TOKYO -- With just five days until the start of campaigning for this month's lower house election, Japanese opposition parties are scrambling to rework their candidate lineups amid turmoil triggered by a rift between liberal and conservative blocs.
A de facto merger with Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's new Kibo no To, or Party of Hope, has resulted in a break-up of the Democratic Party, which until then was Japan's largest opposition party. Right-leaning lawmakers are joining up with the Party of Hope, while liberals who cannot accept its conservative agenda have opted out, forming the Constitutional Democratic Party as an alternative.
The Oct. 22 election is shaping up as a three-way competition among the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito; the conservative opposition Party of Hope and Japan Innovation Party; and the left-leaning Constitutional Democrats, Japanese Communist Party and Social Democratic Party. Key points of contention include a planned consumption tax hike in October 2019 and the revision of Japan's pacifist constitution.
At least 1,079 candidates will vie for seats, a Nikkei Inc. survey Wednesday shows. These include 970 candidates standing for 289 single-seat constituencies, with the remaining 109 running solely for proportional-representation seats. Candidate lists from each party will be finalized when the campaign officially kicks off next Tuesday.
By comparison, 1,191 candidates stood for the previous general election in 2014. Reforms implemented in July to correct discrepancies in vote value between urban and rural districts cut the total number of lower house seats by 10 to 465. Redistricting will likely mean major changes for candidates and voters alike, with would-be lawmakers needing to canvass new areas.
The LDP will field 278 candidates in single-seat districts, of whom 261 were sitting lawmakers when the lower house was dissolved. All nine of Komeito's representatives in single-seat constituencies will stand for the election.
Challenging the LDP
The Party of Hope now has 198 candidates for single-seat constituencies plus one for a proportional-representation seat, meaning that it needs 34 more to contest the 233 seats needed for a majority. Democratic leader Seiji Maehara reiterated Wednesday that the party intends to field more than enough candidates to reach this mark. Maehara will meet Thursday with Koike to continue working on the selection process.
The Party of Hope's list of endorsements so far does little to dispel the impression that it is compiling a list in haste to reach its target number. The candidates include three Liberal Party members close to leader Ichiro Ozawa, who himself intends to run as an independent.
The Japan Innovation Party has agreed to ally with the Party of Hope in the election. But it nonetheless does not intend to coordinate candidate selections to reduce competition in districts outside Tokyo and Osaka, party leader and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui told reporters Wednesday, citing the need to turn out votes for proportional-representation seats.
"We'll improve each other through friendly competition and expand each other's support," he said. The Japan Innovation Party currently plans to field 44 candidates.
The Constitutional Democrats, led by former Democratic Party Deputy President Yukio Edano, now have 25 candidates. Former Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Akira Nagatsuma told reporters Wednesday that he expects the final tally to exceed 50. He noted that the party will field candidates originally slated to run as Democrats in 16 of Tokyo's 25 single-seat districts.
Asked about the party's relationship with the Party of Hope going forward, Nagatsuma said that "there is no cooperation."
Attempts are underway for the left wing to coordinate to avoid clashes among liberals. The Communist Party has expressed interest in working with the Constitutional Democrats, with which it aligns on such issues as scrapping controversial 2015 security legislation. It has withdrawn candidates from some districts, bringing its total for single-seat constituencies to 249.
As for the Social Democrats, who intend to field 18 candidates in single-seat districts, Secretary-General Seiji Mataichi indicated Wednesday that the party will officially back or otherwise support Constitutional Democratic candidates.
"We want to fight to keep those favoring constitutional revision from winning a two-thirds majority," he said.