By Yuko Nakano
A landslide victory of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the House of Representatives (Lower House) election in Japan was not a mandate for the LDP but more of a rejection of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leadership which failed to deliver its promises over the past three years since they first rose to power.
In order for the LDP and its ally, New Komei Party (Komeito), to keep the momentum into yet another election for the House of Councillors (Upper House) in July 2013, the ruling parties may form a “partial coalition” on a case-by-case basis with other parties.
For the LDP and Komeito to secure a majority in the Upper House, the DPJ is the only party that has enough seats to help them achieve it. As for partners in the Lower House, the Liberal Democratic and Komei parties have three options: (1) the Japan Restoration Party; (2) other smaller parties; or (3) some members of the DPJ who share similar views on fiscal, trade, and security policies.
The Japan Restoration Party (JRP) is the only party that has adopted changes to the Constitution as a party platform. This may make it an ideal partner for Mr. Abe who also advocates Constitutional amendments. However, it is not a widely supported policy either among the Japanese public or LDP members.
Currently, amending the Constitution requires two-thirds majority in both the upper and lower houses, which is very difficult to achieve. Therefore, the first step for the government is to amend Article 96 of the Constitution which stipulates the number of votes necessary to amend the Constitution. It is important to note that the JRP has few representatives in the Upper House and favors abolishing that chamber and therefore cannot help the LDP obtain a two-thirds majority in the Upper House that is needed to amend Article 96.
Furthermore, the JRP, like the DPJ, is a conglomeration of sub-groups that advocate opposing policies, which would make it difficult to reach consensus within the party. For instance, the founder of the JRP, Toru Hashimoto, is known for his anti-nuclear energy stance and supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. On the other hand, Shintaro Ishihara, who became the official head of the JRP in November, supports nuclear power and opposes Japan’s participation in the TPP negotiations.
The LDP and Komeito could partner with various small parties, but the downside of such a partnership is that it would require many compromises and concessions from parties whose policies vary greatly. The fact that many of them support anti-nuclear energy policy makes it difficult for the LDP to partner with them.
One other option, which is not out of the question, is partnering with the like-minded members of the DPJ. Back in June this year, the DPJ, the LDP, and New Komeito agreed on revisions to bills for integrated reform of the social security and tax systems. One component of the agreement, a bill concerning future hikes in the consumption tax rate, was passed but other parts of the three-party agreement are still under negotiation.
Prior to the December 16 election, then-prime minister Yoshihiko Noda repeatedly mentioned that the trilateral agreement remained intact, meaning that cooperation among the DPJ, LDP, and Komeito could continue after the election. Abe said that he would not form a coalition government with the DPJ because the two parties campaigned fiercely against each other but a “partial coalition” with some of the DPJ members is conceivable.
Having won the Lower House election, the LDP is expected to utilize its political capital and bring the country out of recession. Japan has gotten one step closer to political stability, but that’s only half the game. Constituents will be watching closely to see how the LDP and Komeito will conduct their business and get another chance to cast ballots in the Upper House election next year. Only then will we know if political stability will return to Japan.
Ms. Yuko Nakano is a Research Associate with the CSIS Japan Chair. To learn more check out part 1 of Yuko’s analysis on prospects for political stability in Japan and the new dynamics in the Lower House.