Japan’s Komeito Growing Concerned over Ishin Election Wins

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi speaks at a meeting of the ruling parties at the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday.

Komeito, the Liberal Democratic Party’s coalition partner, is growing increasingly concerned about the success of the Ishin parties, which include both Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) and the regional party Osaka Ishin, in the recent regional elections.

Osaka Ishin won the majority of seats in the Osaka prefectural and city assemblies, casting a shadow over the cooperative agreement between Komeito and the Ishin parties for the next House of Representatives election. Of Komeito’s current nine lower house members elected from single-seat constituencies, six were elected from Osaka and Hyogo prefectures. As a result, Komeito is uneasy about the Ishin parties’ next move.

“It all depends on what the Ishin parties will do,” Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said after a meeting of the ruling parties at the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday. “I would like to keep an eye on how things develop.”

In the past four lower house elections since 2012, the Ishin parties did not field any candidates in the six single-seat constituencies in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures where Komeito fielded candidates to avoid competing with the party. This decision was made as Osaka Ishin did not have the majority of seats in the Osaka city assembly and needed the cooperation of Komeito to realize its signature policy of creating an Osaka metropolis.

However, the policy effectively hit a dead end, and in September 2022, Ishin President Nobuyuki Baba said the party would “reset” all cooperative agreements it had with Komeito in lower house elections.

In the 2021 lower house election, Ishin won all 15 constituencies in Osaka Prefecture where it had fielded candidates, leading Komeito to grow concerned. If the Ishin parties decided to field rival candidates of Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner would suffer devastating losses in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures.

In the Osaka gubernatorial and mayoral elections on Sunday, the LDP’s Osaka prefectural chapter encouraged party members to support candidates who were not affiliated with Osaka Ishin at their own discretion. Komeito let its members decide who to vote for, with an intention to show consideration for Ishin parties.

However, Baba said on Sunday night, “For now, we will not ask for cooperation from other parties and will reset our relationship with Komeito.”

Regarding the six constituencies in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, Baba said, “We have not decided whether to field candidates in all the constituencies.”

It has been said that Komeito always wins in the Kansai region, where Soka Gakkai, the lay Buddhist group and Komeito’s support base, is able to effectively organize its members. In the most recent elections, some Komeito candidates failed to secure seats in the Osaka city assembly, as well as the Aichi prefectural assembly. However, the party won 14 seats in the 79-seat Osaka prefectural assembly and 18 seats in the 81-seat Osaka city assembly, becoming the second major party in both assemblies, following Osaka Ishin.

“The Ishin parties will not break away from the second major party just because it gained the majority,” a senior Komeito member said, indicating expectations that the Ishin parties will maintain its cooperative agreement with Komeito.