On 14 December Japan will hold an election two years early following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s dissolution of the Lower House (the first chamber of Japan’s parliament) on 21 November. Opinion polls show that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will easily hold its majority of seats in the Lower House, and might even add a few seats to the two-third majority it is holding in the Lower House.
Nonetheless, the LDP might do a bit worse than current polls indicate due to the fact that nearly 40% of voters still have not decided which party or local party candidate to support. Independent or so-call floating voters who have not yet decide which party to support in the last 10 days of the campaign historically break in favor of opposition parties. Moreover, Abe’s main claim on the support of voters, namely his economic policy dubbed “Abenomics,” is clearly in trouble. After two quarters of negative growth Japan is back in recession, with figures released in the last days of the campaign showing the contraction was worse in the third quarter than originally thought: the economy contracted at an annual rate of minus 1.9%. Moreover Moody’s downgraded Japan’s sovereign debt and opinion polls show that overwhelming majorities of Japanese have not experienced any positive impact from “Abenomics”, and many have suffered higher prices and stagnant wages.
Nonetheless, the LDP is well positioned to win another solid majority in the Lower House because of the weakness of the opposition. However, the election appears likely to be a turning point; marking the reconsolidation of the opposition in the form of a resurgent DPJ that reclaims its mantle as the uncontested second major party under Japan’s two-party electoral system. Although the LDP is expected to gain seats the DPJ may well gain proportionally more, with current polls showing the DPJ growing from 59 to over 70 in the Lower House. More significantly, the other major opposition parties, most notably Ishin no tou, Jisedai, and Seikatsu no tou, the very parties that divided the non-LDP vote and cost the DPJ many of the seats it lost in the 2012 lower house election, are all expected to lose a significant share of their seats. One major opposition competitor, Minna no tou, had already disbanded as this election campaign was getting under way. By comparison, in the 2012 election Ishin no tou came within 4 Diet seats of dethroning the DPJ as the second major party.
After devouring a good portion of its opposition party rivals in this election, the DPJ will likely remerge as the only serious choice opposition voters have under a two-party system where voters have to choose between the “lesser of two evils”. Given that the LDP has not received a majority of votes cast in a Lower House election since 1963, the DPJ’s re-emergence as the only viable alternative for this non-LDP voting majority could bode well for the DPJ’s prospects in the following Lower House election.