Ruling Coalition Partner Komeito Finds Itself at Crossroads Following Death of Founder Ikeda

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Daisuke Ikeda, second from right, shakes hands with then Chinese President Jiang Zemin, right, in Tokyo in April 1992.

With the death of its charismatic founder Daisuke Ikeda, Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, suddenly finds itself at a crossroads.

Komeito was formed under the umbrella of the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, of which Ikeda was a former president and held the post of honorary president when he died Wednesday at the age of 95.

Other parties are closely watching to see what effect his passing has on the country’s political scene.

In recent years, Ikeda rarely appeared in public, but he maintained a spiritual presence by issuing messages through the religious group’s bulletins and other channels.

“We knew this day would eventually come, but there is still a tremendous sense of loss,” said a Soka Gakkai executive.

Soka Gakkai has been gradually losing its clout due to the aging of its members and other factors. With its power to draw voters on decline, it has seen its election numbers plummet. After garnering more than 8 million votes in proportional elections for the House of Representatives from 2003 to 2009, it has hovered around 7 million since 2014.

In the unified local election held in April this year, it was dealt its largest setback ever when 12 of its candidates for prefectural or municipal assemblies went down to defeat.

Under Ikeda, the religious group adopted a collective leadership system in 2006 with Minoru Harada as the president. Ikeda became a symbol who could unite Soka Gakkai followers, and his death may weaken the organization’s ability to obtain unity.

The LDP and Komeito first formed a ruling coalition in 1999, and have been strengthening their relationship ever since. In national elections, it became common practice for Soka Gakkai followers to support LDP candidates — it is said that such support gives LDP candidates an additional 20,000 votes per constituency.

The LDP has more than a few members who would find it difficult to secure their Diet seats without Soka Gakkai’s backing.