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Hi Blog. As is by now tradition on Debito.org, we offer a briefing on the recent Japanese Lower House election in a way that is germane to our Readers — with analysis on angles affecting our lives in Japan that might not otherwise be covered. For the record, I do this as a college-degree holder in Political Science with decades of interest (and training) in Japanese political processes. I also have great interest in this field (especially in Hokkaido politics, because I know many of the politicians due to working with them from the Otaru Onsens Case onwards). I’ll skip the basics of how Japan’s political system is structured (you can get that from here) and go straight to the analysis:
DEBITO.ORG ELECTION SPECIAL DECEMBER 2014
In the Japanese media run-up to this election, there was enough narrative of doomsaying for opponents to PM Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), what with Japan’s Left in disarray and Japan’s Right ascendant after 2013’s electoral rout. The LDP was to “win big by default” in a “landslide victory”.
The day after the election, we can say that yes, Abe won, but “big” is a bit of a relative term when you look at the numbers. (All figures, as always, are sourced from major Japanese sources such as the Asahi and the Yomiuri Shinbuns, as of Monday December 14, 2014, 6AM JST. All possible “spins” are mine.)
THE SUMMARY: LDP WINS, BUT NOT SURPRISINGLY
Let’s take a look at Asahi’s excellent electoral map and make some observations (click on image to expand in browser):
This map of Japan by prefecture shows a lot of blue seats (signifying the LDP/Koumeitou Souka Gakkai alliance), demonstrating that the LDP held most of its seats. (Notable exception: Okinawa, which said “none of the above”, refusing to elect a single LDP, Koumeitou (KMT), or Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) candidate, and putting a Communist at the top.)
However, the LDP did not increase its seats — according to the table under the bar chart, the LDP went from 293 to 291 seats, meaning it lost 2. The bigger winner was ally party KMT, which went from 31 to 35, thus increasing the ruling coalition’s hold over the Lower House by two seats to 326.
I suspect that this may be due to the postwar record low turnout this election, as KMT has an excellent “get-out-the-vote” mechanism within its Souka Gakkai religious followers. (KMT also tells its followers which people to vote for, so as to split their votes efficiently in multiple-seat constituencies; i.e., they don’t mostly vote for one and only get one candidate in instead of both). A lower voter turnout means a higher proportion of the total voting KMT in an election.
So my read of this election is LDP didn’t lose, but they didn’t win astoundingly big, either. That said, they’re still big enough in the Diet to have a supermajority and override any Upper House vetoes (unlikely anyway, as the Upper House is also in the LDP’s hands after 2013’s election).
OTHER WINNERS AND LOSERS
The other big winner was the Japan Communist Party, which went from 8 seats to 21. This was due I believe to the lack of a viable opposition Left and people wanting to put their protest vote somewhere in this election. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the ruling party from 2009 until 2012 when they were soundly dismissed from office in a landslide LDP victory, also picked up seats (73, up from 62). So there was a significant protest vote against Abe, but not nearly enough to stem any of Abe’s future plans. More on those in a minute.
The big loser, however, was far-right racist xenophobe MPs Hiranuma Takeo and Ishihara Shintaro’s Jisedai no Tou (the alleged Party for Future Generations). They plummeted from 19 seats to 2! Thus, fortunately their foreigner-bashing policy planks and their anti-NJ policy proposals did not pay off. These geriatrics had split off from the younger-looking far-right Ishin no Tou (Japan “Innovation” Party, most famously represented by charismatic Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Touru), which also lost one seat to become 41, but didn’t lose bigger allegedly due to a last-minute rally to get out the Proportional Representation (hireiku) vote.
CANDIDATES OF PARTICULAR INTEREST TO DEBITO.ORG READERS
In Tokyo, we had two fortunate losses from the Right and one close shave for the Left.
First, for the Left, former Prime Minister Kan Naoto of the DPJ lost his seat in the popular vote to the local LDP candidate in Tokyo 18-ku. He was, however, resurrected in the Proportional Representation vote, so he’s still in. However, the DPJ’s current party head, Kaieda Banri, lost his seat.
On the other hand, far-rightists such as remilitarist Tamogami Toshio (who ran under the Jisedai no Tou banner) did not get elected. In fact, Tamogami ended up at the very bottom of the pile for his electoral district in Tokyo 12-ku. Clearly he overestimated his popular appeal (not hard to do, given how disproportionately noisy his supporters are; further, he got 611,000 votes in the last Tokyo Governor’s election), garnering only 39,233 votes. We haven’t seen the last of this creep, but this might give people a reality check about how far Rightism can go.
Now check out what happened to former Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro. He will now retire from Japanese politics ignominiously as the person who gave up his bully pulpit as the Tokyo Governor in 2012, in a now ill-considered bid to secure greater power as a Dietmember. He also ended up at the very bottom of the pile this time in his party’s Proportional Representation votes, which is quite a shameful way for a man of this stature and history to go. Good riddance to you, sir.
In sum, the Far-Right (Jisedai) suffered most in this election, while the Far-Left (JCP) picked up more protest votes than the Center-Left (DPJ). My read is that disillusioned Japanese voters, if they bothered to vote at all, saw the LDP/KMT as possibly more centrist in contrast to the other far-right parties, and hedged their bets. With the doomsaying media awarding Abe the election well in advance, why would people waste their vote on a losing party unless they felt strongly enough about any non-issue being put up this election?
Nevertheless, the result will not be centrist. With this election, Japan’s lurch to the Right has been complete enough to become normalized. PM Abe will probably be able to claim a consolidated mandate for his alleged fiscal plans, but in reality his goals prioritize revising Japan’s “Peace Constitution” and eroding other firewalls between Japan’s “church and state” issues (e.g., Japan’s remilitarization, inserting more Shinto/Emperor worship mysticism in Japan’s laws, requiring more patriotism and “love of country” in Japan’s education curriculum, and reinforcing anything Japan’s corporatists and secretive bureaucrats don’t want the public to know as “state secrets”).
All of this bodes ill for NJ residents of Japan, as even Japanese citizens who have “foreign experiences” are to be treated as suspicious (and disqualified for jobs) in areas that the GOJ deems worthy of secrecy. And as Dr. Jeff Kingston at Temple University in Japan notes, even the guidelines for determining what falls into that category are secret. Nevertheless, it is clear that diversity of opinion, experience, or nationality/ethnicity is not what Japan’s planners want for Japan’s future. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito