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2 opposition parties may have shared many votes in Japan election due to name mix-up

A voter casts a ballot at a polling station in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Oct. 31, 2021. (Mainichi/Toshiki Miyama)

The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and another opposition force Democratic Party for the People (DPFP) may have ended up sharing a large number of votes in the Oct. 31 House of Representatives election after both parties registered their abbreviated official name as "Minshu-to" (democratic party), it has been learned.

    In Japanese general elections, voters write the name of the candidate of their choice in a ballot for single-seat constituencies and also write in a separate ballot the name of the political party of their choice in proportional representation. The CDP and the DPFP had both submitted their abbreviated party name as Minshu-to to the central election administration commission based on the Public Offices Election Act.

    Unable to object to the abbreviation of political party names, the election commission accepted the same abbreviated name for the two different parties. As a result, a large number of votes ended up being allocated to the two across Japan based on the proportional allocation (pro rata) rule, in which ballots are distributed to different political parties at a rate proportional to the number of votes each party has garnered.

    In central Japan's Shizuoka Prefecture, 7,955 votes were split between the two opposition parties in Aoi Ward in the prefectural capital city Shizuoka, followed by 7,463 votes in the city's Shimizu Ward, 6,764 votes in Suruga Ward, 6,896 votes in the prefectural city of Numazu and 4,536 votes in the city of Mishima. In parts of the Shizuoka Prefecture city of Fuji that falls in the Shizuoka No. 5 constituency, 8,355 votes were proportionally divided between the CDP and the DPFP, while 630 votes were treated the same in other parts of the city where the electoral district is Shizuoka No. 4.

    Broken down by the rates of proportionally allocated votes in each area among valid votes in the prefecture, even the smallest was 7.39% in Aoi Ward, while the highest was seen in Fuji's Shizuoka No. 4 constituency at 8.79%, followed by Mishima at 8.78%.

    This was a common issue seen across the country, despite the CDP and the DPFP calling for voters to write their party names in full during the election campaign period. Hokkaido's capital city Sapporo saw 72,666 votes becoming proportionally divided between the two parties, causing counting of all votes to take around four hours longer than originally expected. If 7% of all votes in Japan cast in the latest general election were proportionally allocated, the total would top 4 million votes, roughly equivalent to the total votes won by the Japanese Communist Party.

    In Shizuoka Prefecture, municipal election commissions and polling stations reportedly received a number of inquiries and complaints, with a voter in Fuji saying, "I made a mistake when writing (in the name). I want it to be easier to distinguish," while an individual in Numazu asked if the abbreviated party names were correct. An official at the Mishima municipal election commission told the Mainichi Shimbun, "(With this system), a vote ends up being allocated to a different party from the one the voter wished to cast their ballot for. I'd like to see some kind of solutions considered."

    Meanwhile in Kyoto Prefecture, some 48,000 votes in the Kinki proportional representation bloc in west Japan went to "Minshu-to," surpassing minor opposition Reiwa Shinsengumi's 42,599 votes and the Social Democratic Party's 13,006 votes in preliminary figures, according to the prefectural election council. This means that roughly 4% of the overall proportional representation votes in the area (1,159,553 votes) were for Minshu-to, apparently resulting in many proportionally allocated votes.

    Apparently some voters belonging to labor unions in the prefecture that previously supported the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) deliberately wrote "Minshu-to" in the proportional representation ballots. Minshu-to was the Japanese name of the DPJ, which became the governing party after its landslide victory in the 2009 general election until it lost in the following 2012 lower house poll, and labor unions were the support base for the DPJ.

    A Kyoto prefectural election commission official told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We haven't done any analysis on this as the commission, but personally I felt it was a large number."

    According to an official in charge of the matter at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' Election Department, in the 1992 House of Councillors election, the now-defunct Nihon Shinto (Japan New Party) and political group Kokumin Shinto both registered their abbreviated name as "Shin-to" (new party). The official said, "We carry out election-related administrative procedures according to the law. We're not aware how many votes were proportionally allocated (to each party)."

    In response to the issue, DPFP leader Yuichiro Tamaki told a news conference on Nov. 5 that his party intends to discuss responses with the CDP to minimize confusion among voters in future elections.

    "We need to have a discussion to make changes so voters can make a clear distinction (between the two parties). It's better not to cause confusion and I would love to review (the shortened name)," Tamaki said. He also emphasized that his party is the original holder of the name, saying, "We've always been 'Minshu-to,'" referring to the use of the abbreviated name since the former DPFP's founding in August 2018.

    (Japanese original by Hiroshi Ishikawa, Numazu Local Bureau; Kanae Soejima, Kyoto Bureau; and Shu Furukawa, Political News Department)

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