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SDP's official party status in peril as leader loses upper house seat

The very existence of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) is in doubt after leader Tadatomo Yoshida lost his proportional representation bloc seat in the July 10 House of Councillors election.

The result leaves the SDP with just two seats in the upper chamber, including deputy leader Mizuho Fukushima, and may spark renewed debate on a merger with the fellow opposition Democratic Party.

In the 2013 upper house election, the SDP managed to win over 2 percent of the national vote necessary to remain an official party, and heading into the July 10 poll had a total of five lawmakers in both houses of the Diet. However, the party could not slow its decline this election.

The SDP campaigned on a platform of opposing the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and blocking attempts to revise Japan's pacifist Constitution. However, it apparently failed to distinguish itself from other opposition parties and was left languishing at the back of the opposition pack. The party's performance was also likely impacted by its failure to reach an agreement with the DP and People's Life Party (PLP) on a joint proportional representation bloc candidate roster.

"Of course, I bear responsibility for losing one of our two seats (contested this election). I would like to consult with the party's lawmakers on what to do next," Yoshida said at a news conference early on the morning of July 11.

The PLP also went into the election with a total of five lawmakers in both houses of the Diet. The two PLP representatives whose seats were up for grabs in the upper house poll decided not to run again, but independents with PLP memberships won in the Iwate and Niigata constituencies.

"It would be the natural outcome for us to combine our strength with them as party members and work together," PLP joint-leader Ichiro Ozawa told reporters on July 10, suggesting he expected the two independents to join the PLP caucus.

To qualify for recognition as a political party, a party must have at least five lawmakers in the Diet or have won at least 2 percent of the popular vote in the most recent lower or upper house election.

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