A day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set July 10 as the date for the upcoming Upper House election, the nation’s ruling and opposition parties wasted no time Thursday launching into campaign mode.
Opposition parties are forming an uncharacteristically united front in an attempt to take down the ruling coalition of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its partner Komeito, which they say has failed to deliver on economic policy promises and put the country at risk with controversial security legislation.
The main opposition Democratic Party, Japanese Communist Party and other opposition forces have banded together to endorse single candidates in all 32 contested single-member electoral districts.
Later in the day, Abe’s Cabinet approved the July 10 polling day and an official campaigning period starting June 22.
Abe said Wednesday the ruling bloc is aiming to win a majority of the 121 seats up for grabs in the election, a higher hurdle than simply maintaining a majority in the Upper House. Half of the upper chamber’s 242 seats are contested every three years, resulting in staggered six-year terms.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed confidence Thursday that the Abe administration will achieve its goal, saying, “We are not entertaining the possibility of failure.”
LDP heavyweights including policy chief Tomomi Inada began work to compile campaign promises at a party meeting Thursday. “As a responsible party, we want to make pledges for which we can put up a solid fight in the Upper House election,” Inada said.
The LDP is expected to complete a booklet featuring its campaign pledges by mid-June. With the delay to the sales tax hike cutting off a source of government revenue, the party is tasked with explaining in its manifesto how it plans to fund social security policies.
Komeito has set its sights on winning at least seven seats in electoral districts and six under the proportional representation system, leader Natsuo Yamaguchi told a party meeting Thursday.
The ruling parties were planning to discuss their joint election promises later that day.
Also Thursday afternoon, DP leader Katsuya Okada signed a policy accord with the party’s support body, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, the nation’s largest labor organization and known as Rengo.
Social Democratic Party leader Tadatomo Yoshida called the election “a battle for the Constitution” at a party meeting.
A decisive win by the ruling bloc could bring Abe closer to his goal of reforming the pacifist Constitution. A two-thirds majority in both Diet houses is required to hold a national referendum on the issue.
But opponents of constitutional revision are afraid that Abe will try to keep the controversial issue vague during the election campaign.
“With other issues such as the consumption tax and social welfare drawing attention, many voters wouldn’t turn to the Constitution,” said Ken Takada, an organizer of a series of mass protest rallies against the constitutional revision.
Takada said Abe could “gain confidence” if the election shows strong support for the ruling camp.
As well as gaining a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet, any constitutional amendment must be approved in a national referendum. These conditions have never been met.
Akira Momochi, a constitutional law professor at Nihon University and head of a group supporting constitutional revision, said the Constitution has not been revised since it was promulgated 70 years ago, and that the two-thirds requirement was a high bar that hampered amendment.
“The upcoming election is important as the ‘wall’ may be broken. I hope we will have an opportunity to make a decision” in a referendum, Momochi said.
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