The script has all the right drama: Two former Japanese prime ministers, deeply disappointed by their bungling successors, rise from comfortable retirement to do political battle once more. And, yes, there is good cause too.
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.
As anyone who studies Japanese political history of the 1930s can attest, the rightwing forces in this nation can be a fractious lot. Once the spirit of nationalism rages, any sort of moderate, compromising behavior can be denounced as treason. Shinzo Abe came to power as a spokesman for the hard right, but after ten months of reasonably cautious behavior, a good chunk of this movement is ready to turn against him.
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.
During his recent visit to Canada and the United States, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a number of interesting visits and public statements, once again demonstrating that he tends to give rather different messages to international audiences as compared to what he says at home.
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.
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.