Limitations of Election System Lie Behind Difficulties In Ruling Parties

Japan is facing difficult challenges, including a chronic decline in the birth rate and a rapidly deteriorating security environment. The ruling parties must not allow internal feuds to cause political stagnation.

The Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito have been at loggerheads over the coordination of candidates for the next House of Representatives elections. The discord was triggered by an election system change in which the number of single-seat constituencies has been “increased by 10 in Tokyo and four prefectures, and decreased by 10 in 10 prefectures.”

Komeito sought to field a second candidate in Tokyo, where the number of constituencies will increase by five to 30, but the idea was rejected by the LDP. As a result, Komeito announced that it would end its election cooperation with the LDP in Tokyo and will not endorse any LDP candidates in the lower house elections in the capital. Komeito said it will also terminate its cooperation with the LDP in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly.

For more than 20 years, the LDP and Komeito have coordinated candidacies throughout the nation and endorsed each other’s candidates in single-seat lower house polls. In some cases, the LDP has called on voters to vote for Komeito in the proportional segment.

Never in the past have the LDP and Komeito clashed to the extent of ending electoral cooperation, even though it is only in Tokyo this time. This will be a blow to LDP candidates in the capital who rely on votes from Komeito supporters.

The reason Komeito is insisting on fielding candidates in Tokyo is that Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) has begun exploring the idea of fielding candidates in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, where Komeito holds six seats. Komeito hopes to secure seats in Tokyo because it expects a tough fight in the Kansai region.

The LDP, however, believes that it “cannot compromise in Tokyo” because of the reduction in the number of seats in rural prefectures that are LDP strongholds.

It is obvious that the executive teams of the two parties are not communicating well enough with each other. The fact that former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, both of whom had coordinated well with Komeito, are now no longer on the LDP executive team is also said to be a factor.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi and confirmed that the two parties will maintain the coalition. Kishida also told Yamaguchi that his party will deal with the issue carefully. The secretaries general of both parties also met and agreed to maintain election cooperation outside of Tokyo.

Election cooperation is the foundation of this coalition government. The LDP alone does not hold a majority of seats in the House of Councillors. If the rift between the two parties deepens, the nation’s politics could become unstable.

The difficulty in coordinating candidacies in the wake of the rezoning of lower house single-seat constituencies is not limited to the LDP and Komeito. The root cause lies in the election system.

As the population has shifted from rural to urban areas, the lower house’s constituency zoning has been changed to reduce “vote-value disparity.” If rezoning is repeated in the future, the ruling and opposition parties will be forced to make frequent candidacy adjustments. Voters will also likely be confused.

It might be the end of the line for the current system. The ruling and opposition parties need to hasten discussions on election system reform.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 4, 2023)