The raw figures, even crudely analyzed, do not necessarily point to a right-wing shift in Japan
TOKYO (majirox news) – “Why,” many non-Japanese are wondering, “has the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) returned to power in such a dramatic way?” The answer does not lie in the party’s popularity. Some commentators noted the support rate for the party is approximately the same as when it was forced from office some three years ago.
A mere 43% of voters voted for the LDP in single-seat constituencies, with fewer than 60% of eligible voters casting a ballot. In other words, one quarter of eligible voters voted for a party which won in a parliamentary landslide.
It seems that the LDP is the only viable alternative to the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which has disappointed the public through its failure to live up to the goals promised in its election manifesto. This disappointment was shown through the defeat of major DPJ political figures such as former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Education Minister Makiko Tanaka. The number of Cabinet ministers losing their seats (eight) was the highest since World War II – this last statistic is hardly surprising, given Japan’s largely single-party rule during that period.
The voters failed to take into account factors which were rarely mentioned during the run-up to the election. The DPJ party manifesto was largely the work of Ichiro Ozawa, who jumped ship from the DPJ some months previously, and whose hastily-formed coalition with anti-nuclear activist Yukiko Kada’s Tomorrow Party, which slumped to single digits in this election down from 62 seats. The entrenched habits of the government workers’ uninterrupted collusion with the LDP over half a century proved to be almost impervious to change by the DPJ. Lastly, during the period of the DPJ’s power, Japan experienced a destructive and disruptive set of disasters which derailed the promised reforms.
The answer is blowing in the wind?
In the end, the “third force” parties touted by the media turned out, with one notable exception, to be not so much a wind of change as a gentle breeze, hardly able to ruffle the papers on the bureaucrats’ desks in Tokyo’s government offices.
The exception to the “third force” impotence is the Japan Restoration Party (JRP), which gained a stunning number of seats, largely in the proportional representation section of the vote. The rhetoric of former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto persuaded many of the electorate to cast their votes against the DPJ and for the JRP, despite a somewhat muddled and at times contradictory set of stated policies.
For example, Ishihara, one of whose mantras is a devolution of regions from central government, and an end of reliance on central government ministry officials, has talked about an alliance with the LDP, whose leader Shinzo Abe has criticized as “politician-led” decisions, seeking a return to rule by bureaucrat. Hashimoto has flip-flopped on the issue of nuclear power. However, by appealing to an anti-Tokyo theme, as well as a roughly outlined form of nationalism and jingoism, the JRP managed to win more proportional seats than the DPJ (40 versus 30), and more than two-thirds the number of proportional seats of the LDP (57 seats).
It is quite possible that this party acted as a “spoiler”, siphoning votes from the DPJ by those opposed to the LDP while seeing no reason to support the DPJ, rather than attracting votes as a result of its own policies. While watching the constituency results on TV, it appeared that the number of DPJ single-constituency seats (a mere 27 seats) would have been higher had a significant number of voters voting against the LDP cast their votes for the DPJ rather than the JRP (who only gained 14 such seats).
The only other (barely) significant “third force” was Minna no To (Your Party), which picked up a mere 4 seats in the single-seat constituencies, and 14 proportional seats. The one-time principal opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, is down to irrelevancy levels with two seats overall (from five).
Is Japan drifting to the right?
Additional notes to those who have seen a reported “conservative” Japanese swing in the LDP’s victory. The LDP has pledged to restore the economy to health through its traditional methods: massive stimulus through public works projects – hardly “conservative” in the American sense. However, some critics have warned that this method will no longer be viable and the LDP needs a new approach. Indeed, while the LDP’s strategies produced results in the past, Japan was sometimes touted as “the world’s only successful socialist economy.”
Japan’s neighbors can probably sleep sound at night. The much-quoted idea that Japan will be “militarized” as the result of the LDP would appear to be a canard, though resentment has been expressed domestically over the perceived domination of Japan by the US, and there have been some growls of discontent over the US-instituted constitution. It is far more likely that the anti-central government stance of the JRP resonated far more strongly with most voters than did the remilitarization of Japan, which is opposed by most Japanese. Almost certainly Ishihara’s inflammatory remarks about Japan’s possible possession of nuclear weapons turned away more voters than they attracted.
Bottom line: the LDP has power, with a super-majority able to override the upper house if needed (as long as New Komeito remains in its camp), but it is not a popular party, and should not fool itself that it enjoys the support of the majority of the population, especially when the low turnout rate is factored into the equation. A sudden turnabout in its fortunes would still seem to be a possibility.
The views expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent the views of Majirox News