A number of the Japanese opposition parties, or more accurately, non-government parties, are doing it all wrong.
Looking at the Yomiuri today (jp) Kan has given a shout-out to potential parties in case of their not being able to secure the 60 seats for an outright HoC majority at the current election (or the 54 needed should they head back into coalition with the PNP).
Nothing surprising about this. Nevertheless, with the New Komeito having recently “ruled out” a coalition with the DPJ after the election, and with various other ‘3rd pole’ parties having more or less done the same over the months, this call becomes all the more meaningful. After all, it seems almost everyone has ruled out working with the DPJ. To be sure, this is politics, so who knows how true to their word they will be when faced with the prospect of power and influence. More so, some of the “ruling” out statements seem to be in the vein of “we will not just make up the numbers and mindlessly enter into a coalition with the DPJ” which seem rather obvious in their own way – but offer some wiggle room. That being said, the leaders of the political parties have been straining a bit too stridently for what is sensible to me in making the point that the DPJ must change if they were to even consider working with them (ringing most hollow coming from New Komeito I have to say!).
I frankly don’t understand this dynamic, even if I was to accept that the DPJ was as bad as claimed. Two major reasons based on one incredibly obvious insight. You want to have influence. Especially if you are a young party.
At the end of the day, everyone loves winners, including voters. Also, I suspect the public are in no place to do anything more than kick the tyres of the current DPJ government, given concerns with electoral and societal stability going forward. By ruling out having a positive stake in power post-election you essentially cede ground to your fellow 3rd pole ‘partners’ who may well want to have a say. This is reason 1. Reason 2 is, that, while in some opinion polls or estimations the DPJ may not have enough to get past 60 seats (or 54) now, when push comes to shove as long as Kan et al show a steady hand, those wavering are very likely to on the day vote for stability. This might mean a large-scale deserting of voters from the moderate 3rd pole parties. It might mean the DPJ very well gets their 60 seats without having to break a sweat. It is a tough balancing act, but you could offer your voters principles, and influence, even if it is only a bit of each. Even a willingness to enter into an agreement, if not a formal coalition could do the trick here.
It is possible that I am completely missing something about Japanese political culture. In NZ, where we have a similar mixed voting system, in the run up to an election, all bets are off, even to a considerable degree amongst current coalition partners. The smaller parties have absolutely no qualms with criticizing either of the two major parties and appending their criticism with “and only with a vote for x party will you get a principled, party of conscience to keep the government honest”. From what I understand Japanese are no less tactical voters than NZers, so I do not see why this kind of tactic can’t work. Even if you do have this understanding, and are open to working with government after the election, to not allude to this is only to your party’s own detriment in situations like this. Perhaps this kind of thought process would be considered bad taste if put so forthrightly in Japan. Maybe. I do think in the long-term, especially if Japan continues to maintain a Westminster style system with mixed PR and electoral district votes, and especially if a bipolar party structure forms with a few “3rds” thrown in for good balance, that the electorate is going to have to drop their squeamishness about these discussions. If this is what it is of course, and not just political incompetence, or more likely, an inability to truly accept how the lay of the land has truly changed since August 2009.
Update: seems that the DPJ is taking matters into its own hands and told (jp) “Your Party” they are looking at them for help after the election. Your Party’s response was basically that their bottom line for any discussions with anyone was reform of the civil service, and reduction in the number of MPs. In fact I was reading earlier on today that YP’s long term goal is get rid of the House of Councillors. If the two parties respectively held this line -with DPJ stating that YP is the best of the non-DPJ bunch, and YP politely denying anything specific and staying on message with their core policy reforms, this could work out not so bad for YP, in my opinion at least.