Category Archives: Japan

Tokyo (Japan) 2014

Gubernatorial elections were held in Tokyo (Japan) on February 9, 2014. Tokyo Prefecture (officially designated as the Tokyo Metropolis) has a population of over 13.1 million, spread out over the 23 ‘special wards’ of the former core city of Tokyo, 26 suburban cities, one rural district and four sub-prefectures including outlying islands in the Pacific (the Izu and Ogasawara Islands). The Tokyo Metropolitan area includes only part of the Greater Tokyo metropolis, which has a population of over 35 million people spread out over many prefectures, making it the largest metropolitan area in the world.

Tokyo is a prefecture with special powers. Unlike all other prefectures in Japan, Tokyo is administered by single-tier unitary government which combines the powers of Japanese prefectures with powers traditionally devolved to municipal governments. For example, in the 23 special wards, the metro government exercises traditionally municipal powers (waste management, water, fire prevention). Like in other prefectures, the government is built as a presidential system with a directly-elected Governor and directly-elected legislature. The Governor of Tokyo is elected to a four-year term by FPTP, although a new election takes place if the incumbent governor resigns or is forced from office: this gubernatorial election, like the last one in 2013, is a special election. The Governor is the head of the executive branch, which includes government departments and autonomous commissions. The Metropolitan Assembly is made up of 127 members elected to four-year terms, separately from the Governor, by SNTV (the last election was in 2013). The Assembly prepares and votes on legislation and decrees (the governor may also initiate legislation), sets the budget and confirms and oversees gubernatorial appointments. The Assembly, with a three-fourths majority and two-thirds quorum, may vote a motion of no confidence in the governor; in which case the governor then has ten days to dissolve the assembly or he will automatically be removed from office. If a newly-elected assembly after a gubernatorial dissolution again votes a motion of no confidence, the governor is removed from office. One third of registered voters may also initiate a recall vote against the governor, assembly (to dissolve it) and prefectural councillors, they may also initiate a popular initiative to pass or repeal an ordinance. Because of the special powers and expanded autonomy of the metro government, the Governor of Tokyo is considered as one of the most powerful politicians in Japan.

National Context

Japan’s natural governing party, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by Shinzō Abe, returned to power in December 2012 with a supermajority only three years after suffering a historic defeat at the hands of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). After years of a revolving-door prime ministership (six PMs came and went between 2006 and 2012, after LDP Prime Minister Jun’ichirō Koizumi – who had held the office since 2001 – resigned in 2006), politicians’ promises invariably amounting to little and a low-growth deflationary economy, Shinzō Abe’s government has been proving to be quite a change. Although Shinzō Abe’s first term as Prime Minister (2006-2007) is widely regarded as a failure, because he preferred to engage in nationalist sabre-rattling with China, since taking office in 2012, he has been surprising observers and proving uncannily popular.

Abe came out with a bold economic agenda – “Abenomics” – to finally turn Japan’s sluggish economy around. The first two ‘arrows’ of his Abenomics policy included a fiscal stimulus (¥10.3 trillion stimulus package, mostly on infrastructure and public works, to please the LDP’s powerful vested interests in construction) and a shift in monetary policy. In April 2013, the Bank of Japan set a 2% inflation target and launched a program of quantitative easing to reach it. The initial response was quite positive, both from voters and business: consumer and investor confidence is high, the Nikkei stock exchange reached its highest level since 2008, consumer prices increased, the yen depreciated (boosting exports) and economic growth reached impressive levels of 3-4% in the first two quarters of 2013. In July 2013, the LDP (and its traditional ally, the conservative Buddhist New Komeito Party, NKP) won the upper house elections, regaining an absolute majority in the House of Councillors and winning, along with the NKP, 49% of the vote overall. The DPJ, which has been in a state of decrepitude since getting trounced in December 2012, won only 13% of the vote.

After the upper house elections, there was major anticipation for the third ‘arrow’ of Abenomics: structural reforms. The Japanese economy has been bogged down by an aging population requiring ever-higher spending on social security and pensions; protected and uncompetitive economic sectors (agriculture, pharmaceuticals etc); and a tightly regulated labour market (with chaffing rules on staff dismissal, a very high corporate tax). The reforms announced by Abe in June 2013 fell short of expectations, proposing to create deregulated and low-tax zones, allowing the sale of drugs online and creating a third category of contract workers. However, in March 2013, Japan entered negotiations to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade pact which would require Japan to slash its high import tariffs on farm produce and opening up other protected industries. Although there has been significant opposition within the LDP and from its vested interests in agricultural cooperatives to the TPP, the party has been moving along with it and Japanese negotiators have said that they would consider lowering tariffs. The government wishes to check the power of powerful agricultural cooperatives which kept out new farmers, reviewing an old policy on rice cultivation (the gentan policy from 1969, which limits the number of acres devoted to rice, so domestic prices are kept high to benefit farmers and cooperatives; scrapping the policy would make prices fall and compete more effectively at home) and extending the length of part-time contracts. But there has been significant resistance or reluctance to move forward with the reforms: the health ministry and pharmacists blocked the government’s promise to lift the ban on online sales of over-the-counter medicines. In cabinet, several ministers are resistant to change and others disagree among one another over the next steps of Abenomics.

Economic growth slowed to 1.9% (annualized) in the third quarter of 2013 and was low in the fourth quarter as well (1%). Small businesses have been less optimistic than big businesses about Abenomics, and inflation appears to have risen because the depreciated yen makes fuel imports more expensive. To his credit, Abe gathered up the political willpower to move ahead with a planned increase in the consumption tax (loathed in Japan), from 5% to 8% (with plans to raise it to 10% in October 2015). The consumption tax hike, which is seen by the IMF and OECD to be necessary, was decided by Abe’s predecessor, the DPJ’s Yoshihiko Noda in December 2012 right before snap elections took place (at the time, the LDP backed the tax hike in return for a snap election); however, there was some skepticism about whether the LDP would actually do so because Abe had been sending conflicting signals. The last time Japan’s unpopular consumption tax was increased, in 1997, the economy floundered into recession (although the Asian financial crisis in 1997 was as much to blame) and LDP Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto was soon ousted. The issue of increasing the consumption tax, floated by Abe’s two DPJ predecessors, badly hurt the DPJ’s popularity and led to several splits in the party. In October, Abe announced that the tax hike would go ahead, mitigated by a temporary stimulus of ¥6 trillion to offset the tax increase. However, Abe’s calls on businesses to increase employee wages to support consumption fell on deaf hears.

Abe’s plans to turn Japan’s economy around have gone hand-in-hand with a nationalist foreign policy, seeking to reassert Japanese power in the region and challenge China’s rising might (China overtook Japan as the world’s second-largest economy in 2010). Abe has made a number of controversial statements about Japan’s past: his government includes many nationalists critical of Japan’s “apology diplomacy”; in April 2013, Abe questioned whether Japan’s wars in China and Asia from 1931 to 1945 could be defined as “aggression”; in May, a LDP boss said that Abe rejected the verdict of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. In late December 2013, Abe became the first Prime Minister since Koizumi in 2006 to visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where the spirits of 14 convicted war criminals are enshrined alongside other Japanese war dead. As was to be expected, China and South Korea strongly condemned the visit and the US expressed ‘disappointment’. The LDP wants to amend the constitution’s Article 9, which outlaws war, to allow for collective self-defense; for the time being, however, the LDP seemingly lacks the parliamentary two-thirds supermajorities in both houses to amend the constitution (which would then be put to a referendum). The LDP’s junior partner, the pacifist NKP, is thought to oppose amending Article 9. Indeed, the NKP’s leader criticized Abe for visiting Yasukuni Shrine, and relations between the NKP and LDP have been pretty bad.

Abe’s government ran into its first major challenge in November 2013, when the Diet passed an unpopular secrecy law which increases penalties for leaking widely defined ‘state secrets’ (presented by the LDP as necessary to strengthen national security, just as China declared a new air-defense zone in the East China Sea overlapping with Japan’s own zone). Under the new law, leaking state secrets will be punishable with ten years in jail, up from one year imprisonment. The LDP’s unpopular legislation sparked protests (orderly and very tame, in Japanese style) against the bill and a coalition of opponents including conservative groups (doctors, dentists), academics and filmmakers. LDP secretary-general Shigeru Ishiba added to the controversy when he compared the protesters to ‘terrorists’, leading the opposition to believe that the LDP will use broadly-defined ‘terrorism’ and ‘state secrets’ to crack down on anti-nuclear protesters opposing the LDP’s plans to reopen nuclear power plants closed down after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. After the secrecy bill controversy, Abe’s approval ratings fell below 50% (to 49%) for the first time since taking office and his disapproval ratings have increased to 30-35%. Nevertheless, these are still excellent approval ratings and the LDP’s hold on power is still unchallenged.

The Tokyo governorship

Tokyo’s governorship has attracted colourful personalities. Between 1947 and 1967, the office was held by conservative politicians backed by the LDP. However, in 1967, in the wake of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo (and issues related to that) and local corruption scandals, Ryokichi Minobe, backed by the Socialist Party (JSP) and Communist Party (JCP), won the governorship from the LDP-backed candidate. Serving until 1979, Minobe’s administration was interventionist, providing free medical care to the elderly and implementing anti-pollution and pro-pedestrian policies. Upon his retirement, he was succeeded by former Vice Governor Shunichi Suzuki, the candidate backed by the LDP. Suzuki held the office until 1995. In 1991, however, Suzuki was reelected as an independent after the national LDP, led by secretary-general Ichirō Ozawa, refused to endorse Suzuki’s bid for reelection. Suzuki was able to win reelection with the backing of local LDP leaders and the construction industry, which liked Suzuki’s lavish and wasteful spending on large infrastructure (one of the main issues was the construction of a huge new building for the administration in Shinjuku at the cost of over a billion dollars). When he retired, in 1995, he was succeeded by another independent, Yukio Aoshima (a former actor, novelist, screenwriter, songwriter and film director), who ran a low-key populist campaign against a candidate backed the LDP, NKP and JSP. Aoshima won in the context of great political dissatisfaction following the political scandals of the 1980s, the bad economy bred by the collapse of the speculative bubble in 1989 and the LDP’s brief fall from power in 1993. Since then, urban voters, particularly in Tokyo, have become extraordinarily fickle in their vote choice, with no loyalty for any major party and often preferring local independent candidates.

Aoshima, worn down by a poor economic situation in Tokyo and controversies surrounding his handling of homeless persons, retired in 1999. In a very open race, Shintarō Ishihara, a right-wing novelist and former LDP parliamentarian, was elected governor as an independent with 30.5% of the votes. Ishihara defeated Kunio Hatoyama, the grandson of the LDP’s founder and the brother of future DPJ Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who was backed by the DPJ; Yōichi Masuzoe, an academic and TV personality running as an independent (refusing LDP support); and LDP-NKP candidate Yasushi Akashi. Ishihara held the office until his resignation in October 2012 – he was reelected in 2001 (with LDP support, winning 70%), 2007 (with LDP-NKP support, winning 51% against 30.8% for former Miyagi Prefecture governor Shirō Asano, backed the DPJ) and 2011 (with LDP-NKP support, winning 43% against 28% for former Miyazaki Prefecture governor Hideo Higashikokubaru and the rest for DPJ and JCP candidates). Ishihara, a nationalist known for his inflammatory rhetoric, remained relatively popular as governor and his policies were rather pragmatic. He cut spending and cancelled projects in his first term, but he also created a new 3% local tax on banks’ gross (rather than net) profits, supported Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics (the latter of which was successful) and implemented a groundbreaking cap-and-trade scheme in 2010. But Ishihara mostly drew attention to himself for his nationalist positions and controversial statements. Ishihara opposes Article 9 and has a history of being aggressively anti-Chinese and Korean. In the early 2000s, he drew controversy by talking of ‘foreigners’ being responsible for crimes in Tokyo and using the derogatory term sangokujin in his speech. He visited Yasukuni Shrine on the emblematic date of August 15 several times. In 2011, he said that the tsunami/earthquake which hit Japan that year was ‘divine punishment’ for Japanese people’s ‘greed’. In 2012, Ishihara sought to buy the disputed Senkaku Islands (claimed by China) from their private owners, before the DPJ government did so itself in September 2012. At one point, Ishihara controversially said that women who live after they have lost their reproductive function are “useless” and “committing a sin”. Ishihara resigned as governor in October 2012 to enter national politics as the co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party (JRP), a marriage of convenience between Ishihara and his nationalist colleague, Osaka mayor Tōru Hashimoto. The JRP became the third largest party in the House of Representatives in the December 2012, winning over 20% of the vote in Japan and Tokyo. In 2013, however, the JRP performed very poorly in the Tokyo prefectural elections (8% and 2 seats) and poorly in the upper house elections in July (12% and 8 seats).

A gubernatorial election was held in December 2012 alongside the general election. Vice Governor Naoki Inose, an author and a former adviser to Koizumi known for his economically liberal and reformist views, ran with the backing of outgoing governor Ishihara and the JRP, the LDP, the NKP and the liberal Your Party (YP). Inose promised continuity with Ishihara’s record, focusing on energy (as Vice Governor, he had led the charge to reduce electricity prices by making the metro government the main shareholder in embattled TEPCO) and social projects (proposing to build nursing homes for the elderly). Facing weak opposition, Inose was elected governor with 67.4% against 15% for his main opponent, the president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations Kenji Utsunomiya, backed the Social Democratic Party (SDPJ), the JCP, small left-wing and anti-nuclear parties. Inose’s main achievement was being in office when Tokyo was selected as the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics in September 2013. But in November 2013, Inose was put in the hot seat with accusations that he had received an illegal (undeclared) loan (interest and collateral-free) in cash from a hospital group during his 2012 campaign. Under pressure from the Metropolitan Assembly, Ishihara and Prime Minister Abe, Inose resigned on December 19.

The frontrunner and consistent favourite in this election was Yōichi Masuzoe. Masuzoe, who is 65, began his career as a prominent and acclaimed academic, expert and later popular TV personality. Masuzoe speaks seven languages (Japanese, English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Russian). In 1998, Masuzoe wrote a book about how he cared for his sick mother for several years, criticizing Japan’s system of social security and senior care. The book turned him into a go-to reference on issues of social security, welfare and social assistance – very important in a rapidly aging society like Japan. He ran for governor of Tokyo as an independent in 1999, placing third with 15.3%. With the backing of the LDP’s reformist leader Jun’ichirō Koizumi, he was elected to the upper house (the House of Councillors) in 2001, with LDP support. Like Koizumi, Masuzoe was (is?) something of a maverick, known as an honest and competent expert. He was a strong critic of Prime Minister Abe in his first (disastrous) term, but when Abe was forced to open his cabinet to his rivals in August 2007, Masuzoe became Minister of Health and Welfare. His nomination came on the heels of the LDP’s defeat in the 2007 upper house election, which owed a lot to the health ministry’s admission that it had lost pensioners’ records. His handling of the aftermath of the scandal was hardly a success, given that his ministry failed to match millions of records with their owners, leading the DPJ to demand his resignation.

Masuzoe nevertheless remained one of Japan’s most popular politicians, and in 2010 his name topped the polls on best alternative Prime Ministers. At the time, the LDP was still reeling from its 2009 defeat and had trouble adapting itself to the new job of opposition rather than governing party. In April 2010, Masuzoe left the LDP to join and take the leadership of the New Renaissance Party (NRP), a right-wing party with neoliberal and reformist positions on economic issues. The NRP and its ideological twin (YP)’s aim to become a possible centre-right counterweight to the LDP fell through; in the July 2010 upper house elections, the NRP won only one seat. Following the NRP’s defeat, Masuzoe dropped off the political radar, trying out various alliances.

Masuzoe was approached by both the LDP and DPJ as a potential candidate for the gubernatorial election. Some in the LDP were critical of Masuzoe, not having totally digested Masuzoe’s 2010 defection from the LDP. But the LDP, always looking for a winner, did see in him an electable candidate with both experience and name recognition (the requirements of the local and national LDP respectively), and ultimately supported him in return for Masuzoe resigning from the NRP. He was also backed by the NKP, some individuals in the DPJ and the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (RENGO), Japan’s largest trade union confederation and a traditional supporter of the DPJ. Masuzoe’s campaign focused on local social welfare issues and hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics (like the LDP, he is an avid supporter of the Olympics).

Some of Masuzoe’s old comments were exhumed during the campaign. In 1989, he told a magazine that women were unfit for politics because they menstruate and lacked the physical strength to work 24 hours a day (because obviously male politicians do work 24 hours a day!). Tokyo women on Twitter called for a ‘sex strike’ against men voting for Masuzoe.

Kenji Utsunomiya, an attorney and distant runnerup in the 2012 gubernatorial election, supported by left-wing parties – the Communist Party (JCP), the Social Democratic Party (SDPJ) as well as the smaller Greens Japan and the New Socialist Party. Utsunomiya had run in the 2012 election, on a left-wing platform very critical of Ishihara’s record (particularly on poverty and social issues, but also in his strong support for the Olympics and his attempt to buy the Senkaku Islands). He won only 14.6%, a very distant second place behind conservative candidate Naoki Inose. In this election, Utsunomiya took a strongly anti-Abe stance (he’s notably critical of Abe on the Article 9/militarization issue). His campaign focused on local issues as well, particularly the growing wealth gap, the lack of affordable earthquake and earthquake safety. He remained critical of the 2020 Olympics, opposing the projects to expand the National Olympic Stadium, which had served for the 1964 Olympics. Utsunomiya is strongly anti-nuclear, wishing to decommission all nuclear power plants, but he did not actually make it the core focus of his campaign.

The surprise of the campaign was the candidacy of Morihiro Hosokawa, a 76-year old former Prime Minister. Hosokawa was one of several LDP MPs who defected from the embattled LDP in the early 1990s to form small rival opposition parties (in his case, the small Japan New Party). After the July 1993 election, in which the LDP lost its absolute majority in the lower house for the first time ever, Hosokawa became Prime Minister of a seven-party (anti-LDP) coalition government with his party, other LDP dissidents, the Socialists and the Komeito. Hosokawa’s coalition government had little ideas or visions besides shared opposition to the LDP, as evidenced by a squabble over a discussion of an increase in the consumption tax. It had accomplished little when Hosokawa was forced to resign in April 1994 after it came to light that he had accepted a 100 million yen loan from a trucking company tied to organized crime. Afterwards, Hosokawa faded from the political spotlight and retired in 1998 to take up pottery. He was approached by the DPJ to run in the gubernatorial election, and his candidacy was backed by the DPJ, the sulfurous Ichirō Ozawa’s personality cult (the People’s Life Party) and Kenji Eda’s Unity Party (born in 2013 from a split in the YP).

Above all, Hosokawa’s candidacy drew attention because he was endorsed by another political retiree, former LDP Prime Minister Jun’ichirō Koizumi, who made his political comeback to support Hosokawa and opposed his successor Shinzō Abe’s pro-nuclear stance. Koizumi, since the Fukushima disaster, has adopted anti-nuclear positions (which do appear genuine) but is also said to hold resentment from Abe’s reintegration into the LDP of LDP rebels who had opposed Koizumi’s big postal privatization drive in 2005. Hosokawa’s campaign had a heavy focus on the nuclear issue. Masuzoe’s position on the nuclear issue seems vague (although he was clearly pro-nuclear prior to 2011); outright pro-nuclear positions are fairly rare in Japan these days, although the Abe government supports reopening a nuclear reactor or two (suspended since Fukushima). Hosokawa’s candidacy, perceived as being strong because of DPJ and Koizumi support, led to pressures from the DPJ on Utsunomiya to withdraw from the resign so as to not split the anti-nuclear vote. Utsunomiya declined and faulted Hosokawa’s campaign for obscuring local issues such as poverty.

The fourth major candidate was Toshio Tamogami, the former Chief of Staff of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force between March 2007 and October 2008. He was fired from his military command in 2008 after authoring an essay in which he said that Japan had been drawn into World War II by Franklin D. Roosevelt (manipulated by the communists) and Chiang Kai-Shek. In the same essay, he also asserted that the war brought prosperity to China and Korea and implied that Japanese war crimes were fabricated or at least not such a big deal. After his dismissal, he told a British journalist that, had had he been general in a nuclear-capable Japan in 1945, he would have considered using nuclear weapons against the US. Since 2008, Tamogami has been involved in far-right nationalist groups which advocate that Japan should have the right to collective self-defense and should acquire nuclear weapons. During the campaign, one of Tamogami’s supporters, Naoki Hyakuta, a member of the board of the public broadcaster NHK, declared that the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 never happened (a fairly widespread view in far-right circles). Tamogami was endorsed by the obscure far-right Ishin Seito Shimpu but also benefited from the support of former governor Ishihara (who also ‘doubts’ the Nanjing Massacre occurred) – although the JRP did not officially support Tamogami.

Turnout was low, at 46.1%, due to a snow storm on February 9. It was 16.5% lower than the 2012 election (held alongside the general election, though) and down from the 58% turnout in the 2011 race (which was held on its own).

Yōichi Masuzoe (Independent/LDP-NKP) 42.86%
Kenji Utsunomiya (Independent/JCP-SDPJ-Greens-NSP) 19.93%
Morihiro Hosokawa (Independent/DPJ-PLP-UP) 19.39%
Toshio Tamogami (Independent) 12.39%
Kazuma Ieiri (Independent) 1.8%
Yoshiro Nakamatsu (Independent) 1.31%
Mac Akasaka (Smile Party) 0.31%
Others 0.78%

Ultimately, nobody proved strong enough to challenge and defeat Masuzoe, the early frontrunner whose candidacy benefited from the support of the popular central government and crossover support from some opposition DPJ supporters. Much ado about nothing for the candidacy of Morihiro Hosokawa, despite the heavyweight backing of Koizumi. Hosokawa’s old age, his little contact with Tokyo and his nuclear/national-focused campaign all hurt him in an election which was ultimately mostly fought and decided on local issues. The anti-nuclear vote is quite strong in Tokyo, but it is not an issue which can mobilize a winning crowd in a local election.

Masuzoe’s term, which runs until 2018, will be heavily focused on the preparations for the 2020 Olympics. The LDP government will be able to count on an avid supporter of its lavish and grandiose plans for the Olympics in the metro government. Nationally, while the race was again mostly local, the victory is nevertheless another sign that popular support for the LDP and Abe is holding up fairly well over one year in. For the time being, no party is even close to challenging the LDP’s renewed monopoly on power in Japan. This election saw Koizumi’s return to the forefront of national politics with an anti-nuclear campaign which is also targeted against Abe. It is worth watching what Koizumi intends to do to pursue his anti-nuclear battle further.

Japan 2013

Upper house elections were held in Japan on July 21, 2013. The upper house of Japan’s bicameral legislature, the National Diet (国会 Kokkai), is the House of Councillors (参議院 Sangiin), which is composed of 242 councillors serving six-term years, elected in staggered elections every three-years. Out of the 242 councillors, a total of 146 are elected in 47 prefectural constituencies (corresponding to Japan’s prefectures) and 96 are elected nationally by open-list proportional representation. Every three years, one half (121 seats) of the House of Councillors is renewed – 73 seats from the 47 prefectural constituencies, and 48 by nationwide open-list proportional representation. Each prefecture has a minimum of two councillors, with one elected every three years.

In this election, 31 councillors are elected by FPTP in ‘single-member’ prefectures. 20 councillors are elected in ten ‘two-member’ prefectures, nine are elected in three ‘three-member’ prefectures, eight are elected in two ‘four-member’ prefectures and five are elected in one five-member prefecture (Tokyo). Multi-member districts use the single non-transferable vote (SNTV) system, where voters have only one vote in a multi-member contest.

This electoral system significantly over-represents less populated rural areas, at the expense of more populated urban prefectures. The lower house of Japan’s Diet has the same problem, and voting disparities in general have been a persistent issue in Japanese politics since the 1960s; the lower house, until 1993, was apportioned on the basis of 1945 numbers! In March 2013, high courts across Japan ruled the 2012 lower house election unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court is due to rule on their decisions soon – with the risk that it could declare the 2012 election to be ‘invalid’, which would create a political crisis. There is therefore increased pressure on politicians to fix the electoral system, but there is deeply ingrained resistance to electoral reform within the political elites – especially within the ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has long relied and continues to rely on support from older, rural voters. Some in the LDP understand the necessity of electoral reform, but by and large, the LDP has shown very little interest in electoral reform besides the bare minimum (eg: ensuring the Supreme Court doesn’t declare its 2012 victory ‘invalid’).

Like in many (most?) bicameral system, Japan’s upper house is the least powerful of the two houses. While both houses of the Diet must pass legislation, the lower house – the House of Representatives – has the final word on budgets, treaties and the designation of the prime minister, and it may override the upper house’s veto with a two-thirds majority of members present.


Last December, the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had ruled Japan continuously between its foundation in 1955 and 1993 (and again between 1996 and 2009), regained power, only three years after it had suffered its worst electoral defeat in its history, at the hands of the vaguely centre-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). The DPJ’s victory could have ushered in a competitive two-party system, instead of the one-party dominant system which had managed to survive without too much damage even after 1993. However, the DPJ’s victory turned to be a mere flash in the pan, reflective more of the Japanese electorate’s remarkable fickleness in the twenty-first century than any fundamental political realignment.

In short, since the LDP’s right-wing reformist Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi retired in 2006, Japan has seen six Prime Ministers come and go (three from the LDP until 2009, then three from the DPJ until 2012), all of them bumbling their way through their short terms in office before being forced to resign. The DPJ did accomplish quite a few things, but it had the heavy burden of a sluggish economy and three Prime Ministers whose tenures were all quite unremarkable, even if these men had some personal qualities.

The 2012 election was more a repudiation of the DPJ than a mandate for the LDP, whose huge two-thirds majority owes more to the quirks of Japan’s parallel voting system (where the PR elements do not balance out FPTP’s disproportionalities) than to a popular vote landslide (which was barely better than its 2009 results…). Nevertheless, a landslide is a landslide and the LDP regained power. A former Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe, whose first term (2006-2007) is widely regarded as a failure, returned to his old office.

After six years of six unremarkable Prime Ministers, Shinzō Abe has turned out to be uncannily popular after some seven months in office. His approval ratings stand at about 60%, a change from the lows (20-30%) reached by his predecessors (and himself in 2007). Consumer and business confidence is high. The Tokyo stock exchange, the Nikkei, is at its highest level since 2008 after surging from December to May. The reason? Shinzō Abe’s economic agenda, nicknamed “Abenomics” is popular and inspiring confidence with the public and observers. After taking office, Abe announced an ambitious economic agenda aimed at escaping the deflation/low growth trap which Japan has been stuck in since 1991.

“Abenomics” has three components: a fiscal stimulus program, getting Japan’s central bank to inject money into the economy and set a hard target for inflation with loose monetary policies, and structural reforms.

Upon taking office, Abe announced a ¥10.3 trillion (about $100 billion) fiscal stimulus package. During the 2012 campaign, Abe had faulted the Bank of Japan for not setting a clear inflation target, and vowed that, once in office, he would force the central bank to do so and adopt looser monetary policies. True to his word, he appointed a new governor of the central bank. In April, the Bank of Japan set, as Abe wanted, a 2% inflation target and committed itself to pumping money into the economy. The central bank wants to double the monetary base through a programme of quantitative easing. As a result of the government’s first measures, growth has been up (3-4% so far in 2013) and the yen, Japan’s currency, has fallen, thereby boosting exports.

However, in a country whose gross debt is 240% of GDP, printing money and demand-side measures can only do so much. That is why a lot of those who welcomed Abe’s first measures have been pressing him to be bold and decisive with the third – and perhaps most important – part of his “Abenomics” agenda: structural reforms of the economy. The Japanese economy has been dogged, among other things, by an aging population which has meant that a lot of government spending goes towards social security and pensions. As a result of years of LDP rule and the LDP’s old “iron triangle” system (the party – the bureaucracy – big business and lobbies), a lot of sectors in Japan’s economy (agriculture, pharmaceuticals etc) are protected and uncompetitive. Given the continued importance of special interest groups (farmers, doctors, business) for the LDP, many have felt that Abe would be reluctant to announce anything too radical, lest it upset these powerful actors.

However, he surprised many when he announced, in March, that Japan would begin negotiations to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an American-led effort to liberalize trade in the region. The TPP had been an important issue in the 2012 campaign, and Abe had been fairly non-committal on the topic, not wanting to run the risk of upsetting farmers, who are opposed to the TPP and what it means in terms of trade and economic liberalization.

The structural reforms announced in June seem to have disappointed investors and business leaders, who had wanted Abe to announce some radical measures – for example, a labour reform which would allow firms to fire employees with severance pay (currently, firms are barred from firing staff employees), reforming corporate governance or allowing private companies to buy farmland. Instead, the government fell short of anything that far-reaching. It has announced only a few measures, none of them all that huge. It will lift the ban on the sale of drugs online, create a number of deregulated and lightly taxed zones and create a third category of contract workers. For investors and businessmen hoping for more, it fell short of their expectations. Partly as a result, the stock market, which had begun falling after six months of exuberance in mid-May, fell again in early June. The stock market has since been on the upswing again.

Optimistic voices say that Abe did not announce any radical measures in June because he was unwilling to take the risk of upsetting the fickle electorate before these upper house elections. Reformist voices in the LDP promise that there is more in store.

Shinzō Abe’s popular “shock and awe” economic policy, which has worked well so far, is quite a stark contrast with the Shinzō Abe who was a hapless and bumbling Prime Minister for a year between 2006 and 2007, before suffering a thumping in the 2007 upper house election. That Shinzō Abe had largely ignored economic issues, and gotten caught up in nationalist sabre-rattling. After years in the political wilderness, it appears that Abe has learned his lesson – the public doesn’t care much for aggressive nationalism and talking down Japan’s World War II atrocities, but does care a lot about the economy and is prone to love a leader who finally has a decisive economic agenda.

However, Abenomics goes hand-in-hand with national security issues, and with Abe’s goal of restoring Japan’s greatness. In 2010, China overtook Japan as the world’s second-largest economy, and China is intent on reclaiming the mantle of the leading Asian power from Japan, which had held it since the late 19th century. In late 2012, for example, China reasserted its claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands when a Chinese government aircraft entered Japanese-controlled airspace. Therefore, Abe and the LDP sees the restoration of Japan’s economic might as a precondition to regaining regional power and guarding off Chinese ambitions.

It seems quite clear that Abe remains a nationalist, whose controversial past (and current) statements worry more than a few people. His cabinet, for example, includes prominent nationalists who object to Japan’s so-called “apology diplomacy” (apologizing for atrocities committing during World War II) and who regularly visit the Yasukuni Shrine, where a number of war criminals are enshrined. The education minister, for example, wishes to retract Tomiichi Murayama’s 1995 gold-standard apology for wartime atrocities. The government is intent on amending Japan’s post-war constitution to revise Article 9, which outlaws war and bars Japan from maintaining military forces (Japan does have a military, but it is called the Self-Defense Force). In April, Abe questioned whether Japan’s wars in China and Asia between 1931 and 1945 could be defined as “aggression”. In May, the LDP’s policy chief said that Abe rejects the verdict of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, which blamed Japan for the war and sentenced its leaders to hang. In 2007, Abe had said that wartime comfort women were not coerced into becoming sex slaves for the imperial army. In general, Abe’s government continues to play up nationalistic values and ideals. These comments and threats, besides expressing historical negationism, also threaten regional security. For the moment, however, Abe understands that economics trumps all other issues.

Abe’s decisive and ambitious agenda is popular on its own, and the LDP is benefiting from that in the polls. However, it also helps that the LDP faces an exceptionally weak opposition. The DPJ, which governed between 2009 and December 2012, was crushed at the polls and has yet to rebuild itself. The controversial Ichirō Ozawa, who had contributed to rebuilding the DPJ prior to 2009, left the DPJ in 2012 and his personality cult outfit found itself utterly decimated at the polls in December. Yet, the DPJ’s new leader – Banri Kaieda – is fairly close to Ozawa. In opposition, the DPJ has been unsure of what to do with Abenomics – it has criticized it, but offers no alternative. Its attempts to focus on the rejection of nuclear power, one of the only issues where there is a visible difference with the LDP, have proven unfruitful. Anti-nuclear sentiments aren’t strong enough to trump confidence in Abenomics.

The December 2012 election saw another party emerge, quite forcefully – the right-wing nationalist Japan Restoration Party (JRP). The JRP won 20.5% of the PR vote in 2012, coming ahead of the DPJ, and ended up with 54 seats overall (only three less than the DPJ). However, the JRP’s success was not built on any solid roots – a lot of it was a personal vote for the party’s co-leader, Osaka mayor Tōru Hashimoto, and a lot of it was a protest vote from unhappy ex-DPJ supporters. Furthermore, the JRP was a hastily assembled party made up of two ambitious politicians Hashimoto and former Tokyo governor Shintarō Ishihara; disagreements and rivalries between the two men had already come out during the 2012 campaign.

In June, Tōru Hashimoto created a massive firestorm when he said that Japan’s ‘comfort women’ (sex slaves) during World War II were a ‘necessary evil’ (and further trivialized it by saying other countries practiced ‘sex on the battlefield’) and then invited American soldiers on Okinawa to make use of Japanese prostitutes. When he had the chance to clarify or apologize, he only doubled down on his statements. Although such comments on comfort women are unfortunately widespread on the Japanese right, his comments were denounced by a wide majority of politicians and the public. It seems to have torpedoed his rising star in politics, and created another firestorm within the JRP. Shintarō Ishihara, who is no less misogynistic than Hashimoto, called on him to apologize because it threatened to hurt the JRP.

In a preview of the upper house elections, the LDP won a landslide in the Tokyo prefectural elections at the end of June (the 2009 Tokyo elections had previewed the DPJ’s landslide in the general elections later that year). The LDP increased its vote share by 10% (from 26% to 36%) while the DPJ’s vote collapsed by over 25% (from about 41% to 15%) and placed fourth in terms of seats (behind the New Komeito and the Communists). The JRP did poorly, winning only 8% (it had won 20% in Tokyo in 2012) and 2 seats.

Clearly, these elections were quite important. To begin with, although the LDP and its New Komeito allies have a two-thirds majority in the lower house, the House of Councillors – whose members were elected in 2007 (a major DPJ victory) and 2010 (a DPJ-LDP draw) – is almost split down the middle between the LDP-New Komeito government and the opposition. Prior to the election, the DPJ held 86 seats against 102 for the governing parties; 13 seats were held by the right-libertarian Your Party, 8 were held by Ichirō Ozawa’s personality appreciation cult, 6 by the Communist Party (JCP), 4 by the anti-nuclear/anti-TPP Green Wind (another DPJ splinter), 4 for the Social Democrats (SDPJ), 3 for the JRP, 2 by the New Renaissance Party and 9 by independent members (including one DPJ and one LDP presiding officer). Of the members up for reelection on July 21, 44 were from the DPJ and 44 were from the LDP-NKP.

The basic goal for the LDP-NKP was to win at least 63 seats, allowing them to win an absolute majority in the upper house. However, given the strength of the LDP and the despondency of the opposition (particularly the DPJ), Abe hoped to win at least 70 seats, which would allow the government to dominate legislative committees. Constitutional amendments, such as changing Article 9 as Abe’s LDP would like to do, requires a two-thirds majority in both houses and a national referendum. Winning a two-thirds majority in the upper house was probably the government’s wet dream, but one which it was quite unlikely to achieve.

Turnout was 51.6% (57.9% in 2010, 59% in 2012), the lowest turnout in an upper house election since 1995. The 59% turnout in the 2012 election had been the lowest turnout in a lower house election since the Second World War. The public’s trust in politicians has declined significantly in recent years, and Shinzō Abe – while more popular than his predecessors – has not been able to change that. Additionally, as in 2012, it is likely that a number of anti-LDP/non-LDP voters opted to stay home rather than vote for the despondent opposition.

The results (preliminary) are as follows (popular vote is the PR list vote, compared to 2010):

LDP 34.68% (+10.61%) winning 65 seats (47 districts, 18 PR) >> total 115 seats (+31)
New Komeito 14.22% (+1.15%) winning 11 seats (4 districts, 7 PR) >> total 20 seats (+1)
DPJ 13.40% (-18.16%) winning 17 seats (10 districts, 7 PR) >> total 59 seats (-27)
JRP 11.94% (+9.83%) winning 8 seats (2 districts, 6 PR) >> total 9 seats (+6)
JCP 9.68% (+3.58%) winning 8 seats (3 districts, 5 PR) >> total 11 seats (+5)
Your Party 8.93% (-4.66%) winning 8 seats (4 districts, 4 PR) >> total 18 seats (+5)
SDP 2.36% (-1.48%) winning 1 seats (1 PR) >> total 3 seats (-1)
PLP 1.77% (+1.77%) winning 0 seats >> total 2 seats (-6)
NPD 0.98% (+0.98%) winning 0 seats >> total 0 seats (-1)
Greens 0.86% (+0.86%) winning 0 seats >> total 0 seats (nc)
Green Wind 0.81% (+0.81%) winning 0 seats >> total 0 seats (-4)
Happiness Realization Party 0.36% (-0.03%) winning 0 seats (nc) >> total 0 seats (nc)
Okinawa Social Mass Party winning 1 seat (1 district) >> total 1 seat (nc)
Independents winning 2 seats (2 districts) >> total 3 seats (-3)

LDP/NKP Government 48.9% (+11.76%) winning 76 seats >> total 135 seats (+32)

As expected, the LDP-NKP handily gained an absolute majority in the House of Councillors. Together, both parties will hold 56% of the seats. However, as was also to be expected, the LDP-NKP fell far short of winning a two-thirds majority. The gains necessary for the governing coalition to obtain a two-thirds majority were far too important; the LDP did about as well as it could in the one-member districts, but it is harder to make major gains in multi-member districts under SNTV.

The main use of the two-thirds majority would have been amending the constitution with more ease. With these numbers, however, it will be rather difficult for Abe to be able to change Article 9 of the constitution. Even with the addition of the JRP, the government would still far short of a two-thirds majority. At any rate, changing the constitution would still be easier said than done, even with good numbers. The prospect of changing Article 9 displeases South Korea and China, and the United States would likely pressure Tokyo out of doing anything which would destabilize regional politics. Additionally , the religious conservative New Komeito tends to be pacifist and most believe that it likely opposes opening the constitution to change Article 9. Furthermore, the LDP remains a coalition of different powerful factions, some of which are less nationalistic than Abe and his cabinet are.

Despite the very low turnout (and the utter weakness/near-decrepitude of the opposition), this remains a decisive victory for the LDP-NKP, arguably the first of the kind since Koizumi’s landslide victory in 2005. While they won a similar landslide in the 2012 election, it was only in terms of seats – the popular vote share for the LDP-NKP was hardly better than in 2009 and a far cry from Koizumi’s 51% in 2005. The low turnout shows that political apathy and distrust remain widespread in Japan, and a lot of the ‘floating voters’ which have decided elections since the Koizumi era aren’t any less fickle today. However, the LDP(-NKP)’s ability to win a decisive victory of this kind with such a high popular vote result (the LDP only won 27.8% of the PR vote in 2012) does show that at least some voters are convinced by Abe’s government seven months in. His ‘Abenomics’ program appears, to many voters, as one of the first decisive, ambitious and forward-looking government agendas to come out of Japanese politics since Koizumi’s right-reformist era. That being said, the LDP slightly underperformed expectations and last polls. Until June/July, the LDP was at 40-45% in polls, and the last polls showed them at 35-40% – keeping in mind that Japanese pollsters do not redistribute undecided voters. As could be expected, undecided voters broke in favour of the opposition parties. However, the LDP’s slight decline in polls since the beginning of the year might be a sign that Abenomics is showing its first strains. As aforementioned, the ‘third arrow’ (structural reforms) disappointed some reformist ardours, and the stockmarket declined in May-June from previous heights. Therefore, if Abenomics turns out to be unsuccessful, voters will show no mercy in punishing the LDP-NKP for their failures.

For the time being, however, the LDP is on the upswing. To begin with, the near entirety of the opposition is in a pitiful state of decrepitude. The DPJ did horribly, placing third in the PR vote. DPJ and non-LDP incumbents in single-member districts were almost all thrown out. In fact, the LDP won all but two of the 31 seats from the single-member districts. The only exceptions were Iwate, Ozawa’s home turf, where incumbent councillor Tatsuo Hirano (ex-DPJ turned independent) won reelection with 39.7% against 26.4% for the LDP and 14.9% for Ozawa’s cult (PLP); and Okinawa, where the non-DPJ left is quite strong (probably because of tensions related to the US base on the islands). In Okinawa, incumbent councillor Keiko Itokazu (from the small leftist local Okinawa Social Mass Party) defeated the LDP 51.1% to 45.4%. The DPJ, with a popular incumbent, came close in Mie (37.6% to 44.2%); similarly, a popular Green Wind (ex-DPJ) incumbent in Yamagata almost won reelection (44.6% to 48.2%). Otherwise, it was a LDP landslide in single-member seats, which are always the easiest to run away with. The DPJ was also crushed in a lot of multi-member districts. In Tokyo, the DPJ’s only candidate took only 9.8% (sixth, for five seats); the LDP took 2 seats, the NKP and Communists took one each and an anti-nuclear independent also won a seat (more bad news for the DPJ if they can’t even get anti-nuclear activists/voters for themselves). In Osaka, Saitama and Kyoto, the DPJ also failed to win any multi-member district seats. With such a terrible result, winning less than 20 seats and in third in PR (as in 2012), there will be some serious pressure on the DPJ to either reinvent itself or just disband itself. The DPJ is a shaky, vaguely left-of-centre coalition of old LDP opponents, LDP dissidents and other factions with diverging ideologies. It is not designed to be a weak and small opposition force.

The JRP did rather poorly, although slightly better than expected after their disastrous showing in the Tokyo prefectural elections in June. In large part, though, this probably owes a lot to a strong performance in Hashimoto’s Osaka stronghold – the JRP candidate topped the poll with 28.8%. It also won 26.1% in Hyogo Prefecture, which borders Osaka. The JRP’s star has certainly faded since December 2012, but it nevertheless remains a strong player in Japanese politics – although it would do well to avoid becoming a local-based party whose strength is concentrated in Osaka.

Low turnout favoured parties like the New Komeito and the Communists, who have a small base of loyal and motivated supporters, likely to turn out even in low turnout circumstances. The NKP won 14% and the Communists won 9.7%, their best result since 2000. The Communists managed to win district seats in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto

Japanese politics remain, as always, unpredictable and subject to rapid change on the back of the electorate’s notorious fickleness. The LDP won a significant victory, and the opposition’s sad state is a major advantage for the party going forward. However, it does remain fairly clear that voters will show no remorse or mercy if Abe’s government became less popular. For now, the government has an ample majority in both houses, which would facilitate its governing agenda somewhat and could reinvigorate Abe’s reformist drive somewhat (if the LDP reads this as a mandate for Abenomics, which it probably should).

Japan 2012

Legislative elections were held in Japan on December 16, 2012. All 480 members of the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Diet. The House of Representatives, with a two-thirds majority, can override the upper house’s veto on any piece of legislation. Japan uses a system of parallel voting in general elections. 300 of the 480 members are elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies, generally malapportioned in favour of rural areas while the other 180 seats are elected by party-list proportional representation in 11 electoral blocks. Unlike in Germany’s MMP system where the list seats serve to compensate disparities between vote share and seat share created by the single-member FPTP seats, in Japan’s parallel voting system the list seats merely proportionally reflect the vote shares on the list vote, which serves to magnify the effects of vote swings and allows parties to win large majorities. Until a 1994 reform of the electoral law, Japan used a system of single non-transferable vote (SNTV) in multi-member constituencies (which reflected the immediate post-war population distribution, so badly malapportioned in favour of rural areas) where voters had a single vote but 2 or more members were returned from a district. The SNTV system, still used for some local elections in Japan, created more proportional results and made it harder for parties to win crushing majorities on fairly small shares of the vote.

The 2009 election in Japan could have indicated a huge political realignment. The conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had ruled Japan almost without interruption since its creation in 1955, suffered a crushing electoral defeat while the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) swept to power with a huge two-thirds majority.

The LDP was founded in 1955 by the merger of two conservative parties, the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party. The party, generally conservative and anti-communist, governed Japan until the 1993 election, winning an absolute majority in every election until that point. The LDP dominated Japanese politics despite its decentralization, extreme factionalism, weak leadership and inner fragmentation. The LDP’s strength came from the corporatist-like “iron triangle” between the LDP, the professional bureaucracy and the upper echelons of big business. The LDP also maintained strong clientelistic relations with small businesses, farmers, construction workers and postmasters; alliances which proved electorally lucrative for the LDP in its rural strongholds. The conservative technocrats in the bureaucracy often led policy-making, with the input of the Diet and the LDP caucus/cabinet. The LDP’s corporatist association with big business did not provide votes, but it provided most of the private funding for the LDP, a factor which explains the deeply ingrained corruption and collusion which existed under successive LDP governments.

The elite bureaucracy implemented policies which allowed for rapid economic growth after the 1960s and resulted in a dramatic improvement in rural standards and income equality, even in rural areas.

The LDP’s policies were generally conservative, pro-American and pro-business but the party’s primary focus was to maintain and placate its key supporters rather than any conservative ideology. In its rural bases, competing LDP parliamentarians built strong local associations which channeled pork and other advantages to their constituents. Successive governments maintained their strong rural bases with sky-high import tariffs on rice, which kept the price of rice artificially higher than international prices.

The LDP, as mentioned above, was never a centralized party machine with strong leadership and internal cohesion; instead it was a fragmented and deeply factionalized party. Five major factions competed for power and the prime ministerial position within the LDP until the 1990s, with local parliamentarians eager to keep their seats under the SNTV system allying with factional bosses who provided them with funding for their personal local associations (the LDP had no party associations but rather candidate-centered personal associations) or gave them key party positions in return for their backing in internal leadership contests. One of the LDP’s most famous faction leaders and internal bosses was Kakuei Tanaka, who served as Prime Minister between 1972 and 1974 but who retained strong influence within the party afterwards, until Noboru Takeshita took control of Tanaka’s faction in the late 1980s.

As a fragmented and faction-driven party, policy making in LDP cabinets did not take place along traditional Westminster top-down lines but rather along collective, even bottom-up lines. Within the LDP, competing factions made for internal opposition and oversight of the Prime Minister. Factions sought to capitalize on any scandal or unpopular policy involving the Prime Minister, which then allowed them to push for the PM’s resignation.

Political and demographic changes in the country, compounded with several untenable corruption scandals involving key LDP bosses and unpopular decisions (including a consumption tax) led to the LDP’s “defeat” in the 1993 election. The LDP’s vote share fell by nearly ten points, and while it remained the most votes and seats (36.7% of the votes), it lost its overall majority for the first time since 1955 and allowed for a very disparate and directionless “eight-party alliance” to briefly take power. This multiparty coalition included new parties founded by LDP dissidents, most of them purportedly centrists and reformists. The largest of these LDP offshoots was the Japan Renewal Party, founded by Ichirō Ozawa, a former ally of Kakuei Tanaka who had found himself on the losing side of a factional fight with Keizo Obuchi and Ryutaro Hashimoto.

Dogged by internal divisions and personality squabbles, the first non-LDP multiparty government quickly dissolved and the LDP eventually regained the prime ministerial office in 1996. The multiparty coalition’s only achievement was an electoral reform which replaced the SNTV system with the current parallel voting system (though with more PR seats) and reapportioned single-member constituencies. The LDP returned to full power following the 1996 election. In that election, the traditional left-wing opposition to the LDP, formed by the Socialist Party (JSP) was replaced by the New Frontier Party, formed by several LDP offshoots including Ozawa’s party, and the Democratic Party (DPJ). The NFP, weakened by internal dissensions, dissolved in 1998.

In 2001, Junichiro Koizumi, an LDP reformist, replaced unpopular Prime Minister Yoshirō Mori as leader of the LDP. Koizumi’s accession represented the victory of an ambitious reformist faction in the LDP, which challenged the old guard and the vested interests in the LDP. Koizumi alienated several parts of the LDP coalition, notably postmasters after he privatized Japan Post. Koizumi’s reformist policies, at times, brought him closer to the opposition parties than to the old guard LDP factions.

In 2005, when several LDP parliamentarians rebelled against Koizumi’s postal privatization bill, he threw them out of the party and called a snap election. Most opposition factions besides the Communists and the remnants of the JSP (the SDP) had united in the DPJ by then, and in 2003 and 2004 had proven a serious threat to LDP dominance (the DPJ won the PR block vote in 2003). In 2005, however, with a Koizumi campaign focused on postal privatization and the need for change within the LDP, Koizumi was able to lead the LDP to a landslide victory over the DPJ. The LDP managed to obtain an historic three-fifths majority in the lower house. Particularly crucial to the LDP’s massive victory was their appeal to fickle and “floating” (the Japanese term for ‘swing voters’) urban voters in Tokyo or Osaka. In the past, the LDP had usually been weaker in urban areas.

An increasingly large number of Japanese voters are “floating voters” without strong partisan ties to either of the main parties (or the smaller parties). A lot of voters say that they remain undecided until the very last moment in any election, and the direction they break in often decides the winner or determines the strength of the winning party’s mandate. Urban areas are particularly fickle in this way, the LDP swept most of them in 2005 but they were decimated by the DPJ’s landslide in these same urban areas in the 2009 election. Rural areas have also slowly shifted away from their strong LDP partisan roots, because the LDP’s old patronage networks in rural Japan – fed by pork-barrel spending by local MPs and maintained by postmasters or farmers’ groups – has become increasingly anachronistic.

Koizumi’s retirement in 2006 precipitated the 2009 rout. He was succeeded by Shinzō Abe, a man on the party’s right with fairly nationalist views towards China and Japanese history. Abe’s term, which lasted only a year before he resigned because of his unpopularity (the LDP had been heavily defeated in upper house elections in 2007) and for health reasons, was widely described as disaster. He had chosen to focus on foreign issues rather than domestic policy and appeared to backtrack on Koizumi’s reformist agenda. Abe was replaced by the more centrist Yasuo Fukuda, who failed to reassert the reformist agenda and projected a boring image on TV. He too lasted less than a year, before resigning and being replaced by Tarō Asō, a nationalist on the LDP’s right. Unable to salvage the sinking vessel, Asō led the LDP to its worst ever electoral defeat in a snap election on August 30, 2009. Not only did the LDP fail to win the most votes and seats for the first time in its history, it won a mere 119 seats while the DPJ, led by Yukio Hatoyama, won a three-fifths majority similar to the outgoing LDP majority.

The LDP’s defeat was due in part to short-term factors, such as the country’s sluggish economy, high unemployment, Japan’s persistent deflation problem (ongoing since the 1990s bubble economy crash), a pensions records debacle, a series of hapless Prime Ministers who all lacked Koizumi’s special reformist appeal and a rebuilt opposition (in good part thanks to Ozawa, who had been forced to step down from the DPJ leadership a few months before the election because of a corruption scandal). Koizumi, by moving the party towards classical economics and free trade rather than staying true to the 55 System’s more statist patronage and corporatist policies, also had played a role in durably weakening the LDP’s rural networks which prior to the 1990s had provided the LDP with strong electoral support. But times had changed since then, the LDP’s old system of patronage and pork-barrel spending based on complex factional battles and competing networks of local rural parliamentarians became outdated. Modern electoral campaigns are won with policy proposals and clear(er) ideological directions, they are also won in the medias with telegenic charismatic leaders (like Koizumi).

The 2009 election and the LDP’s historic defeat was seen by many as a huge political realignment in Japan. Most questioned whether the LDP, as a factionalized and fragmented party with few major ideological preoccupations, would be able to survive such a defeat. However, the DPJ fell into the same vicious circle as the LDP, bumbling its way through and playing a game of musical chairs with Prime Ministers. Yukio Hatoyama, elected in August 2009, lasted less than a year in office, resigning in June 2010. Elected on a platform of breaking the old “iron triangle” and shifting Japanese foreign policy towards Asia rather than the United States, Hatoyama did not live up to the high expectations. The government waffled on the issue of the relocation of the American air base on Okinawa, after having promised during the campaign to close the base.

Hatoyama, who had won the DPJ’s presidency in mid-2009 with the support of Ichirō Ozawa, was quickly caught up by his mentor’s poisonous shadow. Ozawa had played a large role in rebuilding the demoralized and defeated DPJ after the disastrous 2005 election, turning the party into a strong, organized political machine capable of competing with the LDP and winning elections (which it did in 2007 and 2009). However, Ozawa is a controversial figure whose name has often come up in corruption scandals. Ozawa had the image of a young and ambitious reformist ready to go all-out against the LDP in 1993, but that aura has long disappeared. Ozawa now has the reputation of a power-hungry backroom party boss who wishes to turn the DPJ into his own personal machine, and organize it along the lines of the LDP under the ’55 System. After his resignation in May 2009, Ozawa kept pulling the strings with Hatoyama, who turned out to be Ozawa’s useful tool.

Caught up by a financing scandal of his own, Hatoyama resigned in June 2010, alongside Ozawa who resigned his position as secretary-general. After Hatoyama’s resignation, Ozawa lost control of the party. Naoto Kan, an Ozawa opponent, replaced Hatoyama just before the upper house elections in the summer of 2010. Kan squandered his honeymoon period with voters by announcing, just before the election, his intention to increase the consumption tax from 5% to 10%. He recovered, for a short while, some of his lost popularity after Kan defeated Ozawa in a regular DPJ presidential election in September. However, Kan’s popularity collapsed quickly thereafter. His government’s slow and tepid response to the March 2011 tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster was much criticized, while the sluggish economy and the country’s huge public debt remained major issues. Kan, having hit rock-bottom and under pressure by the DPJ to quit, resigned in September 2012. He was succeeded by Yoshihiko Noda, another anti-Ozawa figure within the DPJ.

Noda’s popularity, like that of his two predecessors, quickly fell (though he remained marginally more popular than his two predecessors at the end). Similar to Kan, Noda is a technocratic figure whose focus seems to be on policy (even if they are unpopular) and reforms, and his government has led various technocratic reforms – such as the consumption tax hike – which aim to deal with some of the structural issues in Japan’s economy. However, Noda – like Kan and Hatoyama before him – is horrible at messaging and defending the government’s record.

Japanese politics in the past year have been focused around three issues: the consumption tax increase, nuclear energy and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement.

The government claims that the consumption tax is key to cutting Japan’s public debt and funding rising welfare costs (in a rapidly aging country). The consumption tax hike has been a divisive and controversial issue within the DPJ and in Japanese politics in general. The LDP supported the consumption tax increase, but the party tried to play political games with the issue, associating its support for the tax bill to promises for a snap election. Noda bowed down to the LDP’s demands and promised a snap election in return for the passage of his bill. The Ozawa faction of the DPJ had rejected the consumption tax increase, largely because Ozawa’s interests seem to be his personal political career rather than policy or governance. Ozawa left the party with about 50 MPs in July.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster led to an outburst of anti-nuclear sentiments in public opinion. Nuclear energy provided about a quarter of Japan’s energy supplies in 2010 and there were 54 commercial reactors in operation before the disaster. In response to public opinion, the government announced plans to phase out nuclear energy and shut down the remaining reactors. However, pressured by business leaders who feared energy shortages, Noda approved the reopening of 2 reactors. The DPJ policy is to completely phase out nuclear power by 2030, the LDP claims the DPJ’s policy is irresponsible.

Noda has staked his political career on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new free-trade framework between Asian-Pacific countries. The TPP would scrap tariffs and other trade barriers. While the business milieus are strongly supportive of the TPP, Japan’s heavily protected agricultural sectors opposes the TPP, fearing the effects of competition with big agricultural companies in the US.

Recently, a territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku islands, which is controlled by Japan but claimed by the PRC (as well as the ROC). The islands are strategically located, near major shipping routes, key fishing grounds and potential oil reserves. The Japanese government’s decision to purchase some of the islands from their private owner revived the dispute in September. China sent its navy into what Japan claims are its territorial waters. The incident, with sabre-rattling on both sides, has led to an escalation of tensions between Japan and China.

The DPJ has done a terrible job at defending its record in government. There are many grounds to call the DPJ’s performance disappointing, for sure, but the DPJ also has several sizable achievements. It introduced subsidies for young families, abolishedstate high school tuition fees, restored support for single mothers, extended unemployment insurance, introduced free services for low-income disabled people, and banned  age discrimination in the provision of medical care. However, its disappointing economic record likely prevailed in voters mind. Kan and Noda were more technocratic figures who focused on policies and reforms aimed at resolving some of Japan’s long-term economic problems – the high debt (236.6% of GDP in 2012!), an economy mired in recession or low-growth since the 1990s, an aging population incurring high pensions and welfare costs and a recurring deflation problem.

The Other Parties

Following the 2009 election, Sadakazu Tanigaki became the LDP leader. A fairly dull and boring old politician with a fairly unremarkable political career, his performance in opposition was mediocre. He constantly attempted to play political games with the government, most recently on the consumption tax which he criticized before acquiescing to it in return for a snap election before voting a censure motion in late August. In September, Tanigaki was replaced as LDP leader by former Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, whose last term in office is often viewed as disastrous.

The LDP and DPJ differed little on policy during the campaign. The LDP more or less supports the consumption tax hike, it would agree with the TPP if it could get some tariff exceptions for its old constituencies (farmers). They differed more on nuclear energy, where the LDP has deemed Noda’s policies to be irresponsible and says that it will make a decision later. Abe indicated that reviving the economy sapped by deflation would be his main priority. His economic policies are still vague, but the LDP wants the central bank to loosen monetary policy and it wants to inject money into the economy, notably through public works spending. A nationalist with a tendency to minimize or deny Japan’s wartime record (he denies the Rape of Nanjing, which is not an uncommon position on the right in Japan), he promises a more hawkish foreign policy – notably against China – and he might seek to revise Article 9 (the pacifist article) in Japan’s constitution.

The LDP’s traditionally is the New Komeito Party (NKP), a conservative party which is, unofficially, the political arm of the Nichiren Buddhist group Sōka Gakkai International. The NKP has a reputation as a fairly clean and non-corrupt party. The party, which usually has a fairly solid electoral base, suffered heavy loses (-10 seats) in the 2009 elections.

This electoral landscape was marked by several new political parties. The most important of these parties is the Japan Restoration Party (JRP), a right-wing/far-right party. The JRP was founded right before the election by the alliance of two parties – Osaka mayor Tōru Hashimoto’s Japan Restoration Association and Tokyo governor Shintarō Ishihara’s Sunrise Party (founded in 2010). Hashimoto, who served as governor of Osaka Prefecture between 2008 and 2011 and has been mayor of Osaka since then, has some very right-wing and nationalist views. He supports decentralization of powers to the regions, for example he wants to turn the consumption tax into a local tax administered by local governments. But he has some authoritarian penchants and openly said that Japan needs some kind of ‘dictatorship’. Shintarō Ishihara, the ex-LDP governor of Tokyo since 1999, holds similar nationalist and right-wing views. Like Hashimoto, he wants to scrap the pacifist Article 9 and he has a history of being aggressively anti-China (though he toned that down when he was invited to the Beijing Olympics in 2008). Ishihara at one point also openly said that women who live after they have given birth are “useless” and “committing a sin”.

Hashimoto and Ishihara are similar politicians, both are right-wing, nationalist and populist. Besides their penchant for controversy, both have been criticized as self-serving and supporting only what is politically expedient. Both of their parties merged in November, in the process both men dropped some of their policy disagreements: Hashimoto dropped his anti-nuclear positions, while Ishihara softened his opposition to the TPP. The JRP more or less supports the consumption tax, it is vague and ambivalent on nuclear power and is generally on the pro-TPP side of things. On foreign policy, the JRP is very hawkish. It would revise or scrap Article 9.

Divisions with the DPJ over the consumption tax, the TPP and even nuclear energy led several groups of DPJ parliamentarians to walk out of the party and form their own spin-off parties. In July, Ozawa and about 50 of his most loyal followers quit the DPJ, officially over Ozawa’s opposition to the consumption tax, the TPP and Noda’s more cautious nuclear policy. Ozawa and his followers founded an outfit called “People’s Life First”. The real reason for Ozawa’s split is likely that he is bitter that he has been sidelined by DPJ leaders and can no longer continue pulling the strings from behind.

Ozawa’s party, along with another DPJ splinters (the Kizuna Party, anti-nuclear and anti-TPP; plus the Tax Cuts Japan, anti-nuclear and anti-TPP), merged with the Tomorrow Party of Japan (TPJ), a new party led by Shiga Prefecture governor Yukiko Kada. The party has been called by some observers as ‘left-wing’, to the left of the DPJ. In reality, it is hard to assign an ideology to a fairly rag-tag bunch of third parties, especially one which includes Ozawa who has not held consistent policy views in decades. Such heterogeneous coalitions of competing third parties, all hoping to form some kind of “third pole” to the DPJ and LDP is not uncommon. The JRP isn’t the most ideologically consistent party, and Ozawa spent most of the summer and fall mulling over alliances with other third parties – the “Hashists”, Ishihara and other small parties. Either out of conviction or political expediency, the Tomorrow Party is the most anti-consumption tax, anti-nuclear and anti-TPP party.

The Your Party (YP) and the People’s New Party (PNP) are two more or less right-wing third parties founded by LDP breakaways. The YP, led by Yoshimi Watanabe, seems fairly ideologically consistent (a rarity with third parties): it is more or less libertarian, centre-right and reformist supporting lower taxes, free enterprise but opposing nuclear power. The PNP is a populist party founded back in 2005 by some anti-postal privatization LDP rebels. The PNP has now turned into an irrelevant close ally of the DPJ.

On the left, the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) has maintained a small and solid base of support in recent elections while the Social Democratic Party (SDP) are the disorganized remnants of the old JSP. The JCP is fairly moderate, having never really aligned with the Eastern Bloc. For example, the JCP is vaguely apathetic towards the Imperial Household, rather than opposed. The SDP, which has cooperated with the DPJ government, is not really ideologically distinguishable from the JCP (and is sometimes described as being to its left).

Turnout was 59.3%, the lowest turnout in a general election since the war. In 2009, 69.3% of voters had turned out, motivated by the chance to dump the LDP. The results are presented as follows: party – single-member (SM) constituency vote (%) – SM seats – block (PR) vote (%) – PR seats >> total seats. The total seat numbers are compared to standings at dissolution.

LDP 43.01% (+4.33%) SM winning 237 SM seats — 27.79% (+1.03%) PR winning 57 PR seats >> 294 seats (+176)
DPJ 22.81% (-24.62%) SM winning 27 SM seats — 15.49% (-26.92%) PR winning 30 PR seats >> 57 seats (-173)
JRP 11.64% (+11.64%) SM winning 14 SM seats — 20.50% (+20.50%) PR winning 40 PR seats >> 54 seats (+43)
NKP 1.49% (+0.38%) SM winning 9 SM seats — 11.90% (+0.45%) PR winning 22 PR seats >> 31 seats (+10)
YP 4.71% (+3.84%) SM winning 4 SM seats — 8.77% (+4.5%) PR winning 14 PR seats >> 18 seats (+10)
TPJ 5.02% (+5.02%) SM winning 2 SM seats — 5.72% (+5.72%) PR winning 7 PR seats >> 9 seats (-52)
JCP 7.88% (+3.66%) SM winning 0 SM seats — 6.17% (-0.86%) PR winning 8 PR seats >> 8 seats (-1)
Independents 1.69% (-1.12%) SM winning 5 SM seats >> 5 seats (-4)
SDP 0.76% (-1.19%) SM winning 1 SM seat — 2.38% (-1.89%) PR winning 1 PR seat >> 2 seats (-3)
PNP 0.20% (-0.84%) SM winning 1 SM seat — 0.12% (-1.61%) PR winning 0 PR seats >> 1 seat (-3)
NPD 0.53% (+0.53%) SM winning 0 SM seats — 0.58% (-0.04%) PR winning 1 PR seat >> 1 seat (-2)
Others 0.38% (-1.51%) SM winning 0 SM seats — 0.89% (-0.6%) PR winning 0 seats >> 0 seats (-1)

LDP-NKP Coalition 44.49% (+4.65%) SM winning 246 SM seats — 39.69% (+1.43%) PR winning 79 PR seats >> 325 seats (+186)

The LDP (and its usual coalition ally in the NKP) won a huge victory, taking a two-thirds majority in the lower house of the Diet; a two-thirds majority which will allow the government to override the upper house, where the DPJ still retains a bare plurality until elections for half of the seats next summer. The LDP’s rather phenomenal victory is the mirror opposite of what happened in 2009 and is basically a carbon copy of Koizumi’s 2005 mandate for postal privatization.

However, even if the LDP-NKP won a two-thirds majority and a massive landslide, the LDP’s victory can ironically be described as being somewhat “underwhelming” and the result of a backlash against the governing party rather than any upsurge in the LDP’s support.

The size of the LDP’s victory was magnified by Japan’s parallel voting system, under which it is much easier to win large absolute majorities on fairly small shares of the popular vote (unlike the old SNTV systems) because the PR component does not balance and compensate the disparities between vote share and seat share created by the FPTP component (unlike in MMP systems like Germany). This system had allowed the LDP to win a two-thirds majority in 2005 before allowing the DPJ to get its own two-thirds majority in 2009. Similar to the winning parties in the last two elections, the LDP-NKP this year utterly demolished the DPJ and the other parties (including the JRP) in the single-member constituencies, taking all but 54 of the 300 single-member constituencies in Japan.

Results of the 2012 Japanese election (source: Wikipedia)

Excluding Osaka, where the JRP won 12 of the 19 seats in the prefecture because of mayor Tōru Hashimoto’s local popularity and strong political machine (which includes the governor of the prefecture), the LDP was dominant in nearly every other region in Japan. Hokkaido, which used to be a strong point for the DPJ, turned into a major bloodbath for the DPJ, hindered in part because of local divisions (the NPD, which includes local ex-DPJ rebels, was strong on the island). In the politically decisive urban battlegrounds – Tokyo, Kanagawa (Yokohama), Aichi (Nagoya) and Saitama – regions where the opposition parties had historically been strongest but which have become increasingly politically contested in recent years as most urban voters have become “floating” swing voters (which altogether make up about 40% of the electorate!), the LDP decimated the DPJ. In 2005, urban voters attracted to Koizumi’s reformist agenda had abandoned the DPJ (strong in urban areas in the 2003 election) and provided for the LDP’s massive landslide. In 2009, urban voters swung hard against the incumbent LDP government and they allowed the DPJ to carry a two-thirds majority. This year, these “floating” voters turned the DPJ’s defeat into a rout.

Therefore, as in 2005 and 2009, the winning party’s victory was magnified by the electoral system (and the heavy weight of FPTP in said system) and resulted in a huge majority in terms of actual seats.

The LDP’s landslide in the single-member seats and in the election overall is largely a reflection of a backlash against the DPJ rather than any upsurge in support for the LDP. Even Shinzō Abe, the new LDP Prime Minister, candidly recognized that his party’s victory was largely the result of anti-DPJ sentiments rather than support for the LDP.

The 2009 election, rather than being a realigning election as most observers initially hailed it as back then, was also a strong anti-incumbent election. In 2009, the DPJ’s landslide reflected the unpopularity and general haplessness (if not, according to many, outright incompetence) of the three successive LDP cabinets following Koizumi’s retirement in 2006. It was not a large electoral realignment as much as a large anti-incumbent swing. The optics of the LDP losing power in a monumental landslide blinded us to this fact in 2009.

The DPJ entered office with high expectations, fueled by its own rhetoric of wrestling power away from senior bureaucrats, breaking the old “iron triangle”, cut down pork-barrel spending, spend more on social services and “revolutionize” the old US-Japan alliance. Like so many Japanese governments in recent years, it did not live up to these expectations and it fell victim to that same vicious cycle which had destroyed Abe, Fukuda and Aso’s cabinets. The game of musical chairs continued, with the DPJ going through three successive Prime Ministers, none of them proving to be charismatic, inspiring popular leaders (like Koizumi was for the LDP).

In the ever-changing and unstable world of modern Japanese politics, the most durable and popular leaders are those who are able to get their message across, market themselves/their parties successfully and present a charismatic image in the medias. However, none of Japan’s last six Prime Ministers (since Koizumi retired in 2006) have fit the bill and their failures at messaging and marketing are part of the explanation for their decline in popularity. The consumption tax, TPP and nuclear energy have been controversial and divisive issues, but in every case the DPJ failed at taking the offensive on the issues, and was placed on the defensive and allowed itself to be outmaneuvered by the LDP or other parties and groups on those issues; even if ultimately the LDP had relatively little policy difference with the DPJ on issues such as the consumption tax.

To be sure, however, like the post-Koizumi LDP cabinets between 2006 and 2009, the DPJ cabinets since the 2009 election have also been hurt by other factors. The government’s economic record was mediocre, with Japan still mired in recession, low-growth and deflation. The DPJ also alienated many of its voters and part of its base by waffling and wobbling over the issues, most notably the question of the US military base on Okinawa, nuclear power or the consumption tax (the DPJ’s 2009 manifesto had opposed such a tax increase).

As a result, Japan’s “floating” voters who have swung wildly in the past six years were clearly unhappy with the unpopular DPJ government, and as a result they swung away from the party (rather than towards the LDP, actually) just like they had swung towards it in 2009.

The popular vote (particularly the PR block vote) shows how relatively unimpressive and “underwhelming” the LDP’s actual performance was. The LDP and NKP only minimally improved their share of the vote on the block vote, taking 36.7% together – up only 1.4% on their disastrous 2009 performance. This means that, with the obvious exception of 2009, this is the worst result for the LDP-NKP coalition. The LDP itself won only 27.8% of the list vote, although they did take 43% of the vote in the single-member constituencies.

The LDP’s victory, therefore, was basically entirely the product of the DPJ’s collapse. The DPJ won only 15.5% of the block vote, falling into third place behind the JRP, and only 22.8% of the FPTP vote. In the 2005 disaster, the DPJ had managed to hold 52 single-member seats (they won 113 seats overall, and 31% on the list vote). This year, the DPJ held only a mere 27 single-member seats. It was obliterated on Hokkaido, where the party had been strong, 2005 included. While Noda easily held his own seat in Chiba Prefecture, no less than eight cabinet ministers lost their seats altogether (constituency losers may sometimes survive by being ‘rescued’ on the list vote) including the finance minister (Koriki Jojima) and the chief cabinet secretary (Osamu Fujimura) and the internal affairs minister (Shinji Tarutoko). Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan lost his district seat in Tokyo but was rescued by the block vote.

The JRP performed rather well, placing second with 20.5% on the block vote. The core of its appeal, however, was concentrated in the Kinki region and specifically in Hashimoto’s political base in Osaka Prefecture. The JRP topped the vote in the Kinki block, with 31% of the list vote, and won the most seats (12 out of 19) in Osaka Prefecture. In the Tokyo block, where the party’s leader and outgoing governor Shintarō Ishihara was the top candidate on the list, the JRP won nearly 20% on the list vote. A finer analysis of the JRP’s results, however, shows that most of its gains likely came on the back of disgruntled DPJ voters. In single-member districts without a JRP candidate, the JRP’s list voters more often than not backed a non-LDP (often DPJ) candidate.

The JRP is thrust into a strong and potentially promising position, but one which at the same time can also be fairly dangerous for the party. On the one hand, with the DPJ having fallen into a state of utter disrepair (even worse than in 2005) and with questions about the DPJ’s future as a party being seriously posed, the JRP could profit from a DPJ collapse. But at the same time, the JRP is an unholy alliance of two ambitious and charismatic local political bosses (Hashimoto and Ishihara) who have a similar populist and nationalist political style but who also differ on some policy questions and could come to see their ambitions clash. During the campaign, internal divisions between the “Hashists” and Ishihara’s supporters had already come to light and weakened the party. Furthermore, many of the JRP’s new members are unknown quantities who have not really been vetted by the media and could hide a few skeletons of their own which will come to light later. If the DPJ is able to get its act together and reassemble itself – which is not an unreasonable idea despite its disastrous result (given how Japanese voters are notoriously swingy and given the historical presence of a left-of-centre opposition to the LDP since 1955) – the JRP could see its star fade. On the other hand, if the DPJ does collapse further, the JRP would be in a strong position to build itself on the ruins of the DPJ.

The other success of these elections was Yoshimi Watanabe’s Your Party, which had already done well in the 2010 upper house elections. The YP gained 10 seats and won 8.8% on the list vote, likely benefiting from its attractively populist platform and relative novelty.

The other major loser of the election, besides the DPJ, was the Tomorrow Party (TPJ), Governor Kada’s party which was basically co-opted by Ichirō Ozawa’s own party and transformed into a vaguely left-wing machine for Ozawa (Kada, for some weird reason, allowed herself and her party to be coopted by Ozawa and banked everything on his damaged goods figure). From a strong bench of 61 members in the old house, most of them from Ozawa’s old DPJ faction which had left the DPJ this summer, the TPJ was crushed and returned only 9 members. Following the election, all but one of the TPJ’s much-reduced caucus proceeded to abandon ship with Ozawa and create a new political faction, which might now rejoin the DPJ (the DPJ’s new leader, Banri Kaeida, is considered closer to Ozawa and was backed by Ozawa’s faction over Noda and others in the 2011 leadership election, placing second in the final ballot).

Ichirō Ozawa, once a strong political strategist and mastermind, badly misread the political situation and his own political future when he left the DPJ this summer. He is no longer the flamboyant and somewhat smug ex-LDP reformist that he was back in 1993, years of hounding by the media and prosecutors over corruption scandals and allegations have destroyed his political capital and turned him into a damaged goods figure. By and large, voters perceived the TPJ’s anti-nuclear (hence quite ‘green’), anti-TPP and anti-consumption tax as mere political expediency by Ozawa and his crowd.

On his own, without a strong political party, Ozawa was crushed. His political career is wrapping to a close. Kaieda may conceivably let Ozawa return to the DPJ, as part of the re-consolidation of the DPJ and the centre-left which seems crucial to the DPJ’s continued existence.

On the left, the JCP and SDP both lost seats. The disorganized SDP, which held one single-member seat (in Okinawa Prefecture) and saved one block seat, has fallen even further down and is now on life support. The JCP lost slightly on the list vote, falling to 6.2%; however, the JCP made significant gains in the single-member vote, where it had won only 4% in the 2009 election, victim of tactical voting by left-wing voters for the DPJ’s district candidates. This year, the absence of tactical voting on the left further weakened the DPJ and allowed the JCP to recoup loses on that front, receiving protest votes from left-wing voters in the FPTP districts.

The PNP, a anti-Koizumi LDP splinter turned into a very close DPJ ally, was obliterated, managing to win only a single district seat (actually a pick up from the LDP which had gained it from the PNP in an October 2012 by-election).

The LDP, like the proverbial phoenix rising from the flames, has reemerged from the 2009 disaster stronger than ever. Shinzō Abe, the new Prime Minister at the helm of a huge lower house supermajority, has a hawkish and nationalist reputation. His first stint in office, between 2006 and 2007, is widely seen as a disaster with ended with his resignation for a stress-related illness. During his term, he squandered most of his initial popularity by needlessly alienating China and South Korea and seemingly focusing on nationalistic rhetoric. He comes into office following a territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku island, which the LDP accused Noda’s DPJ of mismanaging and which might have inspired hawkish responses by Japanese voters which benefited the LDP.

Unlike in 2009, when the DPJ’s striking victory was greeted in Japan and abroad with widespread enthusiasm and excitement, little fanfare and no enthusiasm has accompanied the LDP’s return to power this year. Markets reacted favourably to Abe’s victory, but the bad taste left by his short term has worried others. While in opposition, the LDP did not chose to renew itself or find a new, charismatic and inspiring reformist leader (a la Koizumi) and instead stuck with the old guard and its old ways.

However, Abe has stated that his top focus would be the economy and Japan’s deflation problem. He wants to further loosen monetary policy, inject perhaps $120 billion in the economy in the form of public works spending (an LDP specialty) and actively pressure the Bank of Japan to set a hard target for inflation (at 2%) rather than its current loosely defined 1% inflation goal. The public works spending projects and a possible move to curb the central bank’s independence has ruffled feathers and was criticized by the other parties during the campaign. Abe’s finance minister will be another former LDP Prime Minister, Tarō Asō (who also had a hardline and nationalist reputation).

Abe will face conflicting pressure from various groups over economic policy and other hot-button issues such as the TPP. The business lobby strongly supports the TPP and would want Abe and the LDP to further deregulate the economy, but other LDP support bases – including farmers – oppose the TPP and economic deregulation.

The LDP will have to tread carefully between now and next summer, when it faces a first election with upper house elections (the DPJ still holds a bare plurality there). It will likely focus on the economy and lead a moderate course between now and the upper house elections, in the hope of conquering a plurality or majority there too.

While the LDP has returned to power, it is longer the unshakable political beast it was between 1955 and 1993. Japanese voters are no longer loyally drawn to any party, and constantly float between the various parties and since 2006 have proven more than ready to abandon a governing party in droves. If the LDP government(s?) turns out to be similar to the hapless, directionless and hopelessly divided DPJ and LDP governments which have ruled Japan since 2006, it could conceivably collapse back into opposition by the time of the next general election (by 2016).

Japan’s seventh Prime Minister in five years

When watching Japanese politics from the outside, it seems as if the incumbent Prime Minister resigns every other day. Indeed, since September 2006 – five years ago – there have been seven Prime Ministers, of which only the outgoing one, Naoto Kan, lasted over one year. Since the resignation in September 2006 of Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s last successful Prime Minister, Japanese politics have been marked by instability in the top job. There is perhaps a culture which compels leaders to resign when they are viewed as failures, and there are also factional wars in both major parties which often conspire in the backrooms to push the Prime Minister out the door.

The incumbent Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, in office since June 2010, never faced a general election and came to power with the resignation of Yukio Hatoyama, elected in the 2009 general election in which the ruling centrist Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) defeated the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Japan’s natural governing party. Kan blundered right at the start by hiking the sales tax from 5% to 10%, which resulted in the DPJ’s poor showing in the 2010 upper house elections. In September 2010, Kan defeated his party rival Ichirō Ozawa in a leadership election. Ozawa, the DPJ leader between 2006 and 2009, is known as the DPJ’s “Shadow Shogun” for his traditional place in party intrigue, corruption and backroom politics. Ozawa took control of a demoralized and divided DPJ, trounced by Koizumi in the 2005 elections, and managed to rebuild it to a formidable alternative to the unpopular LDP by the 2007 upper house elections. However, Ozawa, a former LDP boss defeated in an LDP battle, wanted to build the DPJ into something of a new LDP for bitter LDP losers. That included pandering to the LDP’s clientelistic coalition, and inevitably turning the DPJ into an archaic corrupt shell rather than the reformist, pragmatic alternative it was supposed to be. Ozawa did not the DPJ into the August 2009 landslide election, because a corruption scandals months before in May had forced him out. However, he backed Yukio Hatoyama who defeated the reformist candidate, former leader Katsuya Okada. Ozawa thus became ‘shadow leader’ of the DPJ, the man pulling the strings for Hatoyama who soon proved how much of a tool he was. His incompetence forced him out in June 2010, where Kan, a reformist anti-Ozawa figure backed by the DPJ’s right-wing was elected. Ozawa, who had resigned around the same time as Hatoyama from his office of secretary general of the DPJ, challenged Kan for the leadership again in September (a regular party election: Kan had been elected to fill the remainder of Hatoyama’s term as DPJ president). Ozawa lost only 200 to 206 in the MP vote, but party members and local elected officials much preferred Kan, who was much more popular than Ozawa with voters.

Kan was hurt by the March tsunami and nuclear disaster in Fukushima, where his slow and tepid response to the crisis was much criticized. Japan’s economic situation and massive debt was also a major point of criticism, especially in recent days with Japan’s debt level downgraded by rating agencies. Similar to the debt ceiling fight in the United States, the battle over Japan’s economic situation (made worse by the ravaging tsunami in March) has been between increased taxes or spending cuts. The LDP wants the DPJ to drop some of its generous spending policies instead of having to borrow to finance the Japanese debt. Pressure mounted on Kan to resign and set a timetable for his resignation. His approval rating is below 20%, most of his party dislikes him, business despises him and the press attacks him. In June, he survived a leadership vote after Hatoyama and Ozawa’s faction backed down in exchange for a promise to resign soon. He finally did so last week, opening the gates to my favourite thing in party politics: leadership contests and factional wars.

The candidates were finance minister Yoshihiko Noda, trade and industry minister Banri Kaieda, former foreign minister and DPJ leader Seiji Maehara, agriculture minister Michihiko Kano and former transportation minister Sumio Mabuchi. Noda, on the party’s right, is nonetheless a prominent reformist. Noda is controversial for his constant insistence that Japanese class-A war criminals are not in fact war criminals, a view much criticized by South Korea – which Naoto Kan has cozied up to. Kaieda is close to Hatoyama and received the support of Ozawa, who despite being a crook and all that has one of the largest factions in the party with up to 130 MPs out of 398. Kaieda notably cried in Parliament under a barrage of criticism. Former foreign minister Seiji Maehara is also a reformist on the party’s right and a prominent pro-American ‘hawk’ (or neoconservative) within the party who was forced out in March after receiving bizarre illegal donations from a Korean living in Japan. Maehara is popular with voters and was believed to be the favourite. Not much is known about Kano or Mabuchi, but Mabuchi was apparently backed by some Kan opponent. Currently 398 DPJ Diet members were allowed to vote (there was no primary with members as this is a special election) and did so this morning.

Kaieda received 143 votes, Noda 102, Maehara 74, Kano 52 and Mabuchi 54. In the second ballot, the anti-Ozawa candidates, the most prominent of which were Maehara and Noda (perhaps linked by a secret deal), all united behind Noda. Noda won 213-177 against Kaieda. Ozawa lost a third successive battle to control the party, though his powerful faction will continue to influence the DPJ and a thorn in the side for the reformist leadership of Noda (and Maehara).

Noda has a major task ahead of him. Beyond rebuilding, he faces a tough economic situation and above all restore people’s trust in politicians. Kan’s downfall is emblematic of a popular disgust and disillusion with all politicians, DPJ or LDP. It is doubtful that Noda will be able to repair that long-lost connection of trust and confidence between voter and leader in Japan. His controversial comments on the war criminals raises eyebrows, but above all his support for higher taxes and a potential grand coalition with the LDP is quite controversial in Japan. It remains to be seen if he’ll even last a year, given the track record so far. The DPJ’s absolute majority in the House of Representatives is not due to renewed until the summer of 2013, which is a long way away and which might, if the trend holds, see the DPJ led by somebody else than Noda.

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.

Japan 2009

The first post of the new electoral season after the electoral respite over the summer concerns Japan, which I covered a few days ago in a preview post. As previously stated, all 480 seats of the powerful Japanese lower house, the House of Representatives, was at stake. 300 of the members were elected in single-member constituencies by FPTP (the local seats) while 180 were elected in electoral ‘blocs’ (regions comprising of several prefectures, each bloc having a varying amount of seats) via proportional representation. Much stuff has been said about these quite historic elections by all people, and for once the international media paid attention to a foreign election (that means it’s important).

DPJ 42.4% (+11.4%) winning 308 seats (+198)
LDP 26.7% (-11.5%) winning 119 seats (-177)
New Komeito 11.5% (-1.8%) winning 21 seats (-10)
Communist Party 7.0% (-0.3%) winning 9 seats (±0)
SDP 4.3% (-1.2%) winning 7 seats (±0)
Your Party 4.3% winning 5 seats
People’s New Party 1.7% (±0.0%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Independent and Other Factions 2.1% winning 8 seats (-10)
DPJ-SDP-PNP Alliance 48.4% (+10.2%) winning 318 seats (+194)

Out of the 300 local seats at stake, the DPJ won 221, the LDP won 64, Independents won 7, the SDP and PNP won 3 each and Your Party won 2. The New Komeito, which held 8 local seats in 2005, lost all of them, and the party’s leader was even defeated in his Tokyo constituency (12th district).

In the bloc seats, the DPJ won 87, the LDP won 55, the New Komeito won 21 (all of its caucus), the Communists won 9 (all of their caucus), the SDP won 4 and Your Party won 3. A final seat was won by an Independent.

Japan 2009

The DPJ swept eight prefectures: Iwate, Fukushima, Yamanashi, Niigata, Nagano, Aichi, Shiga and Nagasaki. Aichi is a important prefecture, and is the base, if my memory serves me correctly, of major Japanese industries. The city of Nagoya, a DPJ stronghold, is also in Aichi Prefecture. No clean sweep, however, in Hokkaido, despite the LDP losing all its incumbents there – however the LDP gained a seat, the 7th district. Not sure what went on there. An almost clean sweep in Saitama, Osaka, Tokyo and Kanagawa – all very important centres of Japan. The DPJ was really destroyed in Tokyo and Kanagawa in 2005. This goes with the pattern of huge DPJ gains in urban areas and lesser gains in rural areas, where the LDP machine isn’t crippled yet.

Unlike in the Tokyo prefecture elections, the LDP’s rout also affected it’s close ally, the New Komeito, which lost 1o seats. The Communists and Social Democrats held their ground quite well, though the LDP rebel parties, either the old ones from 2005 or the new ‘Your Party’ outfit, did poorly. In the end, I see those things dying out, and most of its voters returning to the LDP fold.

Yukio Hatoyama, a centrist and original founder of the DPJ, becomes Prime Minister with a large majority which is almost the fabled two-thirds majority. The DPJ was elected on a slogan of ‘People’s Lives First’, so it has a large mission ahead of it. It is committed to large-scale political and government reform, decentralization, budgetary reform, but also a certain skepticism for neoliberal economics, and centre-left social policies. A DPJ government is also likely to move Japan away from its close relationship with the US in favour of expanding ties with the UN and Asian nations for security matters, while still keeping the US as a close ally. Skeptics say the DPJ will govern like the LDP and that the DPJ is nothing but LDP2, but that remains to be seen, and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. The DPJ, however, must move fast, as it will be accountable to voters in 2010 (Upper House elections).

The future of the LDP is uncertain, and the next leadership fight will probably pit reformists against conservatives. It remains to be seen whether the LDP will stay as one, or if these two currents will split into new parties. It remains to be seen if a party like the LDP can be good in opposition and out of power. It also remains to be seen if a party like the LDP based around special interests and various lobbies can actually be a viable real political party – one that is sometimes in governments, sometimes in opposition. Interesting days ahead for Japan, certainly.

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.

Tokyo 2009

The large Tokyo Metro Area (encompassing Tokyo and some of its suburbia) held prefectural elections for the 127-seat Metropolitan Assembly today. These Tokyo elections, because of the huge electorate (10 million today) are often seen as a very accurate test of popular support for the government before an imminent general election. The current government in Tokyo is formed by the same parties which form government nationally, the conservative-corrupt Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Buddhist New Komeito Party. The opposition in Tokyo is formed by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), a coalition of former Socialists (moderate), neoliberals, centrist, and LDP dissidents which have little in the way of actual ideology but rather united by an anti-LDP sentiment. Other opposition parties include the Communist Party (JCP), which is actually quite moderate and decent, and the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDP) which is to the left of the JCP and is the piteous remains of the most radical wing of the old Japanese Socialist Party.

As I said before, these elections are accurate “opinion polls” for the general election. In 1993, the LDP lost its majority in Tokyo which signaled the loss of national power nationally that same year. In 2005, the LDP and New Komeito won a majority in Tokyo, which signaled the coalition’s majority win in the 2005 general election.

DPJ 54 seats (+20)
LDP 38 seats (-10)
New Komeito 23 seats (+1)
Communist Party 8 seats (-5)
Tokyo Seikatsusha 2 seats (-2)
Independents 2 seats (-1)
SDP 0 seats (-1)
LDP-New Komeito 61 seats (-9)

A major defeat for the LDP, but not a massive thumping (no DPJ majority on its own) but still a bag sign for the elections this year. In this election, all the opposition parties have 66 seats and a theoretical majority.