LDP faces tough battle in some constituencies, survey shows

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Left: Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano speaks in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, on Wednesday. Right: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expresses support for an LDP candidate in Hiroshima on Wednesday.

The Liberal Democratic Party will be forced to fight hard in the upcoming House of Representatives election, mainly in 213 constituencies where the party has to confront candidates jointly fielded by a coalition of five opposition parties, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey on the early stage of the campaign.

In a bid to deprive the LDP of a majority, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan — the largest opposition party — is trying to add to its seats in the lower house through the coalition.

“This election is an election to decide the future,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday in a street speech in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, aiming to continue the government of the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito. “The administration of the LDP and Komeito is determined to live up to your expectations by promoting civil and tolerant politics.”

The ruling coalition has set a minimum target of 233 seats — just enough for a majority — but also aims to secure more seats than that for a stable government. But, the situation does not seem to be going well for them.

The coalition of five opposition parties — the CDPJ, the Japanese Communist Party, the Democratic Party for the People, Reiwa Shinsengumi and the Social Democratic Party — that fielded a single candidate in each of 213 constituencies has made the race hard for the LDP. As a result, candidates from the ruling and opposition parties will compete one-on-one in 132 of the 289 single-seat constituencies, or nearly half, making it easier for the opposition camp to consolidate protest votes against the current administration.

In the last lower house election, in 2017, such one-on-on battles took place in only 57 constituencies, less than half of the current figure. Back then, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike launched Kibo no To (Party of Hope) right before the kickoff of the campaign, splitting the then largest opposition party, the Democratic Party. The last-minute drama created a profusion of opposition candidates, which had the effect of helping the LDP.

Some LDP members are concerned that the party may fall short of a single-party majority. Although the ruling coalition is likely to win at least a majority to ensure the administration remains in power, the LDP falling a short of a majority might “weaken the leadership of the newly elected prime minister and undermine the foundations of his administration,” according to a senior LDP member.

With a House of Councillors election scheduled for next summer, there has been worry over whether Kishida would still be a good standard-bearer for the LDP in future elections if he failed to win a single-party majority in his first major national election.

CDPJ: Coalition effective

The CDPJ is expected to increase its number of seats from the 110 it held before the election. To some extent this is due to its prospect of winning over the JCP’s 20,000 solid votes in each constituency.

Of the 213 constituencies in which opposition parties fielded unified candidates, 160, or more than 70%, of those slots have been filled by the CDPJ. The party solidified cooperative ties with the JCP after the JCP decided not to field its own candidates in 22 constituencies just before campaigning began.

Even so, there have been many cases in the past in which JCP supporters cast their votes for LDP candidates in constituencies contested by CDPJ candidates.

Disagreements over policies and a delicate sense of distance between the CDPJ and the JCP appear to have hampered the unity of the opposition parties.

There also is persistent opposition to the CDPJ cooperating with the JCP within the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), the largest supporter of the CDPJ. Rengo has been at odds with the JCP over the labor movement issues. It is highly likely that some Rengo votes will be cast to somewhere other than the opposition coalition candidates.

“Getting too close to the JCP would mean losing a lot of votes,” a veteran CDPJ member said.

The opposition camp would face an uphill battle in 39 constituencies fielded by JCP candidates.

“Let’s change politics not only on the surface, but also from the inside,” CDPJ leader Yukio Edano exhorted in Sendai, apparently with Kishida, who succeeded LDP prime ministers Yoshihide Suga and Shinzo Abe, in mind.

The ruling parties criticize opposition parties for engaging in “limited cooperation” despite differences in their basic policies. The opposition camp is being tested on its ability to sketch out an administration that is convincing enough to meet the expectation of a wide range of voters.

LDP firm on proportional front

Meanwhile, the Yomiuri Shimbun survey showed the LDP was solidly poised to secure seats through the proportional representation election system.

The LDP and Komeito are expected to win more than a majority through the system in which 176 seats are contested on the proportional representation side, while the CDPJ may struggle to secure its seats and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) is likely to earn many votes not only on its Kansai region home turf but also in other areas.