Kokkai Insider

A Coming Storm?

With the July Upper House Election coming up fast, the LDP and Komeito have been making efforts to cooperate together as the ruling coalition. Unfortunately, some of the initiatives have not been so successful. For instance, Komeito has implored the LDP to provide more support for their candidates. The LDP reacted by stating that they will instruct local LDP divisions to request of their constituents that they vote Komeito.

This is, you may have noticed, something of a strange request – “don’t vote for us, vote for our ruling coalition partner!” This strategy can potentially help Komeito candidates win elections in districts where the LDP will win in any case, but requesting supporters to vote for a different party is nonetheless strange and constituents have made note of it. Most want to vote on the party line, and some are even publicly commenting on the ridiculous nature of the request.

Because of this odd maneuver, there is even more tension between Komeito and the LDP than there has been over the past few years. To really make things interesting for the election season, Minister of Finance Taro Aso is backing a quasi-LDP candidate Kenji Nakamura, mirroring Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga’s backing of star LDP candidate Junko Mihara in the 4 seat Kanagawa district. This flies in the face of the LDP’s policy of backing Komeito candidates so they can get the 2nd seat in multi-seat districts. It goes without saying that Komeito is feeling less than thrilled with the lack of support from their supposed allies.

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Now, with this upcoming Upper House election, it is  important to understand some of the strategy going into it. In particular, the 1-seat districts are proving to be quite important this time around – there are 32 going up for re-election. Based on past elections, though, the LDP is only statistically likely to win 21 of these, leaving 11 up for grabs. 2 of those 11 that are up for grabs are districts largely unhappy with LDP policy: the districts of Okinawa Affairs Minister Aiko Shimajiri (Okinawa) and Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki (Fukushima).

The Okinawa contention is a long standing one, rooted in the U.S. marine base currently stationed in Futenma. For 20 years there has been talk about moving the base to the Henoko district of Okinawa, which has been consistently met with resistance from the locals. Abe’s LDP is currently in the middle of perhaps the strongest push in recent history to begin the relocation of the base. This leaves Minister Shimajiri in a bit of an uphill battle trying to get reelected.

Minister Iwaki is in a similar situation. The triple disaster known as 3/11 is only 5 years off, which may not seem like a long time in terms of history, but for those families and constituents in the Tohoku region, particularly Fukushima prefecture, it must seem an eternity. With loggerheads frequently presenting themselves and Abe’s steady stream of support for restarting and expanding Japan’s nuclear power program, Iwaki-sensei is also at risk of looking exceptionally uncool, to say the least. Both of these situations are not good news for the LDP, who will have a PR nightmare on their hands if 2 sitting ministers don’t win their local elections.

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Strategy is Key

In addition to these political issues, there are also a number of logistical changes coming to the voting system that may affect the outcome. There was a big deal made about the lowering of the voting age from 20 to 18 last year, but also the polling booths will now close at 10 PM (8 PM previously) and there will also be booths at a number of train stations and department stores. So what does the inclusion of younger voters, longer voting hours, and more convenient voting areas mean for the LDP? We’re guessing they’ll take a hit in numbers. But you never know!

Oh, and that double election? Logically unthinkable if for the purposes of gaining a supermajority in the Upper House. However, some pundits have started saying that a double election for purposes of solidifying LDP internal support of the Abe Administration and its policies could be a possibly. Stay tuned!