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Elections in Japan 日本の選挙 Vaalit Japanissa かな?

Abe agonises Jul 27th 2007 | TOKYO From Economist.com

Japan's ruling party is set for a drubbing

AFP THE elections on Sunday July 29th for half of the seats in the upper house of the Diet (parliament) in theory have only an indirect impact on who governs Japan. In practice they are crucial test, and not just for the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner, New Komeito, which looks headed for a humiliating defeat. For the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the elections are a desperate last gamble. The party—a rat’s nest of unlikely bedfellows from right and left—has in the past missed so many opportunities to prove itself a viable alternative that even an overwhelming victory may bring it little closer to tasting real power. The fight has now got dirty. Grandees in the right-wing LDP this week began insisting that a vote for the opposition is a vote for North Korea.

The last time the LDP lost its upper-house majority, in 1998, the prime minister of the time, the late Ryutaro Hashimoto, resigned to take responsibility. Some analysts and LDP politicians predict the same fate for Shinzo Abe, prime minister since September. After all, many of the LDP’s troubles flow from public dissatisfaction with Mr Abe’s cabinet, which has had its share of scandals and gaffes; Mr Abe, meanwhile, seemed to have a tin ear—at least until recently—when it came to ordinary folk’s concerns about jobs, pensions and the like. In their campaigns, many LDP candidates running for the upper house have brusquely disowned their prime minister. Newspaper polls, admittedly hardly scientific, have the ruling party trailing well behind the DPJ.


Yet this week Mr Abe made it clear, through colleagues, that he does not plan to resign. Perhaps he can indeed hang on. After all, it is the lower house that chooses the prime minister, and there the LDP has a solid majority following a landslide victory in elections in 2005. As for the upper house, if the LDP falls just a few seats short of a majority, Mr Abe can possibly patch the gap by bringing into the coalition a handful of senators from other parties. A rather bigger loss of seats would increase the mutterings within the LDP against Mr Abe, but it would be a bold if not reckless politician to attempt regicide against a man determined to lead his party and country. On the other hand, a devastating defeat for the LDP, throwing into doubt any ability to govern, and Mr Abe would be hard-pressed to remain in office. But who then would relish replacing him?

As for the DPJ, it is aiming for an upper-house majority as a means later to challenge in a general election the party that has ruled for all but ten months since 1955. Yet even an outright majority will not fill some opposition members with joy. The party’s leader, Ichiro Ozawa, a street-fighter who built his career within the LDP before falling out with that party, has perhaps come into his own for this campaign. He has fielded a more vibrant bunch of candidates than the ruling party, and assiduously campaigned for them, particularly in the rural districts where the traditional LDP machine is no longer powerful. Under Mr Ozawa, the DPJ has thrown out many of its market-oriented policies and reinvented itself as the farmers’ friend and champion of the weak. He has promised to leave politics if the DPJ does not secure an upper-house victory.

That is what worries many of the party’s younger modernisers who have never been happy with Mr Ozawa. Indeed, Robert Feldman of Morgan Stanley points out, the need for Mr Abe somehow to find a majority might give DPJ rebels great leverage in negotiations over an alliance with the LDP. Mr Feldman describes it as the Kobayakawa factor, after the general at the battle of Sekigahara in 1600 that brought the Tokugawa shogunate to power: Kobayakawa, in opposition, had arranged to defect with his forces in mid-fight, and his treachery turned the tide. Whether the tide in the affairs of Mr Abe can turn so easily is harder to imagine.

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