Elections in Japan end with boost to right-wing, defeat of center-left opposition

The opposition coalition of five parties led by the Constitutional Democratic Party suffered a massive defeat, while the ruling conservative coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party continues to maintain its majority in the National Diet

November 02, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Japan elections
Japanese prime minister and leader of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, Fumio Kishida, on the final day of election campaigning. (Photo: Fumio Kishida/Twitter)

In the recently concluded parliamentary elections in Japan, the ruling conservative coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito retained a comfortable majority in the National Diet. The elections held on Sunday, October 31, saw the LDP secure 261 and Komeito 32 seats in the 465-seat House of Representatives, well above the required majority of 233.

Despite being ridden by factional fights, allegations of corruption and nepotism, issues surrounding the Tokyo Olympics, and the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ruling LDP managed to hold on to power and defeat a coalition of opposition parties. The ruling coalition as a whole secured 47% of the total vote share in the proportional voting list, slightly ahead of the 45.8% they secured in 2017.

The opposition anti-LDP coalition led by the center-left Constitutional Democratic Party (CDPJ), along with other center-left and left-wing parties – Japanese Communist Party (JCP), Democratic Party for the People, Reiwa Shinsengumi, and Social Democratic Party – secured a total of 121 seats and a vote share of 37.4%.

The right-wing populist Japan Innovation Party or Ishin secured the biggest jump in votes and seats, becoming the third-largest party in the House of Representatives. Ishin won a total of 41 seats, up from 11 seats in the past election, and over 14% of the national votes in the proportional constituency votes from just 6% in 2017.

The election results are a major setback to the opposition coalition which was expecting to capitalize on the popular anger against the Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga governments. After the resignation of Abe and during the premiership of Suga, the government suffered a massive loss in popularity.

Opinion polls had predicted either a weakened coalition or even the defeat of the LDP-Komeito alliance. The reversal of fortunes was witnessed after the election of Fumio Kishida as both the president of the LDP and the Japanese prime minister on October 4.

The LDP and its conservative predecessors have been in power almost continuously since 1955 and were only out of government for a total of four years since then. The last time the LDP was defeated was in 2009 when the erstwhile Democratic Party of Japan won a landslide.

In a statement released by the JCP, the party leadership pointed out that despite the loss, the opposition coalition showed promising results. Pointing to the 62 directly-elected constituency seats where the opposition parties fielded joint candidates and won against formidable leaders of the LDP, the JCP insisted that unity is the way forward.

“It is not enough for the opposition parties to work together (electorally) to defeat various attacks (from the government), but convey to the wider public a common policy and cause for a joint struggle,” the statement read. The JCP also opined that failure to do so was also the reason why a significant share of the opposition votes went to Ishin.

Even though a seat-sharing agreement was drawn among the opposition groups sans Ishin, in many places, the opposition parties had fielded candidates against each other. The coalition also only agreed on a common program over a handful of issues, like opposition to LDP’s floated constitutional amendment, taxing the wealthy, closing down of nuclear power projects, and initiating investigations against both Abe and Suga.

While Kishida has been presented as a more moderate conservative compared to Abe and Suga, the LDP is expected to push through some of its long-standing policy changes. The emergence of Ishin as the third-largest party will translate to a massive boost in support for the government’s plans to push through further neoliberal reforms and constitutional amendments to do away with pacifist provisions.