Who is likely to win?
No one can say for sure, but so far polls consistently favor the DPJ to pick up a large number of seats. Tobias Harris at the Observing Japan blog sees DPJ advantage wherever he looks, and so do the major weekly magazines. As I see it, there are three realistic scenarios, in order of likelihood:
1) The DPJ picks up a large number of seats but not enough to form a government alone or with its current opposition partners.
For the DPJ to win 241 seats, the number required to form a government without any help from coalition partners, it will have to expand its current standings from 112 seats by 129. Alternately, to form a coalition government with current opposition forces, the DPJ would need to pick up 98 seats (assuming all other parties stay the same).
Either result would be a true blowout. I haven’t checked, but one expert on the subject has told me that a gain of 129 seats would be the biggest win under the current constitution. However, that’s the result that most in-depth analysis is predicting.
But what if it doesn’t happen? It’s entirely possible that the DPJ could pick up just 90 seats, eight seats short of a clear win. In that case, as yesterday’s Nikkei notes, immediately after the election the parties would have 30 days to negotiate a government coalition before the extraordinary Diet session must be held to choose a prime minister. In that case, minority parties such as Your Party could end up being the deciding factor – they could go either way. The Nikkei predicts this could lead to some party defections as various groups jockey for position.
A DPJ loss would be an enormous shock considering the momentum and expectations for a DPJ win. For some it would be a relief, while others (including many in the foreign press, apparently) would be sorely disappointed.
2) The DPJ picks up a historically unprecedented number of seats and can form a government either on its own or in a coalition with the current opposition.
This is the easiest scenario to envision and it’s the one most widely reported. If the DPJ can pick up at least 98 seats, assuming other opposition parties stay the same, it wins. It can form a government headed by DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama.
3) The LDP pulls off an upset and manages to stay in power somehow.
Expectations for the LDP seem next to non-existent. While the mainstream domestic media are maintaining a more or less neutral tone, polls consistent show a clear advantage to the DPJ. The foreign media seems to discount the possibility of an LDP win (in at least one case conducting a pre-emptive post-mortem), opting instead to play up the historic nature of the election. But it’s not at all an impossible scenario. If all of Aso’s political gambles, his smears of the DPJ, and his insistence that the LDP is the most responsible party to lead Japan end up paying off somehow, he will have pulled off a major achievement that could lead to his own long term in office.
And so ends my introduction to the lower house election. From here on in, I’ll be focusing on my local race in Tokyo’s 13th district.