Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Diet Dissolution

The party is supported by 36% - one in three - of the population. Only 28% - one in four - thinks its leader is suitable for the Prime minister's office. That's not good numbers, you say? Open goal for the opposing party? This party - the DPJ - is the opposing party and it manages to look good only by comparison to the governing party LDP. Their latest support figure is 18%, and their leader - Prime minister Aso Tarō - is considered suitable in his job by 11%, according to the latest Mainichi poll.

Aso dissolved the diet today in preparation for the upcoming election, and the LDP is showing signs of breaking apart over it. Last week a group within the LDP announced they had the lawmaker signatures needed to force a party general meeting. The idea was to depose Aso and elect a new party leader before the general election. Only, just after rebel leader Nakagawa had his triumphant press conference a number of his signatories started backtracking, removing their names, saying they didn't really mean anything by it. The end result was a non-binding meeting today where Aso listened to complaints and grievances from disaffected members - and likely completely ignored them, of course, as he has nothing left to lose and nothing left to prove anyway. He's been Prime minister of Japan, he'll stand for election and he'll go down in history no matter what the result. From his point of view it's no doubt better to be remembered as "The Last Prime Minister of the LDP" than "Temporary Nobody #4".

The house dissolution kicks off the "pre-campaign" season, until the start of the official campaigns on the 18th of August. I have to confess I do not know the detailed election laws here - I have no authoritative sources in English or Swedish - but they are many, strict and frankly quite strange. Once the official campaign period starts, some ridiculously restrictive campaign rules come into force. They're worth a separate post, but when a single car with a loud-speaker chanting the candidate's name is the most effective allowed means of reaching a couple hundred thousand people in an electoral district something is seriously out of whack.

However, before the 18th any campaigning is forbidden, by anybody. What constitutes "campaigning" seems a muddy, stretchy concept. Any online or mass media discussion of policy or merits of one candidate over another could be considered campaigning if you were in that frame of mind. In the run-up to previous elections the "pre-campaign" period has been short. This time, however, there's a whole month of dead time, with the house out of session and election called but with no legal way to campaign. Expect to see lower-house candidates stretch the definition of "campaigning" to its breaking point in the weeks ahead.

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