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The Social Democratic Party is at a critical moment as it may lose its status as a political party in this summer’s national election.

On Friday, the opposition party will accept candidates in its leadership election set for late January. But the long-term decline of the SDP is unlikely to be reversed because current leader Mizuho Fukushima is expected to be re-elected.

“This is a year of a House of Councilors election. We’re at a crucial moment,” Fukushima said during a New Year’s news conference last week.

“If we don’t win at least 1.2 million votes in the proportional representation bloc, we cannot continue meeting the requirement for a political party,” she said.

Japan will have an election for the upper chamber of parliament in the summer, following the general election for the House of Representatives in October last year.

Under the public offices election law, political parties need to have at least five parliament members or win at least 2% of the total valid votes cast in the most recent lower or upper chamber election.

The SDP has only two parliament members, namely Fukushima and a first-time lawmaker elected from Okinawa Prefecture’s No. 2 constituency in the 2021 Lower House election.

Since the party was split over its merger with the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan in 2020, the number of rank-and-file party members has fallen by 40%, while more than half of local assembly members have left the SDP.

The party hopes to maintain the status of a political party by winning at least 2% of the votes in the Upper House election.

But the target looks hard to reach given that the party gained only 1.77% in the previous Lower House election.

“If we can’t win 2% in the Upper House election, we’ll have no way out,” an SDP executive said.

If the party loses the status, its candidates would be unable to register for both single-seat constituencies and proportional representation blocs simultaneously in a Lower House election.

The party would also lose advantages in election campaigns, including opportunities to appear in broadcasts of political views granted to candidates in single-seat constituencies in a Lower House election.

In the SDP leadership election, Fukushima is expected to be re-elected without contest because she is likely to be the only candidate.

Fukushima, who is also expected to run in the Upper House election, aims to attract support from the public with her promises to block constitutional amendment and reduce the gap between the rich and poor.

But her presence is low in the opposition camp as other parties have made similar proposals.

“I want our party leader to show how desperate she is” to recover the party’s strength, an SDP source said.

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