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Election Review: United opposition could have won 84 single-seat constituencies

In this Oct. 12, 2017 file photo, people cheer during a political speech in Sapporo's Chuo Ward. (Mainichi)

Opposition parties might have defeated ruling coalition candidates in at least 84 single-seat constituencies in the Oct. 22 House of Representatives election if they had formed a united front, Mainichi Shimbun analysis has shown.

The Mainichi Shimbun made the discovery after comparing the combined number of votes candidates on the tickets of opposition parties won against that gained by ruling coalition candidates in each of 289 single-seat electoral districts.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) scored a landslide victory in the general election thanks to a split in the opposition bloc. However, if opposition parties had fielded a single joint candidate in each of these districts, they might have put an end to the LDP's predominance.

Shortly before campaigning for the election began on Oct. 10, the then largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) split into those who joined the newly formed conservative opposition Party of Hope, those who signed up with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), newly formed by the DP's liberal wing, and those who ran as independents.

In the 2016 House of Councillors race, four main opposition parties -- the DP, the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), the then People's Life Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) -- formed a united front in many constituencies across the country. In the latest lower house election, opposition forces were divided into the Party of Hope-Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) alliance and the CDP-JCP-SDP bloc.

A ruling bloc candidate and an opposition candidate had a one-on-one fight in only 56 of the lower house's 289 single-seat constituencies. In 177 other constituencies, the three main blocs fought against each other, while three or more opposition candidates clashed with a single ruling coalition candidate in 51 other electoral districts. In the remaining five constituencies, two LDP-affiliated candidates ran against each other.

In 52 of the 177 districts that saw three-way races, the combined number of votes the two opposition candidates garnered surpassed that won by a governing bloc candidate. In only 40 of these constituencies, an opposition candidate defeated a ruling coalition candidate. The number might have doubled if opposition parties had formed a united front.

Opposition parties won only three of the 51 electoral districts where at least three opposition candidates ran against a ruling coalition candidate. However, the total number of votes the opposition candidates captured in these constituencies surpassed the votes a ruling bloc candidate garnered in 32 constituencies.

The Party of Hope may have benefited most from a united front between all major opposition parties. In 195 out of 198 constituencies where the Party of Hope put up officially endorsed candidates, the party competed with a candidate backed by the CDP, JCP or SDP.

The JCP fielded candidates against those backed by the Party of Hope, which it viewed as a political force complementary to the LDP, while cooperating closely with the CDP and the SDP in the election.

In 41 electoral districts where a Party of Hope candidate was defeated, the combined number of votes its and JCP candidates gathered topped the number of votes won by an LDP candidate. The Party of Hope actually won in only 18 single-seat districts. However, if the number of votes cast for a CDP candidate is also added, the figure is above the number of votes LDP candidates won in 19 more constituencies.

A former lower house member, who unsuccessfully ran on the ticket of the Party of Hope, lamented that the opposition camp, which is supposed to garner support from voters critical of the government, was split.

However, this is largely because the Party of Hope barred liberal members of the DP from joining its ranks and refused to cooperate with the JCP in the election.

Questions remain as to whether election cooperation between all major political parties would have worked just as the Mainichi Shimbun has calculated. The Party of Hope might have lost support from conservative voters if it had joined hands with liberal and left-leaning political parties in the election.

Still, a joint opposition candidate won in 11 out of the 32 upper house electoral districts where only one seat was up for grabs in last year's poll. Depending on opposition parties' election strategy, they might have beat or fought closely with ruling bloc candidates in the latest general election.

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