Sunday, August 30, 2009

Japan's political world turned upside down

Despite a truly historic victory by the DPJ, the first time since the LDP was created that it has been defeated in a general election (and oh how it was defeated!), there is remarkably little to say.

After all, there were no surprises. The results were exactly as Japan's media organizations predicted. The DPJ finished within a range of ±20 seats from 300, the LDP flirted with 100 seats but will not end up closer to 120 seats, giving it slightly more than the DPJ received in 2005. The Japanese public made very clear during the months leading up to the general election that it was time for the LDP to go — and in the end, the voters booted the LDP from power without flinching. The bums have been thrown out, at last.

As expected, among the LDP members to lose are number of senior party leaders, several of whom did not manage to be revived through proportional representation. Several prominent reformists — Shiozaki Yasuhisa (who won by roughly 3,000 votes, around 1% of the vote), Nakagawa Hidenao, Ishihara Nobuteru, and Kono Taro — retained their seats. Aso Taro signaled his intention to resign as party leader fairly early in the evening, clearing the way for a fight, perhaps a prolonged fight depending on when the party has its election, to replace Aso. The LDP's institutional structure will presumably have to be reformed as the party moves into opposition, raising the question of whether the LDP will study the DPJ's internal structure.

As for the DPJ, it will end up short of a supermajority, but the party has won more than 300 seats, an extraordinary victory by any definition. Hatoyama Yukio and the other DPJ leaders plan to move quickly in preparing the party to take power, and the Japanese people will be watching to see what the party does with its new majority. The party has about a year until it will have to go before the public again, in the 2010 House of Councillors election — and the clock will be ticking. When talking about public expectations, it is important to stress that expectations are not necessarily attached to specific pieces of the manifesto, but rather are more holistic: the DPJ will have to do something tangible with its new power. It will have to show voters that it has at least taken the first steps in a new direction for Japan. Readers now know that I have plenty of doubts about Hatoyama's ability to wield such a majority — but of course, I am willing to be proved wrong.

The point is that the general election has posed no shortage of new questions that will only be answered with the passage of time. The election has been cathartic — despite having a sense that the DPJ would win as substantially as it did, anticipating the results did not make the returns any less exciting — but the coming months will be difficult.


Derek said...

Absolutely fantastic job of covering the election, Tobias.

I am one of the readers that dislikes your DPJ slant, but your knowledge of Japanese politics is undeniable and your prolific coverage is indispensible.

[nervous laugh]

I, for one, welcome our new DPJ overlords...

Noah said...

Hey Tobas, if the data exist, could we possibly get some numbers on popular vote shares among the parties? I think it would be interesting to compare the popular vote share with swings in other developed democracies.

Anonymous said...

This historic victory for the DPJ certainly raises all sorts of questions regarding changes and new directions for Japan. The comparison with the changes ushered in by the Obama victory in the US last year merits some discussion but it is clearly too soon for any substantive discussion. Nevertheless it seems to me that the Obama victory represents a much greater change of governance than that of the DPJ given the origins of the DPJ. The ideological differences between the two parties in the US runs deep and never more so since the inauguration. Though the death of Senator Ted Kennedy underlines the depth of the ideological divide in the US especially in the past thirty years (ie since Reaganism became the dominant political philosophy of US politics) the fact is that Kennedy was known almost as much for his ability for political compromise with the Republicans as for his ideological beliefs. Who can replace such a gifted politician in the US today. Obama's bipartisanship is a failure as the Republicans have never been in more dogmatic opposition to his policies than ever before. By contrast the smashing DPJ victory today is unlikely to usher in as big a change in governance.

derek demos said...

Wow, I can't believe it, is it possible???

TechSlice said...

It seems it's a good year for democrats world wide.

PaxAmericana said...


As Tobias put in a recent post, parties in many countries have moved together, so there is one center-right party, and one center-left one. That's why not much has changed since Obama was inaugurated, and is probably a part of the explanation for why Congress has something like a 9% approval rating.