Monthly Archives: August 2009

Election Preview: Japan 2009

Japan goes to the polls exactly one week from today – on August 30, 2009 – to elect the 480 members of the Japanese lower house, the House of Representatives or Diet. The lower house is more powerful than its counterpart, the House of Councillors. For example, the Diet can overturn a negative vote in the upper house by a two-thirds majority and, in addition, the upper house can only delay but not block the passage of a treaty, budget or the election of the Prime Minister.

The House of Representatives has 480 members, 300 of which are elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies while the remaining 180 are elected by proportional representation in 11 electoral blocks. The 180 PR seats are known as the “block seats” as opposed to the FPTP “local seats”. This system passed in 1994 and was first used in 1996. Prior to that, Japan elected all members of the lower house by SNTV, a rather rare electoral system.  SNTV lives on in some local elections in Japan.

The current Japanese political scene is dominated by two major parties, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Democratic Party (DPJ). The Liberal Democratic Party, which has been in power with few interruptions since 1955, when it was founded by the merger of the Liberal and Democratic parties to oppose the left-wing opposition, the Japanese Socialist Party (JSP) and the Communist Party (JCP). The LDP, a right-wing conservative party is a coalition of big business interests, small businesses, agricultural, urban professionals and lobbyists of all sorts. This coalition is a major reason why the LDP is well known for its culture of corruption at all levels. The DPJ was founded in 1998 by various small anti-LDP parties, and the DPJ quickly supplanted the older Socialists as the main opposition to the LDP. The DPJ has little in the way of ideology, and it is more of a big tent party for everybody opposed to the LDP. That means, it can include genuine reformists who are opposed to the corruption and patronage system, but also former LDP politicians who lost out in leadership battles in the LDP. However, I suppose the DPJ could be classified as a centrist liberal party, with social democratic and more neoliberal factions.

The LDP’s eternal coalition partner is the New Komeito Party (NKP), which is a Buddhist-influenced social conservative, but pretty centrist outside of its clericalism.

The Communist Party (JCP) is Japan’s only party which existed before World War II, being founded in 1922. The JCP is strongly supportive of Japan’s constitutionally-mandated neutrality and is opposed to American presence in Japan. However, the JCP is a mainstream left-wing party, being historically opposed to the Soviet Union (its opposition to the USSR prevented it from going the way of irrelevance like most pro-Moscow Communist parties did in Europe). The JCP runs candidates in almost all local seats and it also often provides the sole alternative in gubernatorial elections in which the major parties back a common candidate to ensure that both are in the ruling coalition.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) is the the piteous remains of the old Socialist Party, formed mostly by the Socialist Party’s old left-wing. The marginalized SDP is quite left-wing, considered by some to be to the left of the JCP.

A flurry of new parties have been appearing recently, most of them being right-wing parties formed by the LDP dissidents, many of which were opposed to former LDP Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Japan Post privatization (which led to the 2005 snap election). These personalist parties, which are all People’s parties and all New, include the People’s New Party (PNP – the strongest of them), the New Party Nippon (NPN) and the New Party Daichi (NPD).

The results of the snap 2005 election, called by Koizumi, after his drive to privatize Japan’s postal service failed in the upper house, are shown below. The PV results are from the proportional vote.

LDP 38.2% (+3.3%) winning 296 seats (+60)DPJ 31.0% (-6.4%) winning 113 seats (-64)
New Komeito 13.3% (-1.5%) winning 31 seats (-3)
Communist Party 7.3% (-0.4%) winning 9 seats (±0)
SDP 5.5% (+0.3%) winning 7 seats (+1)
People’s New Party 1.7% winning 4 seats
New Party Nippon 2.4% winning 1 seat
New Party Daichi 0.6% winning 1 seat
Independents winning 18 seats (+1)
LDP-New Komeito 51.5% (+1.8%) 327 seats (+57)

In the vote for the 300 local seats, the LDP won 48% of the vote against 36.4% for the DPJ and 7.2% for the JCP. The LDP won 219 seats against a mere 52 for the DPJ, 18 for the New Komeito, 18 for other parties and 1 for the SDP. A map of this lopsided result is shown below:

Japan 2005

Overall, the LDP and New Komeito won 68% of the seats, assuring them a “super-majority” in the lower house – or the two-thirds of the seats required to override upper house opposition. Koizumi remained Prime Minister until September 2006, at which time Shinzo Abe became Prime Minister, a post he held for exactly one year. Yasuo Fukuda succeeded him, but he resigned about a year later leading to the election of the Catholic (quite rare in Japan) conservative traditionalist Taro Aso as Prime Minister. Shinzo Abe presided over the LDP’s defeat in the 2007 upper house election, in which the DPJ won nearly 40% of the vote against 28% for the LDP.

The LDP and the New Komeito seem likely to keep their coalition together, though New Komeito suggested in past years that it is open to working with the DPJ too. The DPJ’s coalition includes the SDP, the PNP, and Your Party – another recent LDP splinter. The DPJ, despite some tough times recently due to a leadership crisis and the honeymoon period for new Premiers (which didn’t last – Aso has a 70-65% disapproval rating) is on track to win an historic victory next week, winning a landslide and defeating the LDP. It is very likely the LDP-led coalition will also lose the popular vote to the DPJ, which is also quite historic. Polls give the DPJ around 40-45% in opinion polls, far ahead of the LDP, which is between 20 and 25% in polls. Seat projections agree that the DPJ is heading for a landslide win, probably with a majority. Most numbers for the DPJ seem to be in the 300 range, which would give them a large majority (241 seats is a bare majority). In the local seats, the DPJ could win over 200 of the 300 local seats, therefore repeating the 2005 election local results – but the other way around. This swing seems to be quite universal, including in the LDP’s rural strongholds but also in major cities.

Observing Japan, an excellent source for analysis, predicts that the DPJ will win 297 seats (-184) against 159 (-137) for the LDP. It also predicts the New Komeito will win a bare 15 (half of its 2005 result), the JCP and PNP 7 each (a loss of 2 for the Communists but a gain of 3 for the PNP), the SDP 5 seats (-2), Your Party 3 seats, LDP Independents 3 seats and the remaining DPJ-affiliated others two seats. This would give the DPJ’s coalition 314 seats, short of the two-thirds majority – which would be barely attainable with LDP Independent and Communist support. Yukio Hatoyama, the leader of the DPJ, is therefore the most likely Prime Minister. Definitely, a new era seems to be coming in Japan, with the government having a clear mandate for change – unlike in 1993.

Election Preview: Saarland, Saxony, Thuringia 2009

Three German states are holding state elections to the Landtag on August 30, five years after the last elections in those states. Two of these states are in the former East Germany, Saxony and Thuringia will the other, Saarland (Sarre in French) is located along the French and Luxembourgian border. Saarland is Germany’s smallest state and only became part of West Germany in 1956 (Saar is the German version of Alsace-Moselle, alternating in the past between France and Germany).

All of these states are governed by the Christian Democratic Union (which is the senior governing party federally, of course) and two (Saarland and Thuringia) are homogeneous governments consisting only of the CDU. Saxony, like the federal government, is governed by a CDU-Social Democrat (SPD) grand coalition. Saarland is governed by the CDU alone since 1999, prior to that it was governed by a homogeneous SPD government since 1985. The Minister-Presidents of Thuringia and Saxony have been members of the CDU since re-unification, although coalitions were not always homogeneous – although both states had ‘single-party governments’ at various times.

Saarland

Saarland, the smallest state in Germany, is an industrial region of and is a very important coal producing area. However, the Saar is also strongly Catholic (though there are, of course, Protestant enclaves). Saarland remains dominated by the CDU and SPD with the liberal FDP and Greens unable to make any major breakthroughs to this date. Partly because there aren’t enough wealthy people (FDP) or big cities (Greens). The state is also home to Oskar Lafontaine, who was the SPD Minister-President between 1985 and 1998. Lafontaine is one of the major figures of the newish Left Party, which he founded with the East German-based post-communist PDS in 2007. Lafontaine was a member of the SPD’s left-wing until he left, but he has significant electoral clout in Saarland to this day. In fact, the state was the Linke.PDS’ best West German state in the 2005 federal election (18.5% on the second vote) partly due to the fact that Lafontaine was in fact a candidate. The party won only 12% in the European elections, probably because Lafontaine was not the standard-bearer.

The results of the 2004 election:

CDU 47.5 (+2.0) winning 27 seats (+1)
SPD 30.8 (-13.6) winning 18 seats (-7)
Greens 5.6 (+2.4) winning 3 seats (+3)
FDP 5.2 (+2.6) winning 3 seats (+3)
NPD (Nazis) 4.0 winning 0 seats (nc)

The PDS won 2.3%, trailing the Nazis and the Saarland-based Family Party (conservative).

Polling is sparse in sparsely populated Saarland, the last poll from Infratest Dimap on April 22… before the Euros… so, perhaps not the best picture for now. Here is the poll applied to election.de’s seat calculator.

CDU 36% winning 20 seats (-7)
SPD 27% winning 15 seats (-3)
Left 18% winning 9 seats (+9)
FDP 9% winning 4 seats (+1)
Greens 7% winning 3 seats (nc)

The CDU obviously loses its overall majority, falling over 10% from 2004. A CDU-FDP coalition is also short of a majority (24, 26 needed for a majority). The only options are a CDU-led Grand Coalition, obviously; or a SPD-Greens-Left coalition. While the SPD and the Left are in government together in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, such a coalition is unknown to West Germany (though it almost was realized in Hesse in 2008 before SPD dissidents blocked a majority forcing an early election).

Saxony

Saxony isn’t the type of land you would see electing a Christian Democratic (aka Catholic) government in the context of German politics (Saxony is/was Protestant and is heavily de-Christianized), but voting patterns in the East are much less rigid and based around personalities. The CDU in Saxony had Karl Biedenkopf. Historically, Saxony was the early base of German socialism (or atleast, anti-establishment opposition), and the SPD won some of its first electoral victories here in the 1870s and it was the base of the Communist Party (KPD) during the Weimar era (along with neighboring Thuringia). The SPD tradition was destroyed by the Nazis and the Stasi State, and ironically, Saxony is now one of the SPD’s weakest states – along with Bavaria. However, the PDS/Linke does well here, as in the rest of the GDR. The 2004 resulted in the CDU losing its overall majority, due to Biedenkopf retiring. In addition, the neo-Nazi NPD won 12 seats here. The NPD is strong in East Germany, where protest voting is very high.

CDU 41.1 (-15.8) winning 55 seats (-21)
PDS (Left) 23.6 (+1.4) winning 31 seats (+1)
SPD 9.8 (-0.9) winning 13 seats (-1)
NPD (Nazis) 9.2 (+7.8) winning 12 seats (+12)
FDP 5.9 (+4.8) winning 7 seats (+7)
Greens 5.1 (+2.5) winning 6 seats (+3)

The latest poll was released today, August 12.

CDU 39% winning 49 seats (-6)
Left 19% winning 24 seats (-7)
SPD 15% winning 19 seats (+6)
FDP 12% winning 15 seats (+8)
Greens 6% winning 7 seats (+1)
NPD 5% winning 6 seats (-6)

The CDU-SPD Grand Coalition keeps its majority, but a CDU-FDP coalition is now possible on these numbers. The CDU would prefer working with the FDP presumably, making a CDU-FDP coalition more likely.

Thuringia

Thuringia, like Saxony isn’t the type of land you would see electing a Christian Democratic (aka Catholic) government in the context of German politics (Thuringia is/was Protestant and is heavily de-Christianized – however there is a Catholic enclave in NW Thuringia which is heavily CDU), but voting patterns in the East are much less rigid and based around personalities. The CDU Minister-President, Dieter Althaus, made headlines by accidentally killing a Slovenian woman while skiing in Styria (Austria).

CDU 43.0 (-8.0) winning 45 seats (-4)
PDS (Left) 26.1 (+4.8) winning 28 seats (+7)
SPD 14.5 (-4.0) winning 15 seats (-3)
FDP 3.6 (+2.5) winning 0 seats (nc)
Greens 4.5 (+2.6) winning 0 seats (nc)

The latest poll was released today, August 12. Do note that Others are 7%, and a Forsa poll on July 29 polled the NPD at 3% support. I don’t think that the Nazis or any other little joke will get in.

CDU 34% winning 32 seats (-17)
Left 24% winning 23 seats (-1)
SPD 20% winning 19 seats (nc)
FDP 9% winning 8 seats (+8)
Greens 6% winning 6 seats (+6)

A CDU-FDP coalition lacks a majority, making a CDU-SPD Grand Coalition the likeliest outcome. Of course, there is theoretically a Left-SPD-Green coalition, but it’s rather doubtful such a thing will happen under a Left Minister-President, though it could under a SPD Minister-President, if the Left wants that (not sure about that myself).

On a side note, massive posts on the German federal elections on September 27 will commence soon.

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