Notes in preparation for a conference panel appearance discussing the December 16 election, now just three days away.
There is a chance for a dramatic improvement of government control over policy and events. The Mainichi Shimbun and JNN are predicting that the LDP and its ally are on course to win over 320 seats. If the two allies do surpass the 320 mark, they can on their own override any decision or inaction on the part of the House of Councillors (except for appointments, which require the agreement of both Houses).
If the alliance partners do not reach 320 seats on their own, they will still have a choice of coalition partners, either a seriously diminished Democratic Party of Japan under new management (Noda will have to resign his post) or the upstart Japan Restoration Party.
However, the projections are dependent on public opinion polls that still show large segments of the voters undecided. In the case of the Mainichi/JNN projections, they are based on the December 4-5 Kyodo poll, now 10 days old (a lifetime in this election cycle) where the 48% of voters had not yet decided on a political party for which they would be casting their ballot and 56% had not decided on their favorite district candidate.
Late breaking votes, if the undecided show up (the advance polls on likely voter participation rates are not encouraging), could salvage some degreee of dignity for the DPJ and its candidates. Fear of an out-of-control Abe Shinzo premiership is high.
Projected next prime minister Abe Shinzo is desperate to erase the memory of his failed 2006-7 premiership.
In order to avoid a repetition of the 2007 debacle Abe has to make changes. But which month in 2007 will he take his lesson from? From July, when the voters delivered a stunning rebuke to his policy program, snatching control of the House of Councillors from LDP hands, creating the "twisted Diet"? Or from August 2007, when his health and his grip on events spiraled downward from trying to be what he was not? He had played the pragmatist, visiting China in his first overseas visit after becoming prime minister, avoiding his annual pilgrimages to Yasukuni – and hated every second of it.
From Abe's campaign rhetoric and his expression of regret at not visiting Yasukuni, we must assume that the lesson of choice is the latter one. If so, we have an ugly, unpleasant winter ahead of us.
Bureaucracy vs. the Politicians
While the DPJ's fall from power represents a victory for the government bureaucrats-- who sought to kneecap the new government at every turn (see what they did to MEXT minister Tanaka Makiko after she swore she would not approve any conversions of schools into colleges unless quality controls were implemented)-- the victory is only a temporary respite. The long-term outlook for the bureaucrats is poor. Mismanagement of the economy has undermined their carefully cultivated image of brilliance. The decline of tax revenues has limited their ability to reward their allies or recruit new followers in sufficient numbers to guarantee their continued dominance (Link) Their pursuit of amakudari positions and their retirement bonuses have earned the scorn of the citizens, who are the ultimate paymasters for everything.
A Rightward Shift In Japanese Politics
The left-right duality and continuum may be useful for analyses of European politics. However, the left-right divide probably obscures more than illuminates Japanese politics. The political parties, if they are lined up, are Right – Right - Center Right and Center Left, with a tiny left fringe—which to an outsider would look incredibly unbalanced rightist political environment.
It is probably better to graph at the Japanese political realm on grid than on a single line. If the vertical axis is Rational vs. Emotional and the horizontal is Credible vs. Incredible (or Viable vs. Not Viable) then the parties and individual politicians are probably more evenly spread out.
Furthermore, the "rightward shift" is not a significant element in domestic political discourse. South Koreans and Chinese are pointing at Japanese domestic politics screaming, "Rightward shift! Rightward shift!" in order to advance their own agendas. However, in historical terms, the current election looks a lot like the Kaku-Fuku War entering its fifth decade of existence. This is a long-term oscillation in Japanese politics, in between two family lineages, here pitting the anti-mainstream authoritarian bureaucratic Fukuda-Mori-Machimura faction and its firebrand current champion Abe Shinzo against the mainstream, round-shouldered populist DPJ (where the Tanakas are) and Tomorrow parties, where lurks, behind the façade of Kada Yuriko, Tanaka Kakuei's greatest disciple Ozawa Ichiro.
Lineage capture of institutions and multi-generation lineage warfare are fundamental elements of Japanese civilization. "Left-Right"? Not so much.
This is a historic election – but in only negative terms.
First, Noda's offer of dissolution came out of the blue and burdened with the opposition of important members of the party directorate. These ignored DPJ leaders are looking forward to seizing control of the party from out of the hands of Noda and his allies after the projected debacle of December 16. So certain seems a wipeout that more than a few analysts see failure as not a bug but a feature of the dissolution – that Noda has sought to purify the DPJ (Link) in preparation for a coalition government or a merger of the surviving rump with the LDP.
Second, this election is historic in that the politicians of Japan have never shown as much contempt for the electorate as this current crop of hopefuls. The message the politicians are sending to the voters? "You know, we think you are stupid."