TOKYO – An expected victory for Japan’s ruling coalition in national elections Sunday may overstate public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal-Democratic Party.
“The LDP and Abe can win big on Sunday and still lose,” says Michael Cucek, an adjunct professor of politics at Temple University’s Japan campus in Tokyo. Political analysts will be looking at these factors to get a fuller read of the outcome:
Turnout fell to a record low of 53 per cent in the last election in 2014, an indication that “people don’t really like any of their options,” says Tobias Harris, a Japan political analyst with Teneo Intelligence in Washington, D.C. Many voters don’t see any of the opposition parties as a viable option, so they cast votes for the ruling party or simply stay home.
Abe’s ruling coalition may hold onto power, but by how much? In 2014 it won a two-thirds or “super” majority. That number is at least symbolically important, because Abe wants to revise Japan’s Constitution, which would require approval by two-thirds of parliament. Even if the coalition wins the 310 seats needed for a super majority in the lower house, amending the constitution faces a larger hurdle: any change also needs to be approved in a referendum, and most of the public remains opposed.
Seats in Japan’s 465-seat lower house are allocated in two ways; 289 are the winners of elections in their districts. The rest fall under a proportional representation system: Voters choose a party, and seats are distributed based on the percentage of the vote the party receives. Cucek says the proportional vote reflects how popular a party is with voters: “If there’s going to be a rejection of Abe … it will be in the proportional vote.”