Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The DPJ faces a new year

After a tumultuous and uncertain five months since taking control of the House of Councillors, the DPJ faces the new year full of hope that this will be the year the party takes power, but hope tempered by the difficulties the party has faced since winning in July. The party has struggled to use its control of the Upper House to maximum effect and its internal divisions are all too apparent, especially following the turmoil surrounding the Ozawa "resignation."

The party issued a report reviewing the past year and stating policies for 2008, which, as reported by Mainichi, revealed discrepancies between Mr. Ozawa, who has continued to justify the logic of a grand coalition between the DPJ and the DPJ, and the bulk of his party, which believes, as noted in the new document, "The whole party affirmed that the DPJ will defeat the LDP in a general election and reject a coalition with the LDP."

Meanwhile, Mr. Ozawa, giving his annual New Year's greetings at his home in Tokyo's Setagaya ward, reiterated the party's desire to claim a majority in the House of Representatives in the general election that may or may not be held this year and its focus on ensuring a "stable livelihood and safe society" for the Japanese people.

I detect a slight change in focus in recent DPJ statements, away from the pocketbook aspect of "lifestyle" issues and to political issues. The DPJ may finally be turning its disorganized criticism of the government's various failings into a universal critique of LDP rule that looks beyond individual sins to identify structural problems. The more the DPJ makes LDP misrule the issue (and explains how it will fix the system), the better the DPJ's chances in a general election, because misrule affects all Japanese, urban, suburban, or rural. Of course, it is important to remember that since the DPJ will be running candidates in at most 250 of 300 districts (compared to the LDP's 280), there is a ceiling on what the DPJ can achieve on its own in the next election.

Nevertheless, if the DPJ manages to shift its approach and make good governance an important (or the most important) pillar of its emphasis on lifestyle issues, I think its prospects will improve. The challenge is to be more than just a irritant for the LDP, to become a loud, clear voice for political change that will benefit all Japanese.


Janne Morén said...

Could you briefly explain exactly why parties never seem to ahve candidates in every district? To the naive observer (like myself) it seems rather bizarre; you're out to win an election and yet you essentially forfeit a sizeable number of seats by default. There has got to be some procedural or election-law related reason, right?

MTC said...

Mr. Morén:

The LDP has to leave spots open for the New Komeito. The LDP also has a tradition of letting strong local candidates run as independents....with the understanding that if the LDP finishes understrength, the independent member of the Diet suddenly has an epiphany and realizes he either belongs in or has to swear fealty to the LDP.

The DPJ's story is a bit more complicated. At the time the party was established it had no track record and limited resources. The leadership felt the only way to keep the party viable was to limit the number of districts wherein it would run candidates. That strategy backfired a few years ago (in the 2004 House of Councillors election, was it?) when the party ran too few candidates during a period of anti-LDP fervor. The party missed out on making huge gains against the LDP. After that missed opportunity, the DPJ leadership swore it would run candidates in every district it could.

Unfortunately, going all out for the 2005 House of Representatives elections did not stop the Koizumi steamroller--indeed it is not unreasonable to think the DPJ spread itself too thin, magnifying its losses.

The current incomplete DPJ electoral map reflects:

1) the difficulty the party still has in recruiting candidates for House of Representatives seats after the 2005 disaster

2 the need to leave some seats open for the DPJ partners in the House of Councillors (where the DPJ does not by itself hold the majority) and

3) the sense in the leadership that the DPJ is strong enough to start playing the false flag independent candidate game too

4) for some districts, it really is just not worth the effort to run against the incumbent

Japan Observer said...


Thank you for answering Mr. Morén's question, much more comprehensively than I had planned to answer.