Upper House election to pave way for Japan PM Kishida to revise Constitution: Polls

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a speech during an election campaign tour in Kawasaki on June 24, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to get a clear path to constitutional revision after the upcoming Upper House election on Sunday (July 10), according to three separate polls over the weekend.

Despite voter unhappiness with the government's response to rising inflation and an energy crisis, with two-thirds telling one poll that their household finances have suffered, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is poised to make gains in the Chamber.

This comes as the disjointed opposition is losing steam, while the Ukraine crisis and regional tensions have also focused attention on security issues.

Mr Kishida's target is for the ruling LDP-Komeito coalition to score a simple majority of 63 of the 125 seats up for grabs.

But a survey of nearly 61,000 people by the Nikkei Research consultancy at the weekend found that the bloc could win up to 80 seats. This means the coalition could hold as many as 148 seats, including the 68 that are not up for contest.

Upper House lawmakers serve fixed six-year terms, and voting is held every three years to elect half of the 248-seat Chamber. On Sunday, 545 candidates will be contesting the election.

A convincing victory for Mr Kishida will pave the way for what has been coined by local media as a "golden era" for him to pursue his policies, as no national election is due until 2025.

The LDP intends to make revisions to the pacifist Constitution in what would be its first amendments since its enactment in 1947.

One of the changes that the party wants to make is the addition of a clear mention of the Self-Defence Forces while keeping the current clauses of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the supreme law, which pledges that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained".

Constitutional amendments will first need the backing of at least two-thirds of lawmakers in each the Lower and Upper Houses before it is put up for a public referendum, where a simple majority will suffice.

Although the Upper House is less powerful than the Lower House, it can veto Bills approved by the Lower House, thus significantly delaying their passage. A divided Diet from 2007 to 2012 led to a gridlock even in normal legislative agenda.

Two ideologically aligned conservative opposition parties - the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party, or JIP) and the Democratic Party for the People (DPP) - are also in favour of revising the Constitution.

The four parties together have 346 seats, controlling about 75 per cent of the 465-seat Lower House.

Surveys by the Nikkei, as well as the Jiji Press and the Japan News Network, forecast that the four parties are poised to control up to 75 per cent of the Upper House after Sunday's election.

The main opposition, the centre-left Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), is however expected to put up a sluggish performance. While it held 23 seats among the 125 up for contest, it is forecast to win only between 13 and 24 seats.

The CDP, which is the main offshoot of the defunct Democratic Party of Japan that led from 2009 to 2012, has lost public trust after shape-shifting numerous times - with parties formed, dismantled, merged, split and renamed over the years.

Experts note that the JIP is poised to continue its hot streak on Sunday, after it nearly quadrupled its presence in the Lower House from 11 to 41 seats in national elections last year.

Media surveys show that it may win up to 19 seats, up from the nine up for contest.

Sophia University political scientist Koichi Nakano told The Straits Times: "If the JIP manages to usurp the CDP as the main opposition, it will accelerate Japan's shift to the right while strongly pushing for constitutional revision."

JIP leader Ichiro Matsui has said that if pro-amendment forces "gain substantial power" in the Upper House, the LDP should strike when the iron is hot and call a referendum by early next year.

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