House of Councillors Election

Ichiro Suzuki On July 10, two days after the shocking death of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan voted for the House of Councillors’ (Upper House) seats. Voters gave a comfortable majority to the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito. The House of Councillors is the junior chamber of Japan’s Diet, to the House of Representatives (Lower House). While the Lower House is subject to dissolution with a maximum 4 year term, the Upper House MPs face no dissolution with a fixed 6 year term. An Upper House election is held every three years, usually in July, for a half of its members. Budgets and laws are debated first at the Lower House. After passing there, they are sent to the Upper House. With an approval in the Upper House, laws and budgets are enacted. If in a rare occasion a bill is turned down at the Upper House, it is sent back to the Lower House for another debate, and then it become a law if it passes the House for the second time. Then, no second debate at the Upper House is required. The House of Councillors has less power than the other, and it is a collection of people who makes it look a junior chamber. Quite often, MPs who have lost a seat in a House of Representatives election moves to the junior chamber later. Kiyomi Tsujimoto, who had been known for her ultra aggressive and vociferous attacks on ruling coalition politicians on relatively minor misconducts, lost her House of Representatives seat in her constituency last October, and then made a shameless move to the House of Councillors just 9 months later, showing little principle, in order to keep going as an MP. Even worse, the Lower House is crowded with inexperienced people. A number of relatively well known men and women run for House of Councillors seats, with their thinly disguised lack of interest in policy matters. They do so because their names bring more votes to the party they belong to. They tend to be former athletes, actors/ actresses, singers, novelists, etc, who sometimes make voters wonder why they are doing this. The House of Councilors is supposedly modeled after Britain’s House of Lords, that gives a broader perspective on a variety of issues from a different vantage point as opposed to the House of Commons. Alas, those who occupy seats in the Upper House of Japan are quite unlike the members of the Upper House of the U.K., who tend to be seasoned people with their own accomplishments behind them. They are not even elected, and hence has much less power. The Lower House of Japan, with a collection of people with dubious qualification, may have too much power. A House of Councillors election that takes place every three summers often makes political schedule crowded, making it hard for the ruling parties to make tough and unpopular decisions for fear of voters’ revolt. This one took place just nine months after the House of Representatives election in October 2021. A strong showing was expected for the ruling coalitions, and they treaded safely toward the election avoiding decisions that might cause voters’ anger, such as loosening coronavirus-related regulations that have been far too tight than in North America and Europe. The junior chamber causes such inaction. Then the coalition beat expectations, to a certain extent aided by outpouring sympathies caused by the killing of Abe. With this election behind, there is no national election until the summer of 2025, unless the House of Representative is dissolved for unforeseen reasons. This gives the ruling coalition an window of opportunity to get many things done, including amending the Constitution that drove Abe hard until the last moment of his life. But is PM Fumio Kishida going to deliver? Since he rose to the helm ten months ago, he has not impressed market participants with his decision-making instincts.


About the author: Mr. Suzuki is a retired banking executive based in Tokyo, Japan.