Japan House of Councillors 2010

121 of the 242 seats in Japan’s upper house, the House of Councillors, were up for re-election on July 11. The House of Councillors, colloquially known as the upper house or the Senate, was created to be a respectable and conservative counterbalance to the House of Representative, which used to be more populist and radical in its political outlook. That role, however, disappeared long ago as the House became the base of the elected aristocracy of the old Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The House of Councillors, which became largely packed with representatives of the LDP’s various interest groups (doctors, lawyers, farmers and so forth), thus lost its raison d’etre and off-year elections to the upper house became the electorate’s way of punishing the ruling party (aka, the LDP) though they ended up sticking with it in elections to the lower house.

In 2009, when Japan was last covered on this blog, change and hope had come to Japan in the person of Yukio Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) which ousted the archaic and corrupt LDP machine from power in a headline-making election. There was much hope and high expectations for the DPJ as the LDP was ousted from power, some even thought it spelled the end of the LDP as a political party. It was not to be. Hatoyama himself got caught up in party financing scandals, reminiscent of the old LDP, and his handling of the Okinawa American air base was particularly incompetent and harshly criticized. In the context of it all, it was not at all surprising and people should have seen it coming the day the DPJ won the 2009 election. We were all too blinded by the enthusiasm and hope sparked by the LDP’s defeat to see that the DPJ’s landslide was the product of hard work by one man, Ichirō Ozawa, who was the DPJ’s secretary-general when the party won the 2009 election. Ozawa, a former Liberal Democrat who joined the DPJ after losing a factional fight in the LDP, is a shadowy and mysterious man who spent around four years rebuilding the DPJ after it had lost the 2005 election in a landslide to the wildly popular Junichiro Koizumi. Ozawa’s strategy was to make the DPJ a LDP-like party in terms of its base, by pandering to the interest groups and bureaucrats who dominate Japanese politics. His effort paid off, and the DPJ won the 2007 upper house ballot and then the 2009 election in a landslide. Ousted from the DPJ’s actual leadership in May 2009, he rigged the leadership ballot in favour of Hatoyama who was more than pleased to give Ozawa the office of secretary-general and carte blanche to continue his efforts to transform the DPJ into a corrupt archaic personal and patronage vehicle like the DPJ. Hatoyama’s downfall in June also killed Ozawa, who stepped down as well. Naoto Kan replaced Hatoyama as Prime Minister, and there was much hope about Kan in that he was a centrist and intelligent figure who immediately sidelined Ozawa and was set to reestablish the DPJ as the honest party of yesterday. But he gaffed right before these elections in announcing a hike in the consumption tax, a very bad gaffe which gave voters a reason a vote on July 11: voting against the DPJ’s tax hike.

The House of Councillors has power to block legislation (except budgets, treaties or designation of the Prime Minister), though the lower house can override with a two-thirds majority. Since a two-thirds majority in the lower house is increasingly rare (the DPJ lost its lower house super majority when the Social Democrats left cabinet earlier this year), the upper house actually does wield some power. Its members, elected to fix six-year terms, are renewed by halves every three years. In 2007, the DPJ, then in opposition, had won a major victory over the governing LDP and did manage to block some legislation between 2007 and its 2009 victory in the lower house. This year, 73 FPTP-type seats called ‘prefectural seats’ were up in addition to 48 block seats elected by proportional representation. In all, 121 seats were up. Here are the results, and popular vote data is from the proportional list vote (compared to the 2007 list vote). Data is all from NHK.

DPJ 31.56% (-7.92%) winning 44 seats [28 prefectural and 16 block] for a total of 106 seats (-10)
LDP 24.07% (-4.01%) winning 51 seats [39 prefectural and 12 block] for a total of 84 seats (+13)
Your Party 13.6% (+13.6%) winning 1o seats [3 prefectural and 7 block] for a total of 11 seats (+10)
New Komeito 13.07% (-0.11%) winning 9 seats [3 prefectural and 6 block] for a total of 19 seats (-2)
Japanese Communist Party 6.10% (-1.38%) winning 3 seats [3 block] for a total of 6 seats (-1)
Social Democratic Party 3.83% (-0.65%) winning 2 seats [2 block] for a total of 4 seats (nc)
Sunrise Party 2.11% (+2.11%) winning 1 seat [1 block] for a total of 3 seats (nc)
New Renaissance Party 2.01% (+2.01%) winning 1 seats [1 block] for a total of 2 seats (-4)
People’s New Party 1.71% (-0.44%) winning 0 seats for a total of 3 seats (-3)
Parties winning no seats and not recorded in the popular vote results:
Happiness Realization Party winning 0 seats for a total of 1 seat (nc)
Independents and others winning 0 seats for a total of 3 seats (-2)
Government (DPJ+PNP+1 Ind) 33.27% (-7.48%) winning 44 seats for a total of 110 seats (-13)

Turnout was roughly 58%, down around 11% since 2009. Not a great turnout, but not bad either.

The results saw a surprising rebuke of the DPJ, likely fueled by the unpopularity of the consumption tax hike proposed by Naoto Kan. The DPJ had a target of 54 seats, and it falls a whole ten seats short of that target. The government coalition has also lost its majority in the upper house, meaning that it will need around 12 more votes to have a narrow majority. That being said, the results are somewhat jumbled up by the LDP doing well in the direct seats, winning 11 more seats than the DPJ, the likely result of New Komeito voters voting LDP on the district vote because the New Komeito, which lost all direct seats in the 2009 election, ran only three candidates – though it still managed to elect all its candidates. On the list vote, however, the LDP, with only 24%, won its worst result on a list vote – even lower than in 2009 (26.7%). New Komeito held its ground well, and its rough electorate of 8 million remains more or less the same. The winner of the election is the ‘Your Party’, a personalist right-wing splitoff of the LDP. Two other recent LDP splitoffs, the New Renaissance and the right-wing Sunrise Party did rather poorly though both managed enough votes to win a block seat each. The PNP, originally a right-wing splitoff of the LDP, got decimated, likely as a result of its voters, likely right-leaning, abandoning the party in droves as a consequence of its alliance with the DPJ. The Social Democrats held their ground well, and the Communists bled some votes once again but lost only one seat.

The consequence of the results are depressing for both the LDP and DPJ. For the LDP, it extends the term of Sadakazu Tanigaki, the party’s new leader, supposedly a moderate but a member of the party’s old bigwigs above all. The party’s old bigwigs will use this electoral victory of sorts as an excuse to both block legislation from the lower house and also block any internal attempts, or at the very least, delay, generational change and reform within the LDP leadership. It seems that the LDP will be able to survive being in opposition despite being a party of power. For the DPJ, the result is an early setback for Naoto Kan and his anti-Ozawa secretary-general Yukio Edano. Ozawa’s faction could use this defeat as a reason to place obstacles in Kan’s course ahead of an internal presidential ballot scheduled for September. The DPJ’s bigwigs could again decide in September to dump Kan and start a new with a new leader who would be able to win a lower house election due in a bit more than three years. Such a change would likely mean that Ozawa’s clan would find its way back into power, and that the real reformist and centrist faction around Kan which is anti-Ozawa would lose power. The DPJ and Kan was hoping for a victory in this election would allow the government to have an easier time to pass the various reforms it aims to pass, but without an upper house majority, that task is much more difficult especially given how Your Party is not keen on working with the government (they learned from the PNP’s bad experience) and the JCP and SDPJ are at best unlikely allies. The New Renaissance and Sunrise guys would also be stupid to work with the DPJ unless they want to finish like the PNP. Hopefully Kan and the ruling anti-Ozawa faction will learn from its extremely stupid mistake of introducing an egregious tax right before a major election and will shelve any tax talk until 2013. That said, knowing Ozawa, he is unlikely to let it slide easily for Kan and his clan could brew trouble for the Prime Minister ahead of the DPJ’s presidential ballot scheduled for September.

Posted on July 13, 2010, in Japan. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Japanese parliamentary politics had always interested me, but I wonder why do they sack their party leader all the time?

    Is this a cultural thing due to the fact that the party leader must take blame for every decision?

  2. As far as I know about recent Japanese politics, PMs since Koizumi have all done a pretty crappy job and they fell victim to the rival faction or something. The LDP, which is/was a clientelistic party, is/was riven by factional divisions and lobbyists/interest groups. Ozawa’s done the same with the DPJ.

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