Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto was still near the peak of his popularity when he announced in September 2012 that he would be moving into national politics. Simply by putting out the call, enough lawmakers gathered to his banner to establish a new political party meant to represent the Osaka Restoration Association’s interests at the national level. Today, in an echo from three years ago, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto is once again signalling his intention to launch a new political party meant to represent the Osaka Restoration Association’s interests at the national level.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s rather bizarre decision to call an early general election at a juncture that is distinctly unfavorable to his personal interests has set analysts ablaze, wondering how many seats the LDP-Komeito coalition can lose before Abe’s gambit would be judged a political failure.
There are many reasons for the hapless condition that the Japanese political opposition has fallen into, but one of the biggest factors surrounds the state and ambitions of the largest remaining opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan. The question, put simply, is whether or not the DPJ should focus on trying rebuild itself into a party that may one day govern the nation again, or if it has fallen so low in public esteem that its lawmakers would better advised to jump ship and to start afresh with a new political party.
Rarely has a political party been created that so looks forward to its own destruction. More commonly the birth of a new political party is attended by hopes that one day, with hard work and perseverance, it may capture a majority and govern the nation. But in the case of the Unity Party, inaugural leader Kenji Eda has made it surprising clear that he expects his new party to have long met its demise even before its first general election.
This should be the best of times for the New Komeito Party. Somehow they remained loyal partners of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) even after the crushing electoral defeat of August 2009, and they patiently weathered more than three years on the opposition benches while the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) mismanaged the nation. By rights, the last two national elections should be judged a triumph in which this party performed well and its ally came to dominate the government ranks.
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.
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.