Monday, December 17, 2012


So, another election rolls around. The DPJ got trounced - deservedly so - while the old LDP and New Komeito managed a supermajority. Hashimoto and Ishiharas Japan restoration Party did not do well, placing just behind DPJ in number of seats. It's LDP and Abes turn to make a muddled hash of everything. Ho hum, meet the new boss same as the old boss.

The real news is the election numbers. Japan has a first-past-the-post voting system. This means the number of seats and percentage of the vote is often badly correlated. And this was blindingly clear this time around. The LDP got 28% of votes this time, almost exactly the same as their disaster election in 2009. And yet, they go from 119 seats to 294. The DPJ collapse, on the other hand, is due to a real, significant drop in support, mostly in favour of Ishiraha and Hashimoto.

There's more to this. 28% percent support from voters is very low, and not any kind of mandate. But participation in the election was less than 60%, the lowest ever. The incoming government thus has the explicit support from all of 17% of the eligible voters. The LDP has clearly never managed to bounce back from their crash of past years. I would expect less stability going forward, not less, as the government gets torn between making use of their supermajority for their pet issues on one hand, and winning over the large majority of voters that never supported them on the other.

But such low support numbers for an incoming government spell trouble not just for the LDP, but for the entire political process in the long term. We have a party that manages not justto form a government but form a supermajority with a minor coalition partner on the back of less than one fifth of the votes. This time the beneficiary is the bumbling, slow, mostly harmless LDP, which likely means little of practical importance will come of it.

But a populist, far-right xenophobic party could well capitalise on the same political weakness. It would be completely unthinkable for a fascist party to get anywhere near half the votes here in Japan. It would not be inconceivable for a well-run campaign with the right issues to pick up a 15% protest vote. And in today's system, the right 15% could translate into forming the Japanese government. That possibility worries me.

1 comment:

  1. I think you'll want to make a correction here:
    “… would expect less stability going forward, not less, …”

    I personally don’t expect much more stability going forward – I don't think the LDP has resolved all their internal conflicts, and trying to please everyone of the general public will bring those back to the surface.


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