Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reading the local elections with an eye on July

I have held off from posting on the results of Sunday's local elections because I am not entirely sure what conclusion should be drawn.

I think it would be a mistake to draw too-firm conclusions about the prospects for July's Upper House elections from the results.

Is Ishihara's reelection a clear precursor of LDP victory in July? What about reformist Kanagawa Governor Matsuzawa Shigefumi, who won by an even larger margin of victory than Ishihara (albeit in a less crowded race)? What about the results of elections for prefectural assemblies, which saw the number of DPJ seats rise by 205 to 375, at the same time that the LDP's seats fall 1309 to 1212? (That's not a typo.) While obviously the discrepancy in the number of seats is substantial, what counts is the trend.

So, if you're looking for certainty, you've come to the wrong place. It is important to remember, however, that the LDP may be in for a tough time regardless of what happens between now and then because a number of the LDP candidates up for reelection this year were elected in 2001 as a result of Koizumi's long coattails (the 2001 Upper House election was held in July 2001, when Koizumi's popularity was in the 80s and the LDP's popularity was breaking fifty percent for the first time in years). Of the twenty-two new candidates elected in 2001 (both from PR lists and electoral districts across Japan), twenty are running for reelection this year. They constitute roughly a third of the LDP's 64 Upper House candidates. Will they be as successful this year, without headwinds provided by an extraordinarily popular reformist prime minister? (Information drawn from Nikkei's 2001 election coverage, Yahoo's 2001 election results, and the LDP's list of candidates for this year's elections.)

I don't know what the answer is, but I strongly suspect that incumbents who benefited from Koizumi's coattails will suffer from Abe's failure to carry on Koizumi's legacy, signified by the return to the LDP of the "postal rebels," party members who voted against the privatization of the Japan Post.

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