For almost a year now after his thumping victory in December 2012 we have found ourselves surprised again and again by Shinzo Abe. We have asserted repeatedly that the Abe that we were witnessing was not the “real” Abe, and that the agenda he was pursuing was based on a tactical calculation about what was necessary to maintain public support, but not a reflection of his basic character.
Since its foundation in August 2009, Yoshimi Watanabe’s Your Party has been a bit player, but usually an interesting one. What set Your Party apart from a host of many other short-lived outfits was its relatively clear policy identity. This was the party of free enterprise, neoliberal economics, deregulation, and limited, preferably decentralized, government.
Taro Yamamoto is a man who must be destroyed, and the Japanese establishment has a very impressive record when it comes to destroying men like this one. Yamamoto’s fundamental crimes are that he is young, marvelously handsome, superbly charismatic, and utterly hostile to the conservatives who rule this nation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The comedy of errors that is today’s Democratic Party of Japan never fails to – or rather always does – disappoint. Even as we are entering the official campaigning period ahead of the House of Councillors elections that may quite possibly be the last national elections for the next three years, the DPJ demonstrates once again that if by some miracle they were to suddenly return to power, they would be no more united nor coherent than they were the first time around.
The fact that the Liberal Democratic Party avenged its defeat of four years ago and recaptured power in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly was virtually a given in light of the Abe administration’s sky-high popularity and general momentum in the first half of 2013. But there were some notable subplots that revealed truths about the opposition parties, giving us a window into what to expect in next month’s House of Councillors elections.
Beyond Toru Hashimoto personally, the contentious comments made by the young Osaka mayor and Japan Restoration Party co-leader are having a powerful effect on the Japanese political world. To take just one poll, the Nihon Keizai Shinbun found that the 9% who had been planning to vote for this political party in the July House of Councillors election before Hashimoto and Ishihara’s comments on comfort women and prostitution has now dropped to only 3%.