Thursday, July 20, 2023

Japan's Ruling Coalition Cracks

Game of Chicken within Japan’s Ruling Coalition

By Takuya Nishimura, Editorial Writer, The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
July 7, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is suffering from unprecedented conflict with its long-time coalition partner, Komeito. Annoyed by LDP’s sober reaction over interparty cooperation for the next election of House of Representatives, Komeito announced that it would not support any LDP candidate in the Tokyo districts.  Without Komeito’s support, the LDP may suffer defeats in these districts.  While the struggle is not supposed to escalate to the point of dismantling the coalition, some LDP lawmakers have angrily criticized Komeito, urging them to leave. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that the LDP, led by Fumio Kishida, has not been taking good care of its ruling coalition partner.
The House of Representatives amended the Public Offices Election Act last November, increasing by ten the number of electoral districts in urban area and correspondingly decreases the number of electoral districts in rural regions. Realizing that these changes present a chance to raise as many candidates as possible, the LDP planned that to raise 11 candidates, including one in the Tokyo 29th district, in the next election. Meanwhile, the LDP, suffering from a decline in total votes in the current elections, planned to raises another candidate in Tokyo’s 28th district, one of the newly created districts.
Responding to complaints within the party, the LDP rejected Komeito’s idea. Traditional election cooperation between the LDP and Komeito mandated that LDP voters vote for Komeito candidates and vice versa. LDP lawmakers have now questioned why they have to support Komeito so much, since the LDP lost close to ten districts in the electoral reform. Komeito finally went without LDP support in the Tokyo 28th and decided that the party would not support LDP candidates in the Tokyo districts in next election. In an official agreement late last month, the LDP will recommend all the Komeito candidates in the Tokyo districts except for the Tokyo 29th. Komeito will recommend LDP candidates in the districts where the parties have reached a local deal except for the Tokyo districts.
In the 2021 election, Komeito only won nine districts in all of Japan. These districts included the Tokyo 12th, the only one that Komeito took in Tokyo. The winner, Mitsunari Okamoto, later decided to move to the Tokyo 29th in next election, a decision basically approved by the LDP. Komeito then tried to run a second candidate in the Tokyo 28th. The idea of two Komeito districts in Tokyo was too much for LDP to bear.
Comparing actual seats in the House of Representatives with the share of all the votes in 2021, the LDP’s advantage in the cooperation system is greater than Komeito’s. The LDP won 189 districts (65.4% of all 289), while Komeito won nine (3.1%). The LDP, however, earned only 34.6% of all the votes for proportional representation, while Komeito received 12.4%. It can be said that the LDP earned a great number of seats with relatively few votes, thanks to the inter party cooperation.
The decision not to support the LDP in Tokyo seems to have been led by a religious group, Soka Gakkai (SG), the political base of Komeito. Asahi Shimbun reported  that a vice president of SG has been involved aggressively in the negotiations with the LDP. Even after facing the reluctance of LDP local leaders to support Komeito candidates in the Aichi 16th and Saitama 14th districts, the vice president independently announced that he would raise candidates in both districts. If election strategy is actually controlled by SG board members, the leaders of Komeito are acting as puppets.
The current political surge of the Innovation Party, or Ishin-no-kai, is in the background of Komeito’s unusual anxiety. Ishin increased its seats in regional congresses in the local elections in April, when it won a historical victory over the LDP in a supplementary election of House of Representatives in Wakayama. Although it had been refraining from confrontation with Komeito in six districts in Osaka and Hyogo, Ishin announced that it would run its own candidates against Komeito’s incumbents in the next election.
Komeito’s irritation is caused not only by the uncooperative attitude of LDP. Kishida’s current support for military developments is at odds with Komeito’s traditional political principle as “party of peace.” Moreover, consecutive failures in the process of replacing health insurance cards with My Number Cards weakens the support of Soka Gakkai members, who are serious about welfare policies. Komeito can still not find a way to regain power.
Since joining the coalition with LDP (with the catalyst of the Liberal Party in 1999), Komeito has overcome many hardships of political differences with the conservative LDP. Maintenance of the leading coalition has actually worked for growth of the small party. The existence of Komeito has also helped soften the hawkish image of the LDP. Considering that Komeito possesses ten to twenty thousand votes in every district of the House of Representatives, there are a number of lawmakers who would not be reelected without Komeito’s support. Whether or not the next election in Tokyo is separated depends on which side will compromise. The 24-year-old coalition, however, looks exhausted with endless quibbles.

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