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LDP's coalition partner Komeito suffers election blow

Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi is seen in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on Oct. 22, 2017. (Mainichi)

Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was hoping to secure 35 seats in the Oct. 22 general election -- through both single-seat constituencies and proportional representation -- but in the end it struggled, losing out in the Kanagawa No. 6 district.

This is the first time for Komeito to be defeated in a single-seat constituency since the general election in 2012, when the LDP returned to power. In addition, a reduction in the number of seats allocated to four proportional representation blocs -- Tohoku, northern Kanto, Kinki and Kyushu -- has had a negative effect on Komeito's results in the poll.

At a press conference in the predawn hours of Oct. 23, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi stated that, "In the Kanagawa No. 6 district, the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) cooperated with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), and opposition party votes that would normally be scattered became concentrated (toward the CDP)."

Furthermore, while the LDP secured a large number of seats, the emerging CDP took centrist votes away from Komeito, causing Komeito to struggle in proportional representation blocs. There is also the opinion that a number of voters "detached themselves from Komeito" due to its cooperation with the LDP in enacting security laws and the "anti-conspiracy" law.

In a television program that was broadcast on TV Tokyo in the evening on Oct. 22, Komeito Secretary-General Yoshihisa Inoue emphasized Komeito's role as a centrist party, stating: "Our position as a centrist party remains constant. By being in a coalition with the LDP, we are able to bring centrist opinions to the table that the LDP would otherwise not pick up on -- and thereby bring stability to the running of government."

However, the LDP's convincing win in the election means that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will likely accelerate discussions over amending the Constitution. Therefore, Komeito is faced with some difficult choices. Will it adopt a right-wing stance and cooperate with the LDP over its plan to amend the Constitution? Or will it maintain its centrist stance and try to win back support from centrist voters?

When asked during a press conference whether the Constitution was the main focus of the election, Yamaguchi said, "I don't think so. Options on it weren't really laid out. Each party provided differing stances, and even within parties such as the LDP, opinion was split."

Yamaguchi thus warned the prime minister against hastily going ahead with debate on constitutional reform in cooperation with the conservative opposition Party of Hope and other pro-revision parties. Komeito has insisted on involving the largest opposition party in constitutional discussions. Therefore, the fact that the newly formed CDP, which is against revising Article 9, emerged as the largest opposition party following the general election could hinder Abe's plans to revise the Constitution.

Furthermore, in an NHK program broadcast on Oct. 22, Yamaguchi stated: "Amending the Constitution is something that is initiated by the Diet. The ruling coalition cannot do it alone. There needs to be widespread consensus."

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