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.