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This Week in Japan (10.24.17)

SNA (Tokyo) — This Week in Japan is your source for news and information about politics and other happenings in this East Asian island country. This episode covers the Top Five stories of the third week of October 2017.

One. Shinzo Abe led his ruling Liberal Democratic Party to a third consecutive landslide victory in House of Representatives elections, maintaining the ruling coalition’s supermajority. The LDP entered the elections with 284 lower house lawmakers and emerged with the exact same number. Coalition partner Komeito, however, did lose five seats. Barring dramatic developments, Abe looked set to easily win his third term as party president and to govern the nation until at least House of Councillors elections in July 2019, which would be his next major test.

Two. The elections were also a sort of triumph for Yukio Edano and his Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. This new progressive outfit was the only party to expand its number of seats, rising dramatically from only 15 seats going into the elections and an opposition-leading 55 seats after the poll. The real significance of the emergence of the CDPJ is that it offered the promise of a viable, clearly progressive option going forward. It was much more united and ideologically consistent than the nearly-defunct Democratic Party, from whose ashes it had arisen.

Three. The single biggest loser in the general election was Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and her conservative Party of Hope. It maintained only 50 seats after the election, coming in behind the CDPJ in spite of having much greater material resources at its disposal. Koike herself admitted that it was a “total defeat” for her party, but insisted that she was prepared to stay the course and remain in office as party leader. While Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara reaffirmed his commitment to join the Party of Hope and lead other lawmakers in that direction, the unity and stability of Koike’s party loomed as a major question now that many of the reasons for its existence no longer applied.

Four. One of the messiest post-election questions was what would happen to the remnants of the Democratic Party—both the lawmakers who still held membership in the organization as well as its significant reserves of cash and infrastructure. Seiji Maehara indicated that he intended to join the Party of Hope and thus resign as Democratic Party president, but he also seemed determined to make crucial decisions about its assets before he gave up the reins. While some Democratic Party lawmakers would almost certainly join either the Party of Hope or the CDPJ, it was also possible the some centrists would not join either of the established parties and would seek some other arrangements, perhaps meaning the establishment of yet another opposition party.

Five. The Japan Communist Party was also one of the big losers, seeing its seats reduced from 21 seats to 12 seats. On the one hand party leader Kazuo Shii welcomed the advance of the CDPJ as a progressive ally, but it did not escape notice that floating voters largely ditched the Communist Party as soon as a more mainstream progressive option became available. This would no doubt raise serious questions about the Communist Party’s viability going forward unless they reevaluated some aspects of their political strategy.

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