As the voting progresses in Japan’s upper house election, it’s somewhat unclear what the big issues of the election are. For one thing, the World Cup and the scandals plaguing sumo wrestling have hogged the national spotlight. For another, the prime minister only took office about a month ago after the previous one suddenly resigned. How are you supposed to judge a government that’s only been in office a month?
So to help sort things out, I present some of the salient issues in this election and what to watch for in tonight’s results
>> Biggest question – will the DPJ get a simple majority?
As it stands, a two-party coalition, the DPJ and PNP, control the upper house with a single-vote majority. The DPJ by itself has 116 members, so it would need to increase its standing by 6 to secure a majority. There are currently 54 DPJ members up for reelection with another 62 who were elected in 2007. PM Kan has made maintaining that 54 his goal for this election, though former Secretary General and intraparty rival Ichiro Ozawa (who essentially crafted the Upper House election strategy before stepping down) thinks the party could do better.
Apparently, polling suggests a mixed bag. From Kyodo (via Shisaku blog) the DPJ is faring relatively well, but the number of undecided voters dominates support for any party.
>> If the DPJ cannot secure a majority, who will it team up with, if anybody?
Between the last lower house election in August 2009 and now, a number of small parties have sprung up, mostly offshoots from the LDP, apparently in an effort to make their presence felt in the upper house. Add to these other small parties (also mostly LDP outcasts) and there is a long list:
- Social Democrat (ex coalition partner)
- Your Party
- People’s New Party (current coalition partner)
- Sunrise Nippon
- Happiness Realization
- Japan Communist
- New Renaissance
- Spirit of Japan
- New Komeito
- LDP (this and New Komeito are somewhat larger)
Am I forgetting anyone? Many of them have all but ruled out teaming up with the DPJ, but I see that as playing hard to get. I mean, why bargain away your position by making conciliatory gestures?
>> Surprise performance from small parties
As I mentioned there is a large proportion of “undecided” voters. The DPJ, once sly about courting this group, took a sharp turn in the other direction with Ichiro Ozawa in charge of election planning. In the meanwhile, another party, Your Party, has taken a populist tone, railing against bureaucrats and pledging fiscal stability and deregulation. In fact they more or less promote a neoliberal platform, possibly putting the lie to the conventional wisdom that the Koizumi agenda was unpopular.
Your Party’s positive poll numbers have fueled speculation that it could punch above its weight in the polls today. With that kind of leverage it could become a more important voice post-election, which could significantly impact the DPJ legislative agenda in areas like postal privatization.
>> Will Mizuho Fukushima lose her seat? And other surprise losses
The Social Democrats were at the center of the biggest political battle of the first half of 2010, namely the debate over how and where to relocate Futenma airfield in Okinawa. Unwilling to back down from their campaign pledge to move the field off Okinawa, in the end the party quit the coalition and effectively destroyed the Hatoyama government. While public opinion seemed to be mildly on the SDP’s side, it remains to be seen if Fukushima and her partied generated enthusiasm for her party at the polls.
Fukushima is running as a proportional representation candidate. That means her party has to win around 2% of the vote before it can win even one seat in the Diet. With the new parties crowding the ballot, there’s a chance her party could be crowded out.
There are several other issues to talk about (will the Happiness Realization Party win a seat?), but that’s all the time I have for now. See you later tonight!