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Parties backing constitutional change could lose 2/3 upper house majority in election

People listen to a speech by a House of Councillors election candidate in Chuo Ward, Chiba, east of Tokyo, on July 4, 2019, as official campaigning begins for the July 21 poll. (Mainichi/Takashi Kondo)

TOKYO -- Political forces in favor of constitutional revisions could fail to maintain a two-thirds majority in the House of Councillors in the July 21 election -- a prerequisite for initiating such amendments -- a Mainichi survey suggests.

At the same time, the ruling bloc is set to win over half of seats up for grabs, the poll suggests.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to secure at least 53 of the 124 contested seats. Combined with at least 11 seats expected to be captured by its junior coalition partner Komeito, the governing coalition is likely to get more than 63 seats, winning the majority of those up for grabs.

However, the ruling coalition and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), a conservative opposition party that is also enthusiastic about constitutional reform, may not reach 85 seats. This is the number they would need to secure a total of 164 seats in the chamber -- including the seats not being contested on July 21 -- and maintain a two-thirds majority.

Under Article 96 of the Constitution, constitutional revisions can be initiated through a concurring vote of two-thirds of all members of each Diet chamber before being put to a national referendum. Those in favor of constitutional reform currently occupy two-thirds of the seats in both chambers.

However, since approximately 30% of the respondents in the Mainichi survey said they have not decided on which candidates they will vote for in local constituencies, the situation may change before voters go to the polls on July 21.

An upper house election is held every three years, and half of the chamber's seats are contested each time. The number of seats in the house has been increased by six as part of efforts to rectify the widening vote value disparity between the most and least densely populated electoral districts in Japan.

For the upcoming election, the number of contested seats was increased by three to 124. A total of 74 of the seats will be assigned through constituencies, and 50 through the proportional representation system. After the election, the total number of seats in the house will stand at 245. A total of 370 candidates are vying for the 124 seats up for grabs.

The governing bloc has more than two-thirds of the seats in the House of Representatives, while the ruling camp, Nippon Ishin and independents in favor of constitutional amendments have two-thirds of those in the upper chamber.

Since just 79 upper house seats that are not up for grabs this time are occupied by those enthusiastic about changing the supreme law, pro-amendment candidates need to win at least 85 seats this time to retain the two-thirds majority.

The Mainichi survey suggests that the LDP, Komeito and Nippon Ishin will likely secure at least 69 seats and could reach 85 if the three parties gain further support.

The LDP has managed to garner more support than opposition parties and groups in 21 of 32 key swing constituencies in which only one seat is being contested. In all of these swing districts, four opposition parties and one political faction -- the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP), the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Reviewing Group on Social Security Policy -- have formed a united front by jointly backing candidates. However, this tactic appears to have proved effective in just five of these districts -- Akita, Yamagata, Nagano, Ehime and Okinawa.

The LDP, meanwhile, has made a strong showing, and is likely to secure at least 53 seats -- necessary to allow the ruling bloc to retain a majority in the chamber when including the uncontested seats -- on its own. Prime Minister Abe has set a goal of the LDP and Komeito winning at least 53 seats up for grabs this time. Seven candidates fielded by Komeito in local constituencies where multiple seats are up for grabs have a high chance of winning seats.

Opposition parties are set to capture at least 33 of the seats allocated to local constituencies and the proportional representation bloc. The CDP is expected to win seats in four constituencies in the Tokyo metropolitan area as well as in the Aichi and Fukuoka prefectural districts. In the Tokyo constituency, the CDP may win two seats. However, the CDP faces an uphill battle in the western Japan constituencies of Osaka and Hyogo. The party will likely win 10 or more seats through the proportional representation system.

The DPFP has a chance of garnering a seat each in Aichi and Shizuoka prefectural electoral districts, where multiple seats are being contested. The party will likely win only two to three seats under the proportional representation system.

The JCP is highly likely to win a seat each in the eastern Japan districts of Tokyo and Saitama in the proportional representation bloc.

Nippon Ishin may win two seats in the Osaka constituency, its stronghold, while likely winning four seats in the proportional representation system.

The SDP and the political group Reiwa Shinsengumi headed by actor-legislator Taro Yamamoto may win seats through the proportional representation system.

(Japanese original by Takenori Noguchi, Political News Department)

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