Ruling, Opposition Parties to Battle over Performance of Kishida Administration

It has been 1½ years since the inauguration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet, and campaigning has begun for national elections that are being viewed as a “midterm referendum” on his administration. The results of these elections will likely influence Kishida’s decision on dissolving the House of Representatives.

Campaigning in four lower house by-elections has started for Chiba Constituency No. 5, Wakayama Constituency No. 1 and Yamaguchi Constituency No. 2 and No. 4. Voting and ballot counting will take place on April 23, including for a by-election in the Oita prefectural constituency to fill a House of Councillors seat, for which campaigning has already begun. These are the first national elections since the upper house poll in July last year.

Each of the five by-elections will be a showdown between the ruling and opposition parties. Generally, by-elections tend to be all-out battles, as the parties’ leaders and senior members intensively campaign in constituencies. The true strength of the ruling and opposition parties will be tested.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which held a total of three seats in Chiba and Yamaguchi constituencies, has fielded candidates in all five constituencies. Coalition partner Komeito has recommended all five LDP candidates.

Within the LDP, “at least three wins” has been set as the bar for victory, and it is thought that the prime minister’s leadership will be enhanced if the party is able to expand its strength.

From last autumn, the Kishida Cabinet’s approval rating was stagnant for reasons including a string of resignations by Cabinet ministers, but it has been picking up since the Japan-South Korea summit and Kishida’s visit to Ukraine. Depending on the results of the by-elections, the argument for an early dissolution of the lower house may gain momentum.

The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has put priority on Chiba Constituency No. 5, in which an LDP lawmaker resigned over an issue of “politics and money,” and the upper house seat in the Oita prefectural constituency, where the former Japan Socialist Party had a firm base.

Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) is concentrating on Wakayama Constituency No. 1. The focus will be whether the momentum it gained in the first round of the unified local elections will be reflected in the national election there.

A wide range of issues will be under contention in the by-elections, including security policy and measures to deal with the low birth rate.

In light of the worsening security environment surrounding Japan, the Kishida Cabinet has decided to drastically expand defense spending. It has also put forward a series of measures, including the active use of nuclear power generation and various measures to combat the low birth rate. However, the main financial resources to increase defense spending and deal with the birth rate have not yet been determined.

While acknowledging the need to strengthen the nation’s defense capabilities, the CDPJ opposes raising taxes to fund defense spending. Ishin says the government’s steps to combat the low birth rate are inadequate.

To overcome the difficult situations, what measures should be implemented and where should the necessary financial resources come from? Each party and its candidates must discuss these issues in concrete terms in the by-elections.

In recent national elections, opposition parties have often united their candidates in order to counter the LDP, which is described as the sole dominant power on the political scene.

The opposition parties were able to work together in the coming upper house by-election, but their joint efforts collapsed in Chiba Constituency No. 5, resulting in opposition parties fielding their own candidates there. Attention is also being focused on whether the opposition parties will maintain their cooperative relationship for the next lower house election.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 12, 2023)