Pendulum Districts 2012

From Asahi Shimbun

From Asahi Shimbun

According to the Asahi Shimbun (日), 145 SMDs went for the LDP/Komeito in 2005, DPJ in 2009, and then again for the LDP/Komeito in 2012 (what the Asahi terms the “pendulum phenomenon”). 71 one of them were in the urban metropolis of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama area. This is a very interesting bit of information that could prove useful for the next lower house general election if it is held under a similar system to the current one. If the LDP-Komeito relationship survives the Abe tenure, however long that may be, then in the next election there will be significant incentives for the JRP, a new centrist DPJ, and perhaps the YP to form alliances in these districts, particularly if the LDP disappoints in some way.

Just How Convincing was the LDP’s Victory?

Very – but actually, not at all.

Some basic numbers.

Bear in mind that the DPJ received 308 seats in 2009, and received 42% support in the proportional representation component of the vote. In 2009 the LDP overall received 26. 7% of the PR vote and received 119 seats. The nation-wide PR vote average for the LDP this year is likely to be around 28% (update: confirmed at 27.6%), and the LDP will receive 294 seats in total.

It gets worse. As can be seen in the numbers for the 5 largest PR districts below (those that are significantly disadvantaged by the vote-value disparity in the SMD component of the vote), the LDP did only slightly better in this election than it did in the previous election. While there are certainly more parties competing for the party PR vote this time around, this nevertheless paints a bleak picture of the fairness of the current system when a party can claim an electoral mandate on the basis of little more than a quarter of the voting public seeing the party as their number one choice. The other thing to factor into this equation is that this election had one of the poorest post-war turnouts on record. Only 59% of the voting public turned out for this election, a significant 10 percent drop from 2009 (and 10 million people). In reality, the LDP received less actual PR votes, and in many districts did not do that much better in terms of actual SMD votes received compared to 2009’s decisive rejection of the LDP.

Tokyo PR 

LDP 2012: 24.9%

LDP 2009: 25.5%

DPJ 2009: 41.0%

Northern Kanto PR

LDP 2012: 28.1%

LDP 2009: 25.8%

DPJ 2009: 42.1%

Southern Kanto PR

LDP 2012: 26.4%

LDP 2009: 26.0%

DPJ 2009: 43.0%

Kinki PR

LDP 2012: 23.9%

LDP 2009: 23.2%

DPJ 2009: 42.4%

Kyushu PR

LDP 2012: 29.9%

LDP 2009: 28.1%

DPJ 2009: 38.1%

Michael Cucek states in a recent East Asia Forum article titled “Japan’s Nothing Election”:

“The Japanese electorate has been confronted with a nothing election: an election called for no reason, lacking attractive candidates or even fundamental legitimacy.”

It’s hard to disagree – but as seen above, it is even worse than that.

The LDP and Issue Avoidance

Michael Cucek, while agreeing with the general thrust of my previous post on the changing electoral composition in Japan, questions whether my suggestion is likely to implemented in reality. To be sure, the likelihood of anyone seeing sense as I described it is indeed small. Nevertheless, I think pointing out that when the Diet reconvenes early next year, taking an axe to the PR component of the current electoral system will be the exact wrong strategy for all parties except for the LDP, has some merit. One can only hope that the DPJ in particular realizes this, as ultimately Abe’s promise to undertake a fuller reform of the House of Representatives was made to the DPJ and it is up to them to make the running on this issue.

If the opposition parties collectively were more focused, then they could well force more out of the LDP than MTC lets on, however. If (that word again) Abe is smart he will spend the first regular Diet session of next year focusing on economic issues and avoiding any moves on the more controversial issues such as changing the constitution or the interpretation of the right to collective self-defense. Abe needs to build political capital before he can spend it. The issue of timing regarding pushing forward on constitutional reform is ultimately in Abe’s hands. The goal should be to make it to the House of Councillors elections with as little drama as possible and again use the House of Councillors electoral math to put the LDP in a strong position to take back the house as the uninspiring default option.

Two issues that will likely need to be progressed one way or another in the next Diet session are the electoral reform bill as promised to the DPJ, and a final decision on the TPP. A decision on the TPP will not wait much longer. First, the general perception in Washington according to one high-level proponent of the TPP in a conservative DC thinktank I spoke to last week is that the TPP will live or die in 2013 one way or another, in contrast to the RCEP, which will be slower but more “sustainable” in terms of the process. This seems like a reasonable insight. Another reason why Abe will be faced with a decision is that expectations are high in Washington itself that Abe will actually bring the Japanese electorate around and, in the words of the aforementioned thinktanker (not Michael Green), “betray the people” if need be in order to bolster the US-Japan alliance (that said, the public has been for some time somewhat in favour of joining the TPP).  There is a small chance Abe may be able to put off a decision until immediately after the House of Councillors election, where the vote disparity is almost 5:1 in favour of rural districts, but the window will be very small. This kind of thinking is probably optimistic on the part of DC crowd, but on the other hand I would not rule it out.

How Abe will deal with his promise to the DPJ will depend on how aware of its own viability the DPJ is in terms of its long-term prospects for political influence. The only hard and fast rule of the promise to Noda is that there needs to be a reduction in the number of Diet members in the Lower House. The issue of how they are elected was not directly touched upon although the DPJ could argue that as they included it in the bill that was rejected when Noda extracted the promise from Abe, then Abe implicitly promised to consider this issue as well. If the LDP takes not much more than 30 percent of the total PR vote, and wins as resoundingly as many are expecting in terms of actual seats gained – all on the back of an unconstitutional election which treats large swathes of the electorate as less than half a citizen – then the opposition parties will be more than justified making a lot of noise about how the HoR not only needs to be reduced, but also needs to be dramatically reformed. MTC may be right in pointing out that the LDP will be extremely hostile to any changes to the electoral system, but on the other hand, will it be the price for political peace in the lead up into the House of Councillors election? The opposition parties if they were smart, should make it so. Where I agree with MTC is that the DPJ probably has little awareness about what its actual interests are. Much like on September 16, 2009.

This could ultimately be all up to Abe. Will he learn the correct lesson from his first time in power, and for that matter from Hatoyama and from Kan’s strategic blunders in terms of issue selection, and choose the right issues to address first?

Is it Time to Start Thinking about 2013?

As was predicted here around the time of the dissolution of the Diet the mechanics of the current Japanese political system makes it likely that the LDP-Komeito coalition, if not the LDP on its own, will get a majority on December 16th. At the official start of the election season on December 4th most of the mainstream media outlets have started to predict this very outcome This is despite the LDP’s support rate under Abe being less than stellar, and there being almost no enthusiasm for the party. This seems to have been a (what should have been obvious) stimulus to the likes of the JRP who will now look to turn their undivided attention to attacking the LDP. JRP 2IC Osaka Governor Matsui has even come out groveling to Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi, saying (日) that he and Hashimoto were in hindsight “too cheeky” and insufficiently respectful of “Watanabe-Sempai’s (political) life experience.” With the LDP the default option, uninspiring to many as it is, nothing short of some grand gesture/announcement by the two “third pole” parties is going to change the the narrative and outcome of this particular election. It is possible that they may turn around what looks to be a fait accompli, just unlikely at this point in time. This is because it is unfortunately too late to offload Ishihara and the other retro-conservatives of the Taiyo no Tou, and make a play for Your Party amalgamation. With the LDP lurking at around 20-25 percent in the PR vote, it does not have to do much better in the SMDs, if at all, than it did in the last disastrous election for the LDP, to acquire a majority this time around, given the rest of the vote will be split in the SMDs between the JRP/YP, the DPJ, and the Japan Future Party (JFP). This will look like a comprehensive victory, but the deeper numbers, as we will all know, will suggest anything but a mandate.

Which raises some interesting questions about the Japanese political system going forward. There has been discussion about the current configuration, of the “conservative” LDP, the “whatever-you-personally-want-to-label-them” JRP, the centrist DPJ, and the “liberal” JFP, being representative of the true realignment of Japanese politics, as opposed to a seemingly “forced” two party British/Westminster system. I had this discussion with good friend Bryce Wakefield recently; and friend of Sigma1, Michael Penn at Shingetsu News Agency, has recently put forward the same hypothesis in last week’s subscription-only “Tokyo Diplomat.” [So credit goes to them].

Given the complexity of the Japanese political system and the difficulty in identifying what we Westerners tend to perceive as “left” and “right” in the Japanese ideological spectrum, then this seems a pretty solid hypothesis. We may have to give up on a two-party system – and that might be ok. As long as the parties themselves are somewhat internally coherent (not quite there yet of course) then having more than two (incoherent) parties may not be a bad thing.

If this is the case, then Japan clearly has the wrong political system. If as is predicted the LDP does go on to win quite convincingly on the back of 20 percent support in the Proportional Representation system (ie their “true” support level) then something is quite clearly wrong. First-Past-the-Post systems limit political representation for the benefit of simplifying the political system and promoting stable, but still democratic, governance. However, this is more for systems where two major political parties fiercely compete but are likely to fall a bit short of getting 50 percent of the vote from time to time on their own. However, not this short. 20 and even 30 percent “true” support translating into perhaps 60 percent of the number of seats seems absurd. It clearly undermines too much the “popular democracy” component of the democracy-governance trade-off of FPP systems (notwithstanding the PR component of the current Japanese system). Throw in the fact that rural votes are worth two times as much as urban votes (not to mention this being unconstitutional), then it becomes an absolute farce.

This is not to say that a return to the Multiple Member Districts (MMD) of old is desirable. That would be a step backwards. It does raise questions regarding Noda and Abe’s plan/promise to cut the number of seats during the 2013 regular Diet session, however. When you have four parties which all deserve some kind of voice, why cut the PR seats? Especially when they are the only part of the system that gives certain citizens an “equal value” vote. Cutting the seats to save on waste is noble enough, but doing so in a way that might enshrine permanent but unpopular LDP-Komeito rule in the medium-term will be undesirable, even for the DPJ. The DPJ is unlikely to ever again win the way it did in 2009. It may be able to gain in the 2013 House of Councillors election, but it will not be much. The truth is, the DPJ is not the “2nd party” that they think they are in a Westminster-style system. Neither will the JRP be. When we all come back next year and Abe is forced to consider his promise to undertake reform of the House of Representatives, reducing the PR seats will be exactly the wrong thing to do, unless there is some kind of realignment into two blocs.

At the risk of sounding parochial, there is of course a solution, one that may only have a six month window open for consideration if the LDP is mildly successful at governing.

It produces good, stable cabinet-focused governance based on coalition governments, and pretty good representation across the spectrum while still incentivizing centrist policy-making. It is not that different from the current Japanese system in that it has both FPP elements and PR elements. And if a party is genuinely popular then it doesn’t prevent them from claiming a mandate for reform.

Mixed Member Proportional representation (MMP).* It’s perfect for a natural four (or three) party system with a Westminster heritage. And, citizens are all enfranchised as both their party and their electorate vote are valued the same as anywhere else in the nation. Imagine that.

* With all of the necessary tweaks needed to make it work in Japan.

LDP Support Takes a (Mini) Dive

The Asahi and Yomiuri newspapers’ opinion polls released this morning would seem to portend bad news for Abe Shinzo and the LDP. According to the Yomiuri poll (日) in the last week LDP’s PR vote support has dived from 25 percent to 19 percent which is more than just a sample error. The DPJ and Your Party have been the beneficiary of this, increasing slightly from 10 percent to 13 percent (DPJ) and from 2 percent to 5 percent (YP) respectively. The new “Mirai no Tou” or “Future Party” makes a minor dent at 5 percent which will only bring back about 10-15 of their current 60 odd MPs at best. The JRP vote is holding constant but does indeed seem to have peaked at 13 percent.

The Asahi poll (日) shows some similarities. LDP support is down from 23 to 20 percent, and the DPJ is up from 13 percent to 15 percent. Again the JRP is holding constant at around 9 percent in this poll (10 percent previously). The poll also reveals a lack of expectation for the Mirai no Tou and Ozawa’s involvement in particular.

To be sure this is an interesting development. Abe’s perceived flip-flopping on the BOJ issue and the attack from all sides, including the LDP’s New Komeito partner, on issues relating to defense such as the collective self-defense and changes to Article 9 regarding the SDF name and its legal constitutional basis, are likely to been a factor in this decline.*

It is too early to predict a change in the outcome of the election, however. The Yomiuri poll shows that while the PR vote for the LDP is less than impressive, the LDP is likely still to do better in the SMDs. 22 percent of people will vote for the LDP in their SMD (down from 27 percent to be sure), 13 percent for the DPJ (up from 9 percent), and 12 percent for the JRP (down from 14 percent). Of course that is less than 50 percent of the vote, but it (superficially) shows how the split in the non-LDP vote might just put the LDP ahead in many of the 300 First-Past-the-Post SMDs, which are already tilted in the LDPs favour due to the vote-value disparity amplifying the voice of rural areas. Furthermore, unless the DPJ (3 years of troubled rule)** and the JRP (bickering with Your Party, and now seemingly internally between the Ishihara and Hashimoto factions over the nuclear issue)*** can relieve themselves of the political media burdens that they are currently carrying, then much of the remainder of that 40 to 50 percent undecided vote will probably default to the LDP.**** In fact, this should be the LDP’s general strategy – the default party. In this sense Abe, with his various visions, might well turn out to be the wrong guy for this kind of strategy.

* The Asahi poll also reveals some opposition to Abe’s proposal to change the SDF’s name to that of “National Defense Military” (国防軍). 51 percent are against and only 26 percent are in favour. The rightward shift is palpable! Technically this name change would be rendered as “National Defense Force” in English but the name change is more significant in Japanese due to the presence of the 軍 character, hence my translation. The Asahi poll indicates that candidate/party positions on Article 9 are important in the final voting decision for 68 percent of respondents.

** Are the North Koreans going to influence this election by giving a helping hand to Noda by launching a missile right before the election? A solid performance by Noda might reinforce the narrative that, while not a popular or attractive candidate, he is a steady hand on foreign policy, unlike his “weak” DPJ predecessors or his potential “Hawkish” LDP replacement in Abe. Of course, on the other hand, any scent of mismanagement in the response will have quite the opposite effect.

*** Why is the JRP even talking about the nuclear power issue (or for that matter weapons)? It is not going to win them any votes either which way because those who are concerned with nuclear power issues were not voting for them anyway. The discussion only highlights internal disagreement on the issue, something that exists along the political spectrum. As long as they don’t take an obviously pro-nuclear power, or immediate, “Nuclear Zero” position to close down the reactors then discussion over this is a distraction from what should be a relentless and single-minded emphasis on administrative reform and decentralization.

****Still no good polls from swing SMD blocs or a general regional bloc-by-bloc breakdown of the PR vote thus making more specific conclusions inappropriate. The Kyodo poll from the same time period shows that there has been virtually no change in the last week. 18 percent for the LDP, 10 percent for JRP, and 9 percent for the DPJ. They show about 3.5 percent for the Mirai no Tou.

Perspectives on Japan from the US

MTC has already identified and said what needs to be said about the most recent example of a questionable commentary from an apparent “friend” of Japan in Washington D.C.

Perhaps the only commentaries that oversimplify Japan more than the “rising nationalist” commentary are the “Japan declining” and “Young people turning inward” commentaries. Thankfully to balance Joseph Nye’s Financial Times op-ed we have Gerald Curtis, through Shelia Smith over at the Council for Foreign Relations, who has produced one of the more succinct disposals of both oversimplifications.

To be sure, Japan’s debate on national identity is in flux, its political system is pushed to a potential breaking/transition point, and the societal narrative about how to deal with a rising China has radicalized to some degree. But the issue is a far more complex one than of “rising nationalism.”* Likewise with the issue of Japan’s decline – as with the rest of the developed world this is a complex discussion, although Curtis should not need to point out the obvious that the reducing influence of the West need not be seen as an inherently bad thing. There are of course some obvious areas where Japan can clearly do much better. As do we all.

However the one narrative that particularly bothers me is the oft-repeated mantra that Japan’s youth in particular are turning inward. There is no actual evidence for this other than poor anecdotes, although it seems some (including Nye) have mistaken a decreased tendency to worship everything American for turning inwards. My own experience is that, in the cities at least, Japanese of the younger generations are considerably less, er, unusual, than the older generation when they have a conversation with my foreign self.** While there are less Japanese going to the US for work assignments and transfers and professional/graduate training (such as MBAs, although frankly that need not be a bad thing!) a careful look at the emigration statistics show that there are still plenty of Japanese PhDs and researchers going overseas (at one end of the spectrum) and a considerably higher number of “normal” Japanese travelling overseas; and usually to places less comfortable than Guam and Hawaii that the older Japanese generation are very fond of. Curtis is exactly right when he says:

Some people talk of Japan’s increasing inward lookingness, especially among young people, suggesting that there has been a decline in cosmopolitan attitudes. For someone who has been around Japan for as long as I have this is an especially puzzling observation. Has the number of Japanese who are fluent in English declined? No, quite to the contrary, there are more people comfortable in English and comfortable in non-Japanese settings today than ever before. Are young people becoming more inward looking? There is little evidence to support such a supposition. The number of Japanese who go abroad to study has not declined as a percentage of their age group. What gives the impression of inward lookingness is that the total number of people, including especially young people, has declined and that fewer of those who do venture abroad come to the United States. They are going to China and South Korea and to English speaking countries where tuition and living costs are lower than in the United States and where the competition to get into university is not as intense. Japan’s problem is that too many people in the older generations remain inward looking, robbing young people of the incentives to take risks and do unconventional things.

I have nothing else to add.

* I came across an article in my research dated 1980 which seems to be predicting more or less the same thing as many are today re: rising nationalism – I am sure this narrative stems far further back to 1945.

** To compare apples with apples.

The JRP-Your Party Truce

Too much ink has been spilt over the issue of whether Your Party and the Japan Restoration Party should merge their forces. And in the process it would seem that the public bickering between the two has hurt their respective chances. There was too much focus on the issue of the merger and whether the two groups’ policies could be harmonized – this was never really an absolute necessity. As it currently stands the two sides now overlap in 28 SMDs, many of them in the crucial swing blocs such as Southern Kanto and Tokyo (where 59 of the total 300 SMDs are located).

It does seem however that both sides have come to an uneasy truce. Watanabe has responded (日) very favourably to the JRP’s proposal to “fade out” (日) nuclear energy by 2030, which while not “Zero Nuclear,” seems less like a backtrack than the initial post-Taiyo no To merger compromise. The two sides have also intimated they will stop attacking each other and also not add to the overlapping SMDs issue and will both support  (日) a single candidate in SMDs where they don’t already overlap. This may be too late however – the SMD overlap has taken place in some crucial areas and it seems that support for third pole forces has hit something of a wall. The last week or so of squabbling has undermined the narrative of momentum that the media originally was fostering. It may also be that Ishihara has consolidated the possible third pole vote, but has also put a ceiling on it given that he is a divisive figure. In the most recent Nikkei poll (日) the JRP was still only at 15 percent behind the LDP at 23 percent. In terms of the district level vote, it is impossible to predict without specific polls, but such numbers don’t suggest that the third pole parties will be able to overhaul LDP candidates who have some natural advantages (including money) in waging electoral war in SMD districts.

Thus, without a dramatic change in the election narrative (or a scandal/controversy of some sort) it still seems likely that the LDP will take out a significant number of the SMDs and an LDP-Komeito coalition will probably achieve a majority come December 16.