Japanese voters cast their ballots in national elections on Sunday, in Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s first major test to determine whether he has a large enough mandate to deal with the economy hit by the coronavirus, a rapidly aging and dwindling population and security challenges from China and the North. Korea.
There are 465 seats in the House of Representatives, which is the most powerful in Japan’s two-chamber parliament. Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is expected to lose some seats from pre-election levels, but maintain a comfortable majority with its junior coalition partner Komeito.
Kishida, 64, was elected prime minister on October 4 after winning the leadership race in his ruling party, with his conservative leaders seeing him as Yoshihide Suga’s successor and influential predecessor Shinzo Abe.
Kishida’s immediate task was to garner support for a party weakened by Suga’s hard-line approach to pandemic measures and his insistence on holding the Summer Olympics in Tokyo despite widespread opposition.
Kishida dissolved the House of Representatives only 10 days after taking office, called these elections and announced that he wanted a mandate from voters for his new government before proceeding to work.
Some experts say the brief 17-day campaign period that followed the LDP leadership race, which dominated media coverage, unfairly gave Kishida an advantage over the opposition. Kishida’s long-term hold on power will depend on how well he performs in the election.
Kishida has repeatedly stressed his determination to listen to the people and counter criticism that Abu Suga’s nine-year leadership has corrupted, tamed bureaucrats, and silenced dissent.
The campaign has largely focused on response measures to COVID-19 and revitalizing the economy. While Kishida’s ruling party has stressed the importance of a stronger military amid concerns about China’s growing influence and North Korea’s missile and nuclear threat, opposition parties have focused on issues of diversity and pressure for gender equality.
Opposition leaders complain that recent neo-liberal governments have widened the gap between the rich and the poor, have not bolstered the economy during the pandemic and have stalled initiatives for gender equality and diversity.
Kishida set a modest goal for the LDP and its coalition partner, Komeito. And he wants to jointly maintain their majority, which would be 233 seats in the 465-member House of Representatives. That’s the bare minimum, considering that the LDP alone had 276 seats before the election. A big drop, even if the party maintains its majority, would be a bad start for the weeks-old Kishida administration.
Media polls indicate that the LDP is likely to lose seats, in part because five opposition parties formed a united front to unite candidates in several small constituencies and are expected to secure positions there.
If, as many expect, the ruling coalition wins around 261 seats, they could control all parliamentary committees and easily push through any divisive legislation. Most results are expected as early as Monday.
The opposition has long struggled to win enough votes to form a government after a brief rule by the defunct center-left Democratic Party of Japan in 2009-2012.
On the economy, Kishida has emphasized growth through increased income, while opposition groups focus more on redistributing wealth and advocating cash payments to low-income families affected by the pandemic.
The LDP opposes legislation that guarantees equality for sexual minorities and allows separate surnames for spouses. Of the 1,051 candidates, only 17% are women, despite the 2018 law promoting gender equality in elections, a law without teeth because there is no penalty. Women make up about 10 percent of parliament, a situation that gender rights experts call “a democracy without women.”