2014 House of Representatives General Election in Japan
Nobuyuki Sato, Ph.D. in Law
On Sunday, December 14, 2014, the 47th general election of the members of the House of Representatives of Japan was held. As a result, two governing parties including the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP; conservative party) headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Komei Party led by Natsuo Yamaguchi, have successfully kept their government. This brief note will try to show (1) the basic framework of the general election, (2) the background of this general election, and (3) the results and analysis of some related issues from both political and legal viewpoints.
Basic Framework of the General Election in Japan
Japan is a country that operates under the “Westminster system,” i.e., a parliamentary-cabinet system of government. The Diet (national parliament of Japan) is composed of two elective houses, which are the House of Councillors (HC) and the House of Representatives (HR). Under the Constitution of Japan (CoJ), although both houses are sharing legislative power, the HR has overriding power to the resolutions of the HC in some points, including nominating the Prime Minister. In addition, only the HR is entitled to pass a non-confidence resolution to the Cabinet. From these legal authorities, the HR shall be treated as “Lower House” or “1st chamber.”
Members of the HR shall be elected with a four-year term. However, the Cabinet is able to dissolve the HR at any time. The general election of the member of the HR shall be proclaimed in cases of (a) termination of a four-year term, or (b) dissolution of the HR.
The number of seats in the HR is defined not in the CoJ but in the “Public Office Election Act” and changed from time to time. At this general election, 475 members have been elected by a parallel voting system – where 295 was elected from single-seat districts with the “first past the post” system, and 180 was elected from 11 proportional representation blocks.
In 2009, the Democratic Party (DP; liberal party) overwhelmingly won the 45th general election. The DP successfully retained 308 seats out of 480 seats and the LDP had 119 seats. After that, the DP had kept its government for 3 years. In November 2012, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda who was a leader of the DP decided to dissolve the HR, and the 46th general election was held in December. The LDP which was led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won with 294 seats out of 480. The Komei Party, which had been a partner party of the LDP since 1999, retained 31 seats. The DP retained only 57 seats. As a result, the LDP and Komei Party took over the reins of government with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Just after his appointment as Prime Minister, PM Abe and his government started “Abenomics” – which referred to a set of new economic policies which would adopt an inflation target as a means. With a strong popular backing for “Abenomics,” Abe’s government had implemented a series of conservative policies including introduction of “Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets” of 2013, change of Cabinet’s official interpretation of article 9 of the CoJ concerning the right of collective defense in 2014, and others. Until November 2014, almost all Japanese including the mass media had believed that the next general election would be held in 2016 – at the termination of the four-year term of the members of the HR. However, PM Abe changed his strategy and dissolved the HR on November 21 and called the 47th general election.
PM Abe explained that the issue of this election was to have popular support to his political decision concerning suspension of the enforcement of consumption tax reform act that shall raise the rate from 8% to 10%. Opposition parties criticized this dissolution because almost all parties agreed on this suspension. They argued that no controversial political issue was put to the voters, and the real purpose of this general election was to have a wholesale and implied endorsement to hidden controversial policies in advance.
Results by parties are showed in the chart. In sum, two governing parties won 326 seats (LDP 291 and Komei 35), and opposition parties and independents had only 154 seats (DP 73, Japan Innovation Party 41, Japanese Communist Party 21, The Party for Next Generations 2, People’s Life Party 2, Social Democratic Party 2 and independent 8). Governing parties occupy 68.68% of seats.
As a strong effect of “first past the post” system, two governing parties successfully kept 78.64% seats from single-districts out of only 49.54% votes.
Analysis from Viewpoint of Politics
From the viewpoint of politics, results give stable platform to the government for daily business. But it is not enough for constitutional amendments. Under the provisions of the CoJ, although simple majority shall be required to pass bills, budget and other resolutions including nominating the PM, two-thirds majority shall be required to call a national referendum for amending the CoJ.
In the HC, governing parties have occupied 134 (LDP 114 and Komei 20) seats out of 242, i.e. 55.37%, and in the HR they successfully occupied 326 seats, i.e. more than two-thirds majority. However, governing parties do not have two-thirds majority in the HC and the LDP failed to keep two-thirds in the HR – the LDP occupied 61.26%. That means the LDP – PM Abe is able to propose a constitutional amendment only with Komei and other parties’ support. On the other side, a right sided party, “The Party for the Next Generations” which is more conservative than the LDP, lost almost all seats (except only two), and liberal parties including the Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party increased their number of seats – DP 63 to 73, JCP 8 to 21. Although PM Abe could exercise his strong leadership for daily business including expanding “Abenomics” strategies, he should still struggle to propose a constitutional amendment.
Analysis from Viewpoint of Constitutional Law
From the constitutional viewpoint, I would like to raise two issues. The first issue is the meaning of the dissolution of the HR. In the CoJ, there is no clear provision to give a general authority of dissolution to the Cabinet. Only article 69 authorizes to dissolve the HR to the Cabinet when the HR passes a non-confidence resolution to the Cabinet. A majority of constitutional academics agree on a general authority to dissolve the HR with some reservations because of the nature of the Westminster system. Main reservation is need for the explanation of reasons for the dissolution. One of reasons PM Abe explained about the purpose of this election was the evaluation of the tax reform suspension. However, many of the voters did not have a chance to vote on this point because almost all parties agreed with the suspension. Of course, according to commonly accepted interpretation, a need for explanation of reasons for the dissolution shall not be judicially applicable standard in the courts, but a constitutional-political burden to the Cabinet.
From a viewpoint of a comparative constitutional lawyer, the majority opinion shall be revisited. In the U.K. which is the root of the Westminster system, “Fixed- term Parliaments Act 2011” was passed and came into effect in 2011. Under this act, dissolution of the House of Commons shall be done every five year with two exceptions – (a) the HC’s resolution of self-dissolution and (b) the HC’s non- confidence resolution to the Cabinet and fail to give a new confidence to current of new Cabinet. That is to say, the Cabinet has no discretionary power to dissolve the House of Commons any more than in the U.K. Interestingly, at the beginning stage of the CoJ, the official interpretation concerning the HR dissolution was consistent with this new U.K. legislation. We have to revisit this old and new problem.
Secondly, the malapportionment problem still exists. On November 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Japan declared that there had been an unconstitutional (2.43 ratio) gap of voters’ population by electoral districts at the time of the 46th general election. But the Court avoided nullifying the results of the election. Although the Diet passed the electoral districts amendment act before the Supreme Court decision, the effect of the amendment was limited, and there was a 2.14 ratio gap of voters’ population by districts at the time of the 47th general election.
Just one day after the 47th general election, a group of lawyers brought constitutional suits covering all single-seat 295 districts arguing nulling results. They are emphasizing that if all members who were elected from single-seat districts lost their seats, the HR could keep its activities by 180 members who were elected from proportional representation blocks, because article 56 of the CoJ defines a quorum of one-thirds of members, i.e. 159 for the current Diet.
Seemingly, PM Abe and his government seem to have a strong implied or wholesale support through this general election. However, they are facing some political and constitutional difficulties including a series of constitutional suits alleging the results of single-seat districts. Close attention shall be expected.
 Liberal Democratic Party was amalgamated of former “Liberal Party” and “Democratic Party” in 1955. Contrary to its name, LDP has been a conservative party.
 Komei Party was established in 1964 by a Buddhist faction.
 Article 67 of the CoJ reads as follows:
”(1) The Prime Minister shall be designated from among the members of the Diet by a resolution of the Diet. This designation shall precede all other business.
(2) If the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors disagree and if no agreement can be reached even through a joint committee of both Houses, provided for by law, or the House of Councilors fails to make designation within ten (10) days, exclusive of the period ofrecess, after the House of Representatives has made designation, the decision of the House of Representatives shall be the decision of the Diet.”
 Art. 96 reads as follows
(1) Amendments to this Constitution shall be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each House and shall thereupon be submitted to the people for ratification, which shall require the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast thereon, at a special referendum or atsuch election as the Diet shall specify.
(2) Amendments when so ratified shall immediately be promulgated by the Emperor in the name of the people, as an integral part of this Constitution.
 Ar. 69 reads as follows:
If the House of Representatives passes a non-confidence resolution, or rejects a confidence resolution, the Cabinet shall resign en masse, unless the House of Representatives is dissolved within ten (10) days.