Rural Japan, elections, and political change

Over at the Social Science Japan forum maintained by the Institute of Social Science at the University of Tokyo — the subdued, scholarly alternative to NBR’s US-Japan forum — Paul Midford of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has sparked an interesting discussion, subsequently contributed to by Ethan Scheiner of UC-Davis (and author of Democracy Without Competition in Japan, a book in my to-read pile that may move up the list depending on this month’s returns) and Chris Winkle, a PhD candidate at Munich University, and hopefully others to come.

Midford, looking at the same chart in Yomiuri that prompted Matt over at Liberal Japan to call the election a landslide for the DPJ, outlines recent political changes in rural Japan that give the DPJ hope that its rural strategy will yield results not just in the short term, but over the longer term. To Midford, the combination of shrinking budgets at the national level, municipal combinations and shrinking revenues at the local level, and postal privatization have combined to loosen the affection of rural voters for the LDP.

Scheiner and Winkle, meanwhile, ask good questions about the impact of this election on internal party structure in the DPJ and the LDP. Scheiner wonders whether a big DPJ win could increase the attractiveness of the DPJ to those who seek to enter politics; Winkle speculates about the impact of the election on the factional balance in the LDP.

I find Scheiner’s point interesting, because the DPJ does indeed have a problem attracting quality, experienced candidates to contest the LDP across the board. To date the LDP remains more attractive to future politicians because it remains where the power lies; if one is entering politics to achieve a certain policy change, it does no good to join an opposition party whose prospects for power remain distant. The LDP also benefits from its “farm system” of local and prefectural assembly members, providing a ready supply of election-tested politicians who have developed their own local organizations from which to launch a campaign for national office. That is the significance of April’s local election returns: even though the DPJ picked up a significant number of prefectural assembly seats nationwide relative to its previous seats, the LDP still holds 1212 prefectural assembly seats around the country. That is a deep pool of talent to draw upon for candidates for years to come, and it may be years before the DPJ is able to draw upon a similar pool of experienced candidates, if ever.

Scheiner is right to note that the flow of potential candidates will shift from the LDP to the DPJ only if the DPJ can follow up an Upper House election win with a significant gain in the Lower House — and whether that is likely depends on how long the government waits to call one.

Enter Jun Okumura, who went out on a limb today and called the next Lower House election for spring 2008 (and described the chain of events that will lead to it). His sequence is logical enough, and plausible, but it seems that the one unchanging reality of the timing of the next Lower House election is that the LDP knows that it will see its two-thirds majority cut. Opposition obstructionism in the Upper House and media outrage about the government’s “ramming” legislation will have to be pretty intense before the LDP surrenders.

But first the Upper House election, ten days away, with the gap between the parties narrowing by the day.

One thought on “Rural Japan, elections, and political change

  1. Thus, at some point in early spring, the situation will likely become untenable for the administration, forcing the prime minister to dissolve the Lower House for a general election.I agree that it will take a lot of pushing and shoving before the LDP collectively decides to call it a day. And that the DPJ itself must tread carefully, lest they be seen as overly obstructionist. On reflection, \”early spring\” in particular seems a little too early.On another topic, you say:the DPJ does indeed have a problem attracting quality, experienced candidates to contest the LDP across the board. To date the LDP remains more attractive to future politicians.I shouldn\’t question you on this particular assessment, but doesn\’t the legacy clutter in the LDP drive many people of quality and experience (if not necessarily of the political kinds) to the DPJ?Also, the LDP hold over local assemblies, both as a source of candidates and as electoral machine, is certainly formidable. What do you make of Mr. Ozawa\’s efforts to counter this?Would you care to elaborate on these matters here or elsewhere?

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