Thoughts on GOJ Upper House Election July 11, 2010: A DPJ loss, but not a rout, regardless of what the media says.


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Hi Blog. As does every election (see some past entries here and here), we offer our assessment of what happened. All information is gleaned from the newspapers (Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri, and Doshin) that came out the next morning, with some analysis from looking at the hard numbers. I am not a politico or insider, just somebody with a healthy interest in the democratic process in Japan, putting his undergraduate Government degree to work:


The Upper House of Japan’s Diet (parliament) has a total of 242 seats. Half the UH gets elected every three years, meaning 121 seats were being contested this time. Of the ones not being contested, the ruling DPJ, which has held the majority of UH seats (through a coalition with another party) since 2007, had the goal of keeping that majority.  To do that, the DPJ had to win 55 seats plus one this time (since they already had 66 seats not being contested this election). The opposition parties (there are many, see below) had the goal of gaining 66 seats plus one (since 55 of theirs were not being contested this election) to take the UH majority back. Here’s how the numbers fell this morning after yesterday’s election:

DPJ won 44 (while their coalition partner lost all of theirs).
Non-DPJ won 77.

Totals now come up to 106 (a loss of ten) seats for the DPJ, meaning they lost their absolute Upper House majority, thanks to a coalition partner party (Kokumin Shintou) losing all their contested seats (three).  Thus the DPJ lost control of the Upper House.

However, this does not mean that somebody else assumes power of it.  Nobody is close to forming a Upper House majority, meaning there will be some coalition work from now on. Breaking down the numbers:

  • Ruling DPJ won 44 (a loss of ten seats).
  • The former ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP conservative status quo) won 51 seats, a total gain of 13.
  • Koumeitou (KMT a “Buddhist Party”, think the Mormons creating their own party in the US) won 9 seats, a loss of two.
  • Japan Communist Party (JCP) won three seats, a loss of one.
  • Shintou Kaikaku (a populist reform party made up of LDP defectors led by very popular Masuzoe Youichi) won one seat, a loss of four.
  • Shamintou (DSP, a left-wing party and former DPJ coalition member led by Fukushima Mizuho) won two seats, a loss of one.
  • Tachiagare Nippon (TAN, a fringe xenophobic right-wing party made up of LDP defectors) won one seat, breaking even.
  • Minna no Tou (MNT, a self-professed “entrepreneurial” party made up of LDP defectors) won ten seats, a gain of ten.
  • Kokumin Shintou (KMS, an erratic rightish party in the DPJ coalition) won no seats, a loss of three.
  • The Happiness Realization Party (a loony party founded by a religious cult) won nothing, again.
  • Unaffiliateds (i.e. no party affilation, independents) won no seats, a loss of one.


Hence somebody has to start power brokering to reach the majority of 121 plus one, since the second-strongest party, the LDP, now only has a total of 84 seats.  Even with its perennial coalition buddy, KMT, that’s still only 19 more.  Methinks (and only methinks) the biggest winner in this election MNT (eleven seats total) will probably join in with the LDP and KMT, but that still only adds up to 114.  Speculation is rife but inconclusive at this time.


DPJ lost this election, there’s no other spin to be had.  But it was not a rout like the media has been portraying (using words like taihai and haiboku — compare it with a real rout like the UH election of 2007 against the LDP, see here).  Consider this:

Number of electoral districts where DPJ came out on top where they weren’t on top before (in other words, electoral gains as far as DPJ is concerned):  None.

Number of electoral districts where DPJ stayed on top or kept their seat same as last election (in other words, no change for the worse): 22
(Oita, Kochi, Okayama, Nara, Mie, Shiga, Yamanashi, Hiroshima, Hyogo, Kyoto, Osaka, Gifu, Nagano, Aichi, Shizuoka, Tokyo, Ibaraki, Niigata, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, and Hokkaido).

Number of electoral districts where DPJ lost but lost there before anyway (in other words, the status quo of no electoral gains): 10
(Okinawa (the DPJ did not contest a seat there anyway, but the previous winner was Unaffiliated), Kagoshima, Yamaguchi, Shimane (although loser there was KST, a DPJ coalition partner), Ehime, Wakayama, Fukui, Toyama, Gunma, and Akita.)

Number of electoral districts where DPJ flat out won before but lost a seat this time (this is the bad news, electoral losses): 12
(Nagasaki, Saga, Kumamoto, Kagawa, Tokushima, Tottori, Ishikawa, Saitama, Tochigi, Chiba, Aomori, and Yamagata)

Conclusion:  The DPJ essentially held their own in a near-majority of contested electoral districts.  They did not gain much, but did not lose “big”.  In fact, in all multiple-seat constituencies, at least one DPJ candidate won (see below).


Here’s another spin:

As I said, many districts have multiple seats, and in every one at least DPJ candidate won. But the number of electoral districts where DPJ stayed on top, same as last election: 3
(Kyoto, Niigata and Fukushima)

Where they did not: 15
(Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Hyogo, Osaka, Nagano, Gifu, Aichi, Shizuoka, Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa (from two seats to one in each place), Saitama, Ibaraki, Miyagi, and Hokkaido.)

Source: Hokkaido Shimbun July 12, 2010, page 20.

However, if I were a DPJ spin doctor, I would say:  Most multiple constituencies had two DPJ candidates competing against one another (against only one LDP candidate, as in Hokkaido), and since they sucked the votes from each other, generally one DPJ won and one lost.  If only one DPJ candidate had run, then he or she would probably have come out total on top ahead of the LDP candidate, and there would not be so many second-place DPJ finishes.

The unquestionably biggest DPJ loss was Kanagawa, where they not only completely lost a seat to the upstart MNT, but also unseated was Chiba Keiko, the current Justice Minister, a proponent of separate surnames after marriage (fufu bessei) and an opponent of the death penalty. This is a big loss for the left wing of the already ideologically-fractious DPJ.


We have discussed here how certain parties were bashing foreigners to gain votes (it happened pretty hard in Renho’s district in Tokyo).  It didn’t work.  Renho won her district easily.  Moreover, the right-wing fringe parties (TAN, with racist leaders Hiranuma and Ishihara) only got one seat (and it was a celebrity — the DPJ did the same with “Yawara” Tani Ryoko) from the PR vote (if you can’t get one there, you’re pretty much useless as a party), meaning TAN is down one seat from before.  KMS, also a foreigner-bashing party, got no seats this time at all.  Hah.  Serves you right.

But anyway, the media is spinning this as a big loss, even though ruling parties (except the ones that have been governing for fifty years and have the power of precedent or no viable opposition party) generally lose a bit in midterm elections (because of an inevitable degree of voter alienation from, say, disappointed and defeated expectations, or from having to create winners and losers from their decisions).  This was no exception.  But the LDP once governed for years without the support of the Upper House (much weaker than the Lower House, which the DPJ still controls), so the DPJ can do the same.  I doubt the DPJ is taking LDP leader Tanigaki’s calls this morning for an immediate dissolution of the Diet and a full general election at all seriously.  I’m not.  Nothing revolutionary is coming out of this election.  ‘Cos the results aren’t that dramatic.  Despite what the media would have you believe.

All for now.  Insufficient sleep and a rotten result in the World Cup last night (what awful refereeing!), and this is the best I can come up with for now.  Additional thoughts from everyone else?  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

20 comments on “Thoughts on GOJ Upper House Election July 11, 2010: A DPJ loss, but not a rout, regardless of what the media says.

  • One other point which should be made: in the proportional representation vote where voters express a preference for a particular political party and that party is awarded seats on the basis of the preferential vote, the Democratic party won, hands down. It didn’t get a majority in this multiparty election, but it got far more support than any other party.

    NHK totally avoided showing either the proportional preference vote or the total number of house seats held at the end of the election process. If their reporting had been more fair, they would have noted that the Democratic party got more support in this election than any other party and that the Democratic party is still the largest bloc in the Upper House, (but not more than all ten other parties).

    My wife, who follows politics quite closely, and watched the returns through the evening, was totally unaware that the Democrats got more support than any other party (until I did the arithmetic). Election wrap-ups on NHK this morning did show that the Democratic party remains the largest bloc in the Upper House, but still did not show that the Democratic Party was the winner of the preference vote for proportional seats.

    — Yes, all the newspapers I got (Doshin, Asahi, Mainichi and Yomiuri) this morning headlined this as a “great defeat” (taihai or haiboku). I disagree.

  • The best aspect of this election, for me, was seeing the clip of Ishihara campaigning on top of Taizo Sugimura’s speaker truck, first forgetting Sugimura’s name and then telling him to shut up and stand in back. That was pretty hilarious on multiple levels–showcasing the classless idiocy of both.

  • jjobseeker says:

    Great article Debito. I was flipping around the channels to see the differences in coverage and to no surprise NTV, TBS, and a bit surprised, Fuji, were calling this an outright rout of the DPJ. But as you have mentioned, when you break down the numbers, though the DPJ lost overall, the gains by the other parties were minimal, especially for the LDP considering how much ad time they bought on all the networks and were still not able to unseat the DPJ from key urban areas. Their greatest victory was in 1 seat regional districts where they took 20 while the DPJ only took 8 (the numbers as of 11:30PM last night). I think the most interesting read is of course MNT who took 10 to become the 3rd largest party in the Upper House, yes, more than Komeito. But it shows, and MNT Head Watanabe stated this, that people tried of LDP, were disappointed by the DPJ, shifted over to MNT. It will be interesting to watch how the MNT’s momentum builds, or slows in the next year.

    And yes, we can rest assured that TAN only got one (too much for me personally). So, those guys should just go dig a hole and crawl under it because they’re done.

    — Actually, Koumeitou (19 seats total) is still the third-largest party in the Upper House (not Minna no Tou, with 11 seats total) when you add in the uncontested seats.


    But anyway, the media is spinning this as a big loss, even though ruling parties (except the ones that have been governing for fifty years and have the power of precedent or no viable opposition party) generally lose a bit in midterm elections (because of an inevitable degree of voter alienation from, say, disappointed and defeated expectations, or from having to create winners and losers from their decisions). This was no exception. But the LDP once governed for years without the support of the Upper House (much weaker than the Lower House, which the DPJ still controls), so the DPJ can do the same. I doubt the DPJ is taking LDP leader Tanigaki’s calls this morning for an immediate dissolution of the Diet and a full general election at all seriously. I’m not. Nothing revolutionary is coming out of this election. ‘Cos the results aren’t that dramatic. Despite what the media would have you believe.

  • […] With regards to the election impact, I agree that nothing revolutionary is coming out of this election, but probably in a different way than you mean. The reason that LDP “governed for years” without the support of the Upper House was because they enjoyed an unusual 2/3 majority in the Lower House, allowing them to override the Upper House bill rejections. With the loss of SDP as a coalition partner a while back, the current government does not enjoy such a supermajority in the Lower House. This means that the DPJ will have to make overtures to other parties to get bills passed, either as new coalition members or finding common ground on a bill-by-bill basis. There are no likely candidates for such cooperation at this time. So nothing revolutionary, or perhaps nothing at all, is likely to happen until the next Lower House election comes along (hopefully sooner than expected)

  • In the English language version of the 7 o’clock news broadcast this evening, NHK reported (twice) that “the LDP is now the largest party in the Upper House.” I don’t know if that was an intentional lie or just a bad translation. In the Japanese language it was correctly reported that the LDP won the largest portion of those seats which were up for grabs. No mention was made of the fact that the Democrats were still the largest bloc in the Upper House or that the the voters preferred the Democrats to the LDP in the party preference voting for the proportionate representation seats. In fact, the Democratic Party will hold more seats in the Upper House (106) than the former coalition partners, the LDP and the New Komeito party combined (103).

    Even so, the NHK reporting suggested that all the parties that are not DPJ will be united in opposition. Somehow, I doubt that the Communist party or the Social Democrats would support an LDP leader to preside over the Upper House.

  • Just wonder how much better it would have gone for the DPJ if Kan hadn’t mentioned anything about the consumption tax. Or if he could have at least repaired some of the damage and mentioned the possibility of not taxing food anymore. (Did he?)

    I have some Japanese friends who, though they have little love for the LDP either, they got us in this mess, see the DPJ as just a continuation of fiscal irresponsibility, except the DPJ will throw more money away on social engineering (cash for kids, free high school just for starters) than on construction projects. The main problem being construction programs can actually end, while social programs tend to require annual payments that increase without end. Social programs are also politically much harder to cancel. The DPJ is not the answer to the national debt problem, no matter how many petty billion yen in waste Renho exposes (and might not even be able to cancel anyway?)
    Kan is clearly financially ignorant (raising taxes on the rich AND the poor is going to boost the economy? Well, perhaps there will be a spike in consumption the days before a consumption tax increase.)
    “Tax is not a burden (on the people) but a contribution. If we consider appropriate (use of taxpayers’ money) with such a mindset, it will lead to economic growth.” -Naoto Kan as Finance Minister
    In theory the plan is boosting the economy with higher taxes to fund more nurses and doctors? Isn’t the shortage of people willing to become nurses and doctors in the first place the main problem there? How do doctors and nurses boost the economy beyond their personal spending? And doesn’t more medical providers just come back and mean a larger hit on national health spending?

    Oh well, when our taxes go up, remember, it’s not a tax, it’s a “contribution” and certainly we shouldn’t feel of it as any kind of burden!

    Let’s see how Minna no Tou does in the next election.

  • Re. #6:

    “This means that the DPJ will have to make overtures to other parties to get bills passed, either as new coalition members or finding common ground on a bill-by-bill basis.”

    And isn’t this revolutionary in a way? I think that the combination of these election results and last year’s only go to show that more people are becoming interested and forming an opinion about politics, whereas in the past it was really only the old rich families voting for the status quo over and over again. Now the DPJ is in power… but there’s a very real chance that next time, they won’t be. It’s not guranteed that the LDP will ever be back on top again either, and while I don’t actually know a lot about Minna no Tou, it’s interesting that so many people took a chance on a new party. This says, to me, that at least for the time being that whoever is in power is going to have to keep the voters’ opinions in mind and actually try to represent the people who voted them in… otherwise, those same people are going to vote for someone else next time. It says to me that Japan is becoming more of a true democracy, and whether you happen to like the party in power NOW or not, THAT has got to be a chance for the better.

  • Deepspacebeans says:

    So is the general consensus then that to maintain control over the upper house (as I believe the LDP coalition currently has them beat in seats given this latest election) that the DPJ might try courting a surprisingly strong Minna to Tou? Given the tendency of Watanabe to announce publicly that their political interests are fairly synchronized whenever he is given a chance to do so, it would seem to make sense.

    — NHK this morning reported Minna no Tou joining the opposition calls for the Diet’s dissolution and a general election. Of course, that’s politics. Things might change once a few carrots are dangled.

  • jjobseeker says:

    @Level3 (personal opinion ahead, not at being argumentative)
    I think taxes are a contribution…a responsibility, really, of the citizenship. It is the unreasonable taxation and/or misuse of these contributions that people are wary of. However, Japan has one of the lowest consumption taxes among the industrialized nations so a bump up shouldn’t be so troublesome if the government can guarantee and be open about where that goes. And I would have to disagree that construction projects end. There have been and are still many cases of construction projects progressing at a snails pace because there’s no incentive for them to finish… as long as the construction company (probably run by an amakudari) is receiving public funds, they just keep building and building. I remember some time ago on Super Morning, they had a segment comparing highway projects in England and Japan that showed the two projects started around the same time; the one in England finished on time 2 or 3 years later…the one in Japan at the time of broadcast was still unfinished (nearing 10 years), and had run up costs 3-4 times that of the English counterpart.

    That’s why the citizens are wary of taxes. But recent polls showed that close to half the voters are willing to talk about it. Taxes are not a bad thing when used properly. On another program last week (Fuji TV I believe it was), there was a segment trying to explain the issue of consumption taxes and how the might be used. A chart was brought up showing the tax rates of different countries indicating some European and Nordic countries with taxes as high as 20%. Then, they brought up a chart showing survey results of the level of “contentment” and “peace of mind” of people in different countries. What you could see when comparing the two is that the countries with high taxes, but with well managed social programs practically corroborated exactly with countries with high levels of “contentment” among its citizens. By the way, of the 50 countries shown, Japan was in the low 40s on both charts…

    Anyway, yeah lots of calls for Kan to step down. Lots of little daimyos trying to knock the shogun out of the castle and many of the shogun’s own aids forming little cliques just in case he is. Man, Kurosawa couldn’t write a better movie about this stuff.

    Debito: don’t you think it’s interesting ever since the DPJ got in power all the attempts to have them removed from power? That probably means the DPJ’s rocking the boat enough to cause concern for the other parties… And in my book, that’s probably a good thing.

  • Japan has the world’s highest corporate taxes, and these taxes are “passed on” to consumer through higher prices for goods and services. The 40% corporate tax rate already acts as a massive consumption tax that hits consumers hard. Japan also has very high excise taxes that are hidden in the product prices. A consumption tax rise results in a tax on a tax, so huge boost in taxation happens since Japan is unlikely to lower any excise taxes.

    Real income for Japanese workers has barely risen, in recent years, and has been frozen or reduced in many cases. When real income is down, any tax raises will punish working people and their families. No amount of progressive taxation can help when real income is stagnant. Forcible income redistribution through taxes will simply destroy consumer spending and backfire. With Japan’s feeble economy, a tax raise will hurt honest workers and only benefit politicians.

    Instead of tax hikes, Japan could do more to bring jobs home, allow foreigners abroad who work for Japanese firms to have favorable immigration preference so they can bring skills and labor in, and do something to lower the sky-high cost of living that is punishing workers whose real income simply is not rising due to a large tax burden and a feeble economy.

  • “compare it with a real rout like the UH election of 1997 against the LDP”

    I guess you mean 2007?

    — I do. Thanks. Time is accelerating for me.

  • I look at it as another wake-up-call message from the electorate to the new government, to get on the ball with social reforms. People were not voting about the consumption tax as much as all the screwing around the DPJ did since October.

    Renho, in my distict, who is associated with the actual reform work that HAS been done, had a stellar result.

    Also, I think the election was more about Ozawa’s brand of politicking. The support out in the hinterland had more to do with his making promises out there in 2004 that the DPJ had no way to deliver on. The base of the DPJ is in metropolitan areas. The people in the far prefectures came to realize that just kicking the LDP again was not going to bring home the bacon, and so they were kinder to them this time. Moreso, when you have Komeito units encouraging support for LDP in the district vote (Komeito as proportional, LDP for the district seat).

  • Irish Times falls for it. Sigh.

    Japan faces political gridlock after drubbing of ruling party
    DAVID McNEILL in Tokyo
    Irish Times, Tue, Jul 13, 2010

    CHAOS, REVOLT and policy gridlock – newspapers and pundits yesterday spelt out the painful implications of Japan’s weekend election, which has left Naoto Kan’s job in doubt just 33 days since he moved into the prime minister’s office.

    Mr Kan’s Democrats (DPJ) have lost control of the upper house after voters punished the party for a series of missteps in what was essentially a referendum on its 10-month rule. It is surely one of the shortest honeymoons in Japanese parliamentary history.

    Worse for Mr Kan, the result has brought the party’s conservative Liberal Democrat (LDP) rivals juddering back to life after they were tossed out of power and declared a political corpse in last year’s historic lower house poll…

    Rest at

  • jjobseeker says:

    Robert brought up something that I thought was quite interesting and had to look into:

    “The next step would be to lower the effective corporate tax rate as part of comprehensive reforms that would also include the consumption tax. There would be a need to cover any revenue shortfalls resulting from a lower effective corporate tax burden, so any adjustments would have to be considered in conjunction with discussions of a consumption tax hike.”

    is quoted from here which makes for interesting (and very germane) reading:

    While it mostly corroborates what Robert says, I personally think that prices are high in Japan primarily of the smaller market to which Japanese companies sell to. The practically identical corporate taxes in the U.S. and Japan (except in the key point of the effective tax rate), but vastly different pricing in the two countries or in the EU for that matter, is indicative of this in my opinion. That combined with various ways corporations can write off or deduct how much they actually pay still leaves the problem of shortfalls in tax revenues.

    Of course, it is still a matter of where those revenues are going….

    Thanks Robert for bringing this up and making me look at the situation in greater detail.

  • Hi Debito, thanks as always for posting my articles and for the always stimulating debate I find on here. On the IT piece you’ve pasted above, as I said on Facebook, we basically have no control over the headlines put on our stories by copyeditors. I don’t think the substance of the article is that different to your analysis. Am I wrong? Best, d

    — Hi David. Thanks for caring about what we think. I’ll provide a critique here (in place of this text) in a few hours. Thanks again. Debito

    UPDATE: Hi again David. Thanks for your comment. Please let me critique the article in full. Your article in regular text. My comments in boldface and italic, same as this:

    Japan faces political gridlock after drubbing of ruling party – The Irish Times – Tue, Jul 13, 2010

    CHAOS, REVOLT and policy gridlock – newspapers and pundits yesterday spelt out the painful implications of Japan’s weekend election, which has left Naoto Kan’s job in doubt just 33 days since he moved into the prime minister’s office.

    I don’t think Kan’s job is in any doubt. This was not a landslide, or a “drubbing” (not your choice of words, I know) even close to what happened to Abe back in 2007. Kan said he would be staying, according to the networks, not an hour after the polls closed. And as history shows, one need not have majorities in both Houses in order to carry on an administration. It’s a hyperbolic statement.

    Mr Kan’s Democrats (DPJ) have lost control of the upper house after voters punished the party for a series of missteps in what was essentially a referendum on its 10-month rule. It is surely one of the shortest honeymoons in Japanese parliamentary history.

    This is historically inaccurate. There have been prime ministers who have lasted much less time. Hata and Uno, for two, whose administrations were mere weeks long. And the presumption that there would be “a honeymoon” after Kan got in is a bit too strong and unreflective of the more complicated realities of politics in Japan. Politician bashing is a huge sport in this country, so a “honeymoon” for a new and unelected leader facing the scrutiny of an election so quickly, with such high expectations for tangible results placed on the DPJ, was never really feasible.

    Worse for Mr Kan, the result has brought the party’s conservative Liberal Democrat (LDP) rivals juddering back to life after they were tossed out of power and declared a political corpse in last year’s historic lower house poll.

    I think this is an overstatement. The seats that the DPJ lost were essentially seats the LDP lost under Abe last election. They have been safe LDP seats for generations. But Abe was such a tosser that they decided to go anyone-but-LDP last time. This time they reverted back to form, back to LDP, when they for the most part voted anyone-but-DPJ. What juddered into life is a new third opposition party, Minna no Tou, which did not even get a mention in this article. In sum, it was defectors from the LDP who made out best in this election. I know you haven’t the space to get into this much depth, but falling for the NHK boilerplate that the LDP won at the expense of the DPJ is not accurate. With the LDP shedding so many members into new fringe parties, neither the election nor its results were simply DPJ vs LDP.

    The LDP took 51 of the 121 seats up for grabs – 13 more than it had before the election, while the Democrats won 44, losing 10. “I believe the first step toward our party’s rebirth has been made,” LPD ruler Sadakazu Tanigaki said after the results came in.

    Okay. But again, see above. I think we could have a little more analysis than just quoting Tanigaki. Politics, as you know, is the art of perception, and we’ve just promoted the LDP’s perception only. As you know, we have a lot more variety within Japanese politics.

    DPJ junior partner People’s New Party, meanwhile, has emerged empty-handed, forcing the government to begin scrambling for another coalition ally.

    The government lost its other junior partner, the Social Democrats, in June after they resigned en masse in protest at a decision to allow a new US base to be built in the southern prefecture of Okinawa.

    No beef with the above two paragraphs, of course.

    Sunday’s result is a disaster for a party that has promised radical economic and political reform. Although the upper house is far weaker than the lower chamber, it has the power to block all but the most important Bills. Mr Kan needs both houses onside if he is to achieve his pledges to transform government and pull the country out of a fiscal nosedive.

    It is not “a disaster.” The Upper House coalitions have not been decided yet, and the DPJ may end up with control still. Not only is this hyperbolic, it is not really news — it’s forecasting the news that hasn’t happened yet. “… may be a disaster” would be more accurate, but I think this article should have more analysis looking more clearly at the political trends depicted by exact numbers, as I did in my blog entry above.

    Just after taking office on June 8th, he warned that the country’s enormous national debt – nearly 200 per cent of gross domestic product – could throw the country’s roughly $5-trillion economy into a Greek-style crisis.

    The warning was meant to concentrate minds: unlike Greece, Japan’s dept is held domestically. But many analysts believe the threat of implosion in the world’s second-largest economy is real enough, given its spluttering growth and the ballooning costs of propping up Japan’s greying society – over five million are set to retire this year and next.

    Okay, no issues with these two paragraphs, of course. Background for the overseas reader.

    Unfortunately, voters did not warm to Mr Kan’s proposed solution: a long-mooted hike in consumer tax from five to 10 per cent. Few believed his assurances that the tax would not punish the poor, a fact he acknowledged yesterday. “My lack of explanation about (the tax) was a big factor (in the disappointing outcome).”

    There is plenty more at play behind the loss of seats. It was not only one issue of taxes. There is the hangover image of the DPJ as indecisive and unfulfilling of its manifesto, the often hostile media (NHK neglected to report that in the total PR vote, the DPJ still came out on top) that attacks any dismantlers of the status quo, and just the unrealistic expectations placed upon a viable opposition party actually in power for the first time in generations — with the ability to affect real change — coupled with the disappointment that follows in a populace when they don’t see change happening instantly (or can’t see how the system, so used to the LDP’s machinations, gets in the DPJ’s way of change). I know this is a lot to squeeze into a small article, but it would have been nice to see some more sophistication reflected in the writing rather than just to make this election seem like a one-issue, two-party election. It wasn’t.

    With gridlock looming in the upper house, the prime minister must now go back to the electorate and persuade them to surrender more of their declining income. “In 10, 20, or 30 years from now, I hope the public will see this government as the defining factor that began rebuilding Japan’s economy,” he said at the weekend.

    I have no issue with this.

    Mr Kan must also face down protests against the US base on Okinawa, the political graveyard of his predecessor Yukio Hatoyama, and deal with the inevitable fallout for Japan’s military alliance with the US.

    Not sure that’s exactly looming quite yet, but anyway, it’s not all that related to this election.

    He will have to avoid the inevitable political daggers within the DPJ ahead of a September leadership election, while keeping his eye on the Democrat’s key agenda: wrestling control from the bureaucrats who have run Japan for over half a century.

    I have no issue with this.

    Not surprisingly, pundits are measuring the political coffin of Japan’s fifth leader since 2006, and wondering who will be sixth.

    And it sounds as if you are one of those pundits. Again, the election and what it is a bellwether of is a bit more complex. I wished this article had shown a bit more analysis of the finer print of the results, as I did in my blog entry above. As is, it sounds like something that was a report of how the Japanese media reported it and how the pundits interpreted it. That’s fine, but that is what should be indicated as the subject, not merely alleged trends reported as factual. A disaster is simply not what this election was for the DPJ. Sorry. Thanks for asking my opinion. Debito

  • Hi Debito,

    Many thanks for this and I do indeed take your criticism constructively. The obvious general point here made repeatedly by daily journalists is blogs have a lot more time and space to deal with the issues you mention – we have an hour or two at best to sum up these events to foreign readers who often care a lot less about the political details than you or I do. I hope that doesn’t sound like an excuse for bad reporting, just a flick to the reality of newspaper writing and the pared down style (the two-party scenario for example) sometimes employed.

    Well, I guess we’ll have to wait for what emerges long-term from the election. I take my cues from the local press and punditry, and the statements released to NHK and other media quoting DPJ insiders. That made it clear that there are now dissenters within the DPJ who want Kan to “take responsibility” for the election result. The fact that newspapers carried out polls this week asking if Kan’s job is safe strongly suggests that I didn’t conjure that story of thin air.

    I’ll accept your point on my lack of analysis about non DPJ-LDP parties – see above. But I think the LDP results surprised some people, certainly Tanigaki himself, who pledged to resign if he didn’t win more seats. My understanding now is that unless Kan can pull together a coalition – with all the potential for friction that entails – he will struggle with his legislative agenda. As we know from the Obama case, and Hatoyama – the window to carry out unpopular or radical reforms closes very quickly. He seems to have missed it.

    I disagree that my statement calling this “one of the shortest honeymoons in Japanese politics” is inaccurate. Of course there have been shorter, but the fact is Kan has been in power for about a month and he has suffered a poll defeat which means he is now in a real fight for his job.

    Hyperbolic? Hmm, well as I say, let’s see. I got into trouble predicting Koizumi’s political trajectory but called it right most times since. Like you, I’d like to see Kan succeed and shake things up, but from my perspective it is clear that he is now swimming against the tide.

    Thanks again,

  • John (Yokohama) says:

    Here is something to bear in mind when looking at election results in Japan:

    “EDITORIAL: Wide disparity in votes”

    “An election system flaw once again has produced distorted results. The Upper House election underscored the wide disparity in the weight of votes.

    The gap in the weight of votes among electoral districts was greatest at 5.01 to one between Kanagawa and Tottori prefectures.

    A Democratic Party of Japan candidate who scored 690,000 votes lost in Kanagawa Prefecture, while a Liberal Democratic Party candidate won in Tottori Prefecture with fewer than 160,000 votes.

    Candidates who garnered more than 500,000 votes lost in Osaka, Hokkaido, Tokyo, Saitama and Aichi prefectures.

    By comparison, a candidate who received under 140,000 votes won in Kochi Prefecture, where the weight of a vote was the greatest.

    Candidates with 200,000 or fewer votes also won in Tokushima, Yamanashi and other prefectures. The “inequality of the value of votes” is evident.

    In addition, the comparison between total votes received in all electoral districts and the number of seats won shows the seriousness of the situation.

    The DPJ won 28 seats with 22.7 million votes, while the LDP got 39 seats with about 19.5 million votes.

    The DPJ received a large number of votes in urban areas where the weight of votes is “light,” whereas the LDP won seats in less populated single-seat districts where the weight of votes is “heavier.”

    The distortion between the number of votes and seats won is perhaps the most negative effect of the disparity in the weight of votes.

    The LDP gathered fewer votes than the DPJ in both electoral districts and proportional representation. The results make us wonder whether the party can be called the real winner of the election.

    How much longer will the Upper House sit back and do nothing to rectify this flaw?

    The reform implemented in 2006 to increase a total of four seats in two electoral districts and decrease the same number of seats in two other districts ended up as a stopgap measure.

    An Upper House reform council consisting of different parliamentary groups originally planned to come up with a proposal last year but postponed it and hopes to reach a conclusion in time for the next Upper House election to be held in 2013.

    The disparity should be rectified as soon as possible.

    However, as long as electoral districts are decided based on prefecture, experience shows that a satisfactory level of “equality” will be difficult to realize because the difference in population is too great. Tampering with numbers alone will not solve the problem.

    Incidentally, high courts around the country have handed down “unconstitutional” or “virtually unconstitutional” rulings against the results of last year’s Lower House election, in which the disparity topped two to one in single-seat constituencies.

    Concerns are growing that the Diet could become dysfunctional again, with each of the two houses dominated by ruling and opposition parties, respectively.

    A comprehensive solution should be sought after analyzing the variety of problems the Diet faces.

    The election system for the Upper House needs to be drastically re-examined in relation to the way the Lower House ought to be. At the same time, the division of roles between the two houses should be reconsidered from square one.

    In the process of advancing such an overhaul, we need to come up with the wisdom to address the problem of equality in the value of votes.

    Right now, many lawmakers are only calling for reducing the number of seats. Their determination could be lauded, but they appear to be lacking an overall perspective.

    Six years have passed since a Supreme Court justice said that expecting the Diet to rectify the disparity is “tantamount to waiting a century for a muddy river to clear.”

    The only way to deal with the situation is for the government to immediately set up an expert election system council that can draw up a concrete plan from an independent viewpoint. The next Upper House election in 2013 will be here in no time.”

    –The Asahi Shimbun, July 15


    朝日新聞 社説 2010年7月15日



















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