Voters Expressed Discontent with Established Parties

The Liberal Democratic Party solidly secured seats in prefectural assemblies, indicating that the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has maintained a stable base of support. Meanwhile, among the opposition parties, Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) made its presence felt. This may have an impact on future national elections.

In the first half of the unified local elections, all ballot counting results have been announced.

The LDP won 1,153 seats, exceeding its target of winning more than half of the total of 2,260 seats in the 41 prefectural assemblies for which elections were held. This is the third consecutive time that the LDP has won a majority of the available prefectural assembly seats, following the unified local elections in 2015 and 2019. It can be said that the Kishida administration has received a positive evaluation to a certain extent.

The rapid progress made by Nippon Ishin was noticeable in the results. In addition to a solid showing in the Kansai region, the party’s home turf, the party won seats for the first time in 13 prefectural assemblies, including those of Gunma, Saitama and Kagawa. Nippon Ishin won a total of 124 seats in the 41 prefectural assemblies for which elections were held, doubling the number of seats it held before the elections.

The largest opposition party, however, was sluggish. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) won only 185 seats, almost unchanged from its pre-election strength, allowing Nippon Ishin to nearly catch up with it.

The Japanese Communist Party lost 24 seats from the pre-election level, to 75.

While some established parties struggled, Nippon Ishin increased its seats and relatively new forces such as the party called Sanseito are gaining support — a situation that has been seen since last year’s House of Councillors election. This may reflect voters’ dissatisfaction with the current political situation.

If opposition parties spend all their time finding fault with Cabinet ministers while neglecting policy discussions, they will not inspire hopes from voters.

Given the fact that such groups as Nippon Ishin are gaining support from conservative voters, the LDP cannot be said to be in a safe position. It is essential for Kishida, who is also the LDP president, to steadily implement policies and produce results.

What should be noted about the first half of the local elections is not just how ruling and opposition parties fared. The fact that unopposed candidates were elected to one in every four prefectural assembly seats is a serious situation.

In Yamanashi prefecture, the capital city of Kofu is represented by a single nine-seat district — and only nine candidates ran, bringing about the district’s first uncontested election. In all, more than 60% of the Yamanashi prefectural assembly members were elected unopposed. The Gifu, Wakayama, Hiroshima and Tokushima prefectural assemblies each saw more than 40% of seats go to candidates who were elected unopposed.

The fact that voters do not have the opportunity to make a better choice for the future of their local governments undermines a fundamental part of democracy. Each local assembly needs to think of ways to secure candidates for local assembly members.

The decline in voter turnout also appeared unstoppable, with average voter turnout hitting a record low in both the gubernatorial and prefectural assembly elections.

In depopulated rural areas, the number of polling places has been declining. Local governments must take every possible measure to deal with this situation through such measures as providing transportation for the elderly and improving the convenience of the early voting system.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 11, 2023)