On Sunday, July 10, 2016, an Upper House election will take place with 121 of 242 total seats up for grabs.
For Japan policy wonks, the largest question now beyond “which political party got how many seats?” is “does this spell ‘success’ or ‘failure’ for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party?”
To help you deduce the impact of the results for yourself, here are some key barometers on how to judge the event that will be all over Japanese newspapers come Monday morning:
Did the LDP get 57 seats? If so, it will give them a simple (> 50%) majority without their coalition partner Komeito. This would be the first time in 27 years the LDP wouldn’t need a coalition partner.
Did the two current sitting minsters, Minister of Okinawan Affairs Aiko Shimajiri of Okinawa Prefecture, or Minister of Justice Mitsuhide Iwaki of Fukushima Prefecture, keep their Upper House seats? Both prefectures are widely unhappy with LDP policies, and regional dissatisfaction, such as the US bases in Okinawa and nuclear power in Fukushima, make the hopes for both LDP incumbents to get reelected questionable. Current polls see Minister Shimajiri’s campaign in dire straits, and Minister Iwaki’s is a toss-up. While only half + 1 of the Abe cabinet’s ministers must be sitting members of the Diet, in practice all the current cabinet members are those who represent the ruling coalition. While the LDP has plenty of senior politicians jockeying for a Cabinet portfolio, having 1 sitting minister fail in reelection is deemed uncool; 2 would be an embarrassment.
Who wins a seat in Kanagawa? 2 LDP candidates are jostling for a position in this multi-seat prefecture as a result of an ongoing Abe inner circle family feud between Minister of Finance Taro Aso and Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. Suga’s pick, incumbent Junko Mihara, is a shoo-in. However, Aso’s pick Kenji Nakanishi is less likely to make the cut. A loss for Aso’s pick could spell “terminus” for Teflon Don Aso’s long reign as Nagatacho’s top bean counter.
What is the shakeout in Komeito’s 7 multi-seat district? LDP coalition partner Komeito is having a Rodney Dangerfield moment. While coalition partners are supposed to support one another, Komeito has been getting half-hearted support from the LDP in some crucial districts. There is an LDP pledge to support Komeito candidates in the 7 multi-seat districts, which is plausible (because the LDP can use its support base to get both its own AND its coalition partner’s candidate into office), but it’s dubious whether it will actually result in 7 out of 7 wins for Komeito. If not, it does not bode well for the future of the LDP/Komeito partnership (see 1. above).
Did the LDP snag Mie Prefecture? The LDP’s arch nemesis opposition, the Democratic Party leader Katsuya Okada, made a bold-faced pledge that he will step down as party leader if his candidate in his home district of Mie Prefecture – DP member Hirokazu Shiba – does not get elected. If this happens, it is widely speculated that the DP’s number two honcho, Renho, will become the party’s first female leader.
Did the Japan Communist Party nationwide collect 8.5 million votes? The red flag-flying communists have recently adopted a never before seen election strategy of partnering with other opposition political parties (i.e. filthy capitalists). This could realize unprecedented growth for the JCP’s usually stunted results, possibly even to the tune of 8.5 million votes. If this happens, the revolution of the proletariat is surely near.
Did the LDP get the 2/3 majority? If you’re wondering why this one is last, it’s because it is the least likely. While speculation has made for some great newspaper headlines, the chances for this are low unless PM Abe turns into a superhero who saves Japan from being struck by a massive meteor sometime before Sunday afternoon. And even if it does happen, Article 9 revision is simply not on the books.
We hope this is helpful. Watch our video series, “Tokyo on Fire”, for full updates and analysis!