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Japan’s DPJ and the upper house elections

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In Brief

Aurelia George Mulgan’s recent contribution here repeats much discussion in Japan about the DPJ’s failure to gain a majority in the recent House of Councillors (HOC) elections. But what are the facts and how really should they be interpreted?

First, on a combined SEP and NT basis, DPJ won the largest number of votes, followed by LDP, Mina, Komei, CPJ, SDP, Reform, TN, NNP and Kofuku.


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Second, on both an SEP and NT basis, the number of votes gained by DPJ, Komei, CPJ, SDP, NNP and NA was smaller than that of the last election.

Third, on both an SEP and NT basis, new party candidates made varying degrees of inroads on all the existing party candidates; impressively by Mina and somewhat by Reform, TN and Kofuku.

Fourth, on an SEC basis the number of votes gained by the LDP was slightly larger than that at the last election, but significantly smaller on an NT basis.

The LDP took advantage of the existing election system, under which candidates who run in rural prefectures win with a far smaller number of ballots as compared with those who run in urban prefectures. For example, a HOC candidate running in the urban prefectures of Osaka or Tokyo metropolis would have to secure 698,933 in Osaka or 656,029 in Tokyo to gain election. Alternatively, a candidate in rural Kochi or Tokushima prefectures only required 137,306 votes (Kochi) or 142,763 votes in Tokushima to gain election.

As a result, on an SEP basis, LDP won 39 seats against 28 gained by DPJ, in spite of the far less a number of votes gained by LDP compared to the DPJ. Secondly, on an NT basis, the DPJ gained 16 seats against 12 gained by LDP reflecting exactly their respective number of votes gained.

What conclusions can we draw from HOC voting and election results this year?

Firstly, the DJP’s campaign policies masterminded by Ozawa were ineffective. The LDP election campaign policy was to run one candidate in every one of the rural prefectures, their stronghold in the past. The DPJ’s election campaign policy, masterminded by Secretary-General Ozawa, was to run two DPJ candidates in every prefecture, including rural prefectures.

During the campaign many DPJ candidates complained bitterly to Ozawa about the DJP campaign policy, to little effect. After the election, the policy was proven to be totally misguided. The DPJ should have fought the policy, but failed to due to Ozawa’s political influence and role as background financier of the HOC election campaign.

Secondly, the fact that DPJ won the largest number of votes both on an SEP and NT basis indicated voters supported DPJ’s HOC election manifesto of ‘Strong Economy, Strong Financials and Strong Social Security’, along with the current DPJ administration. Nonetheless, the large reduction in votes cast for the DPJ compared with the election in 2007 reflected disappointment with the money scandal centered on Ozawa.

The fall in support for the DPJ may also be explained by the failure of the party to provide a clear, long-term national vision and articulate its priorities at home and in international relations. This was most clearly seen in the reversal of policy over the Futenma Air Base in Okinawa. Further shifts on major issues included child allowances, decentralization of authority and the abrupt reference by Prime Minister Kan Naoto to consumption tax increases.

Thirdly, recent surveys indicate that voters accept the critical importance of steadily increasing consumption tax to prevent further increases in government debt, which now runs somewhere around US$9 trillion. At the same time voters expect the DPJ administration to do what previous LDP and LDP/Komeito coalition governments failed to do for decades.

Making government expenditures transparent, dramatically cutting wasteful expenditure, for major Independent Government Agencies and their subsidiaries in April this year is viewed as similarly important. Additionally voters expect a downsizing of national and local government bureaucracies and cutting overly-high public servant salaries.

Voters also expressed a preference for the acceleration of decentralisation of national government authority to local governments and local communities together with increased financial decentralization. This preference extended to installing better national health insurance and pension systems.

Japanese voters realise that meeting these public needs would require not only a strategic reorientation of government expenditure policy but also increased government revenue. This would be born of reforms in consumption, income and assets taxes as well as enhanced public-private partnerships. Voters want to see the Kan Administration continue to stay on without interruption and all political parties to cooperate and collaborate in formulating policies after public debate. Voters are likely to revolt against those parties which continue to fight each other solely to protect narrow party interests, as they have done repeatedly in the past.

Ryokichi Hirono is Professor Emeritus at Seikei University, visiting professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Tokyo and a former visiting professor at the Australian National University, Canberra.

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