Forget the metaphysical argument around a “mandate” for the Abe administration, PM Abe moves forward with the same policy priorities and more or less the same number of seats but maximum four instead of two years to achieve them. Nothing more, nothing less. End of story.
Now, at the vote totals for the proportional representation districts—the single-member district vote totals are of little use here because only the Liberal Democratic Party and the Japan Communist Party (and the Happiness Realization Party if you must know) had anything close to across-the-board representation—the JCP was the big winner, jumping from 3,689,159 (6.13% of the total) in the 2012 general election to 6,062,962 (11.36%), but the LDP didn’t do too badly either, going from 16,624,457 (27.26%) to 17,658,916 (33.10%). Coalition partner Komeito registered a modest gain, going from 7,116,474 (11.89%) to 7,314,236 (13.71%). The Democratic Party of Japan registered an even smaller gain, going from 9,628,653 (16.00%) 9,775,991 (18.32%), while the Japan Innovation Party (the party formerly known as the Japan Restoration Party) fell precipitously from 12,262,228 (20.38%) to 8,382,699 (15.71%).
Three things here: First, say what you will—like me—of how this election was not a referendum on the Abe administration but a referendum on the fecklessness of the opposition, both the LDP and Komeito did do better in both absolute and relative terms than the two main opposition parties in an election with a record low voter turnout. That should count for something.
Second, that said, you have to agree that the DPJ and JIP didn’t do too badly for parties that fielded candidates in only 178 and 77, respectively, of the 275 single-member districts. Not having a candidate in a single-member district to campaign for his/her party must be a significant handicap in getting the proportional representation vote to turn out. Note that the LDP, which has candidates in almost all of the single-seat districts except where Komeito candidates are running, and Komeito, which essentially has a captive constituency, are relatively free from this problem.
Third, and this is a corollary of the previous point, it’s pretty obvious that the opposition will have little chance of winning a general election unless the DPJ and JIP actually merge. The LDP-Komeito coalition always has a minimum of close to 40%, usually more, of the effective votes that it can reliably deliver much (most in the case of Komeito) of to its candidate in any single-member district. By contrast, the less-firmly established DPJ and JIP rely much more on the same independent voters. They could in theory perfectly align their slates so that they field a single candidate, no more, in each one of the single-seat districts, and they would still have the problem of delivering those votes to the other party’s candidate while keeping them for themselves for the proportional representation vote.