Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bad Year for Third Parties

I’ve written before about the corporate and public money issues, not to mention the danger of losing and ending up without the party life-support system to sustain you for the years until the next election ,that act as constraints on LDP Diet members who might be thinking of jumping a listing ship before the upcoming Lower House election. Post-election, things will not be much easier. The DPJ is likely to win an outright majority and is in any case almost assured of a joint majority (in both Houses) with its formal partners PNP and SDP; the an addition of a few third-party seats will be superfluous and will merely complicate the process of consensus building within the already ideologically divided coalition. In the highly unlikely event that the LDP-Komeito coalition beats out the DPJ (and its two formal allies combined), defection from the LDP means risking the wrath of the media for rejecting the Japanese electorate’s judgment. Then there’s the next election to worry about. As I’ve written in my responses here, resolving the conflict between the LDP defectors and the DPJ (and PNP and SDP?) competition at the local level will be a hellacious task come the next election.

All this should explain at least to some extent why LDP-defector Yoshimi Watanabe and Kenji Eda were able to attract only three more incumbents to their new 15(14?)-candidate creation Mina no Tō, or Everybody’s Party. Note, also, that two of those defecting incumbents (one from the DPJ!) left their parties because they had been rejected as single-member-district candidates (the DPJ did offer, unsuccessfully, an SMD to its eventual defector in lieu of the SMD of his choice), not out of political convictions*.

More broadly, though, this looks like a bad year for third parties, period.

The media and the voting public smell blood—LDP blood. Although the DPJ has so far been running a lackluster unofficial campaign under its lackluster party leader on a somewhat makeshift platform, the alternative looks even worse—it’s difficult to run against the past and present when you’re an incumbent whose name is not Jun’ichiro Koizumi—and the third parties have been lost in the shuffle in what I’d like to call the At Least There’s an Alternative election. Public opinion polls show a persistent surge of the floater electorate in favor of the DPJ—it has weathered the Curse of Ichiro Ozawa, among other things—and last month’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election indicates that those floaters will show up at the ballot stations. The JCP, the only party other than the LDP that fielded candidates in every Metropolitan Assembly district, managed to add a few votes to its previous total but lost seats anyway because the DPJ grabbed most of the additional voters that had shown up on election day. This, I think, is indicative of what will happen to third party candidates in the 30 August election. The hope for Everybody’s Party is that their candidates will win enough votes that they’ll make it on the PD bloc ballot even if, as is likely except in the case of Watanabe and perhaps Eda, they lose on the SMD ticket. But, as I’ve already indicated, its post-election bargaining power with a DPJ-led coalition will be limited. The fact that it won’t be able to bring any Upper House seats to the table will exacerbate the problem.

Note that neither of the major parties have any real affection for third parties. The DPJ and LDP both want to disproportionately shrink the number of proportional seat when they downsize the Diet according to their 2009 election manifestos. If they ever manage to hash out an agreement on the actual numbers (a long-shot proposition at that), that will spell disaster for third parties that do not have captive constituencies. The point of the Everybody’s Party’s electoral reform plans to reduce the number is not clear, but it is telling that the election manifesto of the other third party advocating electoral reform, the Komeito, calls for a return to the multi-seat district system that allowed smaller parties to grab seats in the larger electoral districts.

* The other Lower House member, one of the Koizumi Kids, appears to have had purer motives, but media reports say that he may decide not to run at all.

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