Some brief commonsensical thoughts on Tokyo Election July 12, 2009


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Hi Blog. As usual (I get all geeky looking at election results; dunno why), let me give you a quick set of thoughts on yesterday’s election in Tokyo. I’m not going to provide really deep politico analysis on Japanese politics (that can be found most fascinatingly here and here), just some common sense.

QUICK BACKGROUND — skip if you know this already.
Yesterday’s election for the 127 seats in the Tokyo Prefectural Assembly was seen as a bellwether on how people would be voting in the next General Election (due by October by the latest, more below). If there was a significant shift towards the opposition parties, then it would be a report card for how the party in power for almost all the past five decades, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was doing (as well as the New Koumeitou (KMT), the political arm of the Souka Gakkai quasi-Buddhist religious group, who have been in an alliance with the LDP). After all, it’s been five years since we had a General Election (and the last one was a single-issue campaign, on postal reform). Four prime ministers later (Koizumi, Abe, Fukuda, now Aso), people are grumbling that the LDP is a political hulk whose only pretense to power is that they are the status quo. This penultimate Tokyo election is being seen by the media as a potential slingshot for the opposition parties (the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the Japan Communist Party (JCP), the unaffiliated, and other fringe parties participating in the election).


All these results have been gleaned from the newspapers (particularly this morning’s Asahi and Mainchi) and the televised media (particularly NHK and JNN) and have my tack within.

As my friend said last night, “The LDP have been taken to the woodshed.” The LDP dropped from 48 to 38 seats. Although KMT held on to their seats (23), the DPJ was the biggest gainer, rising from 35 seats to 54. Since the majority line is at 64, for the first time an LDP-fronted coalition is not in charge of the Tokyo Prefectural Assembly.

With further breakdowns of data, the situation looks even more dire for the incumbents. According to today’s Asahi, in LDP strongholds the DPJ won two seats and lost five in 2005 (the last election). Yet this year won six and only lost one. In fact, in 40 out of 42 electoral districts, the DPJ won a seat. The same cannot be said for the LDP, which only managed this feat in 35 districts. One downtown electoral district fell from the LDP’s grasp for the first time in four decades. In all, close to half of all the DPJ’s elected members (21) were newbies. Only 4 of the LDP’s were. The status quo lost big.

Another big loser was the JCP. Despite media hype about a “boom” in the JCP’s support, they went from 13 seats to 8. The biggest loser of all was the fruitcake religious-group-funded Happiness Realization Party, the one advocating the “revision” (hah) of Article 9 of the Constitution (the bit about remaining a peaceful society) and calling for a defense against North Korean missiles. For all the money they’ve been spending nationwide, they didn’t pick up a single seat. Preliminary counts in a number of districts put their vote totals at “zero”. Yes, zero.

So now it is clear that things are truly crystallizing into a two-party polity. And it looks as if there might just be a changing of the guard come August.


PM Aso has kept saying that the Tokyo Elections have no bearing on national politics, but it seems that he’s a minority of one in that belief. Even his own party is calling for his resignation. He refuses to leave the helm of the LDP. Good. That means this proud old fool will probably drive his party further into the ground than ever before. It’s hard to envision, but if he manages to cause the dissolution of the LDP itself, he could even go down as the worst PM ever (that honor I bestow unto former PM Murayama, who killed the Socialist Party during his Faustian bargain for the prime ministership in the 1990s).

The DPJ has decided to introduce a vote of “No Confidence”, and Aso decided today that the Diet would be dissolved on July 21, with elections on August 30. As a voter, I’m looking forward to that. The long hot summer has just gotten hotter. And we may emerge with a brand new polity and sweep out the long-entrenched and corrupt incumbents at last.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

8 comments on “Some brief commonsensical thoughts on Tokyo Election July 12, 2009

  • The Happiness Realization folks only fielded 10 candidates in the metro elections. None of them got more than 2,000 votes or so, and most pulled only three digits, though. Still, those are votes that in past elections have tended to go to LDP candidates instead, so there’s a minor fracturing of the vote going on. I’d guess the Happy people are looking forward to the general election and are spending lots of money toward that end, rather than this local election.

    All the results you could hope to read are available here, by the way:

    It’s tempting to see the Tokyo contest in terms of voters casting judgment against the national LDP, but probably many of them were going DPJ as a rejection of Gov. Ishihara’s failed bank, unpopular plan to move the fish market from Tsukiji, and so on.

    — That’s a great link. And thanks for the Tokyoite perspective. I neglected to mention that this election result will also put a curb on Ishihara’s megalomania. One would hope, anyway.

  • It is simply nice to see a switch.

    My vote is in America. But I have always wondered why the Japanese constantly tolerate the same party winning time and again. Even if they don’t deliver.

    That was supposed to be one of the freedoms after the Allies liberated the Japanese in 1945—the ability to change governments. To hand the power over to others based on a regular election.

    What seemed to have happened instead was that one party developed a program (1955) shortly after the Occupation ended, and has spent two generations holding on to power. In the last fifteen or so, by hook or by crook.

    It reminds me of how the Democrats became in America around 1994. After holding one house in Congress for almost forty years, and the other a good part of that time, the public began to feel that they were unresponsive. And they got voted out. Same as nowadays (2006, 2008) with the Republicans.

    If the result of political failure is “then you will be gone”, I think it does a lot to improve the decision making when a party has power.

    I agree with the poster that suggested some of the DPJ support was a check against Governor Ishihara. Or in other words, the public that can say no!

  • Excellent stuff! Whoever wins on either a Tokyo or national level, the key political reform I’d like to see is in the form of a scythe, clear-cutting all the unelected kanryo-tachi who formulate policy, shuffle funding for said invented policies, implement these policies without ever being chosen by the people to do so, and then have the unmitigated gall to hand the policies over to the Minister responsible and say, “That’s what your policy is!” This “Wag-the-Dog” way of doing business is, in my opinion, one of the laissez-faire SNAFUs that’s got the country into the mess it finds itself today. (Oh, and after they do all that, they Ama-ku-dari back into the businesses they just ‘chose by tender’ to implement the very same policies and projects, for a hefty kickback.) I live in hope….

  • At least the “Happiness Realization Party” is insanely positive towards immigration and naturalization. It would be interesting to hear what you think about that…


    — My thoughts: Like all their other stuff from this nutty group, it sounds like out of left field. Hey, we’ll accept anyone, as long as they join our ranks and religion… Sorry, I don’t trust it.

  • jjobseeker says:

    With the opposition now in the majority in the Tokyo City Council, today Ishihara looked a little pale and was speaking REAL softly at a press conference or when he stopped long enough to field questions. No more of that swagger and bravado. Good! Let him understand that he serves the people, not his ego. I am proud (and more than a little shocked) that the people of Tokyo have finally spoken up, even if it was just to say “No” to the fools in power. Now it’s up to the people elected to deliver the goods and show Japan that there’s nothing wrong with a peaceful change of power.

  • I’m going to wade in on this besides my woodshed comment.
    I have yet to see the popular vote percentages and the results from the 42 multiseat constituencies.
    1. a fairly high for Tokyo Assembly elections turned out.~55%
    2. exit polling reported in the Hokkaido Shinbun said 30% percent of the sample identified themselves as “traditional or usual” LDP supporters and about the same for the DPJ. but some 30 % of the traditional LDP supporters reported not voting for them this time.
    3. DPJ candidates rapidly in most cases overwhelmingly led and were declared elected quite quickly. I would like to see how many of the 42 constituencies which had single DPJ candidates and vote totals of more than twice the next elected member.
    4. A check on wikipedia to the Single Nontransferable Vote System illustrates how and possibly why the LDP and New Komeito did not massively lose.
    5. In a single seat system or a proportional representation system the DPJ gains would have been bigger. As is the DPJ only fielded 58 candidates– electing 54. is it possible they played too ‘conservatively’ and if they had run a few more candidates and somehow got their supporters to vote strategically could they have won more ? Possibly yes… but IMO the DPJ don’t yet have the ‘machine’ to make strategic voting work. The DPJ didn’t gamble and luckily won.
    6. New Komeito ran 23 candidates and elected 23 how come? They have a machine…or they at least know where their core vote is and can count on it. As long as the LDP don’t run 2 candidates in most districts where there is a sitting New Komeito member. LDP and New Komeito supporters could vote strategically. It is obvious now that this coalition is under stress and New Komeito might abandon it.
    8. What is now clear is in a few districts in Tokyo The LPD has gone from being the first place party to being the fourth place party and if New Komeito run a few more candidates next time this could be repeated.

    — I have some stats for popular vote percentages. They’re at school and on the Asahi website. But I’m gonna hit the hay early tonight, wait until tomorrow.

  • DPJ initially was against new immigration law revision. Is there still any chance to step back? It just draft which have passed diet so…
    IMO it won`t change anything, just the same old guards with different party name. Big Family is Big family in J politics, though there is very tiny hope.

  • Asterisk,

    The reason the Japanese people voted for the same party over and over again is because it wasn’t the “same” party. The LDP was an amalgam of big-government bureaucratic socialists and businessmen created essentially to keep the real flag-waving socialists out of power. There were factions within the LDP whose members hated each other (and there still are), and who had radically different ideas about policy. But the multi-member electoral system meant that competing members in the same party could run against each other in general elections. It also meant that voters could often vote for the faction within the LDP that they liked the most over the others, giving people clear alternatives.

    This means that at any given time since 1955 there have been around five main factions in the LDP, and each of them has yielded ministers and prime ministers all with quite different outlooks and policy agendas. The party is best seen as historically an informal part of the system of government, rather than a private group that “feeds” into the formal political system.

    (Of course, if you read the books of certain authors, you would believe the bureaucracy ruled Japan so politics didn’t matter. Tell that to Fukuda Takeo and Tanaka Kakue when you see them in the next world.

    Why didn’t anybody want to change this? The LDP was pretty successful at keeping people in jobs until the 1990s – in other words, it did deliver. It was pretty responsive to certain demands, for example, those concerning lifestyle and the environment in the 1970s. Also, the same electoral system meant that radical parties only needed to obtain a fraction of the vote to get seats in the house. And the opposition was quite happy being radical, thank you very much, as long as they could prevent constitutional reform. That turned voters off, and the opposition didn’t care, because they knew that they would have to dump their ideological baggage if they ever got into power. Which they did, of course, in the 1990s.

    The game was over with electoral reform during that decade and the LDP factions have been battling each other over which faction or factions will bear the name of the party for good once the two party system really takes root.

    Anyway, because of factionalization and inter-party competition, there has pretty much been as much “change” in Japanese politics over the last fifty years as there has been in many other liberal democracies. In fact, Japan is not totally strange when you consider that parties in western “two party systems” have mostly converged around the center during that time.


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