Parties must heed voters’ message in winner-less Tokyo assembly poll

As no single party was able to gain the active support of the voters, it can be said that this election had no outright winner. Both the ruling and opposition parties must regard this with a strong sense of urgency.

The Liberal Democratic Party won only 33 seats in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election. It was a harsh result, and its second-worst showing after the 23 seats it won in the previous election. Although it regained the position of top party in the assembly, it fell short of its goal of securing a majority in combination with Komeito.

Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites first group), the regional party established by Gov. Yuriko Koike, saw its number of seats reduced, dropping it to the No. 2 party in the assembly. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan now has fewer seats than the Japanese Communist Party.

The low voter turnout, the second lowest in history, seems to be a reflection of the sluggish policy debates among the parties.

“We humbly accept the failure of the LDP and Komeito to achieve a majority,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.

In the early stages of the campaign, some observers regarded the LDP as having the upper hand. But with a new surge in the number of novel coronavirus cases, the supply of vaccines was delayed. As a result, concerns also spread over holding the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. These took the form of a headwind working against the party.

The central government’s failure to properly deal with politics-and-money scandals, the falsification of official documents and other distasteful matters is believed to lie beneath the LDP’s poor showing. The party should reflect seriously on the fact that voters are strongly dissatisfied with the party’s complacency resulting from its overwhelming numerical dominance in the Diet.

A Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, in which support from unaffiliated voters holds the key to victory, has become in recent years a bellwether for national elections. The swing voters who supported Tomin First this time will likely affect the outcome of the House of Representatives election to be held by autumn.

For Suga, the poor showing in the Tokyo assembly election, coming on the heels of utter defeats in April elections to fill vacancies in two House of Councillors seats and one lower house seat, could weaken his leadership. The handling of his administration will get even tougher as it works toward a dissolution of the lower house for a general election.

To restore public trust, it is vital for him to display his leadership by accelerating vaccinations and holding a safe Games, and produce tangible results.

The CDPJ was unable to become the largest recipient of protest votes against the administration, an inadequate result for the leading opposition party in national politics. According to a Yomiuri Shimbun exit poll, the CDPJ won only 16% of independent voters. For a party lacking a solid organization, the inability to broaden its support base is a serious problem.

This time, the CDPJ and the JCP coordinated their candidates. The aim was to build cooperation among opposition parties for the upcoming lower house election, but the move was opposed by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), a main backer of the CDPJ.

If the two parties are to join forces in a lower house election in which voters choose which party is most fit to govern, they must not set aside their differences in basic policies on such issues as the Constitution, security and foreign affairs.

For the opposition parties to become a realistic option for voters, they need to clearly show their philosophies and concrete policies.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 6, 2021.