East Asia: Japanese election: more of the same?by Marcus L'EstrangeNews Weekly
, July 1, 2000
East Asia: Japanese election: more of the same?
Japan’s House of Representatives (Lower House) election is to be held on June 25. During the election campaign political stagnation and a feeling of powerlessness were frequently cited among the reasons that the Japanese dislike politicians and took little interest in the political process.
A record 100,710,000 Japanese are eligible to vote. Three hundred seats are up for grabs in single seat constituencies, while 180 seats will be contested through proportional representation.
The battle is between the Liberal Democratic Party/New Komeito/ New Conservative Party coalition government and their rivals: the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party plus a small number of minor parties.
It is thought that 160 candidates will inherit seats vacated by family members. One in particular has attracted attention. The combination of an inherited seat and an appeal for sympathy will further the campaign of Yuko Obuchi, who will try and succeed her late father.
Voting in Japan is not compulsory and Japan’s turnout of eligible voters in 1998 was 58.84%. The historic low was the 1995 Upper House vote of 44.53%.
A nationwide public opinion poll conducted in May by the Yomiuri Shimbun found that 41.6% of those polled did not support any particular party in the upcoming House of Representatives election. Voters with no party preferences used to turn their backs on politics and not vote but they are beginning to think that the current awful situation (corruption, repeated mergers and breakup of parties) which has deepened public distrust, will continue, if they do not vote.
A high turnout of non-aligned voters could spell disaster for the LDP as non-aligned voters tend to vote for Opposition parties.
One of those Opposition parties is the Japan Communist Party. PM Mori recently claimed that Japan is a kokutai (a national polity) based on the Emperor in which the Communist Party has no place. Australian Professor Gregory Clark noted in the Japan Times (June 11):
“Kokutai, like fascism, implies a nation bound by a sense of instinctive togetherness. That in itself is reasonable enough. But in the case of Japan it has required respect for the Emperor system and nebulous traditions as focus for the togetherness instincts. It automatically denies the status of those who seem to run counter to those icons.”
A more base reason why kokutai has been invoked is to allow politicians steeped in corruption and vote-buying to claim some moral superiority over their opponents.
The major election issues are economic stimulus measures, the advisability of the current coalition structure and the “divine nation” remarks by Prime minister Yoshiro Mori.
The coalition era began in 1993. The number of coalition governments since then was not really the result of general elections and have contributed to voter distrust of politics and politicians. The 2000 general election will be the first opportunity for voters to evaluate coalitions and to put their stamp on the framework of the ruling party or parties of the future.
A strong sense of dissatisfaction simmers within the dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for being in coalition. Former LDP Policy Chairman Research Council chairman Taku Yamasaki griped (The Daily Yomiuri, June 7) “It is like a company that sacrifices its own employees to curry favour with a client”. Remarkably, during the last parliament a third of its members changed party allegiance.
The PM kicked off his campaign predicting a disaster for the nation if the Japanese Communist Party were to share power.
DPJ party leader Yukio Hatoyama responded by saying: “Let’s bid farewell to old-fashioned politics in which money has been thrown into public construction projects [and] the electorate have to decide whether they prefer a new government led by the DPJ, or to keep the ancien regime of the LDP, Komeito and Conservative Party coalition”.
Unperturbed, Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki (former PM for three days) promised lavish public spending in case of an LDP win. He promised to “spend all the 500 billion yen emergency budget” which the Government has allocated to fund various public construction projects across the nation just before the Lower House was dissolved.
Another factor that may affect the result is the activity of civic groups who target undesirable politicians. Civic campaigns to name politicians that voters do not want to see elected due to such things as avarice, self-interest and corruption, are being staged across the country, following the success of similar campaigns recently in South Korea. There, 59 of 86 politicians who had been named as undesirable were defeated.