How people elect parliaments
The early election called by Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe has served him well, narrowly maintaining his government’s two-thirds majority in the Shugi-in, the lower house of the Japanese parliament.
Abe called the poll to take opportunity of national concerns about North Korean behavior, as well as the general disarray of the opposition parties.
In Japan’s highly distortionary electoral system, the dominant Liberal Democratic (LDP) party’s almost continual rule since the 1950s can only be effectively challenged by a highly united single opposition party. The current political situation is far from that.
The lower house consists of 289 members elected in single-member districts by the plurality method, plus 176 members elected in 11 regional districts by party proportional voting using a separate ballot.
Last week LDP-Komeito candidates have swept 226 of the 289 local district wins (almost a parliamentary majority even without counting their share of the party-PR additional seats), reflecting their distorting plurality-voting dominance over the several divided opposition parties.
But perhaps more noteworthy is the seriously low rate of voter turnout, at just 53%, reflecting general disaffection of the Japanese population with their political options.
The last election in 2014 set a record low 52% turnout. This year the registration numbers have been boosted by lowering the voting age from 20 to 18, bringing many new voters into participation, even as the national population is in slight decline.
But the mere 1% rise in the turnout rate indicates that young voters are not going to address Japan’s electoral disengagement problem on their own.
The election results continue to see a huge parliamentary majority for a government which has the support of barely a quarter of the Japanese electorate.
The total vote for the coalition parties in the party-proportional ballots – which better reflects the undistorted partisan support among those voting – was at 25.5 million votes, slightly up from just under 25.0 million at the 2014 elections.
In the last Shugi-in the Liberal Democrat-Komeito coalition held a two-thirds majority of the house, achieved with just 24.6% of the registered voters.
This time their support among voters has slipped a fraction among registered voters, to 24.5% of the enlarged total.
The House has also fallen in size at this election from 475 to 465 seats, after a reorganisation to create fresh seat boundaries.
But the government has narrowly retained it’s two-thirds majority, with a total of 313 seats out of 465 – a margin of just three seats over the two-thirds number.
Two-thirds majorities allow the House to approve proposals for constitutional amendments. It has long been a goal of the LDP to alter the Japanese Constitution to remove limitations on maintaining a larger and more active defence force for overseas deployment, (other than currently permitted as part of UN peacekeeping operations).
A narrow parliamentary super-majority makes the Abe Government vulnerable to having to deal with factions and individual legislators.
However after this election the left and centre-left of Japanese politics has fallen to only around 70 seats, while 61 seats have gone to the new Kobo no To (Party of Hope) movement, which is more conservative and may assist the government in voting for constitutional proposals.