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Japan: A Historic Election Defeat

Did the overwhelming defeat of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Japan's upper house elections signal a wind of change sweeping through the Japanese political landscape, a groundswell of support for the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), or was it simply a long-overdue rejection of “business as usual”? As the election came to a close on Sunday night and early results started to appear, there were no lack of interpretations offered to explain what had been widely predicted beforehand.

When the dust settled, the ruling LDP/New Komeito coalition was left with only 105 seats in the upper house versus the 137 seats held altogether by the opposition parties. The LDP in particular only managed to reclaim 37 of the 64 contested seats it held prior to the election, whereas the DPJ surged ahead, capturing 60 of the contested seats from the mere 32 it held pre-election. Of particular note was the unprecedented degree to which DPJ captured single-seat districts, LDP strongholds historically perceived to be unassailable due to unflinching support from rural voters; the LDP managed to win only 6 of the 29 contested single-district seats, whereas the DPJ, overtaking support in rural areas, came away with 17.

Seats Won in Upper House Elections
Seats won in Upper House elections (note: New Komeito ended up winning one more seat, bringing their total to 9).

As some have noted, the results of the election offered a mixed bag of new faces [Ja] and crushing defeats. While Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori failed in his bid on the People's New Party ticket, 31-year-old Kawada Ryuhei [Ja], the HIV-positive independent candidate infected by tained blood, won his seat — a sign, perhaps, that the so-called “Lost Generation” has come of age. Then again, candidate Otsuji Kanako, running on the Democratic Party ticket, lost in her bid, putting an end to hopes that the National Diet would see its first openly gay member [Ja].

Bloggers have, not surprisingly, offered mixed reactions to the election results. While some have voiced support for the DPJ and their leader Ozawa Ichiro, others have argued that the DPJ victory is grounded more in dissatisfaction with the LDP — and, in particular, palpable anger and frustration over the pension fund fiasco — than anything else. One thing that most seem to agree on, however: given the long and largely unbroken history of LDP control, the emerging contours of the post 7/29 Japanese political landscape are very difficult, at this point, to predict.

Posters for Upper House Elections
Posters for Upper House Elections

On the night of the election results, many bloggers were commenting on the coverage itself, which was nonstop and dominated airtime on nearly every channel. Blogger Sota complains:

テレビが選挙速報一色だ。どんな事件が起きても通常番組を崩さない愛すべきテレビ東京も、とうとう特別番組になってしまった。いつも思うのだが、NHKと全民放こぞって選挙速報をやる意味有るんだろうか。選挙結果なんてそう急がなくたって、明日になれば全てがはっきりする。当選確実とか出しておきながら、実は落選だったなんてことがあると、そういう速報ってどうなんだろうと思う。政治は今日明日で終わりじゃないんだから。まあお祭り騒ぎにして、投票率を上げる効果はあるのかもしれないけど。

There is nothing on TV but early election reports. Tokyo Television, a station which everyone loves and which, no matter what other things are happening, [normally] does not break from regular programming, also finally aired a special program [about the elections]. I always think this, but I wonder if there is any significance to the fact that the NHK and commercial broadcasters unanimously cover these early election reports. The election results don't need to be reported in such a hurry, everything becomes completely clear by the next day. There have been cases where candidates has been projected to win, but then has gone on to actually lose; what is the point of an advance report like that? Politics will not end today or tomorrow. Although, I guess maybe turning the election into a kind of party has the effect of increasing voter turnout.

As election results became clear, many bloggers offered their thoughts and reactions. Blogger Sasamoto Kenji expresses his surprise at the scale of the LDP defeat, and offers a possible explanation:

昨日の参院選は、自民党が劣勢だと伝えられてはいたが、これほどの大敗になるとは思わず、ビックリした。

I knew it was being reported that the Liberal Democratic Party would be a minority in the Upper House elections yesterday, but I never thought that they would be so badly defeated. I was really surprised.

 先回の衆院選が圧倒的な自民党の勝利であったから、やはり驕りがでたのか、と思う。もちろん、社会保険の問題も大きかったはずだが、小泉前首相のような破天荒なキャラクターの後では、どんな人が総理になってもやりにくいことには変わりがない。

The last Lower House elections were such an overwhelming victory for the Liberal Democratic Party that I think in the end they were arrogant. Of course, the problems with social insurance were also very big, but after the unprecedented character of former Prime Minister Koizumi, anybody taking the post of prime minister has a hard act to follow.

Other bloggers reflected on the victory of the Democratic Party of Japan, some voicing skepticism and apprehension about the change:

 7/28の参議院選挙は大方の予想通り自民党が惨敗。メディアは早速ポスト安部ちゃん探しに躍起になっていますが、当の本人はやる気満々。勘違いもここまで来ると正直痛いなぁ。

In the upper house elections of [sic] July 28, the Liberal Democratic Party were defeated as many people had expected. The media quickly went searching for a replacement, but Abe himself still has a lot of drive. When an illusion reaches this level, it almost hurts.

 とはいえ、圧勝した民主党の方も正直頼りない。日テレの選挙特番だったと思うが、参院選後のビジョンが不明瞭な民主党の議員の発言を聞くと不安になります。

But the Democratic Party of Japan, who overwhelmingly won the elections, are not really dependable either. I think it was on Nippon Television special programming [for the election], but I listened to the declaration of members of the Democratic Party, [describing] a vision about [what will happen] after the upper house elections that was very vague, and it made me uneasy.

Abe/LDP Poster
LDP poster featuring Prime Minister Abe Shinzo

The decision of Prime Minister Abe to hold onto his seat, despite exit polls showing a majority of Japanese people want him out, did not go down well with Japanese bloggers. Blogger hanahanasakura opens a post on the topic of Abe's decision not to stand down with the following thoughts:

選挙の結果がはっきりしないのに、早々に続投を決めた安部さん。「今やめてしまえば、国民の皆さんとのお約束が果たせない。」のだそうだ。今回の結果って「あなたと約束した覚えはない。」「あなたと約束したくない。」という意思表示なんじゃないの。自分の政策が悪かったのではなくて、もぐらたたきのモグラみたいに次々不祥事を起こした手下と、社保庁の職員が悪かったんだって思っているのかな。次々と重要法案を通してしまったことについては、むしろ胸を張っているようなところがあって、やっぱ相当勘違いしてるなあって思う。

The results of the election are not even clear yet, and already Abe has decided that he is staying on [as prime minister]. He has said: “If I quit now, I will not be able to keep my promise with the Japanese people.” Aren't the results this time declaring intentions that: “I have no memory of making any promise with you” and “I don't want to make a promise with you” ? I wonder if he thinks that it's not his policy decisions that were bad, but that it was his subordinates, who popped up in one scandal after another — like the moles in the whack-a-mole game — as well as the employees of the Health Insurance Agency, that were bad. About the succession of bills that was pushed through, he seems to take pride in this, so I think in the end he has some considerable misconceptions.

The look on Abe's face in television coverage left an impression with many bloggers. One blogger expresses surprise:

選挙結果!…(;´-`).。oO(ぇ・・・・)
自民党…負けるとは思っていたけど…安倍首相の…目が泳いでいたのが印象的でした。。。

Election results! …(;´-`).。oO(ぇ・・・・)
The Liberal Democratic Party… I thought they were going to lose, but… Prime Minister Abe … the way he averted his eyes left an impression on me…

Blogger Middle Earth, in a post entitled “I saw it! Abe had a face like he was about to cry,” (見たぞー安部の泣きべそ顔) writes:

今朝は、久しぶりにさわあやかな気分で目が覚めた。
なにせ、自民党ボロ負けしたからなあ、ひひひ。
テレビを観てたら、安部総理の今にも泣き出しそうな顔も出てきたし。
たっぷり楽しめたわー♪

This morning, for the first time in a long time, I woke up pleasantly refreshed.
Why? Because the Liberal Democratic Party lost decisively, hehehe.
For one thing, when I was watching TV, I saw Prime Minister Abe with a face like he was about to cry (and still is now).
I had so much fun! ♪

[…]

しかし、民主党も責任が重くなったぞ。
下手なことをすると国民はすぐ背を向けるだろーから、しっかりせなあかん!!

However, the Democratic Party of Japan now assume a heavy responsibility.
If they handle things badly, then the people may quickly turn their backs on them, so they better do a good job!!

Finally, blogger Spiral Dragon, in a blog entry entitled “Abe Jong-il, dissolve the lower house immediately!” (安倍ジョンイルは直ちに衆議院を解散せよ!), minces no words when comparing Prme Minister Abe to North Korea leader Kim Jong-Il:

今回の参議院選挙の選挙結果とは、善良な有権者の大多数が安倍ジョンイルに対して「おい、このうすらトンカチの嘘つきのペテン師野郎!国政選挙によって選ばれていない総理のくせして、 いつまでも偉そうに総理の座にしがみついているんじゃねえよ!国民の多くは、テレビにお前の顔が写ったとたんにチャンネルを変えるくらい、お前のことが嫌いなんだよ!とっとと衆議院を解散して国民の前から失せろ!」という意思をはっきりと示したのだと思います。

The results of the upper house elections this time clearly indicate, I think, the intentions of a great number of good eligible voters regarding [prime minister] Abe Jong-il, [intentions like]: “Hey, stupid lying con-artist asshole! You who were not even selected to be prime minister through national elections, stop clinging to your prime minister's seat like you are such an important person! Many Japanese people switch the channel when your face comes on, they hate you so much! Dissolve the lower house already and step down before the people of this country!”

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