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Japan’s Ruling Majority Wins Sweeping Victory in Upper House Election

With just two more days to go, the election campaign was under even more scrutiny than usual due to the shooting of Shinzo Abe on July 8.

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“We are in a critical time in history,” said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, addressing the public after Japan’s leading party secured a solid victory in the July 10 Upper House election

“I will forward aspects of Shinzo Abe’s agenda, including the revision of the constitution and the resolution of the North Korean abductions issue.” 

Reflecting on the election outcome, he continued: “I take this decision as encouragement from the voters to do our job” 

Reaching the Two-Thirds Threshold

Results of the election gave the ruling coalition over a two-thirds majority, exceeding the threshold which is necessary to proceed with constitutional reform. 

The Liberal Democratic Party secured 63 seats in the Upper House Election, more than half of the 125 that were up for grabs. It represents an eight-seat increase compared to the last Upper House election in 2019. Notably, 28 out of the 32 LDP candidates in single-seat districts won their contests. Together with the Komeito party (13 seats), the ruling coalition seats amounted to 76. 

The group in favor of revising the Constitution – made up of the LDP and Komeito as well as two other parties – reached a total of 177 seats combined, a comfortable margin over the two-third level of 166 seats needed to approve proposed amendments to put before the people of Japan. 

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The main opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) garnered 17 seats, a loss of 5 five compared to the last election. 

Strong Voter Turnout, More Women Elected

Voter turnout was 52.05%, an increase of 3%, compared to the lowest level of 48.8% in 2019. 

A notable statistic is that a record 35 women were elected to the Upper House, an increase from the previous record of 28 members. 

Members of the Upper House in Japan are elected to six-year terms, and half of the seats are contested every three years. 

Fumio Kishida was elected LDP President and prime minister in the autumn of 2021 and has enjoyed consistently strong support among voters, according to polls. The current electoral victory in the Upper House is seen by commentators as a vote of confidence in his administration.

Barring a dissolution of the Lower House, Kishida is expected to face a smooth period of three years before the next election, often called the “golden three years”, when the leading coalition has a majority in both houses and can forward its parties’ agenda. 

A veteran in the LDP told The Sankei Shimbun that “Abe’s administration became stronger as well, once it passed the period of elections.” 

As the first results began to flood in, PM Kishida commented during a NHK news program that, given the rising price levels due to the war in Ukraine, “I want to respond appropriately to a rapidly changing situation.” 

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Fumio Kishida addresses the LDP after the electoral victory on July 11 (Sankei).

The Shadow of Shinzo Abe’s Assassination

The election campaign ended in a somber atmosphere following the assassination of LDP faction leader Shinzo Abe assassinated on July 8. He was the longest-serving postwar prime minister, and his death shocked the nation and the world. 

Yet, the decision was made to continue campaigning so as to “not yield to the [assassination’s] challenge to democracy,” as PM Kishida said on July 8. 

The election effort was back in full force, if subdued in tone, on July 9, the last day for campaigning. Among the changes in tone at the rallies, police security was much more visible than prior to Abe’s death. 

NHK reported that on July 8, the word “democracy” saw a spike among Twitter users. Some commentators have speculated that a heightened awareness of the election might have increased the number of people voting, or voting for the LDP. 

Party members, including Prime Minister Kishida, shared a minute of silence to remember Abe at LDP headquarters on July 10.

The Prospect of Constitutional Reform

In his post-election address to the nation on Monday, July 11, Kishida said he wants to have a discussion in the autumn parliamentary session on a concrete proposal for reform of the never-amended 1947 constitution. 

With the July 10 win, the government has just a couple of years to achieve the changes it wants to push forward. The proposal must then be approved in the National Diet, as well as voted on by the people of Japan. 

Constitutional revision is a core part of the LDP agenda and was a signature goal of the Shinzo Abe administration. The LDP proposes four areas of change, including the explicit recognition of the “Self-Defense Forces” in the body of the constitution. 

Kishida has vowed to push ahead with plans for amending the Constitution, telling Japanese news agency Kyodo News, "We will deepen parliamentary debate over the constitution further so a concrete amendment proposal can be compiled."

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Next Steps? 

Even with the vote of confidence, Kishida has a complicated policy landscape ahead of him. 

His administration will have to address the continuing energy crisis, the high costs of living, the continued impacts of the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic that is seeing a surge of cases in Japan again. 

In addition, Kishida said to NHK on July 10: “We need to increase efforts to restart the Japanese economy” under his flagship policy plan of “A New Form of Capitalism.” 

Following the war in Ukraine and given the heightened attention on security in the Indo-Pacific, PM Kishida had already pledged in his election campaign to increase defense spending to 2% or more of GDP. In his July 11 address, Kishida pledged that his government would aim to present a proposal on this theme by the end of 2022.

The Sankei Shimbun reported that Kishida has already started discussions on reshuffling his cabinet in the second half of August. 

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Author: Arielle Busetto 

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