Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Meaning of Komeito as a Coalition Partner

Working out the first draft of a paper on the Fukuda administration has drained off most of my immediate thoughts on Japanese politics. But there’s something that I promised on this blog before I agreed to work on the write-for-hire piece that I only briefly touched on there: the pivotal role of Komeito in the lead-up to the Lower House general election. Moreover, there’s some guesswork that I wasn’t confident enough to include in the piece.

This is hopefully the first in several memos—in this case a brief introduction to the electoral significance of the LDP-Komeito coalition. If people find it informative, I may also keep building it towards an election primer, mainly for the upcoming Lower House.

Of all the help that the LDP has enjoyed over the years from non-traditional religious organizations, the support from Sokagakkai, a laic offshoot of the Nichiren sect , through its political arm Komeito has been by far the most important. In fact, without the bi-party coalition, now in its tenth year, the LDP would not have been able to remain in power over the past decade.

The help from Komeito goes beyond the obvious voting power of its Diet members and extends to the electoral process itself. Take the Lower House general election, where all 480 seats are contested, 300 of them in single-seat districts and 180 in 11 multiple-seat, regional proportional-representation districts. Komeito delivers the well-disciplined Sokagakkai membership as a voting bloc to the LDP candidate in most (but not all; see below) single-seat districts. Nobody can be sure how much many votes this is actually worth to the LDP—not even Komeito itself gets all the available Sokagakkai votes—but my guess is that it offers, say, a 4% liftt*, likely more in a highly urban district and less in a rural one. This is a significant leg up for the LDP in an increasingly evenly-matched battle against the DPJ.

Komeito of course also benefits electorally from the relationship, for electoral reciprocity is at the heart of the coalition. 8 of Komeito’s 31 Lower House members hold single-seat districts. Although all 8 hail from urban Kanto and Kansai, the traditional Sokagakkai strongholds**, it is obvious that none of them would have been elected unless the LDP had not only declined to field its own candidates against them but also given them the support of their local electoral machines. In certain proportional-representation districts, the LDP also hives off some wards and cedes their supporters there to vote for the Komeito candidate, thereby maximizing the combined electoral value of their supporters. Some of Komeito’s 23 proportional members surely owe their electoral success to this support.

It goes without saying then why am I going to say it? that the coalition also functions in the Upper House general election. 146 of the 242 seats are contested in prefecture-wide elections. (The remaining 96 are contested in a nationwide proportional election.) Sokagakkai throws its support behind the LDP candidates in the single-seat and the smaller multi-seat districts where the Komeito does not field a candidate. The LDP reciprocates by hiving off LDP supporters in selected wards in some larger districts to vote for the Komeito candidate. That way, the two parties maximize the value of the joint electoral power in the Upper House.

This is an intricate arrangement that has been dutifully worked out at the national, prefectural and municipal levels. Any change requires a painstaking, sometimes painful recalibration of the interests and egos of incumbents, aspirants, and their supporters. A switch in coalition partners to the DPJ would result in a dislocation of massive proportions for both parties. This alone ensures that the LDP and Komeito are stuck with each other for the upcoming Lower House election at least.

Looking further into the near future, it is notable that the DPJ is more reliant on independent voters; the support for the LDP is more solid and therefore more dependable. Thus, other things being equal, the LDP brings more benefits to its coalition partner in the short-term.

Finally, I have taken care to distinguish Komeito and Sokagakkai in my explanation. The relationship between the two will be an important element of my next post on the Komeito.

* I may have to alter his number after I look up past voting results, but I think that this is a good ballpark figure.

** The influence of traditional Buddhist sects appear to be stronger among the more conservative, less mobile population in the provinces.


Anonymous said...

Does the Komeito have any goal other than to back the ruling coalition to prevent any government crackdown on Soka Gakkai??

If SGI was leftist oriented and had that much power, money, property, and organization, the government would have shut it down in the '60s.

Jun Okumura said...

Anonymous: Sokagakkai, not SGI, which is its international arm—let’s be precise here—is not in the game to stave off government intervention. Sokagakkai has always been pacifist, but never leftist. Besides, a conservative government that never managed to eliminate the Socialist Party or the Communist Party would never have been able to shut down a religious movement that not even the totalitarian WW II government ever managed to tame.

Then why is Sokagakkai in the political game? Initially, it appears to have had the unworldly ambition of giving Nichiren-shu an elevated national status, somewhat like the Anglican Church in England. It has (I think) left those militant years behind and become much more of a normal, established religion. (Think, Mormons?)

So what is it up to now? My guess is that it continues to hold to a genuine pacifist agenda on the international front and to seek to satisfy its desire to give-spiritual-and-material-comfort-to-the-huddled-masses from its earliest years. The founder of the eponymous Nichiren sect was a political and social activist; his tradition lives on in Sokagakkai.

Some people believe that Sokagakkai’s political activism is a tool to satisfy Daisaku Ikeda’s personal, worldly ambitions. There may be some truth to that, but it does not mean that the more legitimate explanations for the Komeito’s raison d’être are untrue.

Anonymous said...

Good answer!

Jun Okumura said...

Thank you, Anonymous.

MTC, do you think that this Anonymous is you-know-who?

Michael Reimer said...

Some people believe that Sokagakkai’s political activism is a tool to satisfy Daisaku Ikeda’s personal, worldly ambitions. There may be some truth to that, but it does not mean that the more legitimate explanations for the Komeito’s raison d’être are untrue.

As it happens, my wife is a Sokagakkai member. This is something I learned not to mention in Japan because many people there seem to believe that it's a cult of raving lunatics whose leader is trying to take over the world. And after a run-in with the members in Japan, frankly I understand why the negative sentiment exists. For the record my wife is not a raving lunatic.

Needless to say I've learned a lot about Sokagakkai, and I started doing so long before getting married. I approached it with a lot of skepticism, as I do any organized religion and especially evangelical ones. The first part I became comfortable with was Daisaku Ikeda - long story short, I never saw him do anything that I felt overstepped his role as a spiritual leader and peace activist. However I was only ever exposed to SGI's own information about him and have always wondered about where his public image in Japan as a megalomaniac came from. So, Jun, when you say that there may be some truth to it, I'm interested to know why.

(Granted he can look a little scary to me when standing in front of a thousand members hailing him in unison, but I always thought that was a sort of Japanese thing that one might also see at a corporate rally. I suspect my own Shacho would have tried to pull it off if the staff had given him enough respect to play along, but with all of us maverick foreigners around it was unlikely.)

P.S. I feel that it's more apt to compare Sokagakkai to Protestants because there's an ideological overlap at the core - rejection of the old church's authority, and a focus on scripture instead.

Jun Okumura said...

Michael: I think that your analogy of Sokagakkai to Protestantism points to a broader truth that is explored by Mark Oppenheimer in For the Love of Xenu. Sokagakkai is behaving like all other successful religions/sects—indeed any institution as they mature. You have encountered it at a somewhat later point in its life history than I did. For more on this, please read my latest post

MTC said...

Okumura-san -

I do not know whether it is I-know-who or not. Which means it could just as well be I-don't-know-who. And whatever it is I know about I-don't-know-who would not be much.

Jun Okumura said...

Wait, I'm sure I-don't-know-who's on third.

Illarraza said...

Dear All:

The Soka Gakkai is more along the lines of the Christian teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg and Joseph
Smith of the Mormon Church. The SGI initially re-interpreted the Lotus Sutra and the writings of Nichiren Daishonin by virtue of their association with the Nichiren Shoshu, the heterodox sect of Nichiren Lotus Sutra Buddhism. Then they re-re-interpreted the teachings of the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren to fit in with their Value Creation and Human Revolution "theology". They coopted the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra, (Namu Myoho renge kyo) but it is just window dressing for SGI Value Creationism and Human Revolution.

Nichikan Shonin who inscribed their Object of Worship (Gohonzon) stated, "We chant the Lifespan Chapter of the Lotus Sutra to smash the Chapter of Expedients and we chant the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra to smash the Lifespan Chapter of the Lotus Sutra.

The SGI have less to do with Nichiren Daishonin than the mormons have to do with Jesus.

Mark of the Kempon Hokke.