For New Komeito a time to reflect, rebuild
The two highest-ranking members of New Komeito--its leader and secretary general--lost their seats in last Sunday's House of Representatives election, marking the most crushing defeat for the party since its foundation.
It should now calmly examine the causes of its defeat and learn lessons from it for its renewal.
All eight Komeito candidates fielded in single-seat constituencies lost their seats and the party won 21 seats in the proportional representation section of the election, which is fewer than the 25 seats it gained in the 1967 lower house election, the first lower house poll in which Komeito participated. It is no exaggeration to say the party is now facing its greatest crisis.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, chairman of the party's Policy Research Council, is expected to become the new party leader. What he and the new leadership must do first is rebuild the party ahead of the House of Councillors election next summer.
Tied to falling LDP
There is no doubt that the resounding defeat of Komeito--which has a solid support base in lay buddhist organization Soka Gakkai--is due to the strong headwind of voter dissatisfaction that blew against the Liberal Democratic Party. Komeito was effectively toppled with its coalition partner.
Komeito garnered about 8.05 million votes in the proportional representation section of the election, about 700,000 to 900,000 votes fewer than it achieved in the previous two polls. The party's defeat may also be attributed to the fact that the party was not able to collect many votes cast by supporters of the LDP this time.
Moreover, it is undeniable that the election result was partly due to the fact that Komeito was tarred with the same brush as the scandal-hit LDP. Komeito was unable to promote itself as a unique party, finding that it had slowly been cast into oblivion over the past decade spent as the LDP's junior coalition partner.
Komeito apparently had some problems in deciding on its policies. For example, the party always took a reluctant stance toward the utilization of the Self-Defense Forces at key moments, including the Afghan and Iraq wars launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, because they succumbed to the deep-rooted "nonmilitarism and peace" orientation of Soka Gakkai members.
It was Komeito that took the initiative in realizing the flat-sum cash benefit program on which the administration of Prime Minister Taro Aso spent a hefty 2 trillion yen. However, the program has had a limited effect in terms of stimulating the economy and was criticized as pork-barreling.
During the final stage of the administration of former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, senior Komeito members made remarks that could be construed as calling for Fukuda to be replaced. Some observers also have pointed out that Komeito grew conceited due to its increased influence over the LDP it achieved through vital support it gave the LDP in elections.
On the other hand, the experience gained by Komeito during its time in the LDP-Komeito coalition must surely be a valuable asset. Previously in perpetual opposition as a force that only criticized the ruling party, Komeito's time in power has made it aware of the political responsibilities of a ruling party, and has given it experience in planning and implementing realistic policies and formulating foreign and national security policies from a global standpoint.
Avoid cozying up to DPJ
We hope Komeito will rebuild itself by studying and drawing on its experiences as a ruling coalition party, which are formed of both good and bad aspects.
Komeito likely will adopt an issue-by-issue stance toward the Democratic Party of Japan, but it must avoid the foolish act of snuggling up to the new administration without first considering its policies.
Komeito must act with courage in taking policies to the public, even if they might cause an increased burden, and convince them of the need for hard-to-sell policies rather than pandering to populism.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 6, 2009)