The Oct. 31 Lower House election is a crucial moment in Japan’s political calendar because of the chamber’s greater power. It’s also a test for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who just assumed office on October 4, as well as for the ruling coalition and two opposition parties that, for the first time ever, have agreed to coordinate candidates in as many districts as possible.

A total of 465 seats — including 289 single-member districts and 176 proportional seats — are up for grabs in the general election. The campaign, which kicks off Tuesday, pits the ruling LDP and Komeito, which has 305 seats, against the major opposition parties — especially the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), which have 122 seats between them and are attempting to unify behind the same candidates in as many single-seat elections as they can, so as to avoid splitting the opposition vote.

The LDP-Komeito coalition is looking to reach the 233 seats needed for a majority at a minimum, with the LDP, which has 276 seats, looking to hit that goal without needing to rely on Komeito. Two other opposition parties, Nippon Ishin no Kai and the Democratic Party for the People (DPP), are confident of picking up seats and could play an influential role in a post-election ruling coalition or opposition party realignment. The three most likely outcomes are as follows.

Scenario 1: LDP retains a majority by itself or with Komeito

For the coalition to lose its majority, it would need to see a net loss of 73 seats. Most experts see that as unlikely at present.

In fact, political analyst and freelance journalist Tetsuo Suzuki says that, based on an internal survey conducted by the LDP just before the dissolution of the Diet, the party predicted it would lose only about 40 single-seat districts.

“As long as LDP candidates, especially the top leaders, avoid verbal gaffes during the campaign that influence the vote, it will be tough for them to lose their majority,” Suzuki said.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meets Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi (center right) in the Diet in Tokyo on Thursday after the dissolution of the Lower House. | KYODO
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meets Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi (center right) in the Diet in Tokyo on Thursday after the dissolution of the Lower House. | KYODO

Ritsumeikan University political scientist Masato Kamikubo also says the ruling coalition losing its majority is unlikely, but he attributes that to the presence of Komeito.

“Komeito’s organizational ability to get votes is still solid and is not influenced by Cabinet approval ratings,” he says.

But if the LDP’s internal polling turns out to be correct and only around 40 seats are lost, the party could still find itself holding a majority on its own. That could favor Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Cabinet in negotiations with Komeito. The party would continue to remain a coalition partner in any case, but Suzuki says it would be less able to prevent the LDP from passing its own policies.

On the other hand, if the LDP’s election losses are greater than currently expected and they need Komeito’s lawmakers in order to reach the 233-seat threshold, two things would or could happen. First, Komeito’s needs would have to be taken into account on any legislation the LDP wanted passed. Second, it could sow political instability.

“If the LDP loses 50 or 60 seats, that means it needs Komeito to get anything passed in the Diet. That might spark a power struggle and see the beginning of some anti-Kishida movement within the (LDP),” Suzuki said.

Scenario 2: LDP-Komeito coalition loses its majority by a narrow margin

If the LDP and Komeito are close but don’t reach at least 233 seats in total, then it’s likely a third party would be asked about joining the coalition. At that point, the favored candidate to join in some form appears to be Nippon Ishin.

Nippon Ishin has 10 seats in the Lower House, and its Diet members have already indicated that they would be willing to cooperate with the ruling coalition, although the party’s head, Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui, has threatened to dissolve the party if they do. However, Matsui has indicated that he’ll retire from politics once his term as mayor ends in April 2023 and that he will not run for a Diet seat. His decision therefore raises questions about the future positioning of Nippon Ishin in the legislature.

Nippon Ishin no Kai leaders Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui (left) and Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura attend a YouTube discussion on Saturday. | KYODO
Nippon Ishin no Kai leaders Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui (left) and Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura attend a YouTube discussion on Saturday. | KYODO

The party’s Osaka chapter, Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), already cooperates with Komeito at the local level. What’s more, Matsui was personally close to former Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, and Nippon Ishin’s views on national politics are very similar to the LDP’s. However, Matsui has been increasingly critical of Kishida lately.

The DPP was invited to join the cooperation agreement between the CDP and the JCP. However, citing strong differences with the JCP, in particular over security and defense issues, DPP head Yuichiro Tamaki declined. Unlike Nippon Ishin, Tamaki has never suggested the DPP might join the LDP and Komeito in a ruling coalition, even though the party has a number of policies in common with both.

Suzuki and Kamikubo say that if the addition of Nippon Ishin’s seats means the LDP and Komeito can reach a majority, then there’s a good chance one or the other could be invited to join as the ruling coalition’s third party.

“Nihon Ishin and the DPP are small political parties and face the problem of how to survive,” said Kamikubo. “One possible answer is that if Nippon Ishin joins the coalition, it would be led by Hirofumi Yoshimura,” the governor of Osaka and Nippon Ishin’s second-in-command.

This “Yoshimura faction” within the coalition, he says, “could be very influential.”

As to the DPP, Kamikubo says that’s a possibility as well, although Suzuki sees it as less likely, due to greater policy differences between the LDP and the DPP.

Scenario 3: The CDP and JCP win a majority

To win a majority, the CDP, which has 110 Lower House lawmakers, and the JCP, which has 12, would need to win an additional 111 seats between them. The two parties are racing to come to an agreement on unified candidates before campaigning begins Tuesday. As of last week, however, they still had candidates competing against each other in around 50 districts.

Thus, the CDP and the JCP could find their rivalry in many election districts ends up splitting the opposition vote and handing victory to the ruling coalition candidate. For that reason, even if they see a net gain in single-seat constituencies, as Suzuki predicts, the barrier remains quite high to the CDP-JCP partnership actually winning a majority, especially if a third party such as Nippon Ishin joined the LDP-Komeito coalition.

On the other hand, even if the CDP-JCP cooperation fails to secure an overall majority, they could still be influential in opposition if they pick up a good number of proportional seats, for which voters cast their ballots for a party rather than an individual.

“If there is a sense of tension between the LDP/Komeito and the CDP/JCP in the proportional races because the opposition parties go further than expected, then the LDP-Komeito ruling coalition will be forced to listen more closely to the voice of the people,” Suzuki says.

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