For Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party), the Lower House election was a mixture of good and bad, as the party held onto virtually all of its seats, courtesy of the proportional representation system, amid predictions it would lose big.
Yet the real question now is whether Ishin no To can convince like-minded politicians in other opposition parties, especially in the Democratic Party of Japan, to unite against the ruling coalition juggernaut, beginning with nationwide local elections in April.
The final count Sunday saw Ishin no To winning 41 seats in the Lower House.
While that’s just one shy of the 42 it had going into the election, only 11 of the new total are in single-seat districts. The other 30 were secured via proportional representation. Under this system, 180 seats in 11 regional blocks are up for grabs; voters effectively select the name of the party they are backing through proportional representation, and seats are then allocated based on a minimum percent of the total votes casts.
Roughly, this means that if a regional block has a total of 10 seats, a candidate can win a seat with one-tenth of the total vote. This is why some candidates land a seat with a mere couple of thousand votes whereas their counterparts in a single-seat districts may need to secure tens of thousands of ballots.
Ishin no To, originally formed by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, did best in the six prefectures that make up the Kinki region: Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, Shiga and Wakayama. The party won eight of the region’s 29 proportional representation seats.
In its Osaka stronghold, however, only five of the party’s 12 candidates were re-elected in single-seat districts.
While Hashimoto called that outcome an utter defeat for Ishin no To, Matsui, who serves as its secretary-general, was less pessimistic.
“While we lost a lot of (lawmakers in) single-seat districts, proportional candidates within Osaka Prefecture won more seats than any other party. We’ve got a lot of ability to contest next spring’s local elections,” he assured reporters Monday.
For his part, Hashimoto repeated calls for lawmakers of a similar political persuasion to join Ishin no To to form a new opposition party to take on the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling behemoth. Hashimoto and other Ishin no To members are still hoping that some DPJ lawmakers will bolt from the leading opposition party, especially now that Banri Kaieda has resigned as its leader following the loss of his Lower House seat.
However, given the divergent ideologies between many Ishin no To members, who despise unions and especially public service unions, and DPJ lawmakers, who count trade unions as among their biggest sponsors, it’s unclear if a realignment centered on the two parties would produce an opposition party able to persuade voters it could effectively challenge the ruling bloc.