Japanese Upper House Election
Article added on July 30, 2007
The Upper House or House of
Councillors (Sangiin) of the National Diet of Japan is composed of 242
members. They serve six year terms. Half of the Upper House is re-elected
every three years. 144 members of the Sangiin are elected from 47
prefectural constituencies by the system of the single non-transferable
vote, the remaining 98 members are elected by party list by the system of
proportional representation from a single national list. Councillors must be
at least 30 years old. Citizens at least the age of 20 have the right to
The Lower House can override decisions of the Upper House by a two-thirds
majority of members present. If the two houses of the Diet disagree, the
Lower House can only delay the adoption of the budget, treaties as well as
the designation of the prime minister.
In office since September 2006, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his
cabinet and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have failed their popularity
test in the Japanese Upper House Election of July 29, 2007. Despite the
crushing defeat, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refuses to step down.
In the Japanese context, Shinzo Abe (*1954) is a young, in fact Japan's
youngest post-Second World War prime minister. He is inexperienced and
without a strong power base within the LDP. Right now, no serious and
dangerous contender for his job is in sight.
However, Shinzo Abe lacks the charisma of his predecessor, Junichiro
Koizumi; previously, Abe served as Koizumi's Chief Cabinet Secretary. If the
current head of government cannot turn around the ship, the LDP may well
decide to change its leader before the next Lower House election.
Since the LDP holds a two-thirds majority in the Lower House, the impact of
the current defeat is limited. Still, governing will become tougher for
Shinzo Abe. On critical issues, dissenting voices within the LDP could join
the ranks of the opposition.
On July 29, 2007 the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) became
the largest party in the Upper House with 109 seats. It previously held 81
seats. The DPJ won 60 out of 121 contested seats, with 49 DPJ seats not up
to the election. The LDP and its partner, New Komeito (NK), won only 46
seats. The LDP alone won 37 seats. The ruling coalition needed to win 64
seats to keep its majority. Now, the LDP only controls a total of 83 upper
Official Upper House election result (121 of 242 seats up for election): DPJ
60, LDP 37, New Komeito 9, JCP 3, SDP 2, 2, NPN 1, independents 7.
The DPJ leader, Ichiro Ozawa (*1942), is a former chief secretary of the
LDP. He left the party in 1993 to form the Japan Renewal Party. In 1998, the
DPJ, a merger of four previously independent parties, was created. In 2003,
the DPJ merged with the smaller center-right Liberal Party, then led by
In recent years, the DPJ opposed the deployment of Japanese troops to Iraq
and was critical of the government's strengthening of the military. Ichiro
Ozawa promised to reduce income gaps and to help farmers. However, the main
reason for the 2007 defeat of the LDP was a series of scandals.
Over the past years, the government lost a large part of the national
pension records. Most Japanese cannot prove what they have paid in the past.
In another country, there would probably be public riots or at least large
After being accused of corruption, Abe's first minister of agriculture
hanged himself in May 2007. The new agricultural minister had to apologize
at the end of July for double booking expense claims. Abe's first defense
minister had to resign after justifying the USA's use of nuclear weapons
against Japan during the Second World War.
Towards the end of the electoral campaign, Shinzo Abe focused on the
positive economic record of his cabinet. He is committed to continue the
fiscal reforms introduced by Junichiro Koizumi and has appointed a tax
policy expert, Koji Omi, as Minister of Finance. Abe has taken first steps
towards balancing the Japanese budget, the unemployment rate was at a
nine-year low of 3.8% in May 2007, and Japan's economy expanded for a ninth
consecutive quarter from January to March 2007. However, in the days before
the election, stock markets around the globe suffered a slump, pushing the
Nikkei stock index down to a four-month low.
Since 1955, the year the party was created, the LDP has virtually
uninterruptedly controlled Japan's government. If Abe continues the reform
path and forms a more competent cabinet, no end to the LDP rule is in sight.
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