It’s simple, actually. All DPJ candidates must stand for election in one of the 300 single-seat districts to be eligible for a place in the DPJ list for proportional districts. This is a clever tactical move that is currently unavailable to the LDP because of carryover issues from the old multiple-seat district days. It also cannot contest candidates in 23 districts, where it will “recommend” allied micro-party and independent candidate. It will also stay away from the home district of Yoshimi Watanabe, the LDP dropout (not outcast, a relevant point, which we’ll come to that later). This leaves a maximum of 276 candidates that the DPJ can field, effectively placing a ceiling on the maximum number of seats it can win.
It is highly unlikely that it will contest all 276, since it is not going to contest a district where it does not have viable candidate—I believe that it was unlikely to have challenged Watanabe anyway. The DPJ currently has 262 recognized candidates, 239 of whom have formal status and 23 who are scheduled. It is likely to add a few more—Ichiro Ozawa, for one, who has not made up his mind where to run—but given the lateness of the moment, I would be very surprised to be seeing the DPJ closing in on the 276 limit between now and the eventual cutoff date for the election.
One practical outcome of this limit is that no matter what the outcome, the DPJ will not have a supermajority (300 out of 480) in the Lower House. Since it does not have simple majority in the Upper House, it will need coalition partners to govern effectively regardless of whatever mandate it will be able to claim from the election.
Now assume that the DPJ manages to elect all 276 of its candidates. A difficult feat perhaps, but not absolutely impossible, depending on the voting for the proportional district seats. Remember that the LDP’s 2005 landslide victory produced such anomalies in the proportional district races as an LDP employee (allegedly) agreeing to serve only after being reassured that he could get his job back if he lost his seat in the next election, the Socialists gaining a seat because the LDP had not fielded enough candidates to fill all the seats that the voting had entitled it to, and, for comic relief, Taizo Sugimura.
A DPJ sweep of such magnitude should siphon off protest votes from the rest of the opposition as well, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that they and other independents do manage to maintain the total number of their seats at the current level of 31 including Watanabe, and throw in the one unfilled seat, just to make the numbers add up.
Now subtract these numbers 276 and 32 from 480. This leaves 172 seats for the LDP-New Komeito coalition. Now assume that the New Komeito manages albeit to maintain all 31 of its seats despite the unpopularity of the coalition regime, just for the sake of argument. This leaves 141 seats for the LDP.
Yes, 141 seats—the absolute, rock-bottom, minimum, worst-case scenario for the LDP. There is likely to be some post-election movement of independents, but the number should serve as a benchmark. All this, of course, assumes that the pre-election LDP stays together, about which I’ll try to post later. I’ll argue that there are two magic numbers for LDP dissent, not one as is commonly assumed.
Have you seen Norimitsu Onishi’s NYT offering on the LDP and its declining fortunes, including Watanabe’s defection? You can tell his heart’s not in it. It’s obvious he just can’t wait to go back to his poignant vignettes.