Friday, November 30, 2012

The TMD Governor's Election As Bellweather

The constantly morphing scrum in advance of the December 4 cutoff date of the candidate lists for the House of Representatives election is leaving the voters simultaneously amused, annoyed and bored -- a state of affairs that would be hilarious if not for the facts that:

- whichever party or alliance comes out on top, it will have to deal with an uncontrollable House of Councillors (thank you, Michael Penn)


- the country is going to be tossed into the same maelstrom again in eight month's time, when the half of the House of Councillors seats are up for election.

In contrast to the national vote, where four parties of the right, right, center-right and left are battling for the bulk of votes, with micro-parties (sorry Your Party, you are on the way down) battling over the crumbs (the New Komeito voters being a largely fixed quantity) the contest for the governorship of the Tokyo Metropolitan District has resolved into a clear battle between two competing ideological alliances (with an obligatory minor cast of hopefuls and freaks, of course).

On the one side is the conservative alliance of the Liberal Democratic Party, the New Komeito and the Japan Restoration Association. They are all backing former Vice Governor Inose Naoki. On the other is the liberal alliance of the Communists, Socialists and the Party of the Future (Mirai no To) behind former Japan Bar Association President Utsunomiya Kenji. The conservatives here are a really conservative, seeking a retention in office of the man who has been the TMD's real governor, Ishihara Shintaro having been the Tocho's figurehead and dreamer-in-chief. The liberals are really liberal, in the pejorative sense: hopeful that correctness of thought takes precedence over experience.

Utsunomiya's campaign has a further shadow over it: the citizens of the TMD have little to complain about. The TMD's has flourished over the last decade, despite Ishihara's numerous boondoggles. By any measure, the TMD, where most of the country's thought leaders and foreign correspondents live, is the outlier among Japan's prefectures. It has enjoyed continued prosperity, continuous growth (more people live in the inner 23 wards now than at any time in history) and relative youth (Okinawans give birth to way more children but Tokyo is a magnet for the 20-35 cohort).

The Utsunomiya campaign picked up a nice endorsement yesterday from former prime minister Kan Naoto, a liberal (in the positive sense) champion. Kan, however, is facing a surprisingly tough race in his home district (Tokyo District #18 - 10 terms) -- an indication of a possible wipeout of the Democratic Party of Japan on December 16. In the 2005 postal reform election, Kan was the only DPJ member to either win or retain his/her seat in the TMD. If he is struggling, the outlook for the party is grim.

As regards the DPJ as a whole, it has opted out of participating in the TMD gubernatorial election, telling its supporters to make their own choice. An inability to either field its own candidate or line up behind one of the nine candidates (all of them men) is a bad sign. It is a passive parallel to the strategy the party is deploying the House of Representatives election: be the mild alternative, engaging the 40% to 45% of the electorate that remains non-aligned voters in a negative way, offering the DPJ as the default, middle-of-the-road choice.

Come December 16, the emotionally detached DPJ may find out what Texas humorist Jim Hightower meant when he said, "The middle of the road is for yellow lines and dead armadillos."

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