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.

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.

Hashimoto’s Deadline to Watanabe?

Hashimoto seems aware of what he needs to be aware of. In between declaring war on the LDP, on TV Asahi Hashimoto once again reached (日) out to Your Party, saying that a decision on uniting the two parties’ forces would need to be made by 29 November when the Tokyo Governor election will be officially announced. Hashimoto went as far as saying that he was not at all concerned with giving up his position as second-in-charge (acting leader) if that is what is required to achieve realignment in the Japanese political world.

Hashimoto even offered up a pragmatic way to resolve the issue of overlapping SMD districts between YP and the JRP:

Janken.

Will Your Party-Japan Restoration Party Discord Swing the Election to the LDP?

The overlapping of Single Member Districts between Your Party and the JRP continues. As of late yesterday the two parties have fielded candidates in 18 of the same SMDs (日), including, somewhat inexplicably, overlap in 5 Kanagawa districts and 7 Tokyo districts. These districts would be ones ripe for the picking of a united third party, as Tokyo and Kanagawa have swung decisively towards the party with a reform mantra in previous years (such as Koizumi in 2005, and DPJ in 2009). The LDP will be most happy as apart the two parties will gain a lower share of the vote than they would united, liking tipping these districts to the LDP unless the public perceives that one of them (likely Your Party’s candidate in this case) is not worth voting for. It would seem the two sides are in a potentially disastrous game of chicken, although not yet close to being beyond salvage.

Interestingly, the perception in Your Party is that the JRP is speaking of collaboration but is really out to overwhelm Your Party nationally and regionally, thus making a “third pole” vote for the JRP a fait accompli by election day.  There is likely truth in this.

However this might be a little self-indulgent on Your Party’s part. The explicit reason why a deal has not been done is because the JRP rejected the “Your Party in the East, JRP in the West” division of labour proposed by YP. The problem is that the YP was always going to be the junior partner and an inability to comprehend that suggests that Watanabe Yoshimi’s ego may well be the biggest, and certainly the most fragile, of the three main third pole protagonists (as noted on this blog many times). The JRP ultimately has wider appeal, due to personnel, but also because, while reform-orientated, the JRP agenda is more pragmatic with distinctly non neo-liberal elements mixed in with the more obviously neo-liberal reform proposals. This fits with the Japanese public who want to see smaller government in certain places (construction, bureaucracy), but are not particularly doctrinaire about the small v large government issue. Furthermore, as Osaka Governor and JRP executive Matsui was right to note (and has again been emphasised on this blog on a few occassions), Watanabe’s political judgement deserves to be questioned given the complete and utter lack of accomplishments over the last three years by Your Party. This is despite being in the position to actually influence proceedings through a crucial number of Diet members in the House of Councillors (at least before the DPJ started shedding numbers). A pragmatic, intelligent leader would have reached across the aisle and perhaps made even one or two deals- for example an acceptable reform by the DPJ in exchange for a YP core reform. That this did not happen and Watanabe essentially whinged for three years, while taking occassionally witty potshots at the DPJ (while being unable to take them in return!), suggests that perhaps indeed Hashimoto and Matsui have the better political judgement in terms of staying aloof from YP. After all, Your Party’s support seems to have dipped over time rather than increased despite the ample number of non-committed/independent voters in Japan that may have been attracted to an independent party (between 50-65 percent depending on the poll). Ultimately, Your Party was unable to distinguish itself from the LDP in any meaningful way despite pretensions to do so (and probably also unable to get over the PR fail that is the Your Party moniker).

In fact, arguably Your Party’s existence, perhaps ironically, is owed to Noda. Only a matter of a month or so ago Your Party had suffered defections and there was internal disharmony around Watanabe’s leadership. It seemed that in the long-term Your Party would continue to bleed all their remaining support to whatever movement Hashimoto was trying to build over time. Without Noda calling a snap election then Hashimoto et al may well have had more time to build a nation-wide political machine without relying on the support of Your Party, or for that matter, Ishihara. Noda’s call essentially revived Your Party and forced Hashimoto to reconsider an alliance with the Watanabe et al.*

Nevertheless, while the JRP may be justified in thinking it has the upper hand, they still need to be smart. As I argued in the previous post, it is not so much about how many seats the JRP can get vis-a-vis the DPJ, and for that matter, Your Party, but what impact third pole parties will have on the likelihood of a LDP-Komeito coalition gaining the majority. With 300 SMD seats up for grabs, and the DPJ unlikely to get much more than 100 of them (at best), then there is still plenty of scope for the LDP, as a default, to gain the 150 or so SMD seats required to gain a majority, even if Abe Shinzo fails to inspire.

Perhaps more important than anything, is the media perception. The media is following closely the Watanabe-Hashimoto collaboration story, and while it has emphasized their cooperation (such as campaigning together and drawing a 1000 person crowd), it will also seize ruthlessly on any appearance of discord. Arguably it already is. Even if there is less than meets the eye in terms of conflict between YP and JRP, the Japanese media, as it is wont to do, will focus on the personal politics,  emphasize the petty aspects, and the conflict. That could will well give the public second thoughts about a vote for a third pole party.

*Noda would have seen that the third parties were vulnerable and calculated that now was the time to strike with dissension in the ranks. Where Noda miscalculated was that Ishihara and Hahsimoto would be pragmatic enough to join forces with each other and compromise on issues such as nuclear power and the TPP.

Key Factor for Determining the Election Outcome

Assumption: The Liberal Democratic Party is likely to get 60 seats in the various local Proportional Representation blocs – It is hard to see them doing worse than they did in 2009, their worst defeat ever, even if they fail to get back a lot of the pre-2009 vote. The Japan Restoration Party (JRP) will instead likely eat away at those who would have swung back from the DPJ to the LDP in this election if the JRP was not contesting the local PR blocs. If there is evidence of the JRP eating into core LDP support then this prediction will change, but I have yet to see this evidence.

However, that Ishihara is running in the Tokyo PR bloc, and Higashikokubaru (probably) in the Kyushu bloc, is smart and enhances the ability of the JRP to do this by freeing these two prominent individuals to campaign across these broad districts without engaging in a Single Member District (SMD) race. The main areas to prioritize for the JRP in terms of going for the PR vote would be Hokkaido, Tokyo, Southern Kanto, Kinki (of course) and Kyushu. Right now the opinion polls are all over the place regarding how much support the post-merger JRP actually has, so I will refrain from a prediction on the JRP’s likely PR seat haul for now.

New Komeito is however likely to improve on its 21 seats from 2009 as it regains some PR vote back from the DPJ from those who would  not vote for the conservative LDP or populist JRP. It is also likely, in deals with these two parties, to pick back up a few SMD seats from the DPJ in Kinki and Tokyo. With 30 or so Komeito seats and the LDP’s likely 60 PR seats, the key to the LDP-Komeito getting a majority (241) would be the LDP getting 150 of the 300 SMD seats. If this was a straight LDP-DPJ election then this would be very likely, and in fact the LDP gaining 170-180 seats or more, and perhaps even getting a simple majority on its own without the Komeito, would be plausible.

Thus the JRP’s entry into the election, and particularly the alignment with other “third pole” parties, is critical for changing this dynamic. First, Ishihara, Hashimoto and Noda are all arguably better campaigners than the sometimes prevaricating (and often too talkative, as noted by Jun Okumura) Abe. Abe has already seemingly backtracked on his BOJ statements as well as his TPP statements. This may have an overall effect in terms of bringing the LDP brand down by complicating the narratives around who is responsible for whatever it is someone needs to be responsible for in modern Japan. If Abe could focus just on Noda and the DPJ then these prevarications might no be so much of an issue given the DPJ’s own track record, but with the media focusing on the enigmatic third pole candidates the construction of a coherent and winning narrative is going to be more difficult. Also, with this prominent JRP presence, and potential threat,  Abe and the LDP will be forced to attack, rather than ignore this grouping and focus on the DPJ, as they would have otherwise done.

However more important than this is the strategy towards the SMDs the JRP in particular is going to adopt. An important part of making strategy for the JRP in this case is balancing short and long-term objectives. It would seem obvious that the objective for the JRP is to gain as many seats as possible. However, arguably preventing the LDP (and Komeito) from regaining a majority should be given even greater priority, although the two objectives are not mutually exclusive.

What I mean by this is that, in terms of how to focus its resources, the JRP should concentrate on the SMDs where its presence can turn the race into a genuine three way contest. In other words, those electorates where the LDP won in 2005, lost in 2009 to the DPJ, and would be likely to swing back to the LDP in 2012 without a third option. There is likely to be around 120 or so of these type of seats. They will not win all of these or even most, and they may even throw a few to the DPJ, but if they manage to deprive the LDP of the magic 150 SMD seats, then that would be the price to pay for relevance and influence in 2013. In this sense, getting 30 seats is as good as 100 if the LDP will be forced to rely on another party. If they compete in what would otherwise be safe DPJ districts in a two-horse race, and only succeed in turning over the SMD to the LDP, they will be further from what should be their objective. Of course, in their campaign rhetoric the DPJ will probably be the easy target, but ultimately it is the LDP that is the true “enemy” for the JRP and others in terms of electoral strategy.

The JRP also needs to vigorously court LDP votes in the SMDs and not just focus on picking up some of the “easy” votes leaving the DPJ. To do this however the JRP will need to work with Watanabe Yoshimi’s Your Party by not overlapping in SMD districts, even if they compete for regional PR votes. Voters will need to be convinced that a vote for a third party will not be a wasted vote.

There are some signs that the JRP and YP are coordinating in this fashion. On the 19th November Your Party and the JRP endorsed their first mutual candidate (日), Your Party’s Ishii Ryouma, a candidate interestingly enough running in Osaka #12 inside the JRP’s home base. Originally Ishii was going to run in Osaka #2 but was moved out of consideration for the JRP candidate. The JRP also went back on their initial plan to run a candidate in every PR bloc’s symbolically important number one district, out of consideration for YP who announced (日) they would run candidates in 10 out of the 11 #1 SMDs. However the next day it became clear that the two were also overlapping. When YP announced their initial tranche of candidates they named a candidate to run in Hokkaido #2 where the JRP is also running a candidate. Your Party did however postpone a decision on Tokyo #23 where the JRP is also running a candidate, but followed it up a few days later by announcing a new face to run in Tokyo #23. Tokyo #4 also seems to overlap. In the YP and JRP’s respective announcements of their third trance of candidates, the Kanagawa area, an area where the LDP is likely to do well compared to 2009, is notable in that both sides have committed candidates to the same five SMD districts. One has to question the wisdom of this.

Anyhow, I will be keeping an eye on this particular facet (coordination between the YP and the JRP) as events unfold over the next few weeks, and hopefully some consistent opinion polls with a regional breakdown will appear allowing more informed decisions. After the election season officially starts on December 4, I will also highlight some key SMD races and whether the YP/JRP is likely to to deprive the LDP of 150 SMD seats.