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With the general election set for Oct. 31, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said the goal of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito coalition is to retain a simple majority. Currently those parties hold 304 of the 465 Lower House seats, 275 of which belong to the LDP.

Seeking to unseat the ruling coalition are four opposition parties, centered around the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party, who have forged an agreement to get behind the same candidates. The CDP holds 111 seats and the JCP has 12 seats, while the other two parties are the much smaller Social Democratic Party (one seat) and Reiwa Shinsengumi (one seat). Campaigning kicks off Oct. 19.

What’s the motivation for cooperating?

Political differences, especially between the JCP and other parties, have long meant that each party fielded its own candidate at election time. That often split the opposition vote, handing victory to the ruling coalition-backed candidate in single-seat districts.

This time, after long negotiations, the CDP and JCP have formally agreed to coordinate their candidates in the hope of winning more seats. Both parties have said that they will try to respect and understand each other’s policies and work to support each other’s candidates in district elections, rather than have a CDP candidate face off against one from the JCP.

Leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party and Reiwa Shinsengumi pose at the signing of a cooperation pledge in Tokyo on Sept. 8. | KYODO
Leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party and Reiwa Shinsengumi pose at the signing of a cooperation pledge in Tokyo on Sept. 8. | KYODO

What have the CDP and the JCP agreed to?

At a Sept. 30 meeting, the two parties agreed that if the CDP-led opposition had a majority of seats after the election, the JCP would cooperate in a limited fashion in relation to specific policy areas where the two sides are in agreement, but that the JCP would not seek Cabinet positions for its members.

The agreement was historic because it marked the first time that the JCP had ever agreed to cooperate post-election with a particular party, although the JCP had long been positive about the idea of some sort of post-election arrangement with the CDP. But long-standing, fundamental differences over basic issues — including the validity of Japan’s security treaty with the United States and the presence of U.S. military bases in Japan, which the CDP supports and the JCP has long opposed — made any sort of formal alliance such as that which exists between the LDP and Komeito impossible.

Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano (right) and his Japanese Communist Party counterpart Kazuo Shii agree in Tokyo on Sept. 30 that the JCP would cooperate with a CDP-led government. | KYODO
Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano (right) and his Japanese Communist Party counterpart Kazuo Shii agree in Tokyo on Sept. 30 that the JCP would cooperate with a CDP-led government. | KYODO

On Sept. 8, the CDP and the JCP, along with the much smaller Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Reiwa Shinsengumi, signed a pledge proposed by a group of their supporters. It includes a promise to repeal a 2013 state secrets law and 2015 security laws that had been passed during the administration of LDP Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In addition, the four parties agreed to pursue security measures in line with the spirit of the current Constitution and its pacifist Article 9, and to oppose the relocation of a U.S. military base within Okinawa Prefecture to the Henoko area.

On the economic front, the four are calling for a hike in the minimum wage and a review of income and corporate taxes. The CDP’s platform calls for substantial exemptions in income tax for people making under ¥10 million annually, and reducing the consumption tax to 5% for a limited period. The JCP, meanwhile, supports lowering the sales tax to 5% and is calling for a 28% corporation tax on large businesses.

On energy issues and Japan’s long-term energy future, the four parties agreed to expand renewable energy use and decarbonize without nuclear power plants.

What’s the situation with cooperation on candidates?

On the day the four parties made their pledge, the JCP had agreed not to field candidates in 93 of 105 electoral districts where the incumbent is a CDP member, while the CDP had agreed not to put up candidates in four of five districts where the incumbent is from the JCP.

But as of Tuesday, what to do about seats in 70 other districts was still being discussed, and it was unclear whether a candidate from the CDP, JCP or other two opposition parties would be chosen to run in them, or whether the parties might back a candidate without an official party affiliation.

In addition, the CDP has long been heavily reliant on the support of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, also known as Rengo, which claims over 7 million public and private sector members. But newly elected Rengo chair Tomoko Yoshino said at a news conference last Thursday that her organization does not believe it would be possible for the JCP to remain outside the Cabinet if the opposition parties took control of the Diet. Her remarks could spell trouble for unified candidates seeking Rengo’s support.

Reiwa Shinsengumi leader Taro Yamamoto | KYODO
Reiwa Shinsengumi leader Taro Yamamoto | KYODO

Finalizing cooperation in an electoral district involves determining which potential candidate has a better chance of winning the opposition vote as a whole. That, in turn, could depend on how both parties judge the prospects for cooperation during the campaign between traditional supporters of the CDP and JCP in a district where in the past they’ve competed against each other.

A final question is whether the two smaller parties will stick to the agreement. Reiwa Shinsengumi head Taro Yamamoto sparked a controversy last week by announcing he’d run in a Tokyo district where the four parties had almost agreed on a unified candidate. He has since decided to run in another district, but it remains to be seen if others in his party or the SDP, dissatisfied with the unified candidate, might suddenly decide to field their own contender just before campaigning kicks off.

Which opposition parties are not cooperating with the attempts to field a unified candidate and why?

Osaka-based Nippon Ishin no Kai has fundamental philosophical differences with the CDP and JCP, and it’s political platform has much in common with the ruling coalition. Nippon Ishin head Ichiro Matsui has called the agreement between the CDP and JCP irresponsible, saying that, given the duty of the central government is to take care of national defense, diplomacy and the economy and those two parties see these basic issues very differently, they will not be able to govern effectively.

Another opposition party, the Democratic Party for the People, which has 10 Lower House seats, is closer to the CDP than Nippon Ishin, but the Rengo-backed party’s members are strongly opposed to any sort of agreement with the JCP, and that prevented an election agreement. Like Nippon Ishin, DPP leader Yuichiro Tamaki has highlighted the basic policy differences between the CDP and JCP, especially in defense-related areas.

Do the CDP and JCP have a good chance of winning a majority?

For that to happen, they and the like-minded, smaller opposition parties would need to win 233 of 465 seats. How stably a coalition could govern, especially if the DPP were to change its mind and seek some sort of post-election cooperation agreement, is unknown. But with the CDP and JCP having only 124 seats at present and amid uncertainty about how well unified candidates will perform, the prospect of the two parties securing a majority seems far off.

A recent Kyodo poll showed that 60.4% of respondents were not keen on the CDP-JCP agreement and only 36.1% viewed it favorably. With less than three weeks until the election, time is running short for the parties to win over skeptical voters in numbers large enough to result in a change of government.

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