Party Performances and Election Day Fallout
SNA (Tokyo) — What follows is a party-by-party survey of what these elections mean for the twelve largest political parties in Japan.
Liberal Democratic Party
The ruling party’s 65-seat pick up was not all that it could have hoped for in light of the sky-high approval ratings of the Abe Cabinet, but it was definitely good enough to provide the basis of a stable government for the next three years. They now hold 115 seats in the 242-seat House of Councillors, short of a majority but dozens of seats ahead of their nearest rival. For the first time in six years the LDP will be the managers of the upper house and can expect to pass most of their legislation without great difficulty.
As always, the LDP’s electoral power really shines through in the single-member districts. This time, the only races they lost in such districts were in Iwate and Okinawa prefectures. Until an opposition party can credibly challenge them in the rural parts of the country, it’s hard to see how power can be pried away from the hands of the LDP. Ichiro Ozawa’s DPJ managed to do it well enough in 2007 and 2009, but that day has already passed and no one else has an organization that can compete with the LDP countrywide.
For the time being, then, it’s clear that Japan’s democracy has reverted to something like the 1955 System, in which the great conservative party might be constrained at times by the opposition, but not seriously challenged. We imagine that many LDP lawmakers believe that the “natural order” has now been restored.
New Komeito Party
New Komeito performs at about the same level every time, and indeed their pick up of only a single seat above their 2007 performance demonstrates it once again. The total force of New Komeito in the House of Councillors will be 20 seats, but these are the seats that give the ruling coalition its comfortable majority. Analyst Tobias Harris suggests that New Komeito can be seen as “the real winner” of these elections because the numbers came out at exactly the kind of level that will maximize their leverage with the LDP.
For those looking for a moderate political force that actually wields some influence in Japan, New Komeito is the place to ponder. However, they also invite deep suspicion from those who don’t like to see religious organizations participating directly in government.
Democratic Party of Japan
The DPJ’s capture of only 17 seats on Sunday was its worst performance in party history and raises existential questions about whether or not they can endure in their present state. Despite being a much smaller party, they are still just as sharply divided among themselves over policy directions as they have ever been and there is no section or leader within the party that isn’t already tainted by failure.
Their inability to win any one of the five seats up for grabs in the Tokyo electoral district was particularly humiliating and indicative of how far they have fallen. This is Japan’s main urban political party? Really?
And just as they couldn’t coordinate themselves in the run-up to the election, they also were clearly unprepared to manage the defeat that was obviously looming for months in advance. Secretary-General Goshi Hosono made it clear on Election Night that “all the responsibility” for failure at the polls rested with him as he was the chief strategist. This was a clear signal of his impending resignation. But party leader Banri Kaieda insisted that Hosono should stay in his current post and that the party reforms, which are only “half completed,” should continue under the existing executive line-up. There were, at first, surprisingly few open calls for Kaieda’s own head, presumably because credible alternative leaders are virtually absent in the DPJ at this point, not that Kaieda himself is particularly credible.
In the end, Hosono adamantly insisted that he must resign, and he did so, leaving Kaieda alone at the top and looking shakier than ever.
The Naoto Kan situation also developed into a fiasco. Banri Kaieda decided that Kan’s open defiance of the party executives on candidate selection in Tokyo needed to be punished severely, especially as it may have cost them a Diet seat. Kaieda indicated, therefore, that he would ask party co-founder Naoto Kan to leave the party and, failing that, he would be expelled. Kan responded by openly defying Kaieda once again; but then it turned out that Kaieda’s own authority is now so weak within the party that he couldn’t make good on expelling Kan. Instead, Naoto Kan will have his party privileges suspended for a while.
The bottom line is that the DPJ is now a total mess and there is a nearly a complete vacuum of authority. Signs suggest that the DPJ conservatives, led by Goshi Hosono, may be preparing to walk out of the party and to join lawmakers from the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party in a new organization.
Japan Restoration Party
Were it not for Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s meltdown over the comfort women issue in mid-May and the on-again, off-again feud with supposed political partner Shintaro Ishihara, this election probably would have confirmed the Japan Restoration Party as the most powerful opposition group in the Diet. As it is, they gained eight seats, which is not good but was in fact better than looked likely when Hashimoto sunk deeper and deeper into the mud a couple months ago. The Japan Restoration Party is badly tarnished, but they still have a political heartbeat. They did receive more than 6.3 million votes in the proportional representation segment and came out on top in their Osaka stronghold.
Still, Hashimoto himself rightly called the results “nothing to be proud of” and it is far from clear that this small advance will be enough to hold the party together. The ties that bind the Osaka wing of the party and the Ishihara-Hiranuma wing are clearly frayed and threaten to come apart at almost any time.
This was apparent once again in the immediate wake of the elections when the ultra-reactionary JRP lawmaker Nariaki Nakayama declared in an interview that he didn’t consider Toru Hashimoto to be the party’s leader and wouldn’t call him “leader,” but only “the mayor.” Hashimoto — who still hasn’t learned that sometimes it is better to maintain a dignified silence than to retaliate at every insult — immediately shot back: “I don’t think of lawmaker Nakayama as a colleague; he should get out of the Japan Restoration Party.”
While this particular spat was quickly patched up, these kinds of schoolyard antics make it unlikely that the JRP in its current form can expect to gain the trust of most Japanese voters anytime soon.
Yoshimi Watanabe’s Your Party also picked up eight seats in this election, half of them district wins. While this makes Your Party the fourth-largest force in House of Councillors, there is a distinct taste of disappointment about their performance on Sunday.
With both the DPJ and JRP in shambles, the way should have been clear for Your Party to make a major stride forward on Sunday, perhaps coming out as the largest single opposition party. But the reality is that the eight seats they gained this time around compares to the ten seats they gained in 2010 when they edged out New Komeito for the third-best performance. Also, more people voted for the Japan Communist Party on Sunday than voted for Your Party. That has to wound their pride a bit. Indeed, these results should worry Your Party executives that they may never actually break out of the margins of Japanese politics and into the main spotlight.
Moreover, like too many other opposition parties, Your Party broke down in internal squabbling this week. Several times before we have heard about tensions brewing between Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe and Secretary-General Kenji Eda, but it was never precisely clear what they were fighting about. In this instance we do know the bone of contention: Eda is eager to rebuild an alliance with the Japan Restoration Party and with the Hosono wing of the DPJ. Indeed, Eda, Hosono, and the JRP’s Yorihisa Matsuno met in private after the elections and apparently decided to launch a joint “study group” which could be the nucleus of a new, combined political party. Yoshimi Watanabe, however, is adamant that Your Party cannot work with Toru Hashimoto and he seems to favor keeping an independent stance and not rushing into any political realignment.
It’s hard to say where this is all going, but clearly Your Party too isn’t looking very healthy at the moment.
Japan Communist Party
The only established opposition party that had cause to celebrate on Sunday was the Japan Communist Party: no infighting, no leadership battles; just a well-executed and successful outing for Japan’s oldest political party. The eight seats they gained was more than double what they been getting in recent years, and the three district seats they won in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto were their first in twelve years.
Has the JCP now arrested the longterm decline in its party’s fortunes? We tend to think not, but their morale has definitely been boosted and no doubt they will aim to be a thorn in Prime Minister Abe’s side in the months and years to come. As usual, their best weapon is their superb organization which sometimes succeeds in digging out some bit of dirt within the system that might otherwise go unnoticed. In other words, they are at their most effective as journalists.
For the time being the JCP is the only credible, organized political force that exists left-of-center. So long as that remains the case, they will have ample room to prosper on a modest basis.
But, hey, we all know that the Communists won’t produce a future Japanese prime minister, right?
Social Democratic Party
For most of the evening on Sunday it looked like the SDP had met its end. If they had won no seats, then they would have dropped below the critical five-lawmaker mark that defines a legally-established, publicly-funded political party. Past midnight it was finally announced that Seiji Mataichi’s seat had been saved in the proportional representation segment and thus the party would continue to exist.
But clearly the SDP is beyond hope of rebuilding at this point. Their organization hardly exists anymore, their traditional base is drifting away, and they simply don’t look relevant. If they stay on their current trajectory, then they can fully expect to be eliminated in the presumed double election of July 2016. The SDP would be wise to merge themselves into another, larger political force long before that date.
The latest news is that Mizuho Fukushima is resigning as SDP leader. That shows that they are at least starting to take their predicament seriously, even though her immediate replacement is not likely to match her personal charisma.
People’s Life Party
The PLP went into this race having to defend six incumbents, including former party leader Yuko Mori, and came up with nothing at all. It was a total electoral failure. Clearly the public antipathy toward Ichiro Ozawa is so established and so strong that he has become like political poison for all of his followers.
Across both houses the PLP still holds nine seats, including a few solid progressive lawmakers. They too need to start looking for a new combination and a new brand, preferably with Ozawa fading out of the public light and not seen to be the string-puller.
Green Wind Party
The Green Wind Party also came up empty on Sunday, but in their case it was sudden death. Left with only Shizuka Kamei and Tomoko Abe in the House of Representatives and no one at all in the House of Councillors, the Green Wind has blown out.
Party leader Kuniko Tanioka was notably blunt upon receiving the results. Not only did she lose her own Diet seat, she also announced her retirement from politics and said that the party’s “mission was over.”
We still believe it likely that we haven’t heard the last of “Green Party” politics in Japan, but it is now clear that the Green Wind Party won’t be leading it.
New Party Daichi
Leading a very tenuous existence as a microparty is Muneo Suzuki’s New Party Daichi. This party was also blanked on Sunday, and has lost about as many lawmakers to the prosecutors’ office as it has to the voters.
Clownishly, their top vote earner on Sunday was Muneo Suzuki. No, not the famous party leader we all know and love, but rather a 73-year-old nobody they put on the ballot only because he has the exact same name as their leader.
Currently, the only Daichi lawmaker is Takako Suzuki, (the real) Muneo’s daughter who holds the seat won in December by Tomohiro Ishikawa before he was taken down by a contrived official prosecution.
Anyway, this Daichi movement isn’t going anywhere.
Greens Japan is a grassroots Green Party movement that hasn’t won any Diet seats yet, but is showing a bit of potential. In particular, musician Yohei Miyake received 177,000 votes. We suspect that he may turn into something in the future, perhaps in alliance with Taro Yamamoto and others.
Happiness Realization Party
Despite money and strong organization, the Happiness Realization Party continues to be shunned by the public. That doesn’t look likely to change.