Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Koga Makoto Tries Honesty

You have to give Koga Makoto, the Liberal Democratic Party's Elections Committee chairman, credit for being honest. When discussing the issue of voter turnout, should Prime Minister Asō Tarō go forward with a rumored dissolution of the Diet dissolution on July 28, followed by an election on August 9, Koga stated:

"A not terribly high turnout is desirable. It may have been said in the past that 'for the LDP, a high turnout, is all to the good.' But in recent years, [a high turnout] is rather frightening."
While the LDP talks about policies (Seikyoku yori seisaku - "Policies before political maneuvering" -- the phrase Prime Minister Asō trots out whenever the Democratic Party of Japan demands that he stop stalling and hold the election) it is, in the aggregate, a patronage organization. The party has seen to it that a favored fraction of the electorate is showered with benefits and contracts. In return, that favored fraction votes for the LDP.

This is a minority strategy, with a small group being bought off with the surpluses produced by the population at large. Perpetuating the dominion of a party whose acts benefits only a minority requires effort. The LDP has proven itself more than up to this task -- if not any of the other tasks associated with a modern political party.

The key to winning is to supercharge the votes of LDP clients while disenfranchising the average voter. This has been done on the grand scale through the perpetuation of House of Representative district boundaries that trample on the principle of voting equality. Rural districts, where a significant proportion of the voters are LDP clients, receive up to twice as many seats in the House of Representatives -- on a proportional basis -- as urban and suburban districts. In terms of representation, it is as if one quarter of the electorate has no vote at all (or, to look at it another way, as if one quarter of those holding district seats in the House of Representative do not actually represent anybody).

Disenfranchisement is done on the petty scale by a number of means -- my personal favorite being the old trick of paying citizens with the same names as the opposition candidates to run in an election -- thereby guaranteeing that some voters end up voting for the dummy candidate by mistake.

Scheduling elections at inconvenient times - times when most voters would likely be somewhere other than in their regular homes, ready to trudge on down to their local elementary or middle school on a Sunday and take part in the grand festival that is democracy -- is another favorite form of disenfranchisement. The scheduling of the House of Councillors elections in particular have to be viewed with great skepticism, with a suspiciously high percentage of those elections initially set for the first weekend after the children are let out for summer vacation.

Holding the House of Representatives election in the second week of August would be a trifecta: the children are out of school, the weather will be unbearably hot and it would be the beginning of the Obon traveling season, when a significant number of urban dwellers return to their ancestral family homes in the countryside. Voter turnout for a Sunday, August 9 election would be miserably low -- meaning that the votes of minority parties with fanatically high voting rates (the New Komeito) or with rural and patronage machines (the LDP) would end up with a higher percentage of the voting totals.

Thank you Koga Makoto. Thank you for confirming our worst fears about your party's willingness to put its own interests over those of the nation.


Xylo said...

Prime Minister Mori himself, when asked back in 2000 about the large number of undecided voters, suggested that they "stay home and sleep" on election day.
And many did.

John Mock said...

....and you understated what might be the most critical point, the failure of the LDP to basically do ANY of the positive functions of a modern political party. If the LDP somehow demonstrated competence in any area other than getting re-elected, it would be a refreshing change.