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Japan Diary

December 19, 2012

Change of government after three years --the resurge of the old Liberal Democratic Party

In the general election last Sunday the old Liberal Democratic Party regained the power which it lost three years ago.
Reflecting the nature of the single-mandate system (300 members out of the total 480 are elected from single-mandate districts), the results of elections can become extreme; three years ago the Democratic Party took 308 seats and this time it gained mere 57 seats!
The numbers of the seats for major parties are as follows:

Liberal Democratic Party 294 (119 in 2009)
Justice Party (Buddhists) 31 (21)
(these two parties will form a coalition)

Democratic Party 57 (308)
Restoration Party (new) 54
Your Party 18 (5)
Tomorrow Party (new but old) 9 (61)
Communist Party 8 (9)

(there are three other minor parties and 5 independents)

Why did it so happen?

The voters' turn-out 59.32% was the lowest in post-war Japan. It may reflect voters' disillusionment in politics. In the last general election in 2009 people changed the ruling party on their own will, having some expectations for change. And they were disappointed by the performance of the Democratic Party, which turned out to be unprepared to take the reign of the government. The first prime-minister Hatoyama deteriorated the relations with the U.S. by his haphazard statements, and the second premier Kan mismanaged (or so people believed) the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Only the latest prime-minister Noda was reliable, but he not only came too late but also raised the consumption tax, which is a sure ticket for defeat in election.

The election turned to be suicidal for Mr. Noda, but if he had declared it later, the majority of his party's parliamentarians may have moved to newly-created parties (the Democratic Party became so unpopular that shifting of the party affiliation became the only means for survival). Therefore, he went for broke.

It looks like a decisive victory for the Liberal Democratic Party, but it isn't. It got 61% of the seats but it collected only 43% of the votes in single-mandate districts (300 seats) and unimpressive 28% of the votes for proportional representation (180 seats). The rest of the votes were split among the Democratic Party and other opposition parties, and because of the winner-takes-it-all system of the single-mandate districts candidates of the Liberal Democratic Party took the lion's share. Asahi newspaper reports that as many as 53% of the votes were given to the losers.

What will Mr.Abe do?

The outcome of the election does not give the Liberal Democratic Party a carte-blanche in handling the politics, because it does not have majority seats in the Upper House, which can block almost all initiatives adopted by the Lower House. The predicted coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and the Justice Party will mean 42.2% of the seats in the Upper House, but Mr.Abe will still need cooperation of the other parties, which may become a tightrope game.

Next summer the Upper House will have next election for one half of its members, and this is going to be a decisive battle for Abe's new government. If he may lose, he will be forced to resign both as Party chairman and as premier. Therefore, he will not take too many chances, concentrating on economy and improvement of the relations with the U.S.
He is dubbed as nationalist, but to my eyes he is a well-balanced statesman. And even if he be swayed by opinions of his jingoist followers, it will be tempered by the moderate and pacifist coalition partner, the Justice Party. Therefore, he will keep on hold the relations with China, not taking new steps to strengthen the control of the Senkaku Islands. His tone toward Russia will be cordial (Japan and Russia both are poised to attach more importance to each other mainly for building a better balance vis-à-vis China), but serious negotiation on the territorial issue may well be put on hold, too.


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