The campaign begins

After nearly a month of “phony” campaigning — passed quickly, didn’t it? — the campaign for the 30 August general election began today as candidates filed their paperwork and parties submitted their lists for proportional representation voting. The main difference from now is simply that the long list of restrictions included the Public Elections law (available here, for the legally minded with too much time on their hands) take effect.

The most extraordinary thing about the phony campaign, and, it appears, the official campaign, is the lack of anything particularly extraordinary. As MTC observes looking at Asahi‘s latest poll numbers, support for the LDP and the DPJ in the election has barely moved since June, after the LDP’s slight recovery following the Ozawa scandal. It has not moved despite the government’s two trillion yen cash handout. It has not moved despite the alleged stirrings of an economic “recovery.” It has not moved despite the LDP’s persistent questioning of the DPJ’s ability to wield power and to keep the Japanese public safe. It will not move despite the bizarre incident in Kagoshima in which a DPJ supporter purportedly mutilated two national flags to make a DPJ logo flag, seemingly making Aso Taro’s case that the DPJ stands opposed to all things sacred — history, tradition, the flag, and the Emperor — while forcing Hatoyama Yukio and other DPJ officials to apologize profusely.

It will not change because in 2007, the public has simply had enough of the LDP. The public is not running to embrace the DPJ because it has more confidence in its policies or its leaders. It is revealing that of the LDP and DPJ policies addressed in the Asahi poll, majorities disapproved of all of them. More significantly, when asked whether they feel confident that the LDP and DPJ will be able to cover the costs of their policies or whether they feel uneasy about how they will fund the programs, the same number of respondents (8%) was confident that the parties could meet their commitments, while the same, larger number of respondents was uneasy about both parties’ plans: 83%.

The lack of support for specific proposals does not mean that the DPJ will not enjoy a mandate from the public, especially if it wins a majority of its own in the House of Representatives. But the DPJ should be clear on what a mandate will represent.

Its mandate will be the same mandate the public gave to Koizumi Junichiro when he was the head of the LDP. Change this country. Do something to reverse the long decline of the past two decades. Do something to ease the fears of young and old about their economic security. And do something to reverse the precipitous decline in the confidence that citizens place in the leading institutions of Japanese life. It was not a mandate for for “neo-liberalism,” or, more specifically, for postal privatization. It was a mandate for the force that was driving Koizumi, the eagerness to take risks in order to move Japan in a new direction. Accordingly, it should not be all that puzzling that polls have shown that these days the public is less than enthusiastic about the content of the Koizumi agenda: the enthusiasm for Koizumi was never really about his agenda.

Similarly, the LDP will lose on 30 August not necessarily because of any particular policy it has implemented since 2005 — although certain policies, like the eldercare system introduced in 2008 or the poor handling of the pensions scandal, have clearly exacerbated public anger — but because since Koizumi left office in 2006 the LDP quickly reverted to the party of stasis, acting to “listen to the voice of the people,” as the phrase that became the party’s mantra after the 2007 upper house election put it, only when the costs of not listening became steep enough to panic party leaders. And yet for all that risk aversion the LDP still stands on the brink of a devastating electoral defeat.

Accordingly, as the DPJ steels itself for the final push, as it seeks to drive its message home that it and not the LDP will act with the public’s wellbeing as its top priority, it must appreciate the mandate it is about to receive from the public. It is not receiving a mandate diametrically opposed to Koizumi’s mandate: it is receiving precisely the same mandate. Do something to fix this country. State your plans and deliver on them.

The public took Koizumi at his word and gave him an opportunity to fix Japan by fixing the LDP. Having been disappointed by that option, it is now the DPJ’s turn.

To a certain extent, I think the DPJ is aware that its mandate is premised on the basis of delivering visible results to the public. It is certainly aware that the LDP’s problem was not necessarily that the party as a whole was hopelessly wedded to the status quo — there is no shortage of decent, public-minded LDP members — but that the LDP system of government gave far too much power to the risk averse, to those who would change Japan only as much as necessary to ensure that the LDP continued winning elections. That day is done.

In less than twelve days, a substantial portion of Japan’s 104.3 million voters will awaken and partake in what MTC poignantly refers to as “the thrill of making history happen.” I suspect that as the campaign progresses and as the DPJ remains ahead of the LDP, more and more voters will realize this, and it may make a DPJ victory that much bigger.

One thought on “The campaign begins

  1. Bryce

    \”I suspect that as the campaign progresses and as the DPJ remains ahead of the LDP, more and more voters will realize this, and it may make a DPJ victory that much bigger.\”That's not the way it usually works, but we'll see how your prediction plays out. There will be (is) certainly a push from the media (except NHK) to cover this election as a two-horse race, meaning that Aso will get his amount of exposure. What he chooses to do with it will determine whether he can close the gap.


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