Lower House Election Provides Little Drama as LDP Stays in PowerPolitics
The forty-seventh House of Representatives election on December 14, 2014, saw the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Kōmeitō retain their two-thirds majority in the lower house by combining to capture 326 seats, an unchanged number. The much-expected gains of the LDP failed to materialize as the party lost four seats, slipping from 295 to 291. Coalition partner Kōmeitō managed to pick up an additional 4 seats, boosting its tally to 35.
The election results produced a mixed bag for opposition parties. The Democratic Party of Japan grabbed 11 extra seats, increasing its representation to 73, while the Japan Innovation Party slipped to 41 after losing 1 seat. The Japanese Communist Party made the biggest gains, capturing 21 seats and more than doubling its presence in the lower house from its previous 8.
While the election results fall short of an all-out mandate for Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, they provide further impetus for his Abenomics policies aimed at boosting Japan’s struggling economy. They also place his administration on a firmer footing to advance its broader agenda over the long term.
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Notes: Total number of seats reduced by 5 in this contest; 1 seat was vacant prior to the election. Totals include candidates moving between parties after dissolution of the Diet. LDP single-seat total includes one independent candidate receiving party approval after the election. All numbers as of December 16.
DPJ Gains while “Third Force” Parties Decline
The LDP on its own has captured enough seats to control standing committees in the lower house. The party gave up some ground in single-seat districts, but made up for those losses with gains in proportional-representation seats, where its total went from 57 to 68.
The DJP, the lower house’s main opposition group, made modest gains but fell short of its pre-election goal of 100 seats as the party’s call to reverse Abenomics failed to strike a chord with voters.
The fortunes of so-called “third force” parties declined despite the attention received in previous elections. The Japan Innovation Party, which has suffered political setbacks that have drained much of its earlier momentum, lost one seat, with a large portion of its presence coming in the form of proportional-representation seats. The Party for Future Generations, which was formed by a group that split from the Japan Restoration Party and led by Ishihara Shintarō, and the People’s Life Party led by former DPJ secretary-general Ozawa Ichirō both managed just two single-district seats—in the case of the PFG, a considerable drop from its pre-election total of 20. The New Renaissance Party picked up no seats.
Voters opposing the policies of the Abe government turned to the Japanese Communist Party in the proportional representation vote—which allows them to vote for a party of their preference, rather than for an individual candidate in their district—to voice their displeasure. The Communists saw their campaigns against raising the consumption tax, restarting idled nuclear plants, and other contentious issues pay off with major gains.
Lack of Core Issues Results in Record Low Turnout
On November 18, Prime Minister Abe announced plans to postpone the next hike in the consumption tax, saying he would dissolve the lower house and call a snap election to “put this weighty matter before the public as soon as possible.” While early predictions of a landslide failed to become a reality, the ruling coalition successfully defended its control of the lower house, as the opposition struggled to find a rallying point to counter broad support for Abe and the LDP.
An absence of defining issues, as well as the rushed year-end timing of the election, resulted in fewer people making it to polls. Final voter turnout is expected to be around 52%, falling well below the previous postwar low of 59.32% recorded in the 2012 House of Representatives election.
Okinawa Tells LDP No
Okinawa Prefecture proved to be one place of contention for the LDP, where issues surrounding the relocation of the American Futenma air base brought voters out against the leading party. The November gubernatorial election of Onaga Takeshi, a staunch opponent of plans to relocate the US base within the prefecture to a site at Henoko, shifted voter sentiment, and the LDP lost head-to-head battles in each of the prefecture’s four single-seat districts.
Big-Name Winners and Losers
In the LDP, Matsushima Midori and Obuchi Yūko survived scandals that earlier in the year forced the former ministers to resign their cabinet posts, winning their single-seat districts by a considerable margin. Meanwhile, allegations over improper use of political funds saw Agriculture Minister Nishikawa Kōya defeated in his bid to retain his district seat, though he remains a member of the lower house by securing a proportional-representation seat.
Watanabe Yoshimi, former head of the now defunct Your Party, lost his bid as an independent and will leave the house after handing his seat over to the LDP candidate. This marks the first time for his Tochigi district to lack representation by a Watanabe since 1963, when his father, Michio, first won election there. Former Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintarō will also be leaving the Diet after failing to secure a proportional-representation seat as head of the Party for Future Generations.
(Banner photo: LDP President and Prime Minister Abe Shinzō eyes the flowers indicating winning candidates as ballots are counted on December 14. © Jiji.)