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  • ELECTION SPECIAL JULY 29, 2007

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on August 1st, 2007

    Hello Blog. Here’s a briefish essay with my thoughts on the results of the recent Upper House Election in Japan:

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    UPPER HOUSE ELECTION JAPAN JULY 29, 2007

    THE OPPOSITION PARTIES GAIN MOMENTUM

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    By Arudou Debito (www.debito.org, debito@debito.org) in Sapporo, Japan

    Released August 1, 2007

    CAVEAT

    I am not a political insider by any means–just an opinionated writer with a degree in Government and an armchair interest in Japanese elections (both as a citizen and a hobbyist). All information contained in this writeup has been gleaned from Japanese sources (particularly the figures and some interpretations are from the Yomiuri July 30, and the Asahi July 30 and 31, 2007), and is geared to those who do not necessarily have access to similar sources. This isn’t really news to most, so I hope to hold your interest with some interpretations:

    Table of Contents:

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    THE OPPOSITION PARTY ROUTS THE RULING COALITION

    WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE LDP

    RESULTS OF PARTICULAR INTEREST TO DEBITO.ORG

    WHAT NOW? I WAS WRONG ABOUT PM ABE RESIGNING…

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    THE OPPOSITION PARTY ROUTS THE RULING COALITION

    Most of you know this, but of the half of the 242 seats in the House of Councilors (the “Upper House”) up for grabs this election, the majority went to the opposition parties (Minshutou/Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Kyousantou/Japan Communist Party, Shamintou/Social Democratic Party (SDP), Kokumin Shintou/New People’s Party, Nippon Shintou/New Japan Party (NJP), plus independents. A total gain of 31 seats.

    Meanwhile, the ruling coalition–Jimintou/Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) (which has mostly run Japan since the WWII), and Koumeito (the Souka Gakkai’s pseudo-Buddhist party) lost a total of 30 seats, and control of the Upper House. Altogether, the ruling coalition have 103 seats, the DPJ 109, and the remainder (30 seats) are with parties or with independents that have questionable or no inclinations towards the LDP.

    In terms of vote totals, the DPJ got more than 18 million compared to the LDP’s 10, and the seat shifts (thankfully we have no US-style Electoral College) properly reflect that. In fact, according to the Asahi (July 30, page 5), there has never been a time in Japan’s postwar history where ONE opposition party has ever gained, or held, so many seats at once in the Upper House. This is historic.

    asahi073007.jpg

    (Click on the image to see it full-screen. This is as much as I could fit into the scanner. Couldn’t fit the Yoshida Administrations in, sorry.)

    Although the Upper House is clearly the weaker side of the legislature (the Lower House can override any Upper House veto later), it certainly will as a check to any further LDP ramming through of laws, and a clear sign to the LDP that the halcyon days of Koizumi-created LDP domination are over for the foreseeable future.

    Moreover, looking at the political maps, there has been a tectonic shift in prefectural party affiliation. According to page 20 of July 30’s Yomiuri, ten one-seat rural prefectures that were straight LDP strongholds for the past two elections (Yamagata, Toyama, Ishikawa, Tottori, ALL four Shikoku prefectures, Saga, and Kumamoto), all went DPJ (one more, Shimane, went Kokumin Shintou, which is not friendly to the LDP either). The opposite, DPJ going LDP, happened nowhere. In 15 other prefectures (Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Hyogo, Aichi, Kanagawa, Shizuoka, Tokyo, Chiba, Ibaraki, Saitama, Nagano, Tochigi, Fukushima, and Hokkaido), the previous top vote-getter switched from an LDP candidate to a DPJ one. And I haven’t even touched upon the places that were DPJ last election already. As I said, it was a rout.

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    WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE LDP

    This loss isn’t incomprehensible–in fact it’s almost precisely how the polls predicted it would come out. And no wonder.

    Abe’s cabinet has been a disaster. Witness:

    1) The embarrassment of a Health Minister calling women “birth machines”,

    2) Ditto for a Minister of Defense insinuating the WWII bombings were “a matter or course”,

    3) An Agriculture Minister committing suicide,

    4) His replacement covering up his political expenses by making his home into his political support group’s office, even fudging his receipts; then showing up with his face all covered in bandages and not coming clean about what happened in either case (he finally got fired today–too little, too late),

    5) His Foreign Minister making light of people with Alzheimer’s Disease,

    6) A slight economic recovery being interpreted as a reason to let a tax regime lapse, lowering everyone’s paychecks noticeably by hundreds of USD a month right before the election campaign period,

    7) Unannounced plans to raise taxes yet again, which Abe refused to come clean on for obvious reasons,

    8) “Forgiving” several ousted LDP members booted out during the postal-savings election two years ago by bringing them back into the LDP (which begged the question why we went through that election in the first place),

    9) Plus the much-touted (turned out to be the biggest issue in polls) unregistered pension issues (which the LDP tried to blame on DPJ’s Kan Naoto),

    10) The relatively-unnoticed issues (but a bigger influence on the Left in Japan): the December 2006 revisions to the Fundamental Law of Education (now requiring patriotism be instilled in students), the denial of the WWII “Comfort Women” sexual slaves issue (resolution conveniently passing the US H of R just after the election), Abe’s Minister of Education saying we have too many human rights in Japan (comparing the situation to butter and Metabolic Syndrome), and even an (unfairly-criticized) first speech by Abe in which he used too many katakana loanwords…

    11) And the final nail in the coffin: Former PM Koizumi, the IMHO third-most influential PM in postwar Japanese history (behind Yoshida and Tanaka), being a hard act to follow.

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    RESULTS OF PARTICULAR INTEREST TO DEBITO.ORG

    THE GOOD GUYS WON

    1) Finnish-born naturalized Japanese citizen Tsurunen Marutei was re-elected by a comfortable margin (242,742 votes) on the Proportional Representation ticket. Last time he just bubbled under, and got in when a different DPJ candidate (Ohashi Kyosen) resigned his seat in disgust a short time after the election. This time he got in with a much clearer vote of confidence from the electorate (coming in 19th, out of 48 elected). Congratulations.

    2) HIV-infected candidate Kawada Ryouhei was elected in Tokyo in his own right (683,629 votes), running on a ticket of anti-corruption (the Health Ministry in the 1990’s had covered up HIV-tainted blood products and infected a huge number of Japan’s hemophiliacs; this was exposed by DPJ’s Kan Naoto in his short stint as Health Minister, during the former Socialist Party’s short stint as the ruling party back then). Also congrats.

    3) Perpetual political iconoclast (former Nagano Prefectural Governor, confirmed and eccentric bachelor, who enclosed his office in glass walls, and stopped local porkbarrel dam projects) Tanaka Yasuo, for whom I have a soft spot (he’s shown some friendly inclinations towards Japan’s internationalization), formed his own party (the Nippon Shintou) and got a PR seat for himself (coming in eighth with 458,211 votes).

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    THE BAD GUYS LOST. AND HOW

    4) Former Peruvian Prez and wanted criminal suspect Alberto Fujimori, running under the Nihon Hanzaisha Tou, excuse me, the Kokumin Shintou, did not even come close to getting a seat. He did, however, glean 51,612 votes. Not bad for a crook who couldn’t campaign ‘cos he’s under house arrest in another country. But that doesn’t make him as good a crook (i.e. good enough to convince enough people that he’s not a crook) as he (and party kingpin Kamei Shizuka) seems to think he is.

    5) Ainu candidate Tahara Kaori, running under convicted crook (his case is on perpetual appeal; that’s why he’s still in office) Suzuki Muneo’s Shintou Daichi Party, advertised herself as the “Female Muneo” and still lost by nearly 136,000 votes.

    6) Party turncoat and former Dietmember from Hokkaido (and our former lawyer in the Otaru Onsens Case) Itou Hideko, who will do anything to get back into office, lost yet again in Hokkaido’s PR race, gleaning a measly 19,289 votes, thank goodness. (She has been formally warned by Japan’s Bar Association for misinforming and overcharging her clients, yours truly included; it took me 17 months for me to get my lawsuit damages, and it happened only after the Hokkaido Bar Association intervened on my behalf and ruled in my favor in January 2006. Remind me to tell you that story some time…)

    7) And revanchist candidate Tojo Yuuko, granddaughter of Tojo Hideki (yes, THAT Tojo, for you History Channel buffs), who wants the proper respect restored to WWII Class-A War Criminals, lost badly with 59,607 votes in Tokyo, coming in twelfth out of twenty Tokyo candidates. As did far-right party “Shinpuu” (New Wind), the only party bringing up issues of “recovery of the social order” (read: fear of foreigners–which was not at all an issue in this campaign) and “restoration of Japan”, never came out of the bottom three (of eleven political parties) in any electoral district. Suggests the perceptible lurch to the right in Japanese society may be confined to the political, policymaking, and law enforcement sectors…

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    SPLIT DECISIONS

    8) In Shimane Prefecture, on the tail end of Honshu above LDP stronghold Yamaguchi Prefecture (where PM Abe is from), the LDP fell to Kamei Shizuka’s Kokumin Shintou (which was formed by people kicked out by former PM Koizumi during the postal savings reform issue a couple of years ago, who refused to return when PM Abe offered the abovementioned amnesty back into the LDP). This further weakens the LDP’s standing to be sure, but the person elected, Kamei Akiko, just happens to be Kamei Shizuka’s daughter. I am not a fan of political families becoming dynasties in Diets (since it fosters a political class, with privileges gleaned over generations making representatives far removed from the average voter), especially when a huge number of people in Japan’s Diet are already of that status. And Kamei Akiko is yet another example.

    9) Social commentator and Class Brain Masuzoe Youichi, after receiving the most votes of any candidate in the last cycle of UH elections, saw his vote tally (470,571) plummet by more than half this time, and his standing from first place in the PR rankings drop to seventh. I watched him carefully from friends Mark and Minas’ apartment as he tried to explain away the LDP’s crushing defeat–saying little of substance and hoping that would do. My, how being a politician muzzles you. He’s a cautionary example, and one reason why I doubt I’ll ever enter politics. I like to speak my mind too much…

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    WHAT NOW? I WAS WRONG ABOUT PM ABE RESIGNING…

    I think I’ll change my tune. It’s better for our side of the fence if Abe stays on as PM. He’s shown abysmal communication skills (watch his eyes go all shifty when he’s under pressure; very unprofessional in terms of nonverbals), and will have a hard time extricating himself from the political basement (he even seems to make DPJ leader Ozawa, whom even I don’t trust given his past with Kanemaru money politics, look better!). He’s caused many a discontented person within the LDP (some of whom, including prototypical LDP Gorilla Katayama Toranosuke of Okayama, blame him for losing their seats). And the longer he continues to ride his more obscure hobby horses (reforming the Constitution, enforcing patriotism, creating this “Beautiful Country Japan”–whatever that means) instead of looking at issues that the general public sees as important (pension reforms, high taxes and reduced disposable income, the fact that politicians can write off their expenses invisibly unlike any business in Japan, etc.), the more likely he’s going to run the LDP into the ground in time for the next election (in the more-powerful Lower House) in two years.

    For however hapless the DPJ seems at capitalizing on issues and setting the agenda, Abe’s Administration often seems to look worse in comparison. Instead of appealing to the public, it seems the LDP can only achieve their goals by ramming bills through one after another, regardless of how it looks on the evening news. Now it’s not going to be so easy to keep ramming, with the Upper House in opposition control by a wide margin. If this trend continues, it’s entirely possible we could either see another loss for the LDP in the next Lower House election, or even a revolt within the LDP itself (with people joining in to vote “No Confidence”) causing a snap election.

    Not implausible. But it becomes more and more possible the longer Abe refuses to change HIS tune and learn some public appeal skills. And it’s not at all clear to me at this stage that he will.

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    That’s enough armchair politico. Thanks very much for reading!

    Arudou Debito

    Sapporo, Japan

    debito@debito.org, http://www.debito.org

    DEBITO.ORG ELECTION SPECIAL JULY 29, 2007 ENDS

    2 Responses to “ELECTION SPECIAL JULY 29, 2007”

    1. Matt Dioguardi Says:

      This is a nice write up. Thank you.

      I did not know that the “Ainu-candidate” had an unsavory background. That’s interesting.

      I too have concerns about Ozawa, but for now am trying to be optimistic. The educational issues really troubled me. My oldest son starts first grade next year! I honestly felt a great deal of relief as a result of the election.

      I’m really concerned about the DPJ not endorsing fiscally wise policies, but even overspending would be preferable to Abe’s “beautiful Japan.”

    2. Bryce Says:

      I don’t think you were alone in picking Abe to resign, but I think a major factor in his expressed desire to stay on is that there is no one to replace him. Either the LDP puts in Aso, who is merely a more stupid and combustible version of Abe, or they replace him with somebody like Fukuda, who will act as a caretaker until the party regroups under a new leader. With the party facing those options, I think Abe’s appeal, such as it is, becomes clear.

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