That gives the opposition parties 137 seats to the government’s 105, with the DPJ becoming the largest party with 109 seats, more than the government parties combined. With the thirty-two-seat differential between opposition and government parties, there is no possibility for the LDP to undermine the election results by political legerdemain.
Interestingly, the DPJ won big without a major increase in turnout, which was 58.64%, only a slight increase over 2004.
As expected, the full significance of the election will take some weeks to sink in, with a cabinet reshuffle not likely to come until September. The landslide has, of course, already claimed LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa and Upper House head Aoki, but the battle lines within the LDP are being drawn. Older party barons are making supportive gestures to the prime minister — each faction head has reportedly indicated his support — but it seems that younger party members are more inclined to jettison the Abe albatross. Yomiuri quoted former JDA chief Ishiba Shigeru as saying, “Prime Minister Abe should resign. If he doesn’t, the LDP is finished.”
The DPJ, meanwhile, has stated that its goal is an early dissolution of the Lower House and general election. But while the DPJ comes out of this election with a strong tail wind in its favor, it will face the tricky task of preserving its momentum. Recall that right up until the pensions scandal broke in May, the DPJ was riven with infighting, with members openly questioning the wisdom of the party leadership. The factional and ideological divisions remain. The whiff of power that comes with control of one house of the Diet may temper the divisions somewhat — after all, the LDP has survived for decades despite being more a microcosm of a party system than a cohesive political party. But then again, if Ozawa is forced to step down for health reasons, the resulting leadership fight could aggravate the party’s rifts.
And that’s before even considering the ideal strategy for managing the Upper House. Should the DPJ be uniformly opposed to the government’s agenda, making the Upper House the place where the government’s policies go to die? Doing so might force the government’s hand on a Lower House election, particularly if the public expresses its distaste for policy gridlock. Alternatively, should the party make a good faith effort to forge a national agenda, or at least national policies? I suppose it all depends on whether there really is a way for the opposition to force the government to cede its super-majority anytime before September 2009. I see little reason to think that the LDP will be tricked into doing so.
And what of the balance of power between LDP, Kantei, and bureaucracy? Will the bureaucracy find its policy making powers restored in the face of gridlock in the Diet? If so, it would reinforce the idea that Japan is in for a period of policy stasis, because the bureaucracy is hardly likely to be the vehicle for dynamic change.
I will have more to say about this election later today — and I will address Noah’s questions in the comments then. In the meantime I’m going to the FCCJ to hear Gerald Curtis’s take on the election.