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Japan election results expose lack of voter confidence across political spectrum

The National Diet building (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headed into the Oct. 31 House of Representatives election with a lineup of party heads who were brought in weeks before the election was called, hoping to boost voter expectations for new party president and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

    The LDP managed to secure an absolute stable majority in the lower house together with its junior coalition partner Komeito, meaning that its campaign strategy proved successful. Nevertheless, the LDP was forced onto the defensive in various parts of the country during the campaign, and failed to catch a favorable political wind in its sails.

    The LDP earlier factored in the possibility of its pre-election strength of 276 seats diminishing. Prime Minister Kishida, for now, has fulfilled his responsibility in the election, held less than a month after he took office. However, he failed to become a game changer, given the fact that an LDP candidate was defeated in a House of Councillors by-election in the Shizuoka constituency on Oct. 24, right in the middle of the lower house campaign period.

    The LDP's manifesto for the general election was of an all-around nature, incorporating the assertions of each candidate who ran in the LDP presidential race in September. Prime Minister Kishida himself struggled to get his signature policy of growth and redistribution of wealth across to voters. Voter frustrations that had built up during the prolonged administrations of former prime ministers Yoshihide Suga and Shinzo Abe did not ease when Suga stepped down after his Cabinet suffered flagging approval ratings.

    Under Prime Minister Abe's reign, the LDP scored landslide victories in three consecutive national elections from 2012. Yet the party's core energy was apparently waning. A senior campaign official for a former Cabinet minister who faced an uphill battle in the general election confided to the Mainichi Shimbun, "We couldn't hold meetings due to the effect of the coronavirus, and a generational shift didn't progress among support groups. It's tough for us as a conservative party."

    The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, as well as four other parties including the Japanese Communist Party and the Democratic Party for the People, unified candidates in more than 70% of single-seat constituencies, bringing about head-to-head races between ruling and opposition bloc candidates in many parts of the country.

    Regardless, the campaign tactics produced only limited results after opposition parties failed to fend off criticism that they were joining hands simply to secure seats.

    Unless opposition parties break with their conventional method of waiting until right before the election to coordinate their candidates, and work out a solid common agenda at an early stage, it will be difficult for them to gain a voter mandate strong enough for them to take the reins of government.

    Just as the LDP-Komeito governing bloc and opposition parties that formed a united front were trading barbs about the framework of a government administration, the conservative opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), which aims to form a "third force," drew significantly larger support. It can be said that quite a few voters found themselves unable to empathize with either the ruling or opposition parties.

    Many of the policy measures laid out by the Kishida administration are mere "menus," and the public is yet to see what "dishes" they will actually be served. This is one of the reasons the LDP lost seats in this general election. We need to keep a close eye on how Prime Minister Kishida will lead the nation.

    In the latest election, voters did not allow a single party to win big. Unless each party strives to regain voter confidence ahead of the House of Councillors election next year, Japan's party politics itself may falter.

    (Japanese original by Takuji Nakata, managing editor, Political News Department)

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