Hi Blog. This comes a bit late (school started today, and I decided to take a nap to be fresh before writing), but here are some
THOUGHTS ON THE APRIL 8, 2007 ELECTION
by Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan
April 10, 2007
FOREWORD: This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive record, offering the deep insights of a long-time Japanese politico. The information I am pulling apart can be found in any Japanese newspaper (I researched five) the morning after the elections. It is specifically geared towards the needs and bent of Debito.org. Moreover, I wish to present viewpoints that few can offer (such as how to vote as a naturalized citizen), speaking as a two-decade resident and three-election veteran of Hokkaido. For those who want more analysis of Tokyo Guv Ishihara, sorry–I am in terms of politics a long, long way from Tokyo. One word: Google.
That understood, today’s lineup:
1) WHAT’S IT LIKE TO VOTE IN JAPAN?
2) SOME UNOBVIOUS TRENDS THIS ELECTION
3) RESULTS WE CARE ABOUT AT DEBITO.ORG
1) WHAT’S IT LIKE TO VOTE IN JAPAN?
I’m not going to get into international comparisons (when I’ve only voted in three other places: Upstate NY, Ithaca NY, and San Diego CA), so let me just try to put you in my shoes as a Japanese citizen going to vote.
a) The Run-Up
Anyone who lives in Japan knows there is an election afoot about a week or two beforehand, for the sound trucks come out and zip down every street they can cover in the unduly short (or thankfully short, depending on your point of view) Election Campaign Period (senkyo kikan)–saying as little as possible as many times as possible. I’ve written about this phenomenon before (I’ve even campaigned in one of those sound trucks, see http://www.debito.org/nanporo2003elections.html), so enough said. Let me just add that I feel for those people waving those white gloves while leaning out of those cars. Experience is a great empathizer–it’s hard work! So every time I see a sound truck, I wave. Try it. It makes their day.
Sapporo this time struck it lucky, with FOUR elections (city mayor, city assembly, prefectural assembly, and governor). About ten days before election day, I got a post card which enabled me to do what millions of Japan residents can’t: vote. After all the trouble I went through to become Japanese, the proof is in the end pretty unobtrusive: A scrap of paper with a bar code and my name, with information about where to cast, when, and what to vote in. I had it tacked up on my refrigerator next to other images that matter: photos of my kids and photocopies of gym weight statistics. That postcard is the symbol of how far I’ve come in my 20 years here. Yet a burglar probably wouldn’t even think it worth stealing.
b) The Vote–Saturday, April 7, 2007
I went a day early in absentee balloting (I told them I had work–so did hundreds of thousands of others in Sapporo, according to the news), and had you followed me up to the second floor of the Nishi Kumin Center, this is what you would have experienced:
It was a large room (the two other places I voted were gymnasiums), and you walk clockwise around a cordoned-off donut which will draw you in, walk you from table to table, and deposit you afterwards where you came in. You don’t even have to take off your shoes. All I had to do was appear down the hall before a student greeter (arubaito are very well paid to man election booths, usually getting about 1000 yen an hour) gave me a cheery aisatsu and, without thinking a White voter odd, asked if I had filled out my name and address on my vote postcard. I had. (If you hadn’t, you would have been directed to go to another table behind some screens to sit down and fill out your card. People who needed help filling in their own name had at least two staff assigned behind the screens anticipating.)
As I said, there were four stations (for four ballots), and a way station in between each. The first way station had computers and bar-code scanners, so that your postcard is beeped and if necessary your identity confirmed. (The young lady with braces manning the computers, who barely looked old enough to vote herself, admittedly considered a moment of Zen with me standing there with an odd face to an odder name. She asked me how to read it. Complied. When she repeated it a little incredulously, I asked if she wanted ID . (I had readied four different pieces–driver licence, juuminhyou, koseki touhon, and passport, dammit.) She laughed and said no, beeping me through.
The second way station had an older lady seated behind a table greet, take my postcard, check off with red pencil the square which said “chiji sen” (governors’ race), and hand me a ballot (about the size of a postcard again) with instructions to write down whom I wanted for governor. There were three choices, and I walked to a booth (a standing walled off-on-three-sides desk-cubicle, four yawning for the voter, two more where elderly voters could sit and write) with the full names of all three candidates, a few pencils, and a magnifying glass for the sight-impaired. I was to write in one name with a pencil (the ballot is specially laminated to soak in graphite marks, but not smudge or crease when you fold it).
Write it carefully, in hiragana or the kanji represented in your booth, for any divergence from the pattern will result in your vote being binned. (I once counted votes as rep for my ex-wife’s successful campaign for Nanporo town council (http://www.debito.org/nanporo2003elections.html) see part two), and know that if you cross something out or add any stray symbols (such as heart marks), the vote will be flagged and probably counted as spoiled. Not to mention write-in balloting does not exist in Japan, as those votes are also voided. Only registered candidates can officially run.) Then fold it lengthwise and walk over to a steel sealed ballot box standing alone and slip it in one of two top slots. The folded ballot, by design, will automatically unfold once inside for easy counting.
I repeated this step for three more ballots, enjoying every minute of the super-smooth procedure, and took as much time as I liked to look around the room and watch Japanese democracy in action. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would NOT want to take a few minutes out of their day to exercise their right to vote (even if the voter only inserted blank ballots), especially since I could not imagine it any more conveniently done. (Polling stations are open from 8AM to 8PM, and mail-in ballots are also possible.) I hung around the station (anyone can, discretely–even non-citizens; I did before I naturalized–so give it a try) to watch to see whether people shared the thrill or viewed it as a chore. Based upon voter turnout (see below), I think chore was in the minority.
2) SOME UNOBVIOUS TRENDS THIS ELECTION
Probably people who have been watching the news already know the major results: Tokyo Governor Ishihara won in yet another landslide. More on that via Google and Matt Dioguardi’s blog:
(In case you were wondering, I am not an Ishihara fan. See several reasons why:)
So let me focus on some lesser-observed facts about the election that are if anything more indicative:
a) Voter Turnout
averaged for all races at about 52.3% (Asahi page 5) was about the same as last time (52.5%, but still down from the 56.7% two elections ago).
For the gubernatorial races, 13 prefectures averaged 52.6% turnouts of eligible voters, with lower turnouts in 7 prefectures (compared to the 2003 election). The highest turnouts were in Hokkaido and Iwate, and if laggard prefectures such as Fukuoka and Kanagawa (both in the 40-percents) had gotten out the vote, we would have had better-than-half turnouts in all prefectures. The Tokyo Guv election showed the most significant rise in turnout, by nearly 10%. Hokkaido’s Guv voter turnout (65%) was the first rise since 1983 (Mainichi page 17).
For the mayoral races (four), all but one had higher turnouts than previous elections, all more than 50%.
The prefectural assembly elections were all ho-hum, with similar 52.5% turnouts (i.e. throw in a ballot on the way), but drops in the voter rate in the vast majority of races (30 out of 44).
The mayoral races were also low-turnouters, with the average at 47.7%. Of the fifteen cities up for election, six showed drops. Only Hokkaido showed strong turnouts across the board (always above 60%). They must be reading Debito.org…
b) Political Barometering
Of the 2544 seats up for grabs this election (prefectural and local), 1208 went to those supported by the ruling LDP, a drop from the 1309 up for grabs before. The strongest opposition party (which I support), DPJ, captured 374 seats, a rise from 205 last time. Souka Gakkai Koumeitou captured two more than last time to wind up with 180. The Communist Party just keeps on dwindling, dropping ten to 97. Same with Socialist-Party remnants Shamintou, losing big (from 73 to 52). Surprising was that the nonaffiliated (mushozoku) also dropped significantly, from 687 to 580 seats. And this in an election with no proportional representation (hireiku) vote, meaning political parties enjoyed no advantage of a second vote.
There is a caveat. Due to political restructuring and consolidation of local governments, the number of seats up for election also dropped, from 2634 to 2532. So any gains at all (when the pie is shrinking enough to mean potential losses across the board) is significant. On this scale, the DPJ (despite the mixed fanfare and the high-profile LDP-equivalent Guv victories in Tokyo and Hokkaido) quietly had the rosiest results of all the parties.
c) The Power of Incumbency
In the major races (Guvs and Mayors), for the most part it wasn’t even close. Ishihara and Takahashi (Hokkaido) Guv victories were called by NHK within minutes of the poll’s closing at 8PM (for reasons that I still cannot grasp). Landslides (meaning votes close to or more than double the second-place candidates) happened in all the gubernatorial races: Hokkaido, Iwate, Tokyo (with Ishihara accruing more than a million more votes than second-place Asano), Fukui, Mie, Nara, Tottori, Shimane, Tokushima, Shizuoka, Saga, and Oita. Only four of the 13 prefectures got new blood (Nara, Tottori, Iwate and Shimane); the rest were incumbent re-elections. None of them had any express political party ties (although they did enjoy unofficial support, the newspapers note; LDP/Koumei nine, DPJ two, LDP/DPJ together two). Point is, there were no upsets.
And in over half of the Guv races–eight–it was basically uncontested. Only the Communists ran against the powers that be (I presume the DPJ decided to save money and not field candidates). Good Old College Tries notwithstanding, the only place the JCP came close was in Nara, where they got a little under half the winner’s total vote. It’s amazing these people don’t just throw in the towel… (Personally, I’m glad they don’t.)
The Mayor races were more exciting. Shizuoka and Hamamatsu had close races, where the incumbent won in the former and lost in the latter. Sapporo and Hiroshima kept their mayors by a wide margin. Score card: LDP one (Shizuoka), DPJ one (Sapporo), and unaffiliated two (Hamamatsu and Hiroshima).
3) RESULTS WE CARE ABOUT AT DEBITO.ORG
In terms of bellwethers for internationalization, from what I could see all the way up here in Hokkaido, issues of multiculturalization were not campaign issues anywhere (not even in Tokyo, despite Asano’s playing to the FCCJ at http://www.debito.org/?p=279). No wonder. Foreigners, not even the generational Zainichi foreigners, can vote; and as history demonstrates (it was not until the Civil Rights Movement chipped away at the voter disenfranchisement laws in the US South, and then only after huge numbers of African-Americans registered to vote in the 1950s, that electoral candidates–even Governor Wallace–changed their tunes in the 1960s), politicians by design only care about keeping their jobs. It’s one of those aggravating no-brainers: Can’t vote, can’t get much respect in a democracy. Don’t see that trend changing any time soon, unless…
Anyway, some trends of note:
a) The Bigots Begat
We know Ishihara kept his seat, and we know he’s probably the most expressly xenophobic elected official out there. But remember the “sneaky thieves” comment made by Kanagawa Guv Matsuzawa Shigefumi in November 2003?
“All foreigners are sneaky thieves (koso doro). Because (Tokyo) Gov. (Shintaro) Ishihara is clamping down (on crime in the capital), they are flooding into Kanagawa.”
He retracted it a couple of days later
but I’m notoriously unforgiving.
Anyway, he got re-elected easily this time, with more votes than the other candidates combined. Surprisingly enough, he seems to have strong ties to the DPJ…
b) The Good Guys Lose
The incumbent mayor of Hamamatsu, Kitawaki Yasuyuki, poured his heart into trying to improve conditions for NJ residents around his area. He was the coordinator of the Hamamatsu Sengen (http://www.debito.org/hamamatsusengen.html).
Background: After Japan’s first court victory citing international treaty in a racial discrimination case (Ana Bortz vs. Seibido Trading, 1999), which just happened to take place in his city, Mayor Kitawaki in October 2001 convened a meeting of 13 cities from six prefectures with high foreign worker populations. Issuing a historical document entitled the “Hamamatsu Sengen” (Hamamatsu Declaration), these government heads demanded the national government create policy guaranteeing foreigners the modicum of social welfare (education, welfare services, smooth alien registration) entitled to every worker and resident of Japan. Kitawaki and company submitted this proposal to Tokyo Mandarinland Kasumigaseki in November 2001, where it was duly ignored. He and many other mayors and city officials have since persevered. More on that in a separate post later.
Anyway, Kitawaki lost by 11,000 votes to Suzuki Yasutomo, a former Upper House Dietmember with DPJ ties. Given the fact that the DPJ has people in it as left as the DSP and as right as the LDP, I doubt this is a good thing.
c) Don’t You Dare Pass Any Crazy Anti-Discrim Laws
The former Guv Katayama Yoshihiro in Tottori decided not to run for some reason (I guess it might be the exhaustion incurred from the stress of having Japan’s first anti-racial-discrimination ordinance passed, then UNpassed, last year–see http://www.debito.org/japantimes050206.html). His vice-guv, Hirai Shinji, ran and won handily. Again, I’m not sure if this is a good thing. (He has the support of the LDP and Koumeitou.)
d) The Anger Vote and How to Swing it
And in an unrelated aside, I reported two newsletters ago about Toyama Kouichi, the anarchist candidate who had great success with viewerage on YouTube:
(Now with new, excellent E subtitles and several parody versions.)
Well, he managed to garner 15,059 votes (despite offering nothing but destruction and telling people not to vote at all), putting him in 8th place (out of 14 candidates). But it brings to light one problem with Japan’s over-restrictive election laws.
From this morning’s Terrie’s Take:
-> Youtube videos breach election law
What happens when control over the local media is subverted? You get political candidate videos posted to YouTube, in contravention of but impervious to Japanese laws on unfair campaigning. This just happened in the Tokyo metropolitan elections, where earlier TV comments by one of the more radical candidates appeared on the service. The election management committee asked YouTube to delete the video.
***Ed: We think that Japan’s rules on limiting electioneering are a noble ideal but in practice are also very impractical. While it is reasonable to want all candidates to get equal broadcast coverage, in effect this means that the advantage is always with the incumbent. A person like Ishihara knows how to manipulate the media so well, that without breaching any rules, he can be on TV most nights. It’s no wonder that voters really only know and feel comfortable with him. While no one wants money politics, the existing system is also quite unfair.**
(Source: TT commentary from nikkei.co.jp, Apr 6, 2007) (http://www.japaninc.com/terries_take) (TT 416)
I would concur. The media equivalent of arriving on Air Force One certainly sways people.
Moreover, here’s an essay describing how a local Senkyo Kanri Iinkai (Election Steering Committee) did its best to stop candidates from debating each other in a citizens’-sponsored forum, and how Japan’s election rules actually stifle debate and direct questioning of candidates:
e) Manifesto Destiny
Something also came up on the news this morning (Tokudane), where people were talking about how “manifestos” (A4-size political-promise sheets) are now commonplace amongst candidates, and how they make policies clearer than the regular soundtruckery.
I would agree that manifestoing is indeed a positive development, and have said so in a column in the Japan Times (Nov 18, 2003):
But here we see the Senkyo Kanri Iinkai stepping in to overregulate again. You can indeed produce a Manifesto. But they must be one page A4 and front and back only. And you can only produce up to 300,000 of them. No more. Too bad if your electoral base is larger than that: You cannot mail them out or include them as fold-in advertisements in newspapers–you must hand them out on the street or let people come to your offices to get one. They even frown on them being electronically displayed on the Internet!
I suppose this is to avoid ramping up money politics. But the result is that some people didn’t even know their candidates’ manifestos existed. Myself included–I based my votes on the newsprint policy statements which came through my mailslot courtesy of the Senkyo Kanri Iinkai.
To be sure, I’m not sure how I’d run an election better (and the US system is certainly no template!!). But the chokehold the Senkyo Kanri Iinkai has over information dispersal certainly errs far too much on the side of caution. I have to admire to some degree the moxie of those who dare to defy.
CONCLUSIONS: WHAT DOES THIS ELECTION SAY ABOUT THE ABE ADMINISTRATION?
I don’t think this election was much of a midterm referendum at all. The LDP did not really lose clearly or big anywhere. Nobody’s going to be able to point to a race and say that Abe is to blame for the outcome. Some of the newspapers are in fact interpreting Ishihara’s victory as a “boost” for Abe.
Not sure I agree: “Boost” seems a bit of a boosterism in itself. So let me end this report inconclusively for now and see what happens in the even bigger elections this July.
For the time being, let me compensate with some referential links. As I have an undergraduate degree in Government, I have an abiding interest in Japanese politics, and have written copiously on the subject before. A few examples:
A report about the first time I voted in a Japanese election (2001):
Japan’s “Rap Election” of 1996 (a humorous study of ancient campaign strategies):
And even a humor piece on Suzuki Muneo:
Dave Spector even sent me his comments on the election in the J press:
Enjoy. Only a few more months before the real referendum on Abe.
DEBITO.ORG ELECTION SPECIAL OF APRIL 10, 2007 ENDS