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No. 8, July 2000
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The 2000 Lower House election in Japan
Voter turnout: 62.49% (about 3% higher than its postwar low in 1996)
Book your hotel in Japan online.

Party      Seats 2000

Seats 1996

LDP

233

 

271

DPJ

127

 

95

New Komeito

31

 

42

JCP

20

 

26

NCP

7

 

20

Liberal Party

22

 

18

SDP

19

 

14

Others

21

 

13

Total

480

 

499

Article added on July 14, 2000

In the Japanese parliamentary elections of June 25, the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), New Komeito and New Conservative Party (NCP) has again won a comfortable majority. In early July, the government lead by Yoshiro Mori, won the confidence of the Lower (284 out of 479 votes) and the Upper House (133 out of 242 votes).
 
The clear wins of the coalition and the government hide the crisis in Japan. The country is not only economically stagnant and heavily indebted (public debt is around 650 trillion yen), but the elite still does not treat the problems at the roots. Instead, one economic stimulation package follows another, primarily serving the clientele of the LDP. The party has run Japan for the all but two years since 1955. But the cabinet and leading politicians have a popularity rating scarcely reaching the double digits - a poll conducted by The Nihon Keizai Shimbun between June 16 and 18 showed that Mori was favored by only 10% of the respondents. Japan is in a confidence crisis and at the same time lacks a credible alternative.
 
The opposition is far from challenging the ruling tripartite coalition, even in the unlikely case of an alliance between the Democrats (DPJ), the Communist (JCP) and others. The chief of the main opposition party (DPJ), Yukio Hatoyama, announced during the electoral campaign that in no case would the Democrats work together with the JCP. The DPJ is furthermore divided into former Social Democrats and former members of the LDP. The DPJ expanded their strength to 127 seats compared with 95 pre-election mandates. But since the LDP alone has won 233 (1996: 271) seats, the DPJ's success is of no political relevance, although its progress is a clear sign of dissatisfaction with the government. In the Tokyo area a number of sitting Cabinet and former Cabinet members were defeated in their single-seat district races. And the Democrats outpolled the LDP in the Tokyo proportional representation constituency. But if the going gets tough, there is also the Liberal Party of Ichiro Ozawa. The Liberals left the ruling Japanese coalition before the elections, but they are more likely to rejoin the government than to become an ally of the Democrats.
 
The ruling coalition, with a total of 271 seats, still enjoys the so-called perfectly working majority in the Lower House. It commands an absolute majority on all committees, in addition to monopolizing the chairmen's post on all those committees. Therefore, political and economic change can only come from within the LDP for the moment. But before the parliamentary elections, almost 50% of voters indicated no preference for a specific party. So, if one day, a credible oppositional party should rise, the undisputed leading position of the LDP could be challenged. And Prime Minister Mori has done everything to maintain this possibility. Before the election, he said on a campaign tour in the Niigata Prefecture, that it would be better for undecided voters (estimated to account for 40% of the total electorate) to stay home and sleep on June 25, the day of the general election. Another controversial remark was on the divine nature of the Japanese people.
 
But also on the personal level, the opposition does not offer an alternative. DPJ chairman Hatoyama lacks the necessary charisma to convince voters. Takako Doi of the SDP has the attitude of a schoolteacher. The able Ichiro Ozawa of the Liberal Party is to much a product of the LDP to be seen as an alternative. He primarily left the coalition out of ambitions which he thinks to be able to realize with his new party.
 
However, the Japanese voters are responsible for the current political and economic malaise. The 26-year-old daughter of the late former Prime Minister Obuchi, Yoshiro, was easily elected the the Lower House, despite the fact she acknowledges to not have the faintest idea about politics. She looked more like a campaign staffer than a candidate and did not deliver a single political speech. In total, 140 out of 500 seats in the old Lower House were such "inherited" mandates. By the way, already former Prime Minister Obuchi himself "inherited" his seat at the age of 26 after his father's death.
 
But not only loyalty is responsible for Japan's political "stability". Especially in more rural areas, the LDP-clientele such as construction companies and other businesses are regularly made to understand that if they do not support the LDP, contracts will dry up and bidding opportunities will disappear. In this symbiosis, Diet members represent the interests of their clientele and suck money out of the government in order to spend it in their constituency. The late former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, who died in June 2000, was the champion of this system in the 1980s and managed to attract record subsidies to his prefecture. Most of today's LDP politicians still emulate him.
 
As long as the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and New Conservative Party remains in power with 271 out of 480 seats in the Lower House, the political and economic mismanagement in Japan is unlikely to disappear. The former LDP General Secretary and now Prime Minister Mori did not change the major posts in his government such as the Finance and Foreign Ministers or the chief of the state's economic planning agency. The average age of cabinet members is 66 - no sign of reform either. But the results of the parliamentary elections showed that for New Komeito, the cooperation with the LDP primarily benefited the Liberal Democrats whereas the smaller New Komeito, which is supported by Soka Gakkai, the nation's largest lay-Buddhist group, lost nine of its forty-two seats from the 1996-election. Discontent could lead to problems within the coalition. Furthermore, tax increases could soon become necessary in order to continue the governments (ineffective) spending program, with the economy going into another tailspin. Anyhow, it is unclear how long Prime Minister Mori will be able to remain in power since he is not part of the largest faction within the LDP. A new LDP-led government could become reality with the next crisis - governmental or economic.

Check also our article on the Japanese tradition of reforms. - Book your hotel in Japan online.

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 8, July 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  For Advertisers  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.