The Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is once again the winner following a strong result in Japan Upper House election 2019.
He did not, however, claim the two-thirds supermajority he wanted in the House of Councillors, the 245-seat upper chamber of Japan’s National Diet.
When the last session ended before the vote, the center-right Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito combined for 146 seats. These parties have ruled with a majority in the House of Councillors since 2013, when the LDP and Komeito gained 32 seats. Japan added three seats to its upper house in this election and will add three more in the 2022 polls.
The lower house, the House of Representatives in which Abe serves, was not up for election this time. There, the LDP-Komeito coalition has a two-thirds majority. That chamber last voted in 2017 and is next due for a vote by 2021.
Abe served for one year as prime minister between 2006 and 2007, returning in late 2012. Should Shinzo Abe lead the government into that 2021 election, he will do so as the longest-serving of any of Japan’s 62 prime ministers. He will pass Eisaku Sato for the second-longest total premiership in just over a month. By the end of 2019, Abe would be the longest-serving ever, passing Katsura Taro. Abe is not, however, expected to lead the LDP into the next election due to party-imposed term-limits.1
Japan Upper House Election 2019 Results
The Liberal Democratic Party has 113 seats in the House of Councillors following this election, down eight from 2016. Komeito won 28, up three.
Two new parties contested the election: the Constitutional Democratic Party and Democratic for the People Party, both center-left. The CDP won 32 while the DPP won 21. Opposition seats added up to 104, an increase of eight seats from last time. This total includes 16 for Nippon Ishin (right-wing), 13 from the Japanese Communist Party, two Social Democratic, and 20 from other parties.
Voter turnout hovered below 50 percent in this election, nearly a 25-year low.
Key Issue in the 2019 Japan House of Councillors Election
Aside from this being a referendum on the long-lasting Abe government which has dominated Japanese politics this decade, the question on voters’ minds was the constitution. The Constitution of Japan was put into place following World War II, thanks in large part to the Allied powers, clarifying that Japan was not to make war. Japan has a sizable self-defense force, but its constitution holds that their military cannot go on offensive campaigns.
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.The Constitution of Japan, Chapter II, Article 9, “Renunciation of War,” source japan.kantei.go.jp
This constitution can be amended provided that parliamentary and referendum hurdles are addressed. A government needs two-thirds of both houses to agree to a constitutional amendment; to date, Japan’s constitution has never been amended in its 72 years of existence.
Shinzo Abe’s government seeks to amend the constitution, specifically Article 9 which outlines Japan’s pacifist policies.2
There will not be a two-thirds majority for Abe’s coalition in the upper house, nor will there be a two-thirds majority to amend the constitution. For now, any progress on changing the Japanese constitution to allow for greater military freedom will have to wait.
1: “Abe wins upper house poll but suffers constitutional reform setback” (Kyodo News website, published 21 July 2019, accessed 21 July 2019)
2: “Shinzo Abe secures another term as Japanese PM, paving way for constitutional pacifism debate” (ABC News website, published 21 July 2019, accessed 21 July 2019)