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.
The run up to the House of Councillors election in Japan, when opinion polls were already pointing to a victory by the ruling party, saw widespread speculation over a more robust foreign and defense policy by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This included the possibility of amending Article 9 of the Constitution. News of the election results only served to prompt renewed speculation. However, Abe’s first overseas trip after the polls — to Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines — seemed to confirm that Tokyo would proceed with a gradual and pragmatic “normalization,” rather than embark on radical change.
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.
The results of Sunday’s House of Councillors election are a foregone conclusion in light of the electoral district system and the number of candidates run by each party. The ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito will win a strong majority in the upper house but cannot possibly win on their own the 2/3 majority required for constitutional revision. What we will have when the Diet next opens will be the Abe government popular with the public and in firm control of the parliament.
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%.
The third consecutive Japanese prime minister has embraced the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and this time it is probably for real—at least as far as entering the negotiation process goes. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used his much-awaited visit with US President Barack Obama to crow a little bit about how he was “restoring” the US-Japan Alliance after the three dark years of the Democratic Party of Japan.