Bryan Walsh produces a TIME article on the Japanese Communist Party that identifies it as the go-to party for people whose patience with the mainstream political parties has reached its limits. In fact, in the 1998 Upper House election, a tanking economy and a consumption tax hike allowed the JCP to pick up 15 seats, giving it a total of 23, at the time one more than the now LDP coalition partner Komeito. The voting system for the Upper House has changed somewhat since then. Still, with the enigmatic DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa running well behind the beleaguered Prime Minister Abe in the latest Yomiuri poll (feel-good percentage: Mr. Ozawa 23%, Mr. Abe 35%), a lot of those unaligned voters could vote again for the JCP.
What then, are the consequences of the JCP siphoning off the protest votes from the DPJ? After all, t's not as if the JCP will enter into an unholy union with the LDP-Komeito coalition, will it? As veteran journalist Sam Jameson patiently pointed out to me when I foolishly challenged his formidable knowledge of the Japanese Constitution (as with everything Japanesy), the Lower House can overturn an Upper House vote or, in the absence of an Upper House vote, revote after sixty days, to enact any bill without the consent of the Upper House. And the requirement is a two-thirds supermajority, which the current coalition does have, which is why Sam made this point.
But as we agreed then (I think), the composition of an Upper House opposition majority does matter. For if the LDP maintains a plurality of the seats in the Upper House, it will enable them to maintain control of the House Presidency and a host of important committee chairmanship assignments. That should make it easier to keep the legislative process flowing. The ruling coalition does not want to have to wait sixty days on each and every issue before it can force it to a vote in the Lower House. It won't have to do that if it can control the flow, and that plurality will be much easier to maintain if the JCP splits the protest vote.
In 1998, the LDP muddled along under Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi for almost six months with an Upper House minority before cobbling together a shifting coalition, ending up with the current cohabitation with the Komeito that has lasted for the last seven years. But none of the opposition parties threatened to take a plurality at the time.