National / Politics

LDP-led ruling bloc, allies clear two-thirds majority hurdle in Upper House poll

Opposition gambit fails to halt coalition juggernaut; charter in limbo

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

The Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition scored a sweeping victory in the Upper House election Sunday that gave the Diet’s pro-revision forces the two-thirds majority needed to initiate Japan’s first constitutional referendum, final results showed Monday morning.

Four parties in favor of constitutional revision, including the LDP-Komeito ruling bloc, won a combined 76 seats, adding to the current 88 held by pro-amendment forces in the uncontested half of the 242-seat Upper House.

Sunday’s election will increase the grand total of pro-revision forces in the Upper House to a supermajority of 164, a critical benchmark that will bring Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a huge step forward toward his longtime goal of amending the Constitution.

Kyodo News reported that, in response to Sunday’s poll results, Abe is planning a full-fledged reshuffle of his Cabinet as early as August.

Katsuya Okada, head of the main opposition force, the Democratic Party, said on a TBS TV program that it is “regrettable” that the opposition camp was unable to prevent the pro-amendment supermajority.

“We couldn’t appeal to enough voters,” Okada said.

Voter turnout was estimated at 54.7 percent, higher than the 52.61 percent in the previous Upper House election, held in 2013, but the fourth-lowest for an Upper House election, Kyodo estimated.

According to the results, the LDP-Komeito ruling coalition won a combined 69 seats, achieving Abe’s declared goal of a simple majority of 61 seats, bolstering the bloc’s stability.
The Democratic Party meanwhile ended up with 49 seats, falling from its pre-election strength of 60, while the Japanese Communist Party and Osaka Ishin no Kai increased their seat counts.

“I’m relieved that we appear to have cleared our goal,” Abe said on a TV program Sunday night.

On constitutional revision, Abe said Diet panels on the Constitution will decide how the charter should be revised, adding the issue will be put to a referendum afterward.

“The LDP has called for constitutional revision. But at the same time, neither the LDP nor the LDP-Komeito coalition has secured a two-thirds majority,” Abe said earlier.

A Diet supermajority would allow Abe to launch a referendum on revising the war-renouncing Constitution, which hasn’t been altered since it was adopted 69 years ago.

The LDP and Komeito already have a supermajority in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet.

Abe has stated that it is his personal ambition to revise the national charter before his tenure ends in September 2018. Nationalists regard the Constitution as a humiliating holdover from Japan’s defeat in WWII, particularly the war-renouncing Article 9.

But some political experts doubt Abe will try to take on Article 9. Opinion polls suggest the public remains divided on the issue.

Despite Abe’s exhortations, LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura insisted Tuesday that there was “zero possibility” of Article 9 being amended even if the pro-revisionists acquire the supermajority.

Instead, observers expect Abe to focus on establishing what is known as an “emergency situations clause,” which would allow the Cabinet to impose a state of emergency to protect people’s lives and assets during natural disasters and other situations. Calls emerged for such a clause after the March 2011 quake and tsunami.

A strong showing by the LDP also allows Abe to claim public approval for Abenomics, his feeble growth policy launched in 2012 based on the “three arrows” of radical monetary easing, fiscal spending and structural reform.

The LDP’s campaign strategy focused heavily on repeating that Abenomics is shoring up the economy, though Abe admitted in June that the recovery was only “halfway” complete.

This came as he again postponed the second stage of the consumption tax hike. After the election is over, the government is expected to explain how it will account for the revenue shortfall as the public debt climbs.

A strong victory would also leave the opposition parties in disarray again. The DP, Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party and Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party) agreed on a rare electoral tie-up to prevent the ruling bloc from sweeping the chamber.

“Our power to reach out to the people was weak. It’s unfortunate,” said DP leader Okada, who criticized Abe for shifting the focus of the election away from the Constitution.

The DP said its primary goal was to prevent Abe’s camp from gaining a supermajority because that would lead to a fundamental shift in Japan’s postwar diplomacy.

Okada said, however, regardless of whether the pro-constitutional revision forces have a two-third majority it all depends on what revisions Abe is aiming for. For example, Okada underscored Osaka Ishin’s position that it is not necessary to amend Article 9 immediately.

The four opposition parties fielded joint candidates in all 32 single-member constituencies to maximize their chances. Their failure may cause two things to happen: It might trigger calls for Okada to resign, and it might make the opposition parties reluctant to engage in such tie-ups in the future.

Late on Sunday, Okada said he would stay on as DP leader until his tenure expires in September. He said he has not decided whether to run in the next DP leadership race.

He also said the election tie-up with the other opposition parties allowed a variety of people to help out during the campaign. “We need to expand on this,” he said.

Sunday’s election was also a historic moment for the nation’s 18- and 19-year-olds, who voted for the first time.

Information from Kyodo added

Breakdown of seats secured
Party Total won Uncontested Total strength
LDP 55 65 120 (115)
DP 32 17 49 (60)
Komeito 14 11 25 (20)
JCP 6 8 14 (11)
Osaka Ishin 7 5 12 (7)
SDP 1 1 2 (3)
Seikatsu no To 1 1 2 (3)
Kokoro 0 3 3 (3)
Shinto Kaikaku 0 0 0 (1)
Other 5 10 15 (18)
Total 121 121 242 (241*)
                       (Pre-election strength)     *One vacant seat