Monday, July 05, 2010

The Upper House Election and Some Political Implications

If media reports on the upcoming Upper House election are to be believed, the DPJ is sure to post some gains but is likely to fall short of an outright majority. Media estimates based on proprietary polls and old-fashioned legwork suggest that the DPJ will do well in the national proportional ballot but will not achieve the near-sweep that it made in the 29 one-seat (per election, every three years) districts in the 2007 provincial ballots. The lack of an outright majority not only will have a significant impact on policy issues but will also likely affect the political game; Prime Minister Kan needs an outright DPJ majority to make sure that Ichiro Ozawa does not attempt to engineer a DPJ split and a broader, parliamentarian realignment around the September election for the DPJ leadership.

The same estimates indicate that the LDP will more or less break even in the national proportional ballot (12 seats up for reelection) but will claw back some seats in the one-seat districts. This will make it lean even more heavily towards provincial interests, which is not where you want to bet the future of your political viability as a national party. Your Party is likely to place a distant third and will represent free-market reformist interests in the march to the next Lower House election, to be held no later than 2013.

The SDP and PNP will wind up losing most of their leverage over the DPJ. Specifically, the SDP will end up continuing its slow but inexorable slide to oblivion, picking up 1—with great luck 2—seats (3 seats up for reelection). Every time that the 1955 Socialists cozied up to the powers that be, they have lost that much more of their political cachet as the safe haven for the protest vote; this election looks to be no exception. I suspect that we’ve seen the last of the SDP as a member of any coalition government. The PNP has three incumbents whose terms end this year, two in prefectural districts and one proportional; it is likely to end up with none. (It does have three seats, up for election in 2013.) That’ll be two more seats that the DPJ will have to cover just to maintain a coalition majority. More significantly, the roar of the postal-office electoral machine appears to be mightier than its bite. Is it really worth catering to at the expense of alienating floater voters?

Last but not least, on what is likely to be a slightly diminished Komeito. Barring an outright DPJ majority—still a real possibility—expect a draen out courtship of the Komeito by the DPJ to forge a manageable coalition—first base, second base...

Incidentally, I find it interesting if not surprising that the two most obvious causes of Hatoyama’s fall—Futenma Air Station and the political financing scandals—figure very little in the election. Instead, it appears to be Kan’s handling of the consumption tax—the casualness with which he has been throwing words around regarding tax rates, exemptions and rebates—that has been the biggest drag on the DPJ. Careless words regarding a make-or-break policy question, plus the embarrassment over Kamei’s fit and resignation over the postponement of the postal reform bills to the post-election Diet session, and you have a situation looking somewhat like that under Prime Minister Hatoyama.

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