LDP has made steady progress with its candidate selection efforts and is expected to decide soon who it will endorse in Mie Prefecture — the only undecided district.

Of constituencies with three or more seats, the LDP aims to win two each in Hokkaido and Chiba and is considering a second candidate for Tokyo and for Kanagawa.

Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, hopes to see all 13 of its candidates — seven in constituencies and six under the proportional representation system — win seats.

The DPJ, the largest opposition party, was crushed in the previous election, emerging with only 17 seats in the chamber, the fewest since its establishment.

The DPJ’s basic strategy for the coming election is to avoid playing into the hands of the LDP by competing against the other opposition parties in single-seat constituencies.

The DPJ has so far decided to back eight independents affiliated with the party in single-seat districts. One of them will be a unified candidate in Kumamoto Prefecture chosen in agreement with other opposition parties.

But overall, the DPJ’s selection work hasn’t been going smoothly — it still lacks candidates for 12 single-seat districts.

The Japanese Communist Party has selected candidates for 42 constituencies but will not field a contender in Kumamoto to support the common opposition candidate. Given what the LDP stands to gain from the crucial election — the power to mount a referendum on the Constitution — the JCP is ready to drop candidacy plans for other constituencies as well in order to prioritize cooperation with the other opposition parties.

Neither Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) nor Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) has selected Upper House candidates amid the confusion caused by the split of Ishin no To, which saw some members switch to Osaka Ishin.

Osaka Ishin will publicly solicit applications for Upper House candidacies soon in the hope of fielding candidates mainly in Osaka and five other western prefectures, as well as other multiple-seat constituencies. Ishin no To is also exploring the possibility of fielding candidates in multiple-seat districts.

The Social Democratic Party plans to endorse four candidates — two each in constituencies and in proportional representation.