Some 106 million voters were called upon to decide between 1,051 candidates for 465 seats in the lower house of the Diet, the Japanese Parliament. According to local media estimates after the polling stations closed on Sunday, October 31, the ruling coalition in Japan was on track to retain its parliamentary majority, while losing several dozen seats in the legislative elections. “I believe we have obtained a very valuable trust [des électeurs] »Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, 64, said Sunday evening, while acknowledging a decline in his training.
According to Shinichi Nishikawa, professor of political science at Meiji University in Tokyo, the elections are “A setback for Kishida, because his party is losing seats, but he remains in a position to assume his post of prime minister for the moment”. Before adding: “He avoided the worst, but he may lose his influence.” The result is due to its low popularity, as well as voter frustration with the anticoronavirus measures taken by its predecessors. »
While it had 305 seats out of 465 in the lower house of representatives at the end of the last legislature, the coalition formed by the Liberal Democratic Party of Mr. Kishida (PLD, conservative right) and the Komei party (center right ) is expected to win at least 261 seats, according to public broadcaster NHK. Even if Mr Kishida achieved his goal of a minimum absolute majority of 233 seats for the coalition, the outcome of the election, if confirmed, would be a serious warning.
Still according to the NHK, the PLD alone would have collected at least 234 seats on Sunday, whereas it previously held 276. This is the weakest performance for the party since its shattering defeat in the legislative elections of 2009. Since its return to the helm in 2012, the PLD had always controlled at least 60% of the lower house on its own. With its ally, the Komei party, the coalition thus had a solid parliamentary base, allowing control of all the levers of power.
In an unprecedented way, five opposition parties, the main one of which, the Constitutional Democratic Party (PDC, center left), had joined forces in many constituencies for these elections. Much more than this alliance, it is a populist party from Osaka (west of the country), the Japanese Innovation Party (Nippon Ishin no kai), which has made a spectacular leap, obtaining at least thirty seats , three times more than in 2017.
Dissatisfaction of voters
The context has changed compared to the last legislative elections in 2017. Shinzo Abe, who seemed stainless as prime minister, resigned in September 2020 for health reasons. His successor, Yoshihide Suga, only held out for one year, the victim of unpopularity records due to his management considered clumsy to the health crisis and his desire to maintain at all costs the Olympic Games in Tokyo this year.
The dissatisfaction of some voters was palpable on Sunday. Takashi Shima, 51, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the measures against the coronavirus epidemic put in place by the government since 2020 were “Disorderly”. “I chose a party which I think would lead a better policy”, added the Tokyo resident.
Eko Nagasaki, 18, focused on the candidates’ proposals regarding gay marriage, which does not exist in Japan today, and rights for LGBT + people. “A lot of the candidates are rather old (…). I hope that Japanese policy will loosen up and gain in diversity ”, said this young voter.
A seventeen day campaign
Elected president of the PLD at the end of September thanks to the support of the party’s caciques, then appointed prime minister by Parliament in early October, Mr. Kishida, 64, does not enjoy great popularity in public opinion . It was hovering around 50% at the start of October, one of the lowest for a new Japanese leader in twenty years.
At the end of a very brief seventeen-day campaign dominated by themes revolving around the pandemic and the economy, Mr. Kishida aimed for the shortest absolute majority: 233 seats for the PLD and Komei combined. . A way to save face even in the event of a significant loss of seats.
“We must show the public that the PLD is resurrected”, had launched Mr. Kishida after his election at the head of the party. He promised to make the fight against Covid-19 his priority, but also to revitalize the economy and reduce growing social inequalities. However, he remained vague on the measures to achieve this.
The PLD has long benefited from a historically weak and fragmented opposition. But for these legislative elections, five opposition parties will cooperate in many constituencies, which could theoretically weaken it. “Mr. Kishida faces headwinds due to low popularity and more coordinated opposition”, summarizes Stefan Angrick, economist at Moody’s Analytics.
An eye on participation
On the other hand, the PLD has large resources and remains a master in the art of controlling the electoral process, especially in rural areas. “There are personal links between the families of his candidates and the voters, which go back several generations”, reminds AFP, Mr. Cucek, professor of Asian studies at Temple University.
Another asset for Mr. Kishida and his party: the number of Covid-19 infections has fallen in Japan (around 270 new cases daily on the last seven-day average), after reaching records in August under the effect of Delta variant.
And after a difficult start at the beginning of the year, the vaccination campaign in the archipelago has become a success: more than 71% of the inhabitants have now received two injections, one of the highest rates among the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Electoral participation, particularly low in Japan (53.68% in the legislative elections of 2017 and 52.66% in those of 2014), is an element under scrutiny on Sunday. A high abstention traditionally favors the PLD.
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Legislative in Japan: a warning for the Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida