Japan will hold its general election on 30 August–not a moment too soon for a public that is ready to dump a cabinet in which less than 20% approve.
Is there any scenario in which the Liberal Democratic Party does not suffer its first ever outright election loss? The party was founded by a merger of two existing parties (amazingly, one was the Liberal Party and the other was the Democratic Party) in 1955. It was out of power briefly following the 1993 election, but that was not a straight government-vs.-opposition contest. Those have happened only under the MMM system implemented during the LDP’s brief opposition phase, and the LDP has done quite well under MMM, up to now.
Is the gig finally up? I have learned not to count the LDP out. But it looks so.
My colleague, Robert Pekkanen, sends this note from Bloomberg:
Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party may pledge to cut the nation’s parliament from two chambers to one and reduce the number of legislators by 30 percent in 10 years…
The party will include the promise in its platform for the next general election, the [Yomiuri] newspaper reported, without saying where it got the information. The LDP also plans to restrict close relatives of lawmakers from inheriting constituencies, the report said.
There is nothing like losing control of the second chamber to make a ruling party think of cameral change! The LDP is in serious danger of losing control of the first chamber, too, in this September’s election. Japan’s second chamber (House of Councilors) is one of the more powerful among parliamentary democracies, although the government need maintain the confidence only of the first chamber (House of Representatives).
The point on “inherited” seats is also interesting; Japan probably has the highest rate among all democracies of sons, daughters, wives, grandsons, etc., of former politicians serving in its legislature.
The Japanese veto-gate structure could be about to get really interesting. Japan’s upper house, the House of Councilors (HoC) is quite powerful among upper chambers of parliamentary systems, but it does not have an absolute veto. Rather, on measures that require passage through both houses, its veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the lower house, the House of Representatives (HoR).
It just so happens that the LDP and its coalition partner, the New Komeito, will have only 42.6% of the HoC seats after Sunday’s election, but the governing coalition has exactly 70% of the seats in the HoR since the 2005 election. (The LDP alone holds 63.5% of the HoR seats.)
As Robert Pekkanen notes in the previous thread, the opposition DPJ will have 45% of the HoC seats, and thus not enough to control the body on its own. However, it ran in an alliance in many districts with some of the successful independents and PNP candidates (also, in at least one case, with the SDP). It thus might be able to form a coalition to control the HoC, though (as Prof. Pekkanen also notes) it may choose not to do so.
In any event, the HoC veto and HoR override provisions will suddenly become quite relevant for policy bargaining. The only items over which the HoC has no veto are the selection or ousting of a Prime Minister (on which it also has no initiative), treaties, and the budget (where the veto is suspensory only: the HoR can override by majority after 30 days). The budget is, of course, a big piece of legislation on which not to have a full veto. But revenue and program authorization are ordinary legislation and thus require the consent of the two houses (or 2/3 of the HoR). (This is all based on my interpretation of a translation of Articles 59-61 of the Japanese constitution.)
Alberto Fujimori is running fifth in preference votes in the People’s New Party national list, with around 6,000 50,000 votes in the end (according to an e-mail I received from someone who follows Japan). The party has no chance of winning that many seats in today’s upper house election.
Don’t miss Prof. Robert Pekkanen’s very informative on-the-scene report in the comments!
In Sunday’s election for Japan’s upper house, the House of Councilors (HoC), the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), is winning most of the single-seat districts and will be the largest party in that body.
The HoC is elected by a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system, as is the more powerful lower house. However, the HoC electoral system differs in several important respects. First, terms are staggered, so only half the seats were up today. Second, the nominal tier consists of some single-seat districts (at any given election) and some multi-seat districts, with the SNTV rule in the latter saving the LDP from a total disaster (for instance, it has won 1 seat and its New Komeito ally another in Tokyo, where the DPJ won the other three). Third, the list is nationwide (whereas for the lower house each prefecture is a there are eleven regional list constituencies). Fourth, the list is open (rather than closed, as in the lower house).
The DPJ is really cleaning up in the single-seat districts (SSDs) where voters were given a clear choice of LDP vs. DPJ candidate. The Okayama prefecture, which forms a SSD for the upper house, offers a glimpse of clever one-on-one campaign tactics:
Toranosuke Katayama, secretary general of the LDP’s upper house caucus, lost his seat to Democratic Party of Japan rookie Yumiko Himei, a former member of the Okayama Prefectural Assembly backed by the People’s New Party.
Himei won with her slogan “Hime no Tora Taiji,” a play on both candidates’ names that means “The princess [hime] will wipe out the tiger [tora].”
That a leader of the governing LDP’s caucus lost is, of course, a big deal, and it was not the only such case. In another district, Shimane, a candidate of the People’s New Party (PNP) defeated a deputy secretary general of the LDP caucus. There were several districts in which the DPJ jointly endorsed candidates with the PNP, which is one of the parties founded by the “traitors” who were expelled from the LDP in 2005 for opposing then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal privatization program. (The PNP also is the party that placed former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori on its national list for this election; apparently he will not be elected.)
According to The Daily Yomiuri (first link above), many of the races won by the DPJ were won with policy-based and anti-government campaigning.
During the campaign [in Tokyo, DPJ candidate and director of an environmental NGO] Masako] Okawara, 54, stressed her achievements in dealing with food safety and environmental problems. She garnered support among housewives and swing voters. [...]
[ Also in Tokyo, DPJ candidate Kan] Suzuki, 43, emphasized his six years of activities as an expert on educational and medical issues throughout the campaign. He called for a change of government, saying, “The current administration cannot carry out real reforms.” [...]
[In Tochigi constituency, DPJ candidate Hiroyuki] Tani apparently gained wider support by capitalizing on public criticism of the ruling coalition over the pension record-keeping blunder and a series of scandals involving Cabinet members.
The success of such campaign tactics is significant for Japan, given that breaking with the old pork-barrel and special-interest-focused campaigns that long sustained the LDP was one of the goals of the lower-house electoral reform back in 1993. The LDP still has not lost an election for the lower house (partly due to its alliance with New Komeito), although the 2005 “snap” election that the LDP won big under Koizumi was fought almost entirely on a single national policy issue: postal privatization. Koizumi craftily used that issue to advertise the repositioning of his party as a policy-reform vehicle and to catch the DPJ off guard.
This election suggests that the voters are no longer buying the reform image of the LDP and have finally decided that the DPJ is the more reformist party. The LDP apparently will be reduced to being the second largest party in the HoC for (if I am not mistaken) the first time in about 50 years. (There was a period in the 1990s when it was not the majority, but remained the largest party.)
Nonetheless, this election is not necessarily fatal for the LDP government headed by Koizumi’s successor, Shinzo Abe. Unlike in Italy, for example, the elected upper house in Japan has no authority to withdraw “confidence” from the cabinet.* Only the lower house can do that, and no election is due for the lower house until 2010 2009. Nonetheless, almost all legislation must clear the upper house, and so Abe’s agenda will be greatly weakened. Will the LDP dump him? Will he decide he has to call an early election and challenge the voters to either oust his party entirely or reinforce his party’s authority vis-a-vis the upper house? I hope some readers more familiar with Japanese politics will weigh in.
* In most bicameral parliamentary systems, the upper house is constitutionally much weaker than the lower house. Other notably powerful parliamentary upper chambers would be those of Australia and Germany, though those also have no formal no-confidence authority. Even so, lack of an upper-house majority was one of the major reasons behind the early lower-house election in Germany in 2005. It is also worth remembering that the defeat Koizumi suffered on his postal privatization in 2005, which led him to call the snap lower-house election, was in the upper house.
Alberto Fujimori, the former president of Peru, is running in this Sunday’s election for Japan’s upper house. Answering a question I raised here in June and at PoliBlog earlier today, a colleague who is currently in Japan reports that Fujimori is running on the national list.
In the upper house, there is both a nominal tier (plurality in SSDs or SNTV, depending on the prefecture) and a parallel proportional allocation by list. The list is open, so presumably the party has determined that his celebrity might bring a few extra votes to the party, through people wanting to cast a preference vote for the Peruvian Samurai.
The party he is running for is the Peoples New Party, one of the parties formed by the so-called “traitors” who voted against former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal privatization. As I noted at the earlier planting on this topic (first link above), this is ironic, inasmuch as Fujimori was “Mr Privatization” (as well as Mr Scandal and Mr Human Rights Abuses and various other epithets we could give him) when he was president.
The story notes that Alberto Fujimori is indeed a candidate, as discussed here previously.
For the second day in a row, I am crediting Greg for a pointer to an interesting story that has a Japanâ€“South America connection. As Greg notes regarding Fujimori’s eligibility: “if you order the torture and/or deaths of Peruvians but stay away from the Japanese, then youâ€™re fine” to run, having not broken any Japanese laws.
The party in question is the Peoples New Party, which was one of the parties formed by the “traitors“–the LDP (ruling party) legislators who in 2005 voted against then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal privatization plan. The defectors on that vote caused the bill to be defeated in the upper house, and Koizumi responded by dissolving the lower house and making the snap (11 September 2005) election a “referendum” on postal privatization, running “assassins” (Koizumi-recruited candidates with popularity outside of politics) against the “traitors.” Koizumi won big, but some of the traitors were reelected under their new party labels and now the PNP is struggling to survive as a a small old-timey conservative party.
The upper house in Japan, the House of Councillors, is elected partly by nominal voting (specifically, SNTV), and partly by a national tier which uses open-list PR (in which voters write either the name of their political party of choice or the name of a candidate on a party list). So there is most certainly a premium on running well known candidates–in both tiers. And Fujimori, the son of Japanese-born parents who emigrated to Peru, is certainly well known in Japan. He is being considered as a candidate in Tokyo’s four-seat electoral district, in which voters choose one candidate (i.e. the nominal tier), although the possibility of his being a candidate in the national open-list tier is also not ruled out.
An irony in this is that Fujimori, during at least the first term of his presidency, was a darling of the international group of “privatizers.” Now he might run as a candidate of a party that was born in reaction against a privatization plan.
Continuing with today’s World of Baseball theme, congratulations to the Fighters of Nippon Ham for winning the Japan Series for the first time in forty four years! The team features ex-Expo Fernando Seguignol, who hit a series-clinching home run, and was managed by Trey Hillman, who is being considered for the Texas Rangers’ managerial opening. It was also the final game for Tsuyoshi Shinjo, who is retiring. I think the good luck charm for the Fighters had to be the Shinjo t-shirt that a colleague recently brought me from Japan.
From today’s (well, yesterday, NZ time) New Zealand news, an interesting article about the inability of the National Party to hold on to the party-list vote of many of the voters who favored its candidates in the single-seat districts.
(Recall from previous posts in the “NZ” category that New Zealand uses MMP, in which the overall make-up of parliament is determined mostly by the party-list votes, notwithstanding that about half of the MPs are elected in single-seat plurality races.)
New Zealanders call their single-seat districts “electorates.”
National lost the election because its local candidates were more popular than the party, costing it tens of thousands of party votes…
Labour won substantially more party votes than electorate votes, remaining the biggest party in Parliament despite losing a swag of electorates to National. But National’s candidates won more votes in total than the party got, losing it the election.
National’s failure as a party to win the support of people who voted for its candidates was most pronounced in the swag of provincial seats it won in the September 17 election.
Of the 22 seats in which National candidates won with more than 50 per cent of the vote, the party got fewer votes than the candidate in 21 of them.
Now, contrast this with the Japanese result from September 11. Japan also gives voters two votes, one in a single-seat district and the other for a party list. But in Japan, the PR seats are simply added on to the seats won by each party in the single-seat districts, meaning parties keep a large share of any “bonus” they are able to obtain by having won lots of individual-candidate races.
The Japanese results show that the ruling LDP won 48% of the vote cast in single-seat districts, against only 38% of the party list votes. In other words, their candidates outperformed the party by an even greater margin than was the case for NZ National. More importantly, this LDP dominance of the single-seat districts really mattered. With almost the exact same percent of the vote as NZ National, the LDP wound up with over 62% of the seats in parliament, whereas NZ National wound up with just under 40%.
So, the Japanese result shows the great importance of candidates (and local factors more generally) in a mixed-member majoritarian system, while the NZ result shows the far lesser importance of candidates, compared to their parties, under mixed-member proportional rules.
The LDP victory was really overwhelming. With 296 LDP seats combined with coalition partner Komeito’s 31, Prime Minister Koizumi has a two-thirds majority. Under Japan’s constitution, this means even if the upper house (the House of Councillors) again defeated the postal privatization bill, it would not matter, because a 2/3 majority of the lower house can overturn an upper-house veto of a bill.
The result also demonstrates the extent to which the Japanese electoral system is fundamentally majoritarian in spite of containing a mix of single-seat districts and proportional repersentation (with the voter having separate votes in each type of race) that is superficially similar to the “mixed-member proportional” systems of New Zealand and Germany (who also have elections this month).
In fact, as much as this is being spun as a “mandate” for Koizumi and the postal privatization that was almost all he talked about in the campaign, his party obtained only thirty eight percent of the party preference vote. Komeito’s 13.3% brings the coalition up to a bare majority of the votes. This is a net gain of only 1.8 percentage points over the 2003 election for the two parties.
Details of the LDP’s advantage from the single-seat districts in Japan’s system in the Mainichi Daily News today: The LDP won 219 of the 300 single-seat races with 47.8% of the votes cast in these races. (I do no thave the Komeito total in these races, but it would be only a little more, as the two parties do not put candidates up against each other in single-seat districts.)
Also, the postal-privatization rebels (the LDP’s ‘traitors’) held on to only thirteen of the thirty seats they held before the election, losing the rest to Koizumi’s ‘assassins.’
UPDATE: In the comments, RAC provides a more accurate count of the traitors vs. assassins.
It looks like incumbent prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and his Liberal Democratic Party have scored one of the biggest landslides in Japanese postwar history. And that is saying something, given that the LDP routinely used to hold comfortable majorities until its power eroded from the late 1980s on.
It looks like the LDP has won around 63% of the seats in the lower house of parliament, a level it had not attained since 1960.
Given an election campaign fought almost exclusively on Koizumi’s plan to privatize Japan Post, it is clear he has a mandate for that policy change, though other issues were hardly raised in the campaign. Koizumi certainly feels triumphant:
We destroyed the old LDP, and the LDP became like a new party.
The remark underscores the extent to which it was his own party, at least as much as opposition parties, who have stood in the way of his reforms.
In the cases where defectors from the LDP who voted against the Japan Post plan had been challenged in their own single-seat districts by new LDP candidates dubbed ‘assassins,’ the result is mixed. At this point I have found reports on the Mainichi site about only four of the seats, and the ‘assassins’ have won two of them.
The privatization bill was actually passed in the lower house, despite the 37 defections from the LDP, but it was defeated in the upper house, which was not at stake in today’s election (because the PM cannot dissolve the upper house). Nonetheless, with this electoral result, the recalcitrant LDP members in the upper chamber can be expected to fall back in line with their party.
The LDP will still retain its coalition with the New Komeito Party. Komeito’s votes are needed in the upper house, where the LDP is short of a majority. (Only the lower house has the right to vote no confidence in the government and to approve the budget, but other measures must gain bicameral approval.)
This story from Mainichi-MSN has some good background on Japan Post, the institution that is at the center of debate leading up to Japan’s elections on Sunday (about which I also posted yesterday).
The story talks about the quick arrival of relief, including a mobile post office, after Typhoon No. 14 passed through Takaoka in southern Japan earlier this week.
It notes that the dispatch of the post office to Takaoka demonstrates how the state-run post office…
has become a comforting symbol of the orderly, secure and predictable society that many Japanese see jeopardized by modern times.
Koizumi’s opponents argue that privatization will reduce services to the countryside and put hard-earned savings in the hands of foreign speculators — and reform critics sometimes tug at Japanese heartstrings to make their point.
The story goes on to note:
Indeed, a visit to a post office is like a glimpse into a quickly fading version of Japan — one in which the ubiquitous state is ready to cater to every citizen’s needs.
But, now this is service:
Forget your glasses? No problem: three pairs — of weak, medium and high strength — await in a holder [inside the Nihombashi post office in Tokyo, one of the first opened, dating to 1871].
But then we get to the crux of the relationship between the post office and the politics of the long-dominant Liberal Democrats (as I noted in yesterday’s post):
The system’s tremendous financial holdings have bankrolled the developed world’s largest debt and countless pork-barrel public works projects. Postmasters in rural areas have long been used by powerbrokers to round up votes.
After more than a decade of stagnant economic growth and increasing dissatisfaction with the status quo, voters appear ready to trade in that older vision of Japan.
That is certainly what Koizumi was counting on when he called this election, and it looks like it is about to pay offâ€”even better than I have expected: Not only has he purged rebels from the party, but the LDP might be within reach of a lower-house majority all on its own. And this just-linked story also suggests that if that happens, the party will probably keep Koizumi as party leader (and thus PM) even after his current term expires in a year. (The PM serves at the pleasure of the majority, so while the term of parliament would be up to five years, if the party changed leaders, the PM would be replaced mid-term.)
For a report on the typhoon itself and a discussion of preparedness, see here; it was no Katrina, but it was a pretty big storm–equivalent to a category II hurricane.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4