After the endless attack ads, stump speeches, and political posturing surrounding the U.S. presidential election this fall, many Americans no doubt wished for a shorter campaign period. In comparison, the two weeks of campaigning leading up to Japan’s general election on Sunday seem absurdly rushed – and for good reason.
With12 parties vying for seats in the lower house of the Diet (Japanese Parliament), voters barely had time to consider the candidates, and opinion polls just days before the election showed that more than a third of all respondents were undecided. Still, the election dramatically shifted the political landscape in Japan, decimating the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), and handing the Liberal Democratic (LDP)/New Komeito ruling coalition a supermajority.
Here are a few takeaways:
1) Japanese, particularly young people, are largely apathetic about the political process
At just under 60%, voter turnout on December 16th was the lowest for any general election in the post-World War II period. Young people have also stayed away from the polls in recent years, with voters aged 20-30 casting only 9% of ballots in the 2009 election. Catering to a rapidly aging population, Japanese politicians rarely reach out to younger voters, and are barred from campaigning on social media sites. The major parties also remain mostly closed to women, who made up only 8% of all LDP candidates in the 2012 election. Given this disconnect between politics and people’s daily lives, it’s no wonder that many Japanese feel little incentive to vote.
2) Don’t believe the media hype – this election was not a mandate for the LDP
The Liberal Democratic Party won big on Sunday, more than doubling the number of representatives in the lower house. Still, their levels of support were lackluster, with a nationwide average of 28%. For some context, compare this to the “smashing defeat” of 2009, in which the LDP received … 26.7% of the vote. Factor in the depressed voter turnout this election cycle, and it becomes clear that many voters cast ballots for the LDP simply because it was the only alternative to the widely disliked DPJ.
3) A supermajority could be a blessing for the LDP … or a curse
A coalition between the LDP and its partner New Komeito provides enough votes for a supermajority – allowing the parties nearly free rein in passing legislation. Unlike the DPJ, which had to contend with a minority party intent on preventing the passage of any meaningful legislation, the LDP will have no one to blame if it fails to achieve results. That primarily means reviving the economy and reversing Japan’s decades long economic slump – a tall order for any party.
4) Japan’s foreign policy will NOT shift much to the right
While Abe is seen as a hawk in Seoul and Beijing, there’s little chance that his foreign policy pet project – repealing Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which prohibits a standing military – will ever come to fruition. A two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Diet is required to amend the constitution, a bar so high it’s never been met. The New Komeito, a partner in the ruling coalition, is also known for its pacifist approach to foreign policy, and is likely to act as a check on LDP excess.
5) Guess what!? This election was illegal!
In March 2011, the Japanese supreme court ruled that extreme disparities in voting power between citizens in different districts made the electoral system unconstitutional. There have been no changes to electoral districting between now and then, which makes this election technically illegal … and at least in theory means that the results could be invalidated.