Japan’s PM Naoto Kan made it official, and resigned today. His Democratic Party of Japan will choose a successor next week.
The successor will be Japan’s sixth since the departure of Junichiro Koizumi in 2006. That’s a lot of PMs in a short time.
Why does Japan have such short-lived PMs? In one regard, maybe Japan is “typical.” After all, unlike presidents, who are essentially never forced out by their own parties, prime ministers are by definition agents of their parties (as well as of the legislative majority). Indeed, Samuels and Shugart (2010: 96) report that 30% of all PMs in parliamentary systems leave office for “intraparty” reasons (N=354). So there is nothing unusual about parties “firing” a PM. (Kan was not formally fired; few are. But no one doubts that it was intraparty politics that has led him to this point. He survived an internal challenge just months ago, and promised then not to remain for long.)
Still, in Japan an “intraparty” termination of a prime minister happens rather more often than in most parliamentary systems. Moreover, while short-lived prime ministers logically follow from the inter-factional politics that used to characterize the Liberal Democratic Party, they make much less sense following the electoral reforms of 1994. Besides, this is not the LDP. It’s the DPJ, which won a resounding electoral victory in 2009–and is already about to have its third PM since that election!
Under the old LDP system, “back-room” factional politics was the kingmaker, and the electoral system (SNTV) made factions and individual politicians the agents of representation at least as much as the party itself. It thus also made them agents of inter-electoral bargaining, hence the PM-ship was always subject to renegotiation.
This was supposed to change with the electoral reform–to mixed-member majoritarian (MMM). And much has changed, with factions becoming less important to leadership selection within the LDP, according to various accounts. And the 2001-06 rule of Koizumi suggested a real turn in the position of the PM vis-a-vis the party. The instability of PMs following Koizumi (three of them from 2006 to 2009) perhaps could be written off as an exhausted and about-to-lose party casting about for what it stood for and who could represent it. But the DPJ presents a puzzle. Its first PM did not even last a year, and its second has made it just over a year. The disasters that struck Japan earlier could cut either way–they could have been an opportunity for the party to rally around the leader. In any case, he was already in trouble politically prior to those events.
Generally speaking, PMs in “Westminster” type systems with a single ruling party should be less vulnerable to internal party challenges. The logic is that such political systems maximize the alignment of incentives within the party, and give the party ample opportunity to vet potential PMs so that those they choose enjoy the backing of the party. Thus leaders who head their party when it wins election usually stick around for at least the term, and if they win again, usually for a second term. (Yes, it is stylized, which does not mean it is not generally accurate, Australia’s anomaly notwithstanding. And things often get sticky during third terms–see above point about exhaustion and casting-about.)
Japan does not have a Westminster system, by usual definition. Yet the reform of the electoral system, from SNTV to MMM, was supposed to move the country’s politics in that direction. In many respects, it clearly has done so: factions less important, policies more so, alternation in government, two clear blocs instead of one dominant party and a fragmented opposition, etc. So why not more stability in the top post?
Just after lunch today, I saw the unmistakeable shadow of a large bird arriving at one of the trees just outside the house. I went outside and noticed two birds in the tree: an owl and what I believe to be a golden eagle that we have been seeing around lately.
The owl (a barn owl, I think) is peeking over the branch that heads off towards the right of the picture. The eagle is in the upper left.
We have an owl nesting box on the finca that has been in use since April, and we hear screeching every night. But I have not seen one in daylight before.
I am no bird expert, but the other one does not look like the hawks that frequent the place, and is much bigger than the hawks, in any case. It is quite likely a golden eagle. A couple of days ago I saw it feasting on a squirrel, so it is most welcome around here (as are the owls and hawks and anyone else hungry-for-squirrels).
Given that camera I had immediately available, and the need to shoot from some distance, the picture is not the clearest. But what a thrill to see these two in the tree!
Update: It might be a Ferruginous hawk (a type I did not previously know), rather than an eagle.
Just months after leading his party to an improbable second-place finish in Canada’s general election, and weeks after taking “temporary” leave as Leader of the Official Opposition, NDP leader Jack Layton has died.
Quite apart from his politics (which I generally, but not always, agreed with), he was a political leader I admired. This is very sad news.
Today’s Australian reports on a “convoy of no confidence.”
The protest, organised by the National Road Freighters Association, has been under way since last week with 11 convoys of trucks, utes and cars snaking their way to Canberra from as far afield as Broome, Fremantle and Darwin. [...]
Government sources yesterday sought to highlight radical views previously expressed by [Association president Mick] Pattel, including suggestions that international climate change action was part of a global conspiracy.
At the top of the linked page are some current polling data. Pretty grim for the Labor government: 47% first preference for the Liberal-National Coalition, against only 29% Labor; Greens on 12%. Two-party preferred 56-44.
Update: It looks like Fonseca is winning. If confirmed, it will mean a legislature with a majority from one party and a president from another party. This may seem odd to Americans, but such a situation is quite rare around the world.
As Robert Elgie noted at his blog on 10 August, Jorge Carlos Fonseca, the candidate of the main opposition party, Movement for Democracy (MFD), won the plurality in the first round, with around 37%. Manuel Inocêncio Sousa, candidate of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) won 33%. Aristides Lima, an independent breakaway from the PAICV, picked up around 25%.
Cape Verde has a history of very close presidential elections, as well as both an electoral system (variable-magnitude “PR”) and electoral cycle that have shown a pronounced bias for the PAICV in the past. (See my summary of the 2006 elections.) The country is among the relatively few to use a “counter-honeymoon” cycle whereby legislative elections regularly precede presidential by a short time period. The legislature was elected in February–a much longer gap between elections than in the past, but still counter-honeymoon–and the PAICV won a majority.
It looks as though Jordan is going to adopt some form of list PR. David Jandura, writing at Awha Talk and The Monkey Cage, has the details.
If this change happens, it will mean saying goodbye to yet another SNTV system. On the other hand, as best I can tell from David’s description, SNTV was de-facto already abandoned as of the most recent election. In that election, they used a rather odd system of “ghost districts” that I am not sure that I really understand; it seems as if each wider electoral district was subdivided into M sub-districts (where M is the district magnitude), and that each candidate had to beat out only the other candidates in the “ghost” district to win. In other words, it was mechanically FPTP, as the winners would not necessarily be the top M in votes over the wider electoral region. The twist is that no one actually knew which candidates were competing against which other ones for a given seat–that’s the “ghost” aspect. Weird.
Natalia C. Del Cogliano has a very interesting post at The Monkey Cage about Argentina’s “Open, Simultaneous and Compulsory Primaries.”
Voters were able to select presidential candidates from across party lines, hence the “open” and “simultaneous” parts. However, this was not much of a primary: each party had only one presidential (pre-)candidate! In other words, this turned out to be nothing more than an early dry-run of the general election. (President Cristina F. de Kirchner won just over half the votes cast, with no other candidate even close.)
For other offices besides the presidency, there was intra-party competition.
As for all Argentine elections, voting was obligatory.
Egypt’s new electoral system will be a mixed-member system with a 50:50 split between its nominal and list tiers (Daily News Egypt, 20 July).
The district magnitude of the nominal tier will remain two, with 126 districts. The list tier will also be districted, with 58 constituencies. The average district magnitude of the list tier thus would work out to barely more than four.
While the article does not discuss the relationship between the two tiers, I will assume it is mixed-member majoritarian (MMM, or “parallel”) in the absence of anything to indicate that the list seats are compensatory (as MMP). Given the low magnitude of the list tier districts, and the use of 2-seat rather than 1-seat districts for the nominal tier, even if it were MMP in form, the proportionality would be minimal. (Assuming the retention of two votes per voter, 2-seat districts mean lower proportionality than 1-seat districts, given plurality or majority formula.)
According to Ahram, 21 July, at least two parties, the Wafd (liberal) and Freedom and Justice (Muslim Brotherhood) have indicated that they would have preferred a pure-list system. “To them, the party-list system forces citizens to elect representatives on the grounds of their political platforms rather than on tribal or familial connections,” according to the article.
The system retains the old requirement that half the seats be reserved for “workers and peasants,” although it is unclear how this applies to the two tiers. Apparently this quota is a constitutional provision. (See previous discussion of how this was applied under the dictatorship.)
The assembly size will be 514, including 10 appointees of the president.
Thanks to Tom Lundberg for sending me the Ahram article link, and Ahwa Talk for the Daily New Egypt link.
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