Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Now, if the torrential rains would stop and we had about six more weeks...

On Saturday, the Democratic Party finally found an able and articulate spokesman in its ranks. The only problems are that:
1) she is a spokesperson, which puts her at something of a disadvantage in what is for all intents and purposes " the guy party,"
2) she is not a member of the House of Representatives, and
3) she has that Taiwanese name.

Despite her ostensible handicaps, Ren Ho has been everywhere—taking command of a Saturday morning debate with other House of Councillors members (and pinning Takemi Keizo on the to the floor more than once), appearing alongside Okada Tatsuya in the official party video (Dude, she is like, so not a candidate in this election!) and squiring Okada in a saunter down the Ginza on Sunday.

Watching Ren Ho present the Democratic platform in clear, direct language while simultaneously dissecting the ruling party's plans, I am left to wonder where the Democratic Party would be today had it handed the communications duties to her. Okada's mannerisms—the lisp, the constant interruptions of the LDP speaker, the angry torrent of words that spill out when he is granted his moment—exhaust the listener or the viewer.

The Dog and Pony Show

Koike Yuriko and Kobayashi Koki conducted a joint appearance (one would hesitate to call it a debate) at the Foreign Correspondent's Club last week. I would very much like to know what the organizers of this coy slapfest were trying accomplish. It is not that Koike and Kobayashi do not see enough of each other--their campaign headquarters are in adjoining buildings, for goodness sakes.

The appearance of only two of the candidates in the Tokyo District #10 election rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way. Many commentators felt that foreign correspondents were facilitating the the degradation of Japan's politics to the level of mere performance. Why were the other two candidates even invited? If not, what was the higher purpose being served by this dog and pony show?

Splitting up is easy to do

The existence of two kinds of voting systems—one for a single district representative seat, the other for a bloc proportional seat—encourages vote strategic or message voting. Some savvy voters realize that by voting for one party's candidate in the district elections and his or her opponent in the proportional election, the district will end up with two legislators to the Diet.

Another voting strategy has been to split the vote between one's belly and one's head. Over the last several elections, indeed going back during to time of the Shinshinto, voters have been giving their district votes to their local LDP representative in order to preserve patronage networks. Their proportional votes, however, have been going to the main opposition party in order to deliver a vote of no-confidence in the government.

This pattern of voting has been the lifeline of the Democratic Party. Due to gerrymandering and patronage voting, the Democrats are a lost cause in the outlier districts. However, they can still eke out a few seats in even the most reactionary regions thanks to the proportional vote. Consequently, the mixed voting system has been generating something resembling a two-party system.

This election, with its the LDP rebels in the district elections, its "assassins" sent down from Tokyo to defeat them, a quietly revitalized neo-conservative left and deep urban-rural polarization around the postal reform bill, the mixed system is tearing up the old constituencies, support networks and voting strategies. No one knows who will benefit in the end.

The Prisoner of Toyama

We have heard damnably little of the interest from the People' s Party . While the television networks do allow its representatives a seat at their tables, the chair itself is usually empty, with the representative " appearing" as a video image piped in from a local affiliate. Rule number one regarding parties should be that if not even one of members is willing to make the trip to Tokyo, they are independents--and therefore need not be coddled.

I know I should not comment on a person’s appearance (other than Fukushima Mizuho's, that is) but every time I see Watanuki Tamisuke’s benign and artificially browned countenance smiling motionlessly from some non-descript hotel interior somewhere in his fiefdom, I find myself whispering, " It is the party of the living dead."

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