Yesterday was the birthday party of a very close friend, so from 19:00 on I was pretty much away from sources of news, except when I talked to Atsushi at midnight-ish. He told me then that it was 自民党大勝利 (jimintou daishouri: “big victory for the LDP”), but I spent the rest of the night carousing and have just awakened.
My loverman was not exaggerating. The ruling coalition won over 300 seats. And the LDP alone–without its coalition partners–has an outright majority:
The 44th lower house general election, in which the major point of contention was which party would control the government, was held on 11 September, with vote counting beginning immediately [after the polls closed]. The LDP won overwhelmingly in both single-seat districts and proportional representation blocs, and together with the Komeito topped 300 seats. It appeared to be an expression of confidence in the trajectory of party president Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s reforms, and it is probable that the Japan Post privatization bills will be passed in a special diet session at the end of this month.
The LDP will control the chairs of, and won more than the 269 seats necessary to form an absolute majority of members in all of, the lower house’s standing committees.
In the morning print edition of the Nikkei, the numbers are updated:
New Komeito: 30
Social Democrats: 6
The rest of the seats that have been counted went in handfuls to unaffiliated candidates or those with the People’s New Party, which was founded by rebel LDP legislators who voted against Japan Post privatization. DPJ leader Katsuya Okada has already announced officially that he’s stepping down. Prime Minister Koizumi looks as if he really enjoyed swallowing that canary.
A 2/3 majority! I can’t even wrap my head around that–and I like Koizumi and was rooting for him. Of course, there’s a lot to think about. The LDP made Japan Post its focal point for the election, but the opposition parties were very vocal about Article 19, the SDF in Iraq, and social welfare policy. Those are issues on which the Japanese are deeply divided, and the election results surely don’t signify an unqualified mandate for all aspects of Koizumi’s foreign policy. Nevertheless, the voters had a chance to reject the Koizumi government, and it means something that they didn’t. (It’s worth noting, though, that coalition partner New Komeito is much more pacifist than the LDP–certainly than the Koizumi cabinet–but despite its new dominance in the lower house, the LDP still needs the New Komeito to maintain its upper house majority.)
The English editions of the major dailies have their stories so far here: Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri, Japan Times. (Does the Sankei even have an English edition?)
Added at 17:11: Another interesting aspect of the snap election was the use of 刺客 (shikaku: “assassin,” lit., “specialized stabber”) candidates. These were the high-profile candidates fielded by the LDP in single-seat districts against those (formerly) in its own party who had voted against Japan Post reform. Most of the assassin candidates won.
Added at 18:31: Okay, just one more link to the Mainichi, whose English reports are most closely reflecting what we’re seeing in non-linkable broadcast media. This one quotes a series of hilariously stunned LDP members all saying, essentially, “Whoa!” The original Japanese article is here, and its lead paragraph is far funnier:
As day broke the morning after lower house election day in the Nagatacho district of Tokyo, the LDP was having an attack of “296-seat shock.” “We won so many seats, the prospect of the next election is frightening.” With the LDP victorious and jubilant, and the DPJ soundly defeated and dazed, the blessed and the cursed were sharply distinguishable.
BTW, that former cabinet member quoted in the English article actually said this: “勝ったのにどうかと思うけど、怖い。ものが言えなくなってしまう。ファッショだよ。” (“We won, but I wonder whether this is for the best. It’s frightening. I’m just dumbstruck. It’s fascistic.”) Yes, that last sentence is a literal translation, but since the quotation ends there, I’m not sure whether the official was referring to the cult of personality that can be said to surround Koizumi or to the high percentage of seats won or what.
Added at 19:24: Riding Sun calls the success of the Koizumi administration’s strategy to field high-profile women candidates a vindication of the “Japanese Babe Theory.” I think he’s right–it’s not a joke. Most of the women “assassins” seemed smart and lively and, dare I say, sassy. They stood in clear visual contrast to the stereotypical LDP politician. At the same time, I believe the move was also smart because the women candidates suggested a connection to the social and family issues–employment and pension figures, especially, but also education and child and elder care–that the party PR machine was deemphasizing but that most voters care the greatest deal about.
I don’t want to downplay the capabilities of any of the candidates. They may, in fact, have expertise in hard policy issues that hasn’t been given much attention yet. (At least one, Yuriko Koike, has already been Minister of the Environment.) But image matters, especially when the key issue in an election is an unsexy topic such as Japan Post privatization.
NHK’s political yak show has all the party leaders on right now, BTW. No one is saying anything even slightly more interesting than you’d expect. Takebe is, of course, in his cool-biz shirt, looking as if he were headed off to the club for a few whiskeys the minute the lights go down; he appears very somber, but maybe he’s just tired. Okada has regained some of his color, but of course he looks very unhappy, and it seems somewhat unkind for NHK to be showing him in extreme close-up when he talks.
LOL. Tamisuke Watanuki, a leader of the Japan Post opponents who were abandoned by the LDP, is talking. The expression on Takebe’s face across the table! He looks as if he wanted to vault across the studio and throttle him.