Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How Prime Minister Abe Shinzo Lost On Sunday

I brought this on myself...

Yesterday we all got a chance to see something we have not seen for a long time: a sober, somber and scared Abe Shinzo. He stumbled through his press conference, repeating himself, at one point launching his favorite overly poetic crutch phrase tsu-tsu-ura-ura ("in every harbor; in every inlet" -- the Japanese equivalent of "from sea to shining sea") twice in the space of 70 seconds. When a reporter from the Abe-hostile Tokyo Shimbun started out the Q&A with two simple questions about voter turnout and the schedule for the compilation of next year's budget (the latter being delayed due to the dissolution of the Diet and the election), Abe first feigned being flustered at being asked "so many questions" (Two is "so many"?) ignored them both, repeated the contents of his opening statement, and stared blankly, pretending he had answered either one.

Had Abe been facing a room of real reporters rather than the powder puff tossers of the Sankei Shinbun, Fuji Television and NHK, we might today be talking about Abe Shinzo's press conference meltdown. As it is, the video, available on the LDP's YouTube channel, features a far-from-impressive performance by the PM. (Link - YouTube video J)

This is the guy whose party won 291 out of 475 seats in Sunday's election, with his ruling coalition retained its supermajority in the House of Representatives at 326 seats? Whose main opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan only gained 11 seats during the middle of a terrible recession, and whose leader lost his district race so badly he could not return to the Diet via the proportional list zombie route?


The LDP won on Sunday. The Komeito won on Sunday.

Abe Shinzo lost.

How is this possible?

Missed Expectations -

When a corporation fails to hit the consensus earnings-per-share, its stock price tumbles. The company might post really great numbers. Nevertheless, by not meeting expectations, its performance is deemed a failure.

Advance polling by both the major news organizations and the political parties projected the LDP would win over 300 seats. However, the party finished election night with 291, fewer seats even than the party held in the last Diet.

Early on Abe and the leaders of the coalition had tried to talk down the victory line in this election. However, by the beginning of last week 300 seats became the new normal (the initial high Kyodo projections so depressed the editors of the Tokyo Shimbun, one of Kyodo's owners, that the paper did not print the results on its front page).

As the party leader who called the election, then failed to lead his party to its projected victory, Abe Shinzo lost.

Beating Kaieda Banri -

Abe Shinzo and the rest of the Cabinet conducted themselves with utter gracelessness in the last days of the campaign, traveling to the home districts of the leaders of the opposition, as if they were seeking to not just beat the opposition but decapitate and humiliate it. Abe and Finance Minister Aso Taro indeed finished their campaigns in a boisterous rally in Akihabara for Tokyo District #1 candidate Yamada Miki.

District #1 is of course DPJ leader Kaieda Banri's district.

These "grind their faces into the dirt" tactics have boomeranged. Not only did Kaieda again lose in his district, Yamada beat him by such a large margin that he could not be resurrected on the proportional list. Out of the Diet, Kaieda is out as leader.

Unfortunately for Abe Shinzo, Kaieda Banri was the number one reason why voters would not vote and candidates would not run for the DPJ. In driving him out of the leadership position, which he would have clung to in loud desperation had he been revived as a PR zombie, Abe has kicked out of office his best ally in terms of keeping the DPJ down and the LDP in power.

So Abe lost.

Voter Turnout -

Abe Shinzo won the premiership a second time in what had been up that point the most dispiriting election in a generation, with voter turnout at its lowest ever.

After two years of Abe Shinzo's leadership, the public is even more demoralized, with turnout falling by 7% over 2012's historic low. The first victory was deemed shabby at 59% turnout. Victory at 52% is shabbier still.

Sure, the LDP finished with a million more votes nationwide in the proportional balloting than in 2012. However that gain of 1 million was out of nearly 5.8 million liberated by the breakups of the Japan Restoration Party and the Your Party.

When you pick up only 15% of what was available, you are not a winner.

So Abe lost.

Destruction of the Right Wing -

The hard right Party for the Next Generations, led by Abe Shinzo Best Friend Forever Hiranuma Takeo and Ishihara Shintaro, evaporated, going from 20 to 2 seats. The Your Party, a libertarian, pro-business, anti-bureaucracy party that won 5 million votes in 2012 (just TWO YEARS AGO) did not even survive to contest the election, its founder and Abe Shinzo Best Friend Forever Watanabe Yoshimi going down to defeat in a seat his family had held continuously for 50 years.

In this final agony of his friends to the right, Abe has lost the ability to threaten the Komeito with a new hawk-hawk (or hawk-hawk-hawk) coalition replacing the current hawk-dove, LDP-Komeito coalition. He has also lost useful militants who could ask revisionist history and war responsibility questions, with Abe and his government being able further their own revisionist agendas without taking any responsibility for events ("Look, it's not us. We were just answering questions coming from the opposition!")

So Abe lost.

Empowerment of the Pacifists -

Three parties could walk away from Sunday's elections with their heads held high. The first was the Japan Innovation Party, which clawed and scratched its way to a respectable loss of single seat when the party had been projected to lose over 10.

The two parties who gained seats, and in a big way, were the Komeito and the Communists.

The Komeito, by picking up seats when the LDP lost them, has increased its marginal leverage in negotiations with its coalition partner. The Komeito already made it presence felt in the confused, cramped and unpopular July 1 Cabinet Decision reversing the government's stance as to the unconstitutionality of the exercise of collective self-defense. It is certain that as the focus of the nation's attention shifts to the 15 or so Basic Laws that have to be revised to implement the July 1 Cabinet Decision, the Komeito will make use of this increased leverage so that the policy choices more closely reflect the concerns of the Komeito base.

As for the performance of the JCP, it was off the charts. The JCP not only managed to land a district seat -- an outcome supposedly rendered impossible by the 1993 adoption of single member districts -- but the JCP now has more than the 20 seat minimum necessary for a party's being able to introduce bills to the Diet.

The pacifist Left has been empowered, both in and out of government.

So Abe lost.

Anyone thinks that with the Komeito murmuring louder and the JCP screaming, figuratively, Mr. Abe is going to take his party's victory in Sunday's election to go on and do anything more than pay lip service to more patriotic education, greater Self Defense Forces activity abroad and revision of the Constitution's Article 9 -- as he does in the above linked video -- then that person is in need of a seriousness transplant.

Because, on Sunday, Abe lost.

And he knows it.

Later - Notice I did not say anything about the LDP's getting wiped out in Okinawa...

Later still- This post has been edited to remove typographical and style errors.

Even later still - Tobias Harris, looking at the same facts and coming to the same conclusions, checks in with a brilliant, comprehensive essay for Foreign Policy. (Link)

I heartily agree with his contention that Abe has taken his biggest blunderbuss and shot it, leaving him little with which to discipline his allies and cow his enemies.

Screenshot courtesy: LDP YouTube Channel


kamo said...

Is that 'tossers' in the British of American sense of the word? I mean, both would seem to work...

Anonymous said...

Not just Okinawa, Yamanashi as well now that there's two SMD districts instead of three.

Armchair Asia said...

And the three Bozos who visited Glendale, CA to complain about the Comfort Women memorial last year all lost their seats. So much for defending the nation's pride. Or maybe it was voter annoyance that these first-termers took an overseas trip.

A.J. Sutter said...

I entirely agree with this post. As a strategic matter, the election was a flop -- exactly the same proportion of seats for LDP as before (61.26% now vs. 61.25% last time around), with right-wing pals gone and a reenergised opposition. (And even taking the 5-seat reduction into account, LDP won fewer district seats than last time, too.) Plus people are annoyed at the expense of a national election that leaves everything more or less the same.

I heard Kaieda make a pitch in my Tokyo District 1 neighborhood: there were a few fans in the small crowd that gathered, but the opposition is well rid of such a sad sack.

Nonetheless, an email I got from one intelligent US-based Japan scholar of my acquaintance referred to the election as a "blowout" (in a good way) for LDP, and doubted that Abe "foresaw the extent of the victory going in." I suppose we'll be reading a lot of that sort of thing in the next few weeks.