3 Lower House By-Elections: Defeats by Default Indicate LDP’s Deterioration

It is utterly pathetic that the party in power is unable to present voters with an option in an election. Even so, it is difficult to say that expectations for opposition parties are rising.

The composition of this month’s House of Representatives by-elections shows how serious the political situation in Japan has become.

The start of official campaigning for by-elections in Tokyo Constituency No. 15, Shimane Constituency No. 1 and Nagasaki Constituency No. 3 has been announced. These are the first national elections since allegations emerged about violations of the Political Funds Control Law involving factions of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. They also serve as a preview of the next election for the lower house, which must be held by the time the current lawmakers’ term of office expires in October next year.

The outcomes of the by-elections are likely to affect not only Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s decision about when to dissolve the lower house but also the fate of his Cabinet.

The LDP considered the by-elections in Tokyo and Nagasaki constituencies, where former LDP Diet members resigned over scandals involving politics and money, to be so disadvantageous to its side that it decided to accept defeats by default and not contest either of these constituencies. The party fielded a candidate — a newcomer — only in the by-election in the Shimane constituency following the death of former lower house speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda. The constituency offers the head-to-head contest between a candidate from the LDP and one from the largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

There are many candidates in the Tokyo constituency, including ones fielded by the CDPJ, Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) and a political organization close to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike. The by-election in the Nagasaki constituency is an opposition showdown between the CDPJ and Ishin.

Defeats by default mean that the LDP has admitted to itself that the party is not worthy of being chosen by the people. If the party wants to regain the public’s trust, it would be reasonable to reflect on the scandal, implement the needed reforms, and then field its own candidates and steadily appeal for support.

Until recently the LDP was called the “sole dominant power,” but it ran into trouble over the scandal involving its factions’ alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law. However, if the LDP had dealt with the scandal head-on and made sincere efforts to get to the bottom of it and revise the law, the party’s strength might not have weakened to this level.

On the other hand, opposition parties such as the CDPJ have not been able to serve as a receptacle for voters’ discontent.

The opposition parties insisted that sessions of the Deliberative Council on Political Ethics, which in principle are closed to the public, be broadcast on TV. They apparently intended to undermine the LDP by broadcasting scenes of their pursuit of members of the faction, which had once been led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and others — but without their own materials to reveal details of the faction’s scandal, they failed to make any progress in clarifying the situation, which in turn has increased public dissatisfaction.

As for social security measures, such as those to combat the low birth rate, the opposition parties have done nothing more than oppose increasing the burden on the public. The public may have seen through their populist arguments.

In a nationwide survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun, the percentage of respondents who said they “support no party” exceeded 50% for the second consecutive month. Voter turnout was at an all-time low in by-elections in October last year for Nagasaki Constituency No. 4 in the lower house and the Tokushima-Kochi Constituency in the House of Councillors.

The increase in the number of independent voters and low voter turnouts indicate that politics is being abandoned by the electorate. The responsibility for this lies with both the ruling and opposition parties.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 17, 2024)