Click here to go to Day 1 of the 2012 Japan Election Diary.
Does this election have any deeper meaning? In 2009 it was a verdict on 50 years of LDP rule. This time, anything as momentous?
I would take issue with the characterization of the House of Representatives election of 2009 as the verdict on 50 years of LDP rule. The verdict on the LDP was delivered in 1993. The period 1994 to 2009 represented a delay in the imposition of the sentence. Recall that Koizumi Jun'ichiro remained entirely credible despite his paradoxical pledges to destroy the LDP. Koizumi was not all words: he did damage the LDP through his reform program's alienation of many segments of the grand LDP coalition. By promising ice cream for everyone in the DPJ's 2009 manifesto, Ozawa Ichiro was able to scoop up voters in the alienated sectors of society and the economy. When it became clear that there was nowhere near enough fat to trim from the budget to fulfill the manifesto's grandiose promises, Ozawa's ad hoc neo-LDP coalition, fragile and self-serving, collapsed. Ozawa's extravagant promises were superfluous. After the mis-and poor management of the country by prime ministers Abe Shinzo, Fukuda Yasuo and Aso Taro, the LDP was on a course straight for the iceberg.
Two grand themes standout as regards the 2012 election: the consequences of lying and the evaporation of a grand umbrella party of the center-left. Hatoyama Yukio, Ozawa and Noda, all told major lies, for which the DPJ paid and will pay dearly. Noda Yoshihiko's DPJ has in addition been expelling its left-leaning and anti-market liberalization wings. The views held by the remaining members of the DPJ are indistinguishable from those held by their counterparts inside the LDP. One could argue that these policy position are the only tenable and stable ones available to Japan. Such a Panglossian view, however, strikes one as the way elites justify their jobs and their opinions rather than being tested propositions.
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There should be, along with the constellation of microparties, two major parties grappling over policies. As it is, the DPJ has become an LDP clone, so the voters cannot vote with their hearts, just their heads. No leader in the upcoming election will have the people behind him (and it will be a him) as a vote for him and his party will have to have been done with both nostrils pinched shut.
OMIA: If the centre-left umbrella has lost its shape, what's a progressive with principles to do? Vote Ozawa (where available)?
An interesting question that neither the public opinion polls nor the policy stances of the various parties answer. Progressives tend on the whole to not be single issue voters and vice versa. The micro-parties thus have little traction, aside from the Socialists and the Communists, who are still limping forward propelled by the momentum of past glories. In the end, with disgust, the progressive voter will either not vote or vote DPJ.
While Ozawa has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing, he remains a power-mad, secretive, paranoid, preening bully and coward. Good if you are, let us say, a banker running a hedge fund. Bad if you want to be a credible political party leader. When one tries to consider what kind of psyche could accept being subservient to Ozawa, one's head aches.
If the LDP is so undesirable, why does the DPJ try to mimic it?
One argument is that the viable policy choices are limited, making a radical departure, even one the populace finds attractive on a theoretical level, impossible to implement. This was certainly the argument put forth by Paul Scalise and Devin Stewart in their famous article for Foreign Policy Japan's Revolutionary Election.
Another view is that both parties have strong lateral ties in between individual members, with the result of a broad non-partisan consensus on policy, the differences in between the parties being expressed in the fringe elements. Another view along similar lines would argue that the present orientation comes after experimentation by the three successive DPJ administrations, with Hatoyama Yukio following a non-traditional and ultimately untenable path, Kan Naoto trying to reconcile experiment with tradition and Noda stabilizing administration in a traditional manner. All forms three paths proved to be insufficient to deal with the challenge posed by a nihilistic LDP, ready to do anything and say anything to bring down the DPJ government.
OMIA: Final questions, if I may… is the election illegal? If so, will it matter?
No person has come forward with an explanation as to how the election could be legal. Even if the courts accept the contemptuous +0/-5 solution to the unconstitutional disparity in between the largest and the smallest districts -- which is not being applied in this election -- the current electoral map became defunct in January of this year. Under the law, the ministerial advisory council on electoral districts, attached to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, must produce a new map within one calendar year after the release of the decennial census. The council did not receive guidance from the government on the number of seats the House of Representatives should have in it or on the guidelines for redrawing the boundaries of the districts. As a result the council was unable to do its job and has not submitted a new map.
It will matter because holding an election in contempt of the law will not go unchallenged.
Despite an article in the Constitution declaring that the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of all laws and government acts, the Court has never exercised its powers in any significant way, choosing instead to defer to the decisions made by the country's elected officials. However, in recent years the Court has been warning the Diet and the government that it will protect the fundamental rights of the populace.
The politicians have essentially thumbed their noses at the courts. If the justices take the insult personally, there is a very, very small chance that the courts could void the election. More likely there would be an erosion of the deference the courts, including the Supreme Court, have been showing the Cabinet and the Diet.
OMIA: A supplementary question: is a vote for Ishihara/Hashimoto a vote for insanity?
Yes. If Hashimoto were quitting his day job as Osaka City's mayor, the exercise might have some meaning. As it is, the merger with the Party of the Sun makes clear that the national-level Japan Restoration Association is an ego trip for Hashimoto and Ishihara, nothing more.
Go to DAY 7