I don’t know about you but in my family it is a tradition to gather together with lots of friends on election night and follow the opening of votes. That’s right: “Election Party Night” and it is on again this Sunday. So just in case you are only a “social watcher” of politics, I decided to put together a few of my notes on the election so that a few more people can enjoy following what could be a historic election for Japan. If you know your Japanese politics pretty well then feel free to skip the first 2~3 paragraphs and get into the meat.
The LDP won the last lower house election (2005) after Koizumi dissolved parliament to win support for his key policy of privatizing the post office. Voter turnout was huge (for Japan) and the LDP won 296 out of the 480 seats in the lower house. (327 including Komeito) The Democrats didn’t even win a quarter of the seats (113/480).
This time around the tide has changed and the Democrats will be focusing on two magic numbers. The first is 241 seats, enough for a simple majority of the lower house. The second is 373 seats. 373 seats would mean that combined with their 109 current seats in the upper house, the Democrats would have 2/3 of all votes in a combined sitting of parliament. In otherwords, they no longer need to worry about cooperating with any of the quacky minority parties who hold the casting vote in the upper house at the moment. If the upper house knocks back any of their legislation they can just have a combined sitting of the two houses and force any legislation that they like through. (The LDP+Komeito coalition have 103/242 seats in the Upper house. The Commies have 7/242, The Socialists have 5/242 and The People’s New Party have 4/242.)
The first place to look on election night is to see how the leaders of each party are faring. It is always a bad sign if the leader of any party looks likely to lose their seat. And you never know what might happen in a year like this.
- LDP (http://www.jimin.jp/index.html) 自民党 Taro Aso (麻生太郎) ⇒ Fukuoka 8 福岡8. Aso won with 55.4% of the votes last time. Yamamoto, the 37 year old new face that the Democrats are fielding is probably fighting an uphill battle even if Aso’s kanji reading skills are worse than mine.
- Democrats (http://www.dpj.or.jp/english/) 民主党 Yukio Hatoyama (鳩山由紀夫)⇒ Hokkaido 9 北海道９区. Last time Hatoyama won 48.6% of the vote. The LDP are fielding a 38 year old called Kawabata who used to work for Nintendo. Nice try but it’s time for seiken kotai!
- Komeito (http://www.komei.or.jp/) 公明党 Akihiro Ota (太田 昭宏) ⇒ Tokyo 12東京12区 This is Kita-ku and parts of Adachi-ku. Ota has got his work set out for him. Even last time he only won 41.9% of the vote. Originally there were rumours of the Democrats sending Ozawa Ichiro down here this year but instead they went for Ai Suzuki (鈴木愛) (http://www.aoki-ai.com/). Opinion polls suggest that Suzuki could win a handsome scalp on behalf of the Democrats.
- Communists (http://www.jcp.or.jp/) 日本共産党 Kazuo Shii (志位和夫) ⇒ South Kanto (南関東). Last time the commies got 6.85% (down from 7.39% the election before) of the vote in this block which was enough to get one of their candidates through with a seat. They’ll be at least hoping for this much again!
- SDP 社民党 (http://www5.sdp.or.jp/) Yasumasa Shigeno (重野安正) Unfortunately their party leader is safe in the upper house so this guy is the next best thing (party secretary general) ⇒ Oita 2 （大分2区）This will be an interesting one to watch. The sitting candidate, Seishiro Eto, is from the LDP and looking for his 9th straight victory. Last time he won 50.3% of the vote. The Democrats have chosen not to field a candidate and let the Socialists fight their battle. Bimyo. My money is on the LDP here (although last time Shigeno snuck in by votes in the hirei (proportional-representation constituency) system)
People’s New Party (http://www.kokumin.or.jp/) 国民新党 Tamisuke Watanuki (gotta love pronouncing his first name with a thick American accent!) 綿貫民輔 ⇒ Hokuriku Shinetsu Block (北陸信越ブロック) . The party won 6.9% of the vote in this block last time which was just enough to get in 1/3 candidate. Besides Watanuki there is another post office crony with a weird name called Sorime (反り目) next in line on their hirei list. How does being an ex post-office manager make him a pollie? I will be interested to see how much voting power the post office can still muster.
- New Party Nippon (http://www.love-nippon.com/english.htm) 新党日本 Yasuo Tanaka 田中康夫 ⇒ Hyogo 8 兵庫8区. As a backup he’s also standing in the hirei against our happy friend Okawa (see below). This will be a ripper in a strange way. No LDP and no Democrats. Hatoyama came to Tanaka’s press conference when he announced that he was shifting from Nagano to Hyogo. Tanaka is very charismatic and so should put up a good fight against the Tetsuzo Shibazaki, the Komeito candidate. Shibazaki is a former secretary general and still is a big wig within the Komeito. Shibazaki has held the seat for the last 7 elections (winning it with 45% of the vote last time). It’s a shame that the DSP and the Communists are running candidates as they could cannibalize Tanaka’s votes. Too close to be called.
- Your Party (http://www.your-party.jp/) みんなの党 Yoshimi Watanabe (渡辺喜美) ⇒ Tochigi 3 栃木3区. I really like this guy. He has flare and charisma (in a funny sort of way) and says what he thinks. Even though the LDP rumoured to stand someone against him as an act of revenge for his well publicized split from the party in January they didn’t. Neither did the Democrats… or anyone infact, except for the Happiness Realization Party. Watanabe won a stomping 63% of the vote last time (with real opposition) but he will truly romp home this year. Good on him!
- Happiness Realization Party (http://www.hr-party.info/) 幸福実現党 Ryuho Okawa (大川隆法) ⇒ Kinki Block 近畿ブロック. Smart strategy from Okawa to not only target the hirei but to choose a constituency like Kinki with lots of seats up for grabs. More room for a marginal political cult party to sneak in across the line here I think.
While most people’s gut reaction will be to count the number of purple hearts on the LDP campaign list, I’m going to be focusing more on how the People’s New Party perform. While the Democrats are likely to win power I really don’t want to see a situation where they have to exchange wedding vows with the People’s New Party in order to form government. The other key members for the People’s New Party and their electorates are:
- Hiroshima 6広島6区 (Remember the seat that Horiemon stood in last time) Shizuka Kamei (亀井静香) – deputy representative. This will be one seat that I would be more than happy to see in LDP hands. They are serious and their candidate, Toshifumi Kojima, has strong local roots being a former prefectural government member. Last time around Kamei beat Horie pretty easily 50% to 31%. The Democrats won 25% of the vote that year. If the Democrat votes flow straight to Kamei then he should be safe but we can only hope.
- Shimane 2島根2区 Hisaoki Kamei (亀井久興)– party secretary general. Last time Kamei had to sneak in with hirei votes and it should be the case again this time. His opponent is Wataru Takeshita, the younger brother of former PM, Noboru Takeshita. It will be hard to do worse than last time (29%) against Takeshita (51%). Even in a wave of anti-LDP voting you would have to think that the power of the Takeshita name is one of the few pillars in the LDP. (After all it is Shimane – have you ever been there? Shimane is probably the only prefecture in Japan this year with a high chance of only returning LDP members to parliament.)
For a bit of fun, let’s say you want to follow how the Happiness Realization party are going. After all they are one of the few parties with an English homepage! (Even the LDP hasn’t got one) Some of their bigger names are:z
Tokyo Block 東京ブロック. 80 candidates standing for the 17 seats available in this hirei block. A lot of competition but maybe enough famous faces to pull at least one through.
- Zuisho Motochikawa (本地川瑞祥) – Deputy party leader
- Doctor Nakamatsu (ドクター中松) – Honorary Party Leader
- Jun’nosuke Kawaguchi (河口純之助) – former base player for the Blue Hearts
- Fumiya Sato (さとうふみや) – famous manga writer (漫画家) (There were originally rumors that she would go up against Aso in his own electorate as he is known as a manga otaku but I guess they decided that she was too valuable to waste on a safe seat.)
- Tokyo 7 東京7区 Kazuya Daimon (大門一也) – Songwriter who wrote music for Hiromi Go and Hikaru Genji (oh and apparently he wrote the Happy Science “theme song”). Tokyo 7 is Shibuya and Nakano. Unfortunately for Daimon, the focus here is going to be between Akira Nagazuma (Democrats) and Fumiaki Matsumoto (LDP). This has historically been a very tight battle between the two of them. Matsumoto was able to sneak back into power last election with the help of Koizumi winning 48% of the vote (up from 35%). Nagazuma has made a real name for himself in the past year or so by highlighting the government’s disaster at managing the pension system so should sneak home comfortably.
- Kanagawa 14 神奈川14区 Masashi Ishikawa 石川雅士 – The head of the New York branch of Happy Science. Just amazed that there is a New York branch… and also that he is allowed to stand for parliament if he doesn’t live in Japan. So he chose a seat with an LDP sitting member called Akama and a Communist candidate called Akama. I assume they aren’t husband and wife. If it were anywhere else in the country then the LDP Akama would probably have been safe but with the degree of support for the Democrats in Kanto at the moment, it could mean a victory Motomura Kentaro (Democrats).
You might have noticed that on August 15 they announced that they would withdraw a handful of candidates in order not to take votes away from the LDP in marginal seats. Their rationale was that “anything is better than the Democrats” and that “they have many believers who are active politicians”. I have spent a lot of time studying these electorates for two good reasons. (1) The party clearly sat down directly with the LDP and given a list of the most marginal seats and told to stay away. What better insight could we hope for on the fears of the LDP? NB. Indeed recent polling states that nearly every one of them is too close to call (2) If number one isn’t correct then the names are more than likely to be a short list of a bunch of closet cool-aid drinkers who probably can’t “come out” until after the election is over.
Hokkaido 11北海道１１区 Shoichi Nakagawa 中川昭一 (LDP) – our favorite drugged up former minister who tried to sit on the statue of Laoco ö n in the Vatican after the 2009 G7 meeting. Nakagawa won 50% of the vote last time to beat his Democrat country-party, Tomohiro Ishikawa. You would normally think that after Nakagawa’s “show” at the G7 that Ishikawa would be feeling pretty comfortable… except Ishikawa is a former secretary of Ozawa Ichiro’s. Remember the scandal involving illegal campaign donations from Nishimatsu Construction. Well, I wouldn’t want to be a former secretary of Ozawa’s standing for parliament… unless of course my opponent was Nakagawa. This is clearly the Obihiro circus. Too close to call.
- Kanagawa 1 神奈川１区 Jun Matsumoto松本純 (LDP). Matsumoto romped home last time around with 57% of the vote. It will be interesting to see how much the electorate associates him with his close friend, Aso. Like so many of the first time Democrats, Mieko Nakabayashi doesn’t have much political experience but is an associate professor in management at a women’s college. I’d probably vote for Ryoko Kozai of the Communists for her background in supporting families with small children but I’m guessing the locals might not do the same. Too close to call.
- Kanagawa 2 神奈川２区 Yoshihide Suga菅義偉 (LDP) – one of the most powerful men in the LDP at the moment. Also won strongly with 57% of the vote last time. Said to have been the Rasputin behind both Abe and Aso and infamously responsible for many of Aso’s policy failures but maybe the locals don’t read between the lines and just love the fact that he is up there pulling the strings. I certainly wouldn’t reelect him. Kazuya Mimura (ex-METI worker and cousin of Ryoko Hirosue’s広末涼子) of the Democrats might struggle with Suga. Too close to call.
- Tokyo 3 東京３区 Hirotaka Ishihara 石原宏高 (LDP). Shinagawa and parts of Ota. I knew of Shintaro (Tokyo Governor) and Nobuteru (LDP) but I didn’t know that there was a third Ishihara in the family. Hirotaka is the little brother of Nobuteru and the son of Shintaro. If he takes after Nobuteru then he might stand a fighting chance but if the recent Tokyo elections are a guide then he should be signing up with Hello-Work (ハローワーク). Jin Matsubara looking slightly stronger from the Democrats at the moment.
- Tokyo 10 東京10区 Yuriko Koike 小池百合子 (LDP). Toshima and parts of Nerima. I was quite surprised to see Koike on this list of potential dangerous seats. She shoed it in as one of Koizumi’s Children last time (49.5% of the vote) and is seen to be a potential leader of the LDP. Her key opponent is Takako Ebata (Democrats) who is a former associate professor from the University of Tokyo. Three candidates standing for this seat and all are female. Will be interesting to follow. Too close to call.
- Osaka 17 大阪17区 Shingo Nishimura西村真悟 (Kaikaku Club http://www.kaikakuclub.jp/) – I note he is a member of the “let’s all go together and visit Yasukuni Shrine club” (みんなで靖国神社に参拝する国会議員の会) which is probably the only reason why Happiness are supporting him. Nishimura is the only member of the lower house amongst the 5 sitting members in Kaikaku Club so he should have chosen a more conservative seat than Sakai City. I doubt that the Happiness vote will be enough to push him through. Polling is suggesting that Megumu Tsuji (Democrats) will win, followed by Nobuko Okashita (LDP) and Nishimura trailing a long way behind.
- Fukui 1 福井１区 Tomomi Inada 稲田朋美 (LDP) – In case you were looking for more controversy, Inada is the politician who tried to stop the screening of the movie Yasukuni and has been recorded on tape as stating that the rape of Nanking never really happened. She only won this seat by 0.2% last time (33.0%) against Ryuzo Sasaki (32.8%) of the Democrats. If Sasaki doesn’t get in this time then I won’t be visiting Fukui again. (Although I’m starting to get an idea of the kind of politician that the Happiness Realization Party support!!!)
- Gifu 5 岐阜５区 Keiji Furuya 古屋圭司 (LDP). Furuya is still looking like a strong contender for his seat. Furuya won his seat last time (41% of vote) as an independent after Koizumi expelled him over his stand against the privatization of the post office. It will be an uphill battle for Yoshinobu Achiha but interestingly they are the only two candidates so it should at least be a clear distribution of voter preferences.
- Yamaguchi 4 山口４区 Shinzo Abe 安倍晋三 (LDP). In some ways I’m surprised that this guy is still in politics. I guess it is easier to be a backbencher than the PM. The Democrats don’t seem to serious with Takako Tokura so I’m not sure what motivated this name to be on the list over other ex-PMs. Maybe that hints at a certain religious “belief” that can’t be made public until he retires. Abe won 72.5% of the vote last time!
- Fukuoka 7福岡７区 Makoto Koga 古賀誠 (LDP) – You’ve got to love the irony. Ozawa Ichiro hand picked Kuniyoshi Noda, a former secretary of Koga’s, to stand against him for the Democrats. Better yet, Noda is looking like a decent chance of pulling it off. Koga is actually rumoured to be a member of Mahikari (真光), yet another weird Japanese cult! I guess this proves that Okawa does have the ability to hear the word of all religious leaders in his dreams…
I realize this is getting long so in the interest of being brief let me end with another list of “too close to call” electorates for your watchlist on Sunday night:
- Gunma 4 Fukuda (LDP) vs. Goto (Democrats)
- Shizuoka 1 Kamikawa (LDP) vs Makino (Democrats)
- Gifu 4 Kaneko (LDP) vs. Imai (Democrats)
- Wakayama 3 Nikai (LDP) vs. Tamaki (Democrats)
- Tottori 1 Ishiba (LDP) vs. Okuda (Democrats)
- Yamanashi 2 Horiuchi (LDP) vs Sakaguchi (Democrats)
- Miyazaki 1 Could be anyone’s game (5 way battle)
We’d love to hear any new rumours on voting trends in the comments section below. If you don’t have any, why not tell us about how you plan to spend this Sunday night?