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Pro-constitutional reform forces may lose 2/3 majority in Japan upper house: Mainichi poll

This file photo shows the National Diet Building in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on May 1, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- It appears difficult for political forces in favor of amending the postwar Constitution to maintain a two-thirds majority in the House of Councillors in the July 21 election, a prerequisite in initiating constitutional revision, the latest Mainichi Shimbun survey has found, following similar results in the early stage of the campaign period.

The finding is based on a special survey the national daily conducted on July 13 and 14 as well as information it has thus far gathered. While the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito, as well as the conservative opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party, JIP) aim to change the war-renouncing Constitution, it looks difficult for the parties to secure 85 of the seats up for grabs this time, necessary to maintain a two-thirds majority in the 245-seat chamber.

Compared to when a previous survey was carried out on July 4 and 5, shortly after campaigning for the upper house poll officially kicked off, the number of constituencies where opposition candidates have an edge over the ruling counterparts increased from five to seven among the 32 constituencies where one seat each is up for grabs.

Among the 32 constituencies, 28 seats currently held by LDP legislators are being contested in the election, throwing them on the defensive.

In the July 21 election, half of the chamber's 245 seats will be up for grabs, while the other 121 seats will remain uncontested for another three years. The number of contested seats has increased by three in this year's election due to a legal change to the upper chamber's capacity to rectify a disparity in the value of votes between the most densely and sparsely populated electoral districts.

In the latest Mainichi Shimbun survey, about 20% of respondents said they have yet to decide which candidates or parties they would vote for in constituencies, raising the possibility that the election climate may change before the July 21 contest.

The number of seats that the LDP is expected to win in constituencies and the proportional representation bloc totals at least 51, a drop from "at least 53" projected in the previous survey. Komeito appears to have secured 10 seats. Altogether, the ruling coalition parties are expected to win more than 63 seats, or a majority of the contested seats, which is "a victory or defeat bar" as described by a senior LDP official.

Among the 32 constituencies where one seat each is at stake, the LDP maintains its advantage in 20 of them. Compared to the early stage of the campaign period, the LDP has managed to turn the Kagawa constituency to its side from what was seen as a battleground district. Meanwhile, the Aomori and Kagoshima constituencies, where the LDP was leading, are now seeing neck-and-neck races.

In each of the Iwate, Miyagi and Niigata constituencies, a candidate jointly backed by opposition parties is leading the race. Opposition candidates also maintain the upper hand in the Yamagata, Nagano, Ehime and Okinawa constituencies.

Meanwhile in Akita Prefecture, an opposition candidate yielded her dominance to face a close contest against an LDP opponent. Ruling and opposition candidates are also fiercely vying for seats in the Aomori, Mie, Shiga and Kagoshima constituencies.

There are several LDP-gripped constituencies where opposition candidates are closing in on their rivals.

While the LDP-Komeito alliance has a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, a prerequisite for proposing constitutional revision, the pro-amendment forces only comprise such a supermajority in the upper house when JIP and independent legislators in favor of constitutional reform are added to ruling bloc members. As 79 of all uncontested seats are currently held by pro-amendment legislators, the forces need to win 85 seats up for grabs to keep a two-thirds majority in the upper chamber.

By the latter half of the campaign period, the LDP-Komeito-JIP alliance had solidified their chance to win 67 seats, two fewer than in the early stages of campaigning. As candidates running on the ticket of the LDP, Komeito and the JIP are on the bubble in the Tokyo, Hyogo and other constituencies, it appears difficult for the three parties to reach the 85-seat threshold.

On the other hand, anti-amendment forces that distant themselves from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's constitutional reform goal look certain to win a total of 35 seats in constituencies and the proportional representation bloc. If the forces manage to secure 40 seats, they can block pro-amendment forces from maintaining a two-thirds majority.

Candidates running for the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan remain strong in four constituencies in the Tokyo metropolitan area as well as in the Fukuoka constituency, with the party eyeing to win 10 or more seats in the proportional representation bloc. The Democratic Party for the People is expected to win a combined four to six seats in constituencies and the proportional representation bloc. The Japanese Communist Party appears highly likely to win seats in the Tokyo and Saitama constituencies.

There is a high possibility that JIP candidates will garner two seats in the Osaka constituency, while the party also looks to gain seats in the Tokyo and Hyogo constituencies. Candidates on the Social Democratic Party roster are facing an uphill battle in their attempts to capture proportional representation seats.

The new political group "Reiwa Shinsengumi" may clinch up to two seats in the proportional representation bloc. Another political group, "NHK kara kokumin o mamoru to" ("party to protect the people from NHK") may also win seats under the proportional representation system.

(Japanese original by Takenori Noguchi, Political News Department)

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