By Eva Cheng
In Japan's once-in-four-year local elections, which ended in late April, the Japan Communist Party (JCP) won 2412 seats, 278 more than in 1995, bringing its total seats in local governments (including those not up for election this time) to 4413, the highest in the party's history. Of the 4413 seats, 1149 are held by women.
Local governments cover 47 prefectures, 12 designated major cities, ordinary cities, wards and towns and villages. Of the 278-seat increase, 54 came from prefectures, 28 from major cities, 84 from ordinary cities, two from Tokyo ward and 110 from towns and villages.
The JCP's gains are significant and have been steadily rising. It received 4.26 million votes in the prefectural assembly elections, 1.87 million more than in 1995, and 1.09 million votes in major city elections, 350,000 more than last time.
In prefectural assemblies, the JCP's total of 185 seats is now roughly at par with the Komei Party's 194 and the Democratic Party of Japan's 187, but still falls far short of the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) approximately 1300. In the major cities, the JCP now holds the third largest number of seats (130), roughly half of the LDP's. In ordinary city assemblies, the JCP's presence is second only to the LDP.
At present, the JCP is part of the ruling coalitions in 118 local governments and has the right to introduce a bill in eight major cities and in about 90 municipalities. It also has members as the head of nine municipalities.
The JCP says it has branches in more than 90% of Japan, but its electoral strength is uneven, the number of seats it won in prefectures ranging from 4.2% to 23%.
The LDP didn't even run a candidate in the governor elections in key cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, following widespread accusations that it was responsible for dragging many local governments into financial ruin by dishing out lucrative contracts to big construction firms. Aside from winning 75 fewer seats in ordinary city assemblies, the LDP also lost 134 seats in the prefectures.
In response, the JCP has questioned the LDP's credibility to continue ruling Japan and called on it to dissolve the lower house and hold elections for a new national government.
The JCP campaigned hard on the rights and welfare of "the citizens", counterposing their interests to those of big business. It also campaigned against Japan's military alliance with the US and called for a revamp of Japan's existing Hinomaru (rising sun) flag, which symbolises Japan's once undisguised imperialist ambitions, and its "Kimigayo" national anthem, which upholds the emperor's eternal reign.
The JCP recommended progressive candidates in some localities where it couldn't field its own members and took pride in its participation in "progressive governments" in various parts of Japan. During the campaign, the party organised big rallies near key train stations, attracting tens of thousands on many occasions.