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After the elections

Tuesday 17 February 2004, by Jun’ichi Hirai

The results of the Japanese lower house elections on November 9, 2003 revealed a complicated political situation. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) gained 237 seats out of a total 480, ten seats less than its pre-election strength.

Despite the LDP’s losses, the three-party ruling coalition won 275 seats and an absolute stable majority in the lower house. With the LDP’s loss of seats, the influence of its governmental coalition partner, the Komei Party (a centrist Buddhist party) is now certain to increase. The Komei Party, backed by a powerful Buddhist religious organization (Sohka Gakkai) played a decisive role in helping the ruling coalition to maintain its absolute majority. Without support from the Komei Party, the LDP would not be able to win in the single-seat constituencies which elect 300 seats out of the total 480. [1]

Meanwhile, the New Conservative Party, the smallest member of the ruling coalition, said on November 10 it would merge with the LDP, unveiling the measure a day after taking a beating in the election. The biggest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) supported by the biggest trade union federation “Rengo” (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), increased its representation by 40 seats to 177. [2] It gained more than 22 million in total votes from the regional proportional representative constituencies which elect 180 seats, more than the LDP’s vote of less than 21 million. The DPJ, which merged with the smaller right-wing nationalist Liberal Party (LP) just before the general election, is an amalgam of former members of the Social Democratic Party and a conservative split from the LDP. It is now the only opposition party in parliament which is capable of challenging the LDP’s monopoly of government for nearly 50 years.

Another serious result of the general election was the devastating defeat of the traditional reformist left parties of the post-Second World era, the Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party. The JCP gained nine seats, 11 less than the previous election in 2000, while the SDP gained only six seats, against 18 before the election. In the single-seat constituencies, the JCP couldn’t gain a seat and the SDP gained only one seat in Okinawa Prefecture (the southern islands where very big US military bases are located). Although the JCP and SDP each gained 7.8% and 5.1% in proportional representative votes, they represent together only 3% of the seats in the Lower House. As a result we can say that “left” forces have almost disappeared in the Japanese parliament.

When the SDP joined a coalition government with the LDP in 1994 and SDP president Ki’ichi Murayama became prime minister, backed by the LDP, the SDP abandoned its traditional pacifist position, accepting the Japan-US military pact and a strong presence of Japanese troops (the Self Defence Force), which it had opposed for several decades. After the SDP left the governmental coalition in 1996, it returned to its previous pacifist position. But it had lost support from its voters through this confusing process and many of its members of parliament left the party and joined the DPJ. In the meantime, attracting some former supporters of the SDP, the JCP gained more than 14% of the vote at the Upper House elections in 1998 and increased its influence in the Japanese political arena. On this occasion, the JCP tried to become a “reliable” political force for the ruling class. It followed the SDP’s example, saying that