LDP coalition partner Komeito devastated in election, leader loses seat

The Mainichi Daily News, Japan/August 31, 2009

Komeito, the junior partner in the coalition government led by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), had all eight candidates in single-seat constituencies lose in Sunday's election, including those of party leader Akihiro Ota and Secretary-General Kazuo Kitagawa.

The losses marked a historic defeat for the party, and a tired-looking Ota appeared before the press in the early hours of Monday morning to state he "keenly felt" his responsibility for the party's electoral drubbing. Komeito's parent organization, the lay-Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, put the blame for the defeat on "the single-constituency system" and an "ineffective organizational strategy."

Ota was expected to announce his resignation as leader at a news conference following a meeting of senior party officials late Monday morning. However, Ota stated only that such a decision will have to be made before a special Diet session in mid-September to choose a new prime minister. He also later declared that he will not leave politics, and intends to run in the same constituency in the next Lower House election.

With the backing of the LDP, Komeito managed to hold on to its 23 assembly seats in Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections in July. An election strategy based on the Soka Gakkai pool of support was effective in the municipal elections, in which more than one candidate can be elected in a single district, but proved ineffective in the single-constituency races of the national election.

Komeito entered its alliance with the LDP in 1999 and has been backing the party in the Diet ever since, and Komeito's share of the proportional representation blocks grew as it worked with the LDP in elections. In the 2000 Lower House elections, just after the LDP-Komeito alliance was formed, Komeito captured 7.76 million proportional representation votes. In the following years, the relationship between the two parties grew deeper, including the LDP offering Komeito its supporter registers, and in the 2005 election, Komeito bumped its proportional representation vote tally to 8.98 million.

With Komeito's inclusion in the government, the party had a hand in policy initiatives such as this year's cash handouts, expansion of child-care allowances and regional promotion coupons. However, there were those in the Soka Gakkai who opposed Komeito's support for the Self-Defense Force mission to Iraq and other security issues, believing Komeito had strayed too far from its slogan of "Peace and Welfare," set when the party was founded.

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