Election Calculations Override Everything
Setting aside their political differences, the Liberal Democratic Party, the New Kōmeitō Party, and the Democratic Party of Japan joined together to pass a bill in the Diet for a comprehensive reform of the taxation and social security systems. Leading up to this, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko promised LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu(*1) that he would dissolve the Diet to hold a snap general election “before long”—and in political circles all sorts of speculation arose about the specific date Noda was implying by using that expression.
The current term for members of the lower house (House of the Representatives) expires in August 2013, so we can be sure that a general election will be held before then. As the election approaches, Diet members will no doubt be preoccupied with considerations related to reelection. Particularly in the case of the current single-seat constituency system, in which only one candidate can be elected(*2) for each constituency, it is necessary to have a carefully thought-out election strategy. Candidates who sense that their own political party has poor election prospects have been known to create a new party or defect to an existing party.
Examples of this political dynamic can be seen in Okinawa. In this prefecture, the LDP was crushed in the previous lower-house election. Two of the four constituencies in Okinawa were won by DPJ candidates, and the remaining two were captured by the People’s New Party and the Social Democratic Party, respectively. Subsequently, however, the two DPJ members elected left the party in the wake of the controversy over the relocation of the Futenma Air Station and other issues; one joined Ozawa Ichirō’s People’s Life First Party, and the other became an independent. Okinawa currently has no DPJ lower-house members. The DPJ also suffered a catastrophic defeat in the Okinawa prefectural election in June 2012. It will not be surprising, then, if politicians in the prefecture conclude that prospects are dim for getting elected as a DPJ candidate.
DPJ Eclipsed in Okinawa
|District||Diet member||August 2009 (general election)||August 2012|
|1st||Shimoji Mikio||People’s New Party||Unchanged|
|2nd||Teruya Kantoku||Social Democratic Party||Unchanged|
|3rd||Tamaki Denny||Democratic Party of Japan||People’s Life First|
|4th||Zukeran Chōbin||Democratic Party of Japan||Independent|
A Shake-Up Coming?
With the remarkable decline in the DPJ’s approval rating, stemming from its failure to uphold key aspects of its election manifesto, DPJ politicians thinking about jumping ship have looked, first of all, to Ozawa Ichirō’s People’s Life First Party or its ally, the Kizuna Party. The second popular destination for DPJ defectors has been the Osaka Restoration Association, led by the popular Osaka mayor, Hashimoto Tōru. If he can gather candidates for the next lower-house election, the ORA may win considerable support from voters disaffected with both the DPJ and the LDP.
Small and medium-sized parties—most notably Your Party, led by Watanabe Yoshimi—are earnestly seeking alliances with the ORA. Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, in his bid to return to power, is also considering an alliance with Hashimoto’s new organization. Ozawa Ichirō, likewise, has thoughts of teaming up with the ORA as part of a center-left coalition similar to Italy’s “Olive Tree” ruling coalition of the late 1990s.
These developments are having a subtle effect on the members of the DPJ and the LDP. It seems that fringe elements of these two main parties have been weighing the possibility of transferring their allegiance to one of these new political organizations—given the right opportunity and timing. What has held some back, though, is the single-seat constituency system. Candidates are reluctant to risk contesting an election outside the ranks of either main party unless confident that the third-party they join will emerge victorious.
The dysfunction within the DPJ, and the lack of any impetus for internal reform in the LDP, is forcing the electorate to seriously consider supporting political forces outside the traditional two-party structure. If this interest in third parties takes concrete shape in the next general election, it will likely bring about a major shake-up in Japanese politics.
(Originally written in Japanese on August 26, 2012.)
(*1) ^ On September 26, 2012, Abe Shinzō was elected as the new LDP leader, replacing Tanigaki.
(*2) ^ Strictly speaking, it is possible to simultaneously run for a seat in a proportionally represented constituency while running for a seat in a single-seat constituency; a candidate who loses in the single-seat constituency can still win a Diet seat if the margin of defeat is narrow enough.
Head of the New Renaissance Party. Graduated from the University of Tokyo, where he majored in political science. Born in 1948. Has been a research fellow at the University of Paris and the University of Geneva and an associated professor at the University of Tokyo. A member of the House of Councillors since 2001. Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare 2007–9.