Thursday, 20 December 2012

Japanese Politics Primer, Part 3: Election Debrief

I realise most of you probably don't care about politics, never mind Japanese politics, so I'll wrap up this series as briefly as I can before returning to what I do best. I originally promised an overview of the various contenders for PM, but once it became clear Abe was going to win I thought it might be more interesting to examine how things stand after the fact. Even still, we're going to focus on the leaders, because that's the part of politics that I like best.

Abe Shinzou, Jimintou (LDP) – 294 seats

You have to give Abe some credit here for winning such a massive victory. You could chalk it up to voter apathy, or to the lack of competition, or to the current political climate or anything else you want to spin it towards, but a two-thirds majority is a job well done as far as I'm concerned. On the other hand, just about any criticism that could be levied at him has some degree of merit. He's vapid and bland, a career politician from a family of career politicians, he's got oddly shaped bones in his closet, and while he's no Ishihara or Asou he's not the most articulate or exciting speaker, either. What he does have going for him is experience, in particular his one-year PM stint in which he demonstrated his foreign policy prowess in the area of the North Korea kidnapping crisis. Well, actually Koizumi started that, but Abe finished it out, and now the Japanese public tends to view that at his big accomplishment. And if you're going to be defined by just one thing, you could do worse than “saved some people from being tortured to death.”

Noda Yoshihiko, Minshutou (DPJ) – 57 seats

This was a huge blow, funny enough pretty much a reversal of the last election, in which the Minshutou smashed the Jimintou. And like in the aftermath of that election, in which Asou took responsibility for the catastrophic loss and resigned, Noda has announced his withdrawal from the party's ruling council, so we're now waiting to see who ends up as leader of the opposition. Not that it'll make all that much of a difference anyway, what with that huge gap they left the Jimintou to stretch their legs in. It looks like he won't be retiring from politics entirely, though, as he did win his own seat, and it sounds like he intends to continue legislature service as an ordinary legislature guy.

Ishihara Shintarou, Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) – 43 seats

This is where things get a little more fun. With a clear winner almost from the beginning, the big story this election was the formation of the new Ishin no Kai party, and what they were going to do about the election, and who was going to lead, and what the hell was on their minds exactly. Well, now we have the answers to those first two questions, and as you can see, things worked out pretty well for them, as they're now within striking range of the Minshutou. In a surprise move, Hashimoto, the Mayor of Oosaka, ceded leadership to Ishihara, his ostensible senpai and decrepit lunatic of a co-founder. This was a bit of a personal disappointment for me since Hashimoto is so much more charismatic and assholish, although, it may be a strategic move on his part since Ishihara is going to retire or die within the next like ten seconds, at which point Hashimoto can take charge, make use of the groundwork Ishihara has lain, and appear that much more legit in the long run.

Yamaguchi Natsuo, Komeitou (New Komeitou) – 31 seats

This is where my initial premise falls apart as I realise I only know the Big Names, and start focussing on the parties instead. I mentioned this before but it's still funny: Japan's ruling party is right-wing; its opposition was formed by refugees from the ruling right-wing party; the third-place party is made up of wacko right-wingers; and the fourth-place party is a right-wing religious offshoot party. But at least it's Buddhist, which is a nice change of pace. Oh, right, and it's called the Komeitou in Japanese but the New Komeitou in English. That isn't stupid or anything.

Watanabe Yoshimi, Minna no Tou (Your Party) – 18 seats

Everyone's Party.

Kada Yukiko, Nippon Mirai no Tou (Tomorrow Party) – 9 seats

Japan Party of the Future? Party of the Japanese Future? Future Party Japan? Hey, I think we've just hit upon a great title for an anime, or album, or band, or blog. Have at it. Also, they're down from 61 seats. It's bad to go from heavily relevant to significantly less relevant, it must be awful to go from barely relevant to meaningless.

Shii Kazuo, Nihon Kyouzantou (Japanese Communist Party) – 8 seats

Down one seat. A minor tactical loss, but, with the Jimintou's landslide victory, strategic devastation.

Fukushima Mizuho, Shakai Minshutou (Social Democratic Party) – 2 seats

Down from five. Very lonely.

Jimi Shouzaburo, Kokumin Shintou (People's New Party) – 1 seat

One seat. One. Also, note how the staunchly left-wing parties all kind of bunch up near the end? That's symptomatic of a general inability to form a united leftist front. The Minshutou is theoretically centrist and the Jimintou has its moments, but if they keep splitting the leftist votes they'll never get anything they really want. Admittedly, if they all amalgamated tomorrow they'd still only have 11 seats, but maybe in some future election they'd be able to win a handful more if they weren't forcing their base to choose between the socialists and communists.

As was the case prior to the election, I'm still mostly interested in Hashimoto and wondering if he'll do anything spectacular. And to reiterate something else I said before, it's my personal wish to see Abe either bookend the one-year Prime Minister thing by being both the first and last, or to break the tradition he himself started and actually last a while. Not sure it's wise to bet on either, though.

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