When the votes, reality are far apart
I’ve been following Japanese politics for quite a while, but I’ve never seen an election quite as unusual as the one set for Dec. 14.
It’s comical that the reasoning to dissolve parliament is to delay the consumption tax hike, not the consumption tax hike itself. But let’s just assume Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has full authority to dissolve the National Diet of Japan. It’s hard to guess how the ruling party, the opposition parties and Japanese voters will respond. I’ll refer to it as “The Three Mysteries.”
First of all, the opposition seems to have given up on itself. The upcoming election will determine which party will form the government. But the Democratic Party, the biggest opposition, only nominated candidates for 178 of the 295 electoral districts. Including proportional representation, there are 198 Democratic Party candidates for 475 seats - about 41 percent. In other words, the Democratic Party has given up on the possibility of holding power. So for this election, “change the government” is not a slogan. It is absurd that an opposition party that was formed in 1998 and was once in power couldn’t even produce candidates for all of its districts two years after its defeat in the general election. In short, they aren’t qualified to exist as an opposition party.
Secondly, the ruling party is brazen. On Dec. 2, an absurd scene was broadcast on television as the major candidates began launching their election campaigns. Yuko Obuchi, the former minister of economy, trade and industry, started off her campaign with confidence. But only a month ago, she resigned after her involvement in an illegal political funds scandal was revealed by the media. She is currently under a prosecutorial investigation. But the Liberal Democrats quietly gave her the nomination, and the ruling party revealed its arrogance, as if asking, “What can you do?” Moreover, there are 295 Liberal Democratic Party members in the Diet, and only five were replaced. That’s a mere 1.7 percent. Four of these five are proportional representatives, so there is only one new candidate running in the district. The world is changing and the voters have different demands, but the ruling party still won’t budge, and without explanation.
But the Japanese voters remain indifferent. Various opinion polls show that more people disapprove of the Abe government. They are not thrilled about Abenomics. But when asked which party they would vote for, they still say the Liberal Democrats. The Asahi Shimbun’s recent survey is even more amazing. Even among respondents who oppose the right to collective self-defense and the Abe government’s nuclear power policy, the Liberal Democratic Party was still the frontrunner in the upcoming election. Voters are unsatisfied with the ruling party but still vote for it - partly because there’s no alternative in the opposition.
But an election is a means to determine the public. It is the core of democracy. But when public sentiment and the election outcome are so distant, Japanese voters’ lack of political awareness, and ultimately Japan’s limitations, will be highlighted in the international community.
The author is the Tokyo bureau chief
for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 6, Page 34
by KIM HYUN-KI