Sunday, July 11, 2010

Some Thoughts around the Upper House Election, Plus Shoutout

There are 29 one-seat districts, 12 two-seat districts, 5 three-seat member districts, and 1 five-seat districts*. Several observations:
* I am using the conventional and convenient terminology that refers to the number of Upper House seats that are up for election every three years in each prefecture, and not the actual number of seats allocated to the prefecture, which is double that number. This is significant, as we shall see later.
The last surveys showed the DPJ dominating in the one-seat districts to the northeast and the LDP prevailing in the southwest. The historical contrast between the poorer, more radical north and the wealthier, more conservative south continues to resonate in the battle between the two top vote-getters. Not that I’m ready to read anything of long-term significance into this, but I do know that I have to rethink my comment about the periphery.

The two-seat districts are basically a wash between the DPJ and the LDP. No wonder, when a party needs twice the votes of your closest opponent plus a comfortable cushion (unless you could somehow engineer a perfect 1:1 split of the votes, a feat not even the Sokagakkai could accomplish) to take both. Under a two-party system, the two-seat districts matter mostly as a source of votes for the national proportional election, nothing more. And you don’t want to give up a good day job to stand as the non-incumbent on the prefectural ticket unless you can earn a good chance of being placed on the House of Representatives ticket the next time around—or if the incumbent is somehow very vulnerable. Otherwise, you’re little more than a stalking horse for the candidates on the national ticket.

Of the five three-seat districts, three (Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa; the others are Aichi and Osaka) are the Kanto prefectures closest to Tokyo. (By contrast, a couple of more distant Kanto prefectures, Tochigi and Gunma, dropped from two seats to one each in the 2007 election. Each of the two now has three Councillors in the Upper House and will drop to two after this election.) Add Tokyo’s five, and we have as good an index of Tokyo-centricity as there is. There are many, often interrelated, reasons for this, but I’d say natural geography (Kanto is huge and relatively flat), the choice of Edo, later Tokyo, as Japan’s capital, and the post-war explosion in public transport are the three major factors.

I mentioned in passing that Gunma and Tochigi Prefectures are being downsized from four seats in the House of Councillors to two through the 2007 and 2010 elections. They talk about overrepresentation of the peripheral in the Diet, particularly in the Upper House, where each prefecture must be represented by at least one member per triennial election. But the Gunma and Tochigi examples show that the one per election requirement can create wrenching changes in representation in the peripheral as well. What will the prefectural districts look like in twenty years under current rules if current demographic trends continue? The DPJ and LDP are in an unspoken conspiracy to shake out the smaller parties in the name of sacrifice by the political class by cutting back on the national proportional seats. I don’t have a position on that, but I think that a revision of the a-seat-in-every-election rule should come first. More fundamentally, the place of prefectures in the Japanese body politics needs to be revisited.

I went and cast my two typical floater ballots today, which may account for my unusually prescriptive comments today. I took along an American political scientist along for a look-see and had a long conversation with him after that, which may also be affecting me. Incidentally, the election officials were nice about the presence of an uninvited observer, but did not allow the academic to take photos. And the guy—the professor, not the election official—wants to see you, Jake, before he goes back to the States. Hope you can find the time for him. Hope you come Friday too.

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