Abe sails toward another electoral victory

Japanese Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Shinzo Abe shakes hands with his supporters after he delivered a campaign speech for his party candidate Keizo Takemi for the 21 July Upper House election in Tokyo on Sunday, 7 July 2019. (Photo: Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO).

Author: Gregory W. Noble, University of Tokyo

Members of the House of Councillors, Japan’s upper house, serve six-year terms — and half of those seats are up for election every three years. 124 seats will be contested on 21 July, 74 from the 47 prefectural districts and 50 using proportional representation (PR). Will these elections pose an obstacle to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ambitious agenda?

The combination of PR and the multi-member districts used in most constituencies leaves space for small parties, resulting in a multi-party system. The centre-right Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) dominated the Cabinet from its founding in 1955 until 1993, and then all but five years after that. Since Abe assumed the prime ministership in 2012, the LDP’s junior coalition partner has been Komeito, a small party affiliated with the Soka Gakkai sect.

On the centre-left are the Constitutional Democratic Party and the Democratic Party for the People. The Japanese Communist Party, two small centre-right regional groupings — Tokyoites First Party and Osaka-based Japan Innovation Party (Ishin) — and a smattering of micro-parties round out the field (notably missing are a Greens Party and strongly populist parties). Japan thus lacks a single, clear centre-left alternative to the LDP.

Political parties typically differentiate themselves based on identity, policies, and performance. Social identity, mediated by partisanship, is a crucial determinant of vote choice in the United States and many other countries. But it is conspicuously weak in Japan where major social cleavages such as ethnicity, language, and regionalism are lacking, and where even differences in social class and religion are relatively unimportant. Almost 60 per cent of survey respondents report that they support no particular party.

Policies also play a limited role in differentiating Japanese parties, as shown by the Asahi–Todai survey of Diet members. The …continue reading