Upper House election – morning roundup

Mrs. Adamu enters the polling station

Today Japan votes to select half the members of its upper house of parliament. I have been lax in my blogging duties this time around, but thankfully there is a wealth of excellent writing on the election in English to choose from. To get an idea of what’s going on, I recommend:

>> Transpacific Radio is planning to do a live video feed of the results tonight. Other obligations prevent me from joining this time, but once I get home I’ll be watching from my corner of Tokyo.

>> Japan Real Time – The Wall Street Journal’s new Japan blog has been (somewhat surprisingly) a great resource for info on the election comings and goings.

>> Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an English-language live map of the results. If you read Japanese you can turn to any number of sources, though – I will be using Asahi, for the most part.

>> Conflicting takes on the election’s meaning from two people who normally agree with one another.

First, we have Michael Cucek’s article on the “meaningless” upper house election. His ultimate point as to why the high number of undecided voters in the polls:

Japan’s Meaningless Election

There is, of course, a more fundamental reason why many voters are confused and unable to make a choice, even on the eve of a historic first election under a non-LDP government–and that is the lack of a clear national purpose. Japanese voters are highly educated, law-abiding (for the most part) and eager participants in their own democracy. Ask most of them what Japan’s national goals are, however, and you’ll draw an embarrassed silence, or some dangerous platitude like ‘to live at peace with other countries.’

Without goals or aims, it’s extremely difficult to choose which path to take. Or, in this case, which party or person you want to vote for.

In contrast, here is Observing Japan:

The significance of this election has been thrown into clear relief since Kan Naoto took over from Hatoyama Yukio as prime minister and head of the DPJ. What once looked to be a referendum on the leadership of Hatoyama and DPJ secretary-general Ozawa Ichirō — a referendum that polls suggested that the DPJ would not win — is now an election on the future of Japan, perhaps to an even greater extent than last summer’s historic House of Representatives election. If the DPJ can retain control of the upper chamber, it will have three years before it will have to face the voters again in an election, provided that no snap election is called in the meantime. Those are three years that the government can use to make tough political decisions that a government with a shorter time horizon might be less inclined to make, like, say, a consumption tax increase.

And so this election is critical for Japan’s future.

I would come down somewhere in the middle. If Japanese voters have nothing more to aspire to, what was all the fuss about last year? And why was the debate over issues like Japan-US security, privatization of Japan Post, and so on, so fierce and unyielding? At the same time, this election won’t change the main party in power – the biggest question is whether the DPJ will need a coalition partner or partners to secure a majority in the upper house. Important, yes, but not the defining issue of a generation either.

7 thoughts on “Upper House election – morning roundup”

  1. Just returned from the polling station, where I and my wife did some strategic voting. If it turns out that the DPJ needs a new coalition partner, they are presented with some interesting choices. The fate of postal privatization is the biggest issue in this respect. If the DPJ gets 56 seats, they can continue their alliance with Kamei’s party and the privatization rollback will continue. If they fall short of that and have to turn to, say, Minna no To, one condition will be to scrap the rollback. So the 56-seat line is the one I am looking at with interest.

  2. If I can add another election-day comment, a lot of outside commentators are unclear about how the voting system works. Shisaku, for example, had an entire blog post based on the mistaken notion that voters in the Tokyo 選挙区 could vote for up to five candidates. That’s the number that will be elected in this district, but in fact each voter gets to write down only one name. I think this is unfortunate, since each voter should be allowed to vote for all the people he or she wants to see win, not just one of them.
    We also cast a second vote, on a second piece of paper, for the proportional candidates. In this case you can write either a party name or the name of any candidate from a party’s proportional list. A vote for Tani Ryoko, for example, will add to the total for the DPJ. Tani will be elected only if the total vote exceeds a certain number, based on her rank on the list. Interestingly, in the last election the DPJ failed to field enough proportional candidates commensurate with their actual vote totals, and were forced to yield a couple of seats to rival parties. That won’t happen to the DPJ this time, but it could conceivably happen to Minna no To or some other small party.

  3. If people are making those errors that would be unfortunate.

    The system is pretty complicated, though. I am worried a lot of voters don’t really understand what they’re doing when they cast their votes.

  4. Yeah, I think the voting system might seem logical in a game theory sense, but suspect it’s too complicated for many of the voters to spend the effort and actually learn the full details, which easily more than negates the theoretical benefits of the complexity.

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