Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

July Election Results Augur Both Setback and Hope
FUKUHARA Koichi / Journalist

August 24, 2007
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suffered a crushing defeat in the election for the House of Councilors on July 29, while the Democratic Party led by Mr. Ichiro Ozawa seized control of the Upper House as Japan's major opposition party.

The result of the election not only highlighted the fortune of the two leaders of the rivaling political parties, but it also created an unprecedented tension in the relationship between the administration and legislature, the House of Councilors and the House of Representatives as well as the ruling and the opposition parties, heralding a new political development in Japan.

Last fall, favored by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Prime Minister Abe inherited huge political assets of two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives. Abe seemed to have got off to a good start by displaying his youthfulness as the first Japanese Prime Minister born after World War II. He is an advocate of the Constitutional amendment that has been a long-cherished political ambition of the LDP. His new administration gave us the impression that he was the champion to make the transition of power to a next generation in Japanese politics. After only ten months in office, however, he has come to face a massive defeat in his first national election. Hope changed into disappointment. Although Abe showed his firm determination to stay in office with efforts to suppress voices within his devastated LDP calling for his resignation, it would take a long time and require great efforts for him to get things under control and restore his leadership once again.

Most of all, the election result of " 6 wins and 23 losses" in single-seat districts in local regions was fatally serious. The reform-driven administration led by former Prime Minister Koizumi promoted globalization and rationalization of the Japanese economy, gaining wide support from the urban non-aligned voters. In the meantime, the rural economy has declined and it is believed that gaps have widened among regions as a result. Thus, strongholds of the LDP in rural constituencies that had assiduously been built by public works and agricultural subsidies were beginning to collapse.

Koizumi had told the nation that "I will finish off the old LDP that obstructs my reform." His tenacity exerted real influences in many parts of rural districts. Abe overlooked the fact that the political assets he had inherited had been seriously undermined and yet he failed to take appropriate measures. Throughout the election he maintained that he would continue Koizumi's reforms and, even after he learned of his defeat in the election, he claimed that his will to reform was being well understood by the people and there was no reason for him to step down.

It cannot be denied that Prime Minister Abe was a little too optimistic about the domestic situation and that there was a perception gap between he and other members of his own party. It is apparent that his political power base has rapidly been weakened.

Mr. Ozawa of the Democratic Party staked his political life on the election, burning the bridge behind him. By adroitly trying to capture the single-seat districts in the rural areas where voters were disillusioned by the LDP, he scored a sweeping victory. It is generally recognized, however, that post-election opinion polls show that Abe's LDP simply did too poorly in the election and that the election results do not necessarily mean that voters had expected a new administration led by the Democratic Party. It is extremely important, nevertheless, that for the first time under the current Constitution the Democratic Party has gained full control of the House of Councilors; it took the Presidency of the Upper House and the chairmanship of its steering committee. There is fair chance that this could introduce a new and possibly sanguine element, in the Diet proceedings and, as a consequence, in Japan's future political situation.

Under the circumstances, even if the Democratic Party seeks to force the government to dissolve the Lower House, by voting down or amending the Cabinet bills in the Upper House, it is unlikely that LDP accepts this challenge and call for general elections. The LDP would not risk general elections that might turn it into a minority party in the Lower House as well. The Constitution stipulates that when two Houses of the Diet make different decisions, the Lower House may overrule the decision of the Upper House by its two-thirds vote. The Upper House does not possess power to override the Lower House's decision. Political wisdom will eventually leads the LDP to find it unwise to override all the Upper House's decisions by its two-thirds vote. Given a divided Diet for some time to come, probably a new practice of seeking compromises through discussions in the Joint Committee composed of representatives of two Houses will become customary.

It is often said that under the Japanese parliamentary cabinet system, the ruling party tends to hasten to gain approval of Cabinet bills while the opposition parties simply try to prolong deliberations and to hold back the approval rather than to revise or modify the bills. In addition, the Upper House is frequently referred to as "a carbon copy of the Lower House." There are quite a few who lament over stultified Diet deliberations and the derogation of Diet members' authority. No doubt this lamentable situation resulted from the prolonged monopoly of the reins of government by the LDP as it had virtually maintained its one-party rule for a long time. The Democratic Party's dominance in the Upper House will invigorate the legislative functioning and significantly strengthen the opposition party's policymaking ability. The new situation may open up an important step forward for a smooth change of administration based on policies, which is after all the greatest essence of democracy.

Prime Minister Abe has already announced that he was going to respect the opposition party's opinions even more at Diet deliberations from now on. Mr. Heizo Takenaka, former Minister of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications and promoter of reformist policies under Koizumi's regime, said: "If the Democratic Party comes up with a good bill, we'll just buy it. Then, there will be a political turnaround to break down the collusion between government officials and Diet backers who work on behalf of special interests and benefit from their efforts."

One of the focal points in the Diet this fall will be the issue of extending the deadline for the Anti-terrorism Special Measures Law, which is going to expire in November. It is provided under this law that Japan dispatches its Maritime Self-Defense Force Warships to the Indian Ocean to continuously supply fuel to the U.S. and allied forces' marine vessels. It is regarded as an important symbol of the U.S.-Japan alliance. The old-time ruling LDP would pay little attention to voices of the opposition parties, but now that discussions for gradual step-by-step withdrawal of troops are being made even within the U.S., the LDP will have to avoid all-out confrontation with the Democratic Party and seek for a compromise including partial adjustments as some people are advocating.

Immediately after the election for the House of Councilors, Ozawa met with the U.S. Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer who had proposed this unusual talk with the Opposition leader, which indicates how big the repercussion of the election was.

If the Diet deliberations become more animated for both ruling and opposition parties, and create better conditions for the Diet to function as the center of Japanese politics, then the election for the House of Councilors in July 2007 will be remembered as a notable milestone for restoring authority to the Diet.

The Writer is former Chief Editorial Writer for Kyodo News Agency.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

福原 亨一 / ジャーナリスト

2007年 8月 24日










国会審議が与野党を包み込んで活性化し,国会が政治の中心舞台としての機能を強める契機となるなら, 2007年参院選は国会の権威回復の記念碑として記憶されるだろう。 
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > July Election Results Augur Both Setback and Hope