House of Councillors elections do not determine who will form the next government. As such, voters tend to take them less seriously than House of Representatives elections. Sometimes, this leads to quite an adventure for voters.
"I'm not looking for a change in government, but I want to rake the current administration over the coals," is a quite common sentiment among voters in upper house elections, and can lead to "twisted" Diets with the opposition in control of the upper chamber. House of Councillors elections in particular are treated as a way to push the political situation this way or that.
Lower house elections are call mostly when the prime minister of the day exercises the right to dissolve the chamber. Upper house elections, on the other hand, happen every three years, with just half the chamber's seats up for grabs. They are held neither at the behest nor at the convenience of the ruling parties, so they better reflect "the opinions of the people, unswayed by the arbitrariness of the prime minister."
Previous upper house elections have gone more or less along these lines. However, this election is obviously different. This is not just a House of Councillors election; it has far greater meaning than that. This election is nothing less than a decision that could see change to Japan's Constitution -- a constant political theme of the postwar era that could be possible now for the first time.
The real focus of this election is not the wins and losses for the ruling and opposition parties. No, this is about one all-important ratio: two-thirds. Parties in favor of revision to the Constitution already have a two-thirds majority in the lower house. The July 10 election will determine if they can reach that ratio in the upper house as well, opening the way for them to propose constitutional changes.
According to a Mainichi Shimbun poll conducted on June 18-19, 10 percent of voters see constitutional revision as the most important issue. That placed it third, a long way behind the 24 percent who answered "pensions and medical care," and a touch behind the 13 percent who responded "support for childrearing." But the election could have a far greater impact on the Constitution than on any individual policy issue.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe points out that national referendums are the final say on any constitutional revision, and that is certainly true. The two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet is nothing more than a first step towards revision. However, if pro-revision parties get that two-thirds majority, there is no question they will prepare the ground for constitutional change. What's more, they will do it under Abe, who has so long desired major changes to the supreme law.
In a manner of speaking, this election is even more important than one to choose the next government. We must all make the most of this opportunity to think about exactly what kind of country Japan should be. (By Shozo Suetsugu, Managing Editor of the Political News Department)