Election Dissection: What Happened When Japan Went to the Polls

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It’s difficult to miss a Japanese election. You’ll likely be woken up at 8 a.m. by the vans that circle the neighborhood with loud speakers blaring. Because of this, I assumed that all politicians here were elected, in part, on their vocal prowess. Yet, if that was the case, then I think every shopkeeper in Japan proficient at  greeting new customers walking through their doors, would have a shot as a career politician.

Despite a typhoon making landfall (that I’m convinced Prime Minister Shinzo Abe summoned with his magical rain dance) voters came out. If you didn’t catch it (spoiler alert), Abe won. 

There were a few exciting moments, though. If by exciting, you mean the dictionary definition of a “slightly raised, apathetic eyebrow.”

Abe and the LDP

The LDP managed to secure what is being called a “super thirds majority” of seats in the Diet, the Japanese parliament. Arguably the worst superhero name imaginable.

Abe originally called the election to take advantage of an increasingly weakened opposition and to capitalize on his gains in the opinion polls following his tough stance on North Korea. Another, less-broadcasted reason the election was called was to try and draw attention away from several cronyism scandals which have hit the Abe administration.

He’s also been doing this to reach his own not-so-secret personal goal of becoming Japan’s longest-running prime minister. Currently, he’s in fifth place so he still needs to climb the “leaderboard” (he’s 489 days behind Shigeru Yoshida, who was prime minister from May 1946 to December 1954 — a total of 2,614 days). Calling the election when he did, with the opposition at its weakest and in disarray, is the political equivalent of a self-employed person giving themselves a “world’s best boss” award.

The main problem that the Party of Hope faced was it offered little in the way of a true alternative to the LDP.

Abe will be able to finally pass his revisions to Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, removing post-war restrictions on the Japanese military. Riding on the back of the North Korean missile crisis and the rabid, rambling rants from his new BFF (best foreign friend) in the U.S., Abe is likely going to be able to secure the support he needs to finally get himself out of the friend zone.

However, he still needs 50 percent of the population’s support in a referendum to pass a reform of that caliber. Maybe he should try appealing the literally dozens of people who enjoy the absolutely and incredibly popular idea that is “Premium Friday.”

I‘m sure we can all agree that sanctioning one specific, late afternoon off in a month is an excellent way to tackle overtime and increase sales. Perhaps he can add the third Thursday of every month in there — but only when there’s a full moon and more than 3.12 centimeters of rainfall. Because that’s when people really want to shop.

Koike and the Party of Hope

Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo and founder of the Party of Hope, is a bit of a Schrödinger’s cat. She is both “alive” (a force to be reckoned with on the political stage) and “dead” (a non-player in the election).

The main problem that the Party of Hope faced was it offered little in the way of a true alternative to the LDP. The party even said they would continue to follow Abenomics, only this time they slapped Koike’s name on the front to come up with the highly original “Yurinomics.” It’s not like slapping random English words together makes sense. Now, excuse me while I slip into Warm Biz mode and use my My Number card before playing catchball with some salarymen.

Koike’s party managed to gain 50 seats in the house, which is a drop of about seven seats compared to the aggregate amount of party seats her members held prior to the election. Koike ended up cannibalizing the opposition for the LDP when she formed her new party and pulled members from across the country into her fold.

… [Abe] has shown an already politically apathetic country that little is going to change in the way of political leaders and policies.

Yet, instead of trying to show how attractive her own party was, she showed how stable the LDP was in comparison.

The opposition landscape

The newly created Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), much like the PoH, was born from the ashes of the Democratic Party — abandoned a few days after the election was called. Now, it sits with 55 seats — five more than the Party of Hope — and is now the LDP’s primary opposition.

After Koike gutted the Democratic Party, she banned any left-leaning, liberal candidates, who inevitably went and formed their own club. This, along with the LDP encouraging, yet not offering any true home for the growing nationalist numbers, has left an unorganized opposition. Only time will tell if these wounds will fester even greater divides in the country.

Although issues exist between the CDP and the Party of Hope, they will both have to look to mending their awkward relationship if they hope to have any real chance of standing against the LDP. With both parties standing in stark contrast in their support for the Article 9 reforms, the future of Japan’s opposition will be a bloody one.

The future of Japan

Japan is now set for another few years of LDP rule. Abe has not only managed to solidify his base but he has shown an already politically apathetic country that little is going to change in the way of political leaders and policies.

There have also been some more worrying aspects of Abe’s ideology. Presumably, looking for answers by peering over at the next table and seeing that Trump voters ordered “how to appear like a dinosaur,” Abe has started his own version of “Japan first” — and will perhaps make it harder in the near future for visas to be obtained.

With constitutional forms on the horizon, unchecked nationalism in the country and a divided opposition we can be sure of one thing: 20 more Japanese UNESCO Heritage Sites will be added by next Thursday.

What are your thoughts on the results and repercussions of the Japanese election? Have your say in the comments!

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British teacher, Japan explorer and writer. I will exchange witty jokes for Marmite.

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