Two weeks after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election, campaigning has officially kicked off with more than 1,000 candidates vying for the 475 seats in the Diet’s lower chamber.
The Dec. 14 general election will be the first national poll since December 2012, when the then-ruling Democratic Party of Japan suffered a staggering defeat at the hands of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has been at the helm of government for most of the postwar era.
The opposition parties, the DPJ among them, hope to increase their presence in the House of Representatives, which is now 70 percent dominated by the LDP-Komeito ruling coalition.
Recent media polls show the LDP remains strong. Although it is expected to lose some seats in the coming election, it will likely still come out on top unless a major game-changing event occurs during the 12-day campaigning period.
Following are basic questions and answers about the upcoming election:
How are Lower House members elected?
They are elected via two different systems: 295 members will be chosen from single-seat constituencies, five down from the 2012 election due to a belated attempt to rectify the urban-rural vote-value gap that favors the LDP — and 180 will be chosen by way of proportional representation.
Voters in single-seat constituencies select one candidate from a list of those running in their district. The winner is the one who gets the most ballots.
Under the proportional representation system, the nation is divided into 11 regional blocs. In each, voters choose a party. The Lower House seats will be allocated to each party in proportion to the percentage of votes it receives.
Candidates can run in both systems, so even if they lose in a single-seat race they can still get into the Diet under proportional representation.
Japanese citizens aged 20 or above have the right to vote. Foreigners do not.
Has the electoral system changed over time?
Yes. The current combination of single-seat constituencies and proportional representation blocs was introduced in 1994 after mounting calls to repair the electoral system.
Before 1994, members of the House of Representatives were elected from midsize constituencies, with three to five seats per district. Under that system, parties fielded several candidates in the same districts in a bid to win a majority of seats in the chamber. This resulted in campaigns focused more on individuals than on policies, with hopefuls routinely pushing pork-barrel projects to please voters in their constituencies.
The current single-seat system focuses more on the parties. This, however, results in many wasted votes, observers say.
In the 2012 snap election, there was a huge gap between the percentage of seats won and votes gained in single-seat districts.
The LDP garnered only 43 percent of the votes in the 300 single-seat districts, but the party gained 237, or 79 percent, of the seats.
The DPJ gained 23 percent of the votes in the districts, but garnered only 27 seats, or 9 percent.
What was the seat distribution of the House of Representatives before dissolution?
Of the 480 seats, the LDP, including Lower House Speaker Bunmei Ibuki, held 295, or 61 percent of the chamber, followed by 55 held by the DPJ and 42 by Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party).
Together with Komeito, the LDP boasted 326 seats, or nearly 70 percent of the chamber.
Abe pledged on Nov. 18 that he will step down if the ruling coalition fails to win a majority — 238 seats or more — in the election. Some observers say the pledge is a hollow one: The ruling the coalition could comfortably lose over 80 seats and still claim victory.
How many candidates are running this time?
As of Sunday there were 1,140 — 950 in single-seat constituencies and 190 under proportional representation, according to NHK. They were expected to be endorsed by any combination of the eight major political parties and other minor groups, down from 1,504 in the 2012 election.
Fewer candidates are expected to run this time mainly due to efforts by the opposition, except for the Japanese Communist Party, to avoid fielding candidates in competing single-seat districts where their champion could potentially split the vote to the advantage of LDP hopefuls.
The LDP plans to field candidates in all single-seat constituencies except for the nine districts that Komeito is expected to contest.
As of Sunday, the LDP planned to field 338 candidates, the JCP 315, the DPJ 178, Ishin 80 and Jisedai no To (Party for Future Generations) 44.
What will be the focal points of the election?
“Abenomics” is likely to be the main issue.
Abe claimed he called the election to serve as a referendum on his economic program, which consists of “three arrows” — radical monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and vows of structural reforms.
Although the Bank of Japan’s monetary strategy boosted stock prices and weakened the yen, helping exporters, the opposition has blamed the program for eroding people’s buying power.
Abe also said he called the election to gain a mandate on his decision to postpone the completion of the consumption tax’s doubling to 10 percent. The first stage of the hike, which lifted the levy to 8 percent from 5 percent last April, crushed demand, sending Japan back into recession. Delaying the second stage, which was due to raise it to 10 percent in October 2015, will make it harder to cover swelling social welfare costs.
The Abe administration’s landmark decision in July to reinterpret the Constitution to sidestep the Article 9 ban on collective self-defense, and the future of nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster are also expected to be major issues.
What happens after the election?
The first task of the newly elected Lower House will be to select a new prime minister with the Upper House in a special Diet session within 30 days after the election. The session will reportedly be held Dec. 24.
The LDP is widely expected to win the election and the party undoubtedly will re-appoint Abe to the job. The prime minister will then appoint his next Cabinet.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.