Japan, Kumamoto and Tokyo Gubernatorial Elections

Campaign posters on an official poster board during Japan’s 2011 local elections.
Photo credit: Flickr/Paul Robinson (CC-BY-2.0)

Freedom House Rating
Government Type
Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
126.2 million
Kumamoto Gubernatorial Election
March 22, 2020
Tokyo Gubernatorial and Assembly By-Elections
July 5, 2020
House of Representatives (lower house) Elections
By October 22, 2021
House of Councillors (upper house) Elections
July 2019
Local Elections (plus 11 gubernatorial elections)
April 7, 2019
House of Representatives (lower house) Elections
October 22, 2017

Political Context

Elections in Japan happen at various times. The key elections – the ones that determine the government – are for the House of Representatives, the lower house of the National Diet, whose 465 members are elected for four-year terms. However, early elections happen periodically. Conversely, the elections for the House of Councillors take place every three years, with half of the house elected as members serve six-year terms. Shinzo Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, Komeito, a Buddhist religious party, hold a majority in the lower house. In last year’s upper house elections, LDP sought gain a two-thirds majority in order to revisit and possibly amend Japan’s pacifist constitution. LDP and Komeito did maintain their majority in the upper house, but fell short of the super-majority.

The LDP has dominated Japanese politics since its founding in 1955, with a few brief periods in opposition (most recently from 2009 to 2012, when the now-defunct center-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) swept the elections, but then failed to deliver on its ambitious promises, and thus lost three years later). The DPJ, which had been founded in 1998, disbanded in 2016, and the opposition remains somewhat in chaos.

Kumamoto Gubernatorial Elections: March 22, 2020

The current governor of Kumamoto is Ikuo Kabashima, an independent backed by the LDP and Komeito. Popular for his promotion of “Kumamon,” the prefecture’s iconic black bear mascot, he was elected to a third term in 2016.

Tokyo Gubernatorial and Assembly By-Elections: July 5, 2020

Tokyo elections will take place on July 5, 2020 – less than three weeks before the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. The current governor, Yuriko Koike, was elected in 2016 and became Tokyo’s first female governor. She has a love-hate relationship with the LDP. Although she served as defense minister in Shinzo Abe’s cabinet and was a member of the LDP, she ran as an independent against the LDP’s candidate. She has also backed other candidates against the LDP’s picks for other offices. In 2017, she left the LDP to form the Tokyoites First Party, which then won the most seats in the 2017 Tokyo Assembly elections. She considered running in the 2017 elections with her newly-formed Party of Hope, but ultimately decided not to challenge Abe for the prime minister’s office

Some LDP leaders support Koike’s bid for re-election (and she welcomes their support), while others oppose her.

Geopolitical Context

As China pursues maritime expansion in the Indo-Pacific, Japan remains a key U.S. ally in the region. Concurrently, Abe is working to expand Japan’s global diplomatic and security footprint, while seeking to revise the country’s pacifist constitution.

Japan’s relationship with fellow U.S. ally South Korea is deteriorating as South Korea grows closer to China while seeking to balance its existing relationship with the U.S.

Curated News and Analysis

Yoko Wakatsuki, James Griffiths and Jessie Yeung, CNN (July 22, 2019) Shinzo Abe declares victory in Japan election but fails to win super majority

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