Monday, July 12, 2010

DPJ Fail

Upper house election is done, and a loss - a fair, well-deserved loss - for the DPJ. They would have needed 60 seats to get full control over the house, and 54 seats to keep their pre-election numbers. They got only 44, a net loss of ten seats. This is an indictment on the incompetent rule of Hatoyama for the past year, of course, but also pretty much a vote of no-confidence in new leader Kan, who has exhibited a tin-ear for public discourse and managed to disillusion his supporters in just a few short weeks.

Is there something in the water at DPJ headquarters that makes their leaders lose about 50 points of IQ and any political sense the moment they get elected? Or is it simply that the kind of personality and abilities that will get you to the highest ranks of the party are a liability for the specific job of Prime Minister, who, after all, is primarily a salesman and PR representative rather than a policy wonk.

Their former coalition partner PNP lost all three seats they had before the election - half the seats they have in the upper house. The Communist party and Social democratic party each lost one seat, continuing their slow decline. The New Komeito lost two seats; they haven't been able to capitalize on the woes of the ruling block.

The short-term winner is the LDP, who picked up 13 seats. Their support base seems to shift ever stronger toward the rural and peripheral areas of the country, though, which is not a political growth area in any sense of the word. And long-term, this result is rather bad for the LDP. They party has managed to avoid any serious self-reflection or any reform of their own policies and party structure after the disaster last year, and with this bump any chance of serious reform is likely gone. Their current leader Whatshisname is sure to stay on, as is most of their old guard. And without real reform and structural change the party is probably doomed to become a second-tier party long term, perhaps a special-interest party for the rural periphery.

The real winner this time was Here Comes Everybody Your Party, who went from one seat to eleven in this election, winning one more seat than the New Komeito. They've become the fourth largest party in the upper house, and are aiming at replacing New Komeito as the new third alternative. It's still a long shot, but they could well become the new center-right in Japanese politics, especially as neither the LDP nor the DPJ has shown much ability to step up to the current political challenges.

Which, in my mind, leaves a rather large gap: A moderate, rational center right is being formed, but where is its counterpart? The traditional left is in long-term decline, while attitude polls show there's a fairly large constituency that is very sympathetic to a moderate left. Seems to me that there should be a market opening here for a new social liberal party that nobody is yet stepping up to fill.

Lots - and much better - election comments from σ1, Shisaku, Dispatch Japan, and Observing Japan.

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