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Japanese parliamentarians cheer the announcement of the dissolution of the lower house on Sept. 28 in Tokyo, ahead of a snap election held on Oct. 22.
Japan's Election

Japan's Abe owes Diet dominance to fractured opposition

Unity among LDP rivals might have blocked prime minister's two-thirds majority

RYO NEMOTO, Nikkei staff writer | Japan

TOKYO -- Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and junior coalition partner Komeito, won a resounding victory in Sunday's snap election, thanks mostly to the fractured political opposition. 

If opponents of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's LDP had joined forces, they could have prevented the coalition from retaining the critical two-thirds majority needed in the lower house to revise the constitution.

The LDP and Komeito should thank their lucky stars. Just weeks before the election, the Democratic Party, previously the largest opposition group, split three ways. Many joined the newly formed Kibo no To, or Party of Hope, led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike. Others joined a rival new group, the Constitutional Democratic Party. Still others opted to run as independents.

In the end, the LDP-Komeito team won 313 of the 465 seats in the lower house of the Diet, just over the two-thirds mark of 310 seats. In single-seat constituencies, the coalition won an impressive 226 seats, nearly 80% of the 289 seats up for grabs.

How much of the landslide owes to infighting among the opposition? The Nikkei recalculated the votes earned by individual candidates in single-seat constituencies, assuming the opposition parties had cooperated and fielded joint candidates for each district, instead of competing among themselves as well as against the ruling coalition.

For each district, The Nikkei added up the votes received for candidates of the Constitutional Democratic Party, Party of Hope, Japan Communist Party, Social Democratic Party and independents who were members of or endorsed by either the Democratic Party or the Liberal Party, a small party run by former LDP heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa.

Assuming unchanged results for the 176 seats decided by proportional representation -- that is, based on voters' party preferences -- the hypothetical tally for single-seat constituencies would have resulted in an additional 62 seats for opposition candidates. Komeito would not have lost any seats.

A house divided

Had the opposition acted as one, the LDP and Komeito would have ended up with 251 seats, rather than 313. That would have stripped the pair of its "absolute stable majority" (261 seats), which allows it to chair and hold majorities on all parliamentary standing committees. The LDP alone would have won just 222 seats, not 284, losing its simple majority in the lower house (233 seats).

Under the "what if" scenario, a number of big names in the ruling camp would be looking for work, including Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa, from Shizuoka district No. 1; Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs Minister Tetsuma Esaki, from Aichi district No. 10; and Nobuteru Ishihara, of Tokyo district No. 8, who previously served as economic and fiscal policy minister and economic revitalization minister.

The fragmentation of anti-government votes was especially pronounced in Tokyo. Of the 20 districts in which the ruling camp beat opposition rivals, 14 would have gone to the other side if all opposition votes went to a single candidate.

A different hypothesis looked at the combined potential of the Constitutional Democratic Party, the Party of Hope, and independents who were members of the Democratic Party. Under this scenario, 15 districts nationwide would flip from the LDP to the opposition. This also would have prevented the coalition from retaining its two-thirds majority.

Of course, there is no guarantee that opposition votes would have coalesced under a joint candidate standing against a ruling-camp rival. It would have been difficult to select a single opposition candidate for each constituency, given the ideological and policy differences among LDP opponents. For example, many former Democrats differ sharply with Communist Party members over whether to revise Japan's pacifist constitution.

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