National | FOCUS

Despite winning more seats in Upper House vote, Komeito officials worry about losing support

JIJI

Komeito boosted its presence in the House of Councilors in the latest election, but a sense of crisis among party officials has deepened as the number of votes it acquired under the proportional representation system fell by more than 1 million compared to the previous election.

The officials are worried about a weakening of the once-solid organizational strength of the party — the junior partner in the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition — due chiefly to the aging of its supporters.

In the July 21 Upper House election, all seven Komeito constituency candidates were elected, while the party gained seven seats in the proportional representation bloc. The 14 new seats surpassed the 11 up for re-election that they had before, and equaled the record high marked in the previous triennial election in 2016.

At a party meeting Thursday, Komeito’s leader, Natsuo Yamaguchi, highlighted the record-tying performance, but at the same time ordered party executives to discuss how the party can strengthen its ability to communicate its policy positions and measures to the electorate.

Komeito’s advance was apparently aided by a low level of voter turnout in the election, which dipped to 48.80 percent — slipping below 50 percent for the second time since the end of World War II.

In the proportional representation system, Komeito received 6,536,336 votes — the lowest level since the party entered into its coalition with the LDP in 1999. The number fell below 7 million for the second straight large-scale national election since the 2017 vote for the House of Representatives, the all-important lower chamber.

In triennial Upper House elections, Komeito has usually secured more than 7.5 million votes. The steep drop in the number of votes this time has brought into sharper focus the downtrend in voter support for the party since it won 8,987,620 votes in the 2005 Lower House election.

One Komeito official who commented on the situation does not see the drop in voter support as a temporary phenomenon but as a structural problem for the party. “Supporters’ campaign activities have dropped as a result of their aging,” the official said.

The reduced number of votes for Komeito also seems to reflect supporters’ discontent after the party cooperated on LDP policy measures that are not in line with its basic policy stance.

For example, despite its traditional pacifist inclinations, Komeito helped the LDP enact national security laws that allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

“We need to take (the fall in the number of votes) seriously,” a senior Komeito official said. “The number of votes cannot fall by 1 million solely due to the fall in voter turnout.”

Coronavirus banner