by wu ming
Tue Jul 31st, 2007 at 10:55:33 AM EST
For the first time since 1955 (and really, for the first time ever, since the pre-'55 House of Councillors was dominated by the royalist right), the Democratic Party, a left-leaning party, won control of Japan's House of Councillors, displacing the Liberal Democratic Party (which, ironically, is neither liberal nor democratic in ideology) that had ruled the chamber uninterrupted in the postwar period since the 1955 elections. Also of note is that the vote totals for the parties on the left - Democratic Party, Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party - added up to a majority, which has never happened in any election in Japanese history that I know of. While the lower house of the Diet was once controlled by a coalition government with a Socialist Prime Minister from 1993-94, it was a coalition of parties from all over the political spectrum.
Reasons for the LDP's loss include widespread opposition to Japan's participation (however limited) in the occupation in Iraq, and upset with Prime Minister Abe's policy proposals to amend Japan's pacifist Constitution and to teach "patriotic" subjects in the public school system, both of which are key issues for the Japanese extreme right, in that war and patriotic indoctrination were two foundations of the prewar fascist status quo ante. For years, the LDP has murmured about such things (or, more accurately, let the crazies in the vans with loudspeakers breach the subject while leaving it officially vague), but the voters tended to reelect them anyways for decades because they delivered the bacon on domestic pork while the economy boomed. So what happened this time?
From the diaries - whataboutbob
I suspect that one of the biggest reasons for the Democratic Party's victory had to do with the shift of Japanese rural voters from the LDP, as a result of ex-PM Koizumi's strong but ultimately ineffectual push to privatize the postal system in the service of neoliberal "reform." Rural voters were stalwart LDP voters for years, but when Koizumi tried to sacrifice the postal system and projects that benefitted rural voters, they crossed over and threw the upper house to the left in a rejection of neoliberal economics. If you read between the lines in the Forbes report on the election, and wade through the predictions of Japanese economic decline, you can see that the international investors are aware of what just happened:
The new power balance is expected to lead to a general adjustment of the LDP's pro-business attitude and policies to accommodate the opposition's concern with helping rural dwellers who are being left behind in Japan's current economic recovery, thus helping narrow the widening income gaps. Enthusiasm, or the political will, to push for further deregulation and tax reform measures is widely expected to be suppressed. The immediate causality would be a proposal to pass a controversial consumption tax rate hike.
While it's far from a Chavez, Lula or Morales-style radical pushback against the neoliberal drive to privatize government and socialize costs, if this sticks it could still be a tidal shift in Japanese politics. The next House of Representatives election should make things clearer, although I suspect Abe will be hesitant to call a snap election anytime soon, given his refusal to step down after the LDP's election defeat. If the Democratic Party takes the lower house by a similar margin, and the rural voters stay on the left, Japan could very well be headed towards a 2 party system in deed as well as name, with a ruling farmer-labor-middle class liberal coalition in the lead.
Bush's allies in war and pirate economics Aznar, Berlusconi, Blair and Koizumi are all off the political stage now, which leaves Howard in Australia, Harper in Canada, Merkel in Germany, Sarkozy in France and Olmert in Israel. With any luck, America will follow in the Japanese voters' footsteps and toss the corporate-friendly hawks out on their ear come 2008, and we'll get some traction to start rolling back the neoliberal "free trade" piracy that passes for economic policy these days.