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Speeding up a generation change and eliminating public distrust of politics will likely be key issues for Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in next summer’s election for the House of Councillors, the upper chamber of the Diet, after the party scored a victory in Sunday’s general election.

Meanwhile, the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), which suffered a setback in the election for the House of Representatives, the all-important lower chamber, faces a flurry of calls for reviewing its strategy of seeking election cooperation with the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).

The LDP, which had been expected to see tough results in the general election, ended up maintaining a so-called absolute stable majority in the Lower House, winning 261 of the 465 seats in the chamber, although the number won was down from 276 seats the party had before the chamber’s dissolution on Oct. 14.

LDP executives, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who doubles as president of the party, breathed a sigh of relief to see the results. But the party also saw severe consequences, such as LDP Secretary-General Akira Amari losing his constituency seat. Amari managed to get elected, given a proportional representation seat.

Unexpected Results

Pre-election surveys conducted by the LDP and media organizations in the late phase of the campaign period showed that it would be difficult for the party to secure a simple majority of 233 seats in the Lower House by itself, without relying on seats won by its coalition partner, Komeito.

On voting day, it was rumored among some senior LDP members that the party would be able to win “only 200-plus seats.”

Toshiaki Endo, the LDP’s election strategy chief, told Kishida of the need to additionally endorse successful independent candidates close to the party soon after the election in order to increase the party’s seats.

But the election resulted in the LDP securing as many as 261 seats — although the number is the minimum required level for an absolute stable majority — which allows the party to get a firm grip on the Lower House.

“I had thought that it would be difficult for our party to secure a simple majority on our own,” Endo said on television Monday. “I’m really happy that we obtained so many seats.”

“We scored a landslide victory,” another party executive said.

“I was feeling depressed yesterday, but I feel really good now,” an LDP staff worker said Monday, with a smile.

Third Forces

While many people remain uncertain why the LDP achieved such a comfortable victory, the election results suggest that voters wanted reforms and a generation change.

Amari is still overshadowed by a money scandal, which cost him a ministerial post in 2016. Among veteran LDP members, former party Secretary-General Nobuteru Ishihara and former home affairs minister Takeshi Noda were unable to secure seats.

Veteran lawmakers who lost in constituencies include the CDP’s Ichiro Ozawa and Kishiro Nakamura. Both Ozawa and Nakamura obtained seats under the proportional representation system.

Meanwhile, the number of people who were elected for the first time came to 97, a sizable increase from the 56 in the previous Lower House general election in 2017.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), which calls for reforms, saw its seats increase to 41 from 11. The Democratic Party for the People (DPP), which emphasizes its ability to make policy proposals, won 11 seats, up from eight.

These developments apparently reflected voters’ anger at “negative legacies” from the administrations of Kishida’s two immediate predecessors — Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga — analysts said.

“Voters may have sought reforms,” a source close to Kishida said of the decrease in the number of the LDP’s Lower House seats.

However, unified candidates from the CDP and the JCP failed to attract voters critical of LDP-controlled administrations sufficiently. Many ballots are seen to have gone to Nippon Ishin or the DPFP, regarded as third forces.

Dilemma

The CDP unified candidates with the JCP and other opposition parties. Calling for a change of government, the main opposition party had been confident it could pull off a stellar election performance. But it won only 96 seats, down from 110 before the Lower House dissolution.

The number of seats won by the party under the proportional representation system, which is believed to reflect voter attitudes to political parties more clearly than in constituencies, plunged to 39 from 62.

Most CDP members attributed the dismal performance to their party’s cooperation with the JCP.

Noting that many members of the public dislike communism, a CDP lawmaker in the Lower House said, “We lost votes of our supporters as our party swung to the left too much.”

“Our party should have targeted unaffiliated voters rather than adopting a strategy of appealing to loyal voters,” said an Upper House member of the CDP whose seat will be among those up for grabs in the triennial election in summer 2022. The CDP-JCP cooperation strategy “backfired,” the lawmaker said.

On Monday, CDP leader Yukio Edano visited Tomoko Yoshino, president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, or Rengo, which supports the party, to inform her about the Lower House election results.

Yoshino, who was critical of the CDP’s election cooperation with the JCP, urged Edano to “sum up” the outcome.

“It was a difficult battle. The election cooperation strategy wasn’t accepted by voters,” Yoshino told a news conference later.

The CDP faces a dilemma, having no choice but to cooperate with other opposition parties to vie with the LDP.

The fate of the 2022 Upper House election hinges on the results in 32 prefectural constituencies where only one seat each is contested, pundits say.

“We’re not in a situation where our party can beat the (LDP-led) ruling bloc, the JCP and Nippon Ishin on our own” in the single-seat constituencies, a senior CDP member said.

Edano on Tuesday expressed his intention to step down from the post of CDP leader to take responsibility for the party’s poor showing in the Lower House election.

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