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    Upper house election today

    Polls opened for the House of Councillors (upper house) election this morning. The run-up has been contentious in a rather boring way, with cabinet members suffering from the usual misappropriation scandals and foot-in-mouth syndrome but none of the sense of momentousness of the Koizumi-era show-downs. I miss that guy. Even the Nikkei reports come off somewhat listless:

    Issues such as pensions and “politics and money” are the points of contention in the twenty-first upper house election, for which voting began on the morning of 29 July. Ballot counting will begin today.

    The focus is on whether the ruling or opposition coalition will capture the majority in the upper house. The results of the election will have a major influence on the overall political future of the Abe cabinet. The direction of the results is expected to be clear by late tonight.

    According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 16.93% of the electorate had voted by 11 a.m., exceeding by 0.21 percentage points the comparable figure for the last election in 2004.

    Nevertheless, this could be a turning point. The DPJ-led opposition is not pushing a policy platform that differs all that much from that of the LDP this time around. It’s focusing instead on accusing the LDP of fat cat syndrome–corruption and lack of transparency.

    The office of agriculture/forestry/fisheries minister Norihiko Akagi obligingly ensured there would be a fresh LDP scandal blanketing the media this election weekend:

    Farm minister Norihiko Akagi flew back from Beijing on Friday and landed in yet another political fund scandal–this one involving photocopied receipts to doubly book spending by his two political organizations.

    The new irregularities were uncovered by The Asahi Shimbun, which obtained copies of Akagi’s political fund reports from Ibaraki Prefecture under the information disclosure system.

    Akagi has been under fire for huge and dubious office expenses reported by the support group based in his parents’ home.

    His mother at one time said the group rarely met at the home, and that she covered the utility bills.

    Added later: What they’re showing so far is 29 wins for the LDP and Shin-Komeito combined and 54 for the DPJ, Communist Party of Japan, and Social Democratic Party of Japan combined. Abe has said that he plans to think carefully about reshuffling his cabinet as a move to “take responsibility.” JNN, one of the networks I’ve been flipping through, has been flashing viewer e-mails across the top of the screen. The running themes, not surprisingly, are “this is what the LDP gets!” and “we’ll be watching you, DPJ!”

    6 Responses to “Upper house election today”

    1. Alan says:

      First a disclaimer: I promise I don’t check this site every five seconds for an update. Can I help it if I get lucky?

      Anyway, who do you think will take this election? As I can’t vote, I don’t really pay attention to the candidates. Obviously I want it to be as beneficial to the US as possible (as regards the war and our alliance), but on the other hand, isn’t it time for some new leadership in a democratic government?

      Besides, I don’t really want to see more Abe on tv. The man makes Bush look like Reagan when it comes to public speaking.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Who do I think will take the election? The honest answer is “I don’t know.”

      The blogger answer is: Well, it’s definitely looking as if the LDP and Shin-Komeito stand to lose a number of seats. Whether the DPJ is going to wipe the floor with them is another matter. And in a sense, it won’t make much difference in the short term. It’s the House of Representatives that chooses the Prime Minister, and the LDP coalition still has a kick-ass majority there. The LDP has portrayed the DPJ as dangerous because it could bring on the return of big government. (Small government, of course, is a relative concept in Japan.) But it’s more likely that there would be deadlock on some bills and endless deal-brokering on others. Would Abe be pushed to step down if the ruling coalition took a beating today? Maybe. But there doesn’t seem to be anyone who’d be up for taking the reins if Abe left office. I doubt foreign policy would change much one way or another.

      Yeah, so as I say, I don’t know.

    3. Jun'ichiro says:

      I think the result of yesterday’s upper house election, a heavy defeat of coalition parties, caused from rural resentment. For example,LDP lost all 4 seats,they won last time, in 4 prefectures of Shikoku region. Voters there might felt they were left behind ecomomic recovery with shrinking and aging population. Once LDP was a champion of rural region poring public works there. No one can make it and some replacement of it these days. I don’t think Ichiro Ozawa’s DPJ could meet their expectation. I’m afraid of the delay in social reform with victory of descredible Ozawa’s DPJ.

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      That’s obviously a big part of it, Jun’ichiro.

      For those who don’t follow Japanese politics, the rural vote has been a major component of the LDP’s power. For example, when Koizumi was pushing the privatization of Japan Post a few years ago, a major potential wrench in the works was the opposition of postal workers in outlying areas, who helped to get out the vote for the LDP in their territories and didn’t, for obvious reasons, like the idea of personnel and budget cuts in Japan Post. The aging of the population has been felt more acutely in rural areas, of course, because young people seeking prosperity as the economy moved from agricultural to industrial poured into the cities, leaving mostly older people behind. Many outlying areas were kept afloat with public works projects (roads, bridges, ubiquitous retaining walls) that make Ted Stevens and Robert Byrd look like patterns of public-spirited frugality. That money has been harder and harder to come by, though, as the effects of the bursting of the Bubble fanned out through the economy. Understandably, rural voters feel betrayed.

      At the same time, Jun’ichiro, did you notice that the loss in rural districts was significantly higher than in urban districts? I haven’t seen information to that effect. Then, too, since the LDP has always been weaker in the cities anyway, perhaps a high number of losses there in a scandal-plagued election year wasn’t considered much worth remarking on.

    5. Nori says:

      Hi Sean,

      Abe should resign as Prime Minister. This result means a lot of Japanese people don’t support LDP anymore. Besides, I remember Abe said “Which is suitable whether I or Mr. Ozawa (DPJ’s leader) for the prime minister.” Now, he was defeated. I think he should not be such a poor loser.

      Personally, I voted for DPJ, and the party should call on the LDP to dissolve the lower house.

    6. Sean Kinsell says:

      Well, the DPJ is still calling on Abe to resign, and there seems to be divided opinion among the higher-ups in the LDP, too. Koizumi supposedly told Abe to stand firm, but I’m not sure that Abe has the iron core you’d need to brazen it out (incoherent metallurgy alert!). Koizumi wasn’t perfect, but he was able to convince people that his stubbornness was based on principle, so they trusted him. Abe comes off as the usual party hack.

      Whether a lot of Japanese people don’t support the LDP anymore is tough to say, though. After all, it’s equally possible to argue that voters were factoring in the LDP’s unthreatened majority in the House of Representatives and just wanted to create a divided Diet by putting the DPJ in charge of the House of Councillors. People are obviously dissatisfied with the LDP’s complacency, but whether they really want the opposition in charge…I don’t know. I’m no fan of Abe’s, but I can’t say there appears to be anyone better to replace him.

      Maybe a Makiko Tanaka administration would be interesting, though, huh? (That’s for you, Jun’ichiro.)

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