Open Doors or Closed? Japanese Politicians Regroup
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 18, 2012
Summary: Japan's 46th House of Representatives general election was a dramatic
departure from 29 years of December House of Representatives elections.
Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) rule ended in 2012. The Liberal
Democratic Party (LDP)returned to power. It formed a coalition with the
New Komeito Party (NKP), and captured over two-thirds of the seats. It
parted company with Ichiro Ozawa, whose DPJ was demoted to its former
status. It did more than lose power. It was reduced to where it could
not even compete with small and medium-sized political parties such as
the LDP and NKP.
Full Text below:
Japan's 46th House of Representatives general election was a dramatic departure from 29 years of December House of Representatives elections. Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) rule ended in 2012. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)returned to power. It formed a coalition with the New Komeito Party (NKP), and captured over two-thirds of the seats. It parted company with Ichiro Ozawa, whose DPJ was demoted to its former status. It did more than lose power. It was reduced to where it could not even compete with small and medium-sized political parties such as the LDP and NKP.
Shintaro Ishihara is the leader of the Japan Restoration Council. The "small constituency system" imposes constraints. The LDP and NKP joined hands to attack it. But it still did well during the election. Right-wing advocates benefitted to some degree from public discontent with the ruling DPJ. But support for this "third force" was too scattered. It has little room for growth. The election results were no surprise. But they also show that the two party system involving the LDP and DPJ is not yet mature.
Following the Cold War, the 55 year LDP political monopoly began to loosen. In 1993, Ichiro Ozawa left the party. This split the LDP. It led to a reshuffle of the Japanese political landscape. In 1994, the election system for the Japanese House of Representatives was revamped. A "parallel proportional representation constituency system" was introduced. The intent was to establish a two party political system. In the meantime, the House of Representatives held a fifth election in August 2009. The DPJ bet on the people's longing for change. It won 308 seats in the House of Representatives, scoring an overwhelming victory. In a single stroke, it shattered the 55 year old system. The LDP has long been the largest party in the House of Representatives. It seized political power.
The September 2009 scene in Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's residence in Nagatacho remains fresh in our memories. But in July 2010, the Democratic Party suffered a defeat in the House of Councilors election. Japan's politics became mired in vicious ruling vs. opposition party struggles that distorted the Diet. The Ozawa and anti-Ozawa factions within the DPJ continued to quarrel. Ichiro Ozawa severed all relations with the party. Prime Minister Noda was essentially reduced to minority rule. He could not address tax reform and social welfare reform. He could not solve the structural problems bedeviling the Japanese economy. The Japanese economy gradually lost its competitiveness. The Japanese people could do little besidses reelect Shinzo Abe three times. Therefore, the LDP regained power. It regained power not because it endured hardship when it was in the opposition and made plans to govern better upon its return to power. It regained power because the ruling DPJ failed.
The House of Representatives general election resulted in the parties swapping places. The LDP came on like gangbusters. It won over half the seats in the House of Representatives alone. Together with the NKP the two hold two-thirds of seats in the House of Representatives. This has reduced problems with a "distorted Congress." But it does not mean the LDP is welcomed by all. The number of candidates exploded. A new record was established for the number of candidates running since the post-war implementation of Japan's new constitution. The LDP benefitted from the small constituency system, which reduced the opportunity for the sudden emergence of a third force. The DPJ and the third force cannibalized each other's support. This enabled the LDP to benefit via small constituency seats. This is proven by the fact that the Liberal Democratic Party only won about 30 seats.
Following the election, the Abe Cabinet may temporarily clear away the fog of minority rule. It may enjoy a brief honeymoon. But "Abe Economics" must print more yen, stimulate inflation, in order to drive consumption. Japanese may not benefit from economic growth. They may first end up suffering from inflation. Add to this the consumption tax to be levied in 2014. The Japanese people may have to suffer for quite some time.
Worst of all, the small constituency system in the Japanese House of Representatives, resulted in too many "dead men voting." Swings caused by The recent third House of Representatives general election was plagued by excessive swings in the vote tallies. This problem may recur in the next House of Representatives election. Therefore, the Liberal Democratic Party's triumphant return does not mean that in the future there will be no strong opposition oversight. If the short run Can Abe produce results that the Japanese are happy with? If not, then next year's July House of Councilors elections could result in an Abe defeat. He would live his 2007 experience.
The House of Representatives election involved an unprecedented 12 political parties fighting each other tooth and nail. A grand total of 1504 candidates ran for office. Japanese voters remained calm and collected. Over 40% of the voters stayed home. This accurately reflects the Japanese public's mistrust of Japanese politicians. The young are politically apathetic. They have no desire to vote. The Democratic Party has rule for three years, three months. The Japanese have realized that changes in ruling parties is no magic wand. They will not make Japan undergo a magical transformation. In the future ruling party changes will not be enough to arouse voter enthusiasm and support. Ruling and opposition leaders' specific proposals to solve the nation's political problems will be the real key to voter motivation.
Therefore, changes in the Japanese political landscape will not end as a result of a resurrected LDP and NKP coalition cabinet. The small constituency system phenomenon is transitional. The small constituency system imposes constraints. Small parties are bound to merge with each other in their search for electoral victories. The LDP is neither monolithic nor shatterproof.
Globalization is the rule. Japan faces serious challenges. The political world must decide whether to adopt an Open or Closed Door policy. This will replace increasingly polarized left vs. right opposition. Japanese voters must choose between the two. They must implement a stable two-party political system. They must learn from others. We on Taiwan must reflect upon the sweeping changes Japan is undergoing.