Whenever we go to cover a Japanese political party event, it is usually the case that we are the only non-Japanese in the room. You had to figure that the leadership race of the venerable but now largely insignificant Social Democratic Party (SDP) would be another one of those and, of course, it was. But, really, there were only a couple of dozen Japanese reporters there too.
There’s one thing that all of Japan’s significant, existing opposition parties seem to agree upon; and that’s that none of them have any hope of overthrowing Liberal Democratic Party rule on their own in the presumed double elections of July 2016. They must combine their forces in some new manner in order to present a credible alternative that people might actually vote for.
The people who wrote this constitution lived in a world more dangerous than ours. They were surrounded by territory controlled by hostile powers, on the edge of a vast wilderness. Yet they understood that even in perilous times the strength of self-government was public debate and public consensus. To put aside these basic values out of fear, to imitate the foe in order to defeat him, is to shred the distinction that makes us different.
Shinzo Abe loved his grandfather, and so the chance to follow in his footsteps must be exhilarating indeed. In 1959 Tokyo was awarded the 1964 Summer Olympics. The prime minister of Japan in 1959 was Nobusuke Kishi, the current prime minister’s grandfather. Shinzo Abe, of course, had nothing to do with initiating Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympics.
Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture, is the 14th largest city in Japan by population, and it has a distinguished history. There is evidence of civilized habitation here going back the 5th century; and Sakai played a notable role as a mercantile hub since medieval times. Sakai was the hometown of Sen no Rikyu, the renowned master of the Japanese tea ceremony. In the 16th century Sakai produced the bulk of Japan’s firearms, and when the warlord Nobunaga Oda decided that he needed to control Sakai and its firearms directly, and attempted to squelch the city’s independence, the locals rebelled.
It is not exactly an unknown technique in politics, but the Abe administration is using it in several high-profile cases, and some people, at least, have noticed. The technique is to establish supposedly “independent” panels or organizations, but appointing people to serve on those panels or in those organizations whose opinions and conclusions are already known in advance.
For quite some time Yoshimi Watanabe’s Your Party has seemed like one of the less dysfunctional Japanese opposition parties. Larger opposition parties like the DPJ had lost any recognizable policy identity, whereas Your Party’s commitment to free market economics, deregulation, and decentralization was rather consistent. And, unlike the Social Democratic Party or Japan Communist Party, Your Party’s agenda was sufficiently mainstream and conservative that at least part of The Establishment, especially the business sector, could conceivably embrace them.
Deputy Prime Minister-cum-Finance Minister-cum-Minister of Financial Services Taro Aso, who is a former prime minister, grandson of the legendary Shigeru Yoshida, and related by his sister’s marriage to the imperial family, is increasingly becoming an international laughingstock and a political embarrassment to the Abe administration. After his latest gaffe, there is widespread speculation that Abe will simply dump him from the cabinet in the reshuffle expected next month.
What follows is a party-by-party survey of what these elections mean for the twelve largest political parties in Japan. 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.
Last Sunday’s unusually predictable House of Councillors elections produced their predictable results: the LDP and New Komeito seized a strong majority in the chamber and thus will now firmly control both houses of the Diet. For the next three years the “twisted Diet” will be untwisted and, if governed with restraint, this administration should be able to see almost all of its bills enacted into law. An era of relative political stability may now be commencing.