TOKYO -- Japan's governing Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito have won Sunday's general election with a two-thirds majority. Dropping voter interest and the lowest turnout on record for a lower house election helped the coalition hold on to power.
While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe garnered support, opposition parties failed to secure enough votes from critics of the Abe administration. Many non-affiliated voters appear to stayed away from polling booths, while independents spread their support among different opposition parties.
Under the current single-seat constituency and proportional representation system, introduced in 1996, the LDP, led by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, grabbed the largest number of seats, 296, in the 2005 lower house election. This time, pre-election surveys showed the LDP appeared on track to match that record, but the party has ended up with four seats less than its pre-election numbers.
Nevertheless, the Abe administration is viewing the result as the general public's stamp of approval. Speaking on Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Sunday that "Of course we believe that we have gained [the public's trust]." Despite a few losses, the LDP has won a total of 291 seats, a high number when compared with past results from lower house elections.
As only one candidate can win in each constituency under the winner-take-all single constituency system, even a small difference in the number of votes gained will determine the fate of candidates.
The LDP garnered votes in the upper 40% range in single-seat constituencies, yet secured seats in more than 70% of the 295 constituencies nationwide. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan, the nation's largest opposition party, gained little more than 20% of votes, the Japanese Communist Party secured over 10%, and Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) snared less than 10%. The figures show that voters overwhelmingly decided on one party, just as in the last three general elections in 2005, 2009, and 2012.
Record low votes
The ruling coalition's victory received a large degree of help from the low voter turnout. The figure for this election is said to be 52.66%, beating the previous record low for voter turnout of 59.32% in December 2012. This helped benefit parties with strong organizational backing. The LDP traditionally has a strong support base among companies, organizations and support groups, and its junior coalition partner Komeito has assured support from the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai. Similarly, the Japanese Communist Party has its own core power base as well. These parties all fared well in the Sunday election.
Shiro Sakaiya, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo, said that there were no clear hot or contentious issues prompting voters into action. "The Abe administration framed the delayed sales tax hike as the important issue to contend with, but there was no big difference among major parties," he said.
Given that the LDP's overwhelming strengths projected in various media surveys, many voters, he believes, saw the chance of a regime change as slim and became reluctant to vote.
This election was the first lower house election, excluding by-elections, since the government allowed online campaigning in May 2013. There were expectations that the use of the Internet would stoke the interests of young Japanese following the July 2013 upper house election, but online campaigning appears to have had little effect.
"Many voters most likely abstained from going to the polls. Non-affiliated voters didn't bring about much change," said Waseda University Professor Aiji Tanaka, a specialist in voting behavior. The LDP has little traction among swing voters. However, most voters are still reeling from their disappointments with the DPJ when it was in power (September 2009 through December 2012). Meanwhile, Ishin no To, the Japan Innovation Party, is an offshoot of the now-disbanded Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party). Tanaka thinks that independent voters are dissatisfied with opposition parties that built alliances only to eventually part ways.
Asked which party they voted for, a Kyodo News exit poll shows that 21.1% of swinging voters chose the LDP in the proportional representation system, 20.8% opted for the DPJ, 21.7% for Ishin, while 17.7% chose the Japanese Communist Party, and 7.4% voted for Komeito. Votes for smaller parties were even lower with The Party for Future Generations receiving 3.9%, 3.2% for the Social Democratic Party, and 2.9% for the People's Life Party. In the single-seat constituencies, 31.7% of non-affiliates voted for the LDP, 28.5% chose the DPJ, 18.8% opted for the JCP, while 11.2% chose Ishin, according to the poll.
These results show that a certain level of support from swinging voters contributed to the LDP victory. Yet, those who went ventured out to cast ballots on Sunday may have chosen the LDP over other parties given there appeared to be no other viable option.
In the meantime, those independent votes were split among the DPJ, Ishin and the JCP in the proportional representation. As a result, the DPJ failed to garner as much support as it had anticipated.