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General Election - October-November 2021

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio dissolved the Lower House on October 14, just 10 days after taking office. That is the shortest period on record under the current Constitution. The official campaign period started on October 19. Voting will take place on October 31. Of the 465 lawmakers, 289 are elected from single-seat constituencies using a first-past-the-post system. The remaining 176 seats are allocated through a proportional representation system in 11 blocks nationwide.

Suga Yoshihide won Japan's ruling party leadership race on 14 September 2020. With the top position, Suga was expected to become the country's prime minister in an upcoming parliamentary vote to be held on 16 September 2020. The conservative Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) internal leadership vote went ahead to find Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's successor, who announced he was planning to step down due to health issues. Suga, who was formerly the chief Cabinet secretary and Abe's right-hand man, received 377 votes from party lawmakers and regional representatives out of a total of 534. He beat two contenders to the top post — former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. They received a combined 157 votes.

By mid-2020 the Abe administration had faced strong headwinds over a spate of problems — including its allegedly sloppy response to the novel coronavirus crisis, and political issues such as the recent arrests of former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife, Anri, in an election campaign scandal. Public confidence in Abe’s administration was undermined by the arrests of the Kawais, as well as the resignation in May of Hiromu Kurokawa as chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutor’s Office for playing mahjong for money during the epidemic. People’s distrust in politics heightened after Abe failed to satisfy expectations of accountability over favoritism scandals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution.

The new leader of Japan's governing Liberal Democratic Party said 14 September 2020 he will choose reform-minded people for party executives and cabinet ministers. Suga said he wants to move Japan forward by fully reviewing what is wrong, adding that he will form a Cabinet that works for the people. Stressing his wish to "carry out full deregulation," Suga said he will focus on picking people who have a zeal for reforms or who understand reforms.

Suga expressed his desire to revise the Constitution along the lines of proposals made by the LDP. Asked about peace treaty talks with Russia, Suga said he will use all resources to proceed with the talks. He cited channels between Russian President Vladimir Putin and both Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro.

Suga was asked about a possible dissolution of the Lower House for a general election. He said it will be very hard to dissolve the Lower House unless experts judge that the coronavirus pandemic has come to an end. He also said the people want to see an end to the pandemic and a revival of the economy.

Throughout the postwar period PMs have acted as if they have the "right" (power is a better term) to call snap elections, and back in the 1960s, Japan's courageous Supreme Court declined to rule one way or another.

Snap elections are the norm rather than the exception for the Lower House. Such elections are a common tool for many parliamentary democracies [though no wno long in the Mother of Parliaments] since they allow the ruling party to time the ballot for the most favorable political timing and to keep the opposition unprepared. This tactic was so effective that the LDP has almost exclusively used snap elections, allowing the Lower House term to expire only once since 1955. That came in 1976 amid the Lockheed scandal, and many LDP members were upset with Prime Minister Takeo Miki’s decision not to dissolve the Lower House earlier. The ruling coalition will treat the timing of the election as rumor up to the last minute. The ruling parties keeps the timing of a snap election close hold to put opposition parties on their heels. This places them at a disadvantage, since once the Lower House dissolves, there was limited time for political parties that are unprepared to get prepared.

A “snap election” is unique to the Lower House of the Diet (the House of Representatives) and may occur based on one of two prompts. The first was when the Diet passes a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet, per Article 69 of the Constitution. If that motion passes, the prime minister has the choice to resign or to dissolve the house and call for a general election. This situation was rare, however.

The second prompt for a snap election was based on a loose interpretation of Article 7 of the Constitution that it empowers the prime minister to dissolve the Lower House unilaterally. The dissolution of the House then prompts a general election within 40 days. In practice, the prime minister only dissolves the Lower House when it was in session. This means the dissolution either comes during an ordinary session of the Diet (January to June each year) or after the government convenes an extraordinary session.

Finding quality candidates to challenge incumbents can be quite difficult. The party has to identify people who are ready to take on the campaign, and each candidate must submit a ¥3 million ($26,000) deposit to enter the race. The challenge of building party platforms and campaign strategies — neither of which are easily accomplished - leaves opposition parties at a disadvantage. The ruling coalition can take weeks or months of preparation to become much more effective in campaigns than policies stitched together at the last minute. The prime minister has the final say in calling a snap election, but this comes after significant behind-the-scenes politicking among LDP faction leaders. The junior coalition partner, Komeito, wields influence in the decision since their alliance enables the ruling coalition to maximize electoral gains. So the administration’s internal decision-making process was complex, regardelss of whatever a single LDP or Komeito leader says to the media about a snap election.

A snap election's impact will be more on the LDP’s internal leadership dynamics than the composition of the government. The opposition parties remain unable to generate much energy around their platforms, and have shown no ability to form a political alliance capable of making undermining the ruling coalition’s seat totals. So a snap election will end up being a lot more about who was postured to succeed Abe when the time comes.

There are four plausible windows for a snap election. The first was in the fall of 2020, near the beginning of the extraordinary session of the Diet. That session usually convenes in late September or early October, and a snap election early in the extraordinary session would mean the ruling coalition would not have to begin legislation that would die when the house dissolves. The last snap election was an example of this, having taken place in October 2017.

By August 2020 a snap Lower House election this autumn appeared increasingly unlikely, following comments by senior ruling party leaders that the priority for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government was dealing with the coronavirus. But behind the scenes, jockeying within the Liberal Democratic Party between potential Abe successors had intensified, while the main opposition parties continued to discuss the possibility of merging before an election was called.

Reports of a possible autumn election came amid recent moves by key LDP leaders, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide, to raise their profiles among the party and the public. Former Secretary General Ishiba Shigeru, a longtime Abe rival and critic, has been particularly active, meeting with LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Kishida Fumio as well as speaking to the Osaka chapter of the LDP. While Kishida was also considered a strong possibility to replace Abe, he was less popular than Ishiba in most public opinion polls. The two men head their own party factions.

The next opportunity was in December 2020. This was at the concludion of the extraordinary Diet session, after the administration has achieved its legislative agenda. This timing also does two extra things for the LDP: One, it allows Suga to execute a Cabinet reshuffle in autumn to gain a bump in the polls; and two, it means the ruling coalition can pass legislation that could be perceived as stimulating the economy or improving lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cabinet reshuffle in October 2014 and snap election the following December were precedent for this option.

The final decision on whether to hold the Tokyo Games in summer 2021 was expected to be made around March 2021. Within the government and ruling bloc, there was a view that if cancellation appeared inevitable, Suga could dissolve the House of Representatives to call a snap election before the final decision was made.

Suga would have to wait until the tail end of the next ordinary session of the Diet in May or June 2021 to dissolve the Lower House. He cannot afford to dissolve the chamber while the budget was being deliberated between January and March, and then the ruling coalition will need to prepare before pushing for a snap election. The problem with this option was that it puts the election immediately before the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics. But holding the election right before the games would intefere with delivering a world-class Olympics. And holding theh election after the games runs the risk that the success or failure of the Tokyo Games will be reflected in the polls.

The fourth and final option was in that post-Olympics window in the fall of 2021. This snap election will either coincide with the LDP’s party presidential election in September or immediately thereafter. The problem was that waiting this long removes all flexibility for the ruling coalition, which would have to accept whatever the state of political affairs was at the time to hold an election.

NHK's August 2020 opinion poll put the approval rating for Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's Cabinet at 34 percent. The figure was down by two points from the previous month. This was the lowest support rate since the launch of Abe's second administration in December 2012, although a simple comparison was not possible as the survey method has changed. The disapproval rating rose two points to 47 percent. Of those who support the Cabinet, 58 percent said it seems to be better than other ministerial lineups, while 16 percent said it represents the political parties they support. Of those who disapprove of the Cabinet, 37 percent said they don't expect much from its policies, and 28 percent said they don't trust Prime Minister Abe.

On 28 August 2020 Prime Minister Abe Shinzo said he planned to resign for health reasons. He said a chronic condition has made it difficult to fulfill his duties. Colitis had forced him to resign as prime minister 13 years earlier after holding the post for one year.

Abe's longtime chief cabinet secretary Suga Yoshihide, unsurprisingly, ran tor replace Abe on a platform of continuity. "Japan is facing a crisis unlike anything we have ever experienced," Suga said on as he announced his candidacy. "We need to do all we can to promote social and economic activities, while preventing the spread of the coronavirus. We have to protect jobs and revitalize the economy. And we must carry out reforms, with an eye on the post-coronavirus era." On 14 September 2020 Suga Yoshihide was elected the new leader of Japan's main ruling Liberal Democratic Party. On 16 September 2020 Suga was elected prime minister in the Diet.

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party was reeling from the loss of three Diet seats. Candidates backed by opposition parties won a re-held upper house election in the Hiroshima constituency, an upper house by-election in the Nagano constituency, and a lower house by-election for the No. 2 district in Hokkaido. The 25 April 2021 polls were the first electoral test for Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide since he took office in September 2020.

Suga’s term as president of the LDP, the role that makes him Prime Minister, expired at the end of September 2021 and he would face a party vote. It was widely expected that he will call the general election before that, in the hope that a strong national result will see him remain at the helm. But he was likely to wait until after the Olympics and Paralympics, which finish on September 5. If the Games were a success, Suga and the LDP could harness the feelgood factor.

Suga's earlier strategy had been to vaccinate the population against COVID-19 as quickly as possible, stage a successful Olympic Games to get a boost in public sentiment, and dissolve the more powerful chamber of the bicameral parliament for a general election after the Tokyo Paralympics close on Sept. 5. Suga had been trying in the past year to combat the epidemic situation at home and to revive the economy, but the results had not been as satisfying as he expected, while the reasons for his failure are complicated. Suga had spared no efforts in seeking a balance between epidemic control measures and economic resumption, but Japan's local self-government system and limited medical resources prevented him from promoting measures smoothly.

Japan's governing party on 26 August 2021 said members would vote to decide its leader on September 29. The winner will lead the party into the expected October election. The conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had appointed Yoshihide Suga leader after Shinzo Abe stepped down in 2020, citing poor health. Suga was a close ally of Abe. Suga needs to assess the coronavirus situation before deciding when to dissolve the Lower House and call an election. Suga had faced intense criticism over his government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. His term expires at the end of September. Suga said he planned to seek re-election to retain his post.

Japan's Prime Minister would not try to keep the helm of the main governing Liberal Democratic Party. On 03 September 2021 Suga Yoshihide dropped out of its upcoming leadership election, meaning the country will have a new Prime Minister within weeks. Suga said, "As I was planning to run, I found I needed a lot of energy to think about coronavirus measures and the election campaign. I decided that it's impossible to do both, and that I should devote myself to trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which is something that I promised the people of this country that I would do."

Seen as unpopular and uninspiring, only one of seven factions within the LDP had pledged its united support for his bid to maintain leadership. Suga had hoped the Olympics would help boost his popularity, but despite a record medal count for Japan, his ratings sank even lower. The number of COVID-19 cases has surged to all-time highs in recent weeks in Japan. Support for the Prime Minister was below 30% in both July and August, according to polls by local media.

Former foreign minister Kishida Fumio, who lost against Suga in 2020, said he will run. Kishida said, "I want to regain public trust for the LDP by demonstrating this is a party that listens to the people and presents a wide range of political options." Two former internal affairs ministers, Takaichi Sanae and Noda Seiko, also said they want to enter the race. A recent poll by Nikkei Asia found that Taro Kono, a former foreign minister and the country’s vaccine czar, and Shigeru Ishiba, former secretary-general of the ruling party, were ranked as top choices for the LDP’s next presidency. Kono was widely seen as the party’s best hope for the Lower House election.

A poll by Yomiuri Shimbun reported 06 September 2021 that administrative reform minister Taro Kono had an approval rating of 23 percent, just ahead of former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba with 21 percent. Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida had 12 percent support. The poll was conducted over the weekend, on over 1,142 eligible voters. Another recent poll by Kyodo News also showed Kono topping the list with over 31 percent support, followed by Ishiba with over 26 percent.

Kono, who previously served as defense and foreign minister and has established a reputation as a blunt-speaking politician who gets things done, had the support of about 45% of the general public in a poll conducted in late September and, more importantly, more than 47% of party members with a vote. In contrast, former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida had 22% of rank-and-file party members on his side, while 16% were backing Sanae Takaichi — an ardent nationalist who revels in the reputation of Japan's "Iron Lady" — and a mere 3% were supporting Seiko Noda, the party's acting secretary general.

Even though Kono is clearly the most popular with party members and the general public, the second round of voting is only for politicians, and many expected the factions who previously supported Takaichi or Noda to switch to Kishida. Kishida's victory was being managed by the "old guard" — such as former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and present Finance Minister Taro Aso — who wield vast amounts of behind-the-scenes power, despite efforts by some to modernize the institution. And they saw Kono as too middle-of-the road — or even progressive — in many of his policies.

The LDP still dominates politics in Japan, so whomever was picked in the party leadership election is likely to win a four-year term in office. One of the new prime minister's first orders of business will be a Lower House election which he planned to call for October 31st. Kishida's Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito currently controlled both Houses of the Diet.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida defied forecasts and kept a majority in the election. The LDP won 261 seats to preserve its outright majority in the 465-seat lower house dropping from the 276 seats it held when parliament was dissolved. Kishida Fumio was elected prime minister by the country's Diet 04 October 2021 and formed his Cabinet. The LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito won 32 seats, according to the final but not yet official results. Together, the two parties’ share of seats in the lower house is 291, well above the majority of 233 that Kishida had aimed for. The election nonetheless left the LDP with its slimmest majority since Shinzo Abe led the right-leaning party out of the opposition and back into government in 2012.

Despite its comfortable win, the LDP did lose 17 seats from its pre-election share, including in single constituencies held by influential party members, such as Secretary-General Akira Amari, who was stung by a past bribery scandal. Amari offered to resign even though he eventually secured his seat in proportional representation.

A big winner was the right-wing Ishin, or the Japan Innovation Party, which nearly quadrupled its seats to 41, rising to the third biggest party. Despite the party’s previous stance close to the LDP, its growing criticism of both the ruling and opposition blocs catered to voters who wanted a change from the LDP but found the opposition bloc uncomfortable.

Kishida said voters gave his government a strong mandate in Sunday's Lower House election. His Liberal Democratic Party retained control of the powerful chamber, ensuring that it will stay in power, together with its coalition partner, Komeito. Kishida said, "The coalition was chosen as the country's government and it received stronger support." He said his government will thoroughly review Japan's response to the coronavirus pandemic and improve its health crisis management. Kishida said he will push to amend the country's current Constitution which hasn't been revised since it took effect in 1947. The LDP is proposing amendments in four areas, including adding a reference to Japan's Self-Defense Forces.

Kishida also talked about bolstering the nation's missile defense capabilities, as well as its abilities to deal with new threats, including in space and cyberspace. Kishida and his LDP have pushed for an increase in military spending possibly even doubling Japan's military budget amid worries over China's growing influence and North Korea's missile and nuclear threat. However, this could be a sensitive issue including for countries like South Korea as the post-war constitution limits it to a defense role.

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Page last modified: 28-03-2023 13:43:02 ZULU