Today's Nihon Keizai Shimbun makes a big deal about the Democratic Party of Japan's running 90 fewer district candidates in this year's election than in 2012 and about 100 fewer than the LDP is running. (Link - J)
Pretty stark numbers, underlining the seeming the failure of Japan's single member districts to do as foretold and give rise to a two major party system.
In 2012, in a record low turnout election, a demoralized DPJ had candidates running in 264 districts. In 227 of those districts, the DPJ candidate was running against both an LDP candidate and at least one other non-Communist major party candidate.
Fast forward to today.
The Your Party, 69 candidates in 2012, is no more. Two of its members just joined the DPJ last week. In 2012 the Your Party received 5.2 million proportional seat votes.
The Mirai Party, 121 candidaters in 2012 and 3.4 million proportional votes, is no more. Mirai's remnant, the Life Party, is down to five legislators after two defected to the DPJ last week. Life will be running 17 candidates in this election.
The Japan Restoration Party ran 172 candidates in 2012 and received 12.2 million proportional seat votes. Its two fission products, the Japan Innovation Party and the Party of the Next Generations, are running 73 and 34 candidates, respectively. In the most recent polls, support for the JIP stood at about half the support for the DPJ. NexGen polls at 0%.
In 2012, the DPJ basically fought the election with both hands tied behind its back, having to defend a legislative program that was not even its own. There were non-LDP, non-DPJ viable national alternatives.
Not this time.
This year is much more a two party race, with the JIP having to choose whether to play the role of regional champion or national nuisance. It is the LDP and Abe who are running on their records.
The road of course is bumpy. DPJ and JIP candidates are running against each other in 24 districts. The DPJ is running against another non-Communist party in 22 more districts. In total the DPJ is running against non-Communist opposition in 53 districts.
Last time I looked, 53 out of 173 is a better ratio than 227 out of 264.
Hence the crippling importance of believable, inspiring leadership. The numbers are there for the DPJ to mess up Abe Shinzo's December 14 plans. A flag carrier the voters could believe in would have a huge impact, driving turnout and moving the marginal voter to wish to punish the LDP and Abe for their broken wheel of good fortune.
Whatever happens, the 2014 election will result in a great winnowing of the parties. NexGen and Life will collapse into nothingness; the Socialists may join the pair in final, pathetic oblivion. JIP will lose many of its proportional seats.
What will remain is the ruling coalition's two parties, a revived DPJ, a pugnacious but rump JIP and the Communists.
Not quite a two party system, but lookin' more and more like one.
Later - Check out the intelligent points from A. Sutter in the comments.
Later still - The Mainichi Shimbun has checked in with its English-language version of the story. (Link)