August 30th is a general election in Japan, for all 480 seats in the lower House of Representatives. It’s receiving more attention, domestically and abroad, than elections in Japan normally do. The nearly-unbroken 54-year reign of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is expected to finally be broken with a majority win by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). The LDP leader and current Prime Minister, Taro Aso, is even less popular in office (11% approval) than even President Bush and Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski ever were (25% and 21%, respectively). Starting a few years ago, parties have released clear ‘manifestos’ outlining their election platform. The LDP is essentially running on a “don’t change horses in midstream” platform, trying to instill a fear of change in order to maintain control. The DPJ has some very popular policy proposals, such as a $280 per month per child supplement for families. Both parties are running on promises of decreased taxes, increases in social welfare, particularly child rearing in order to slow Japan’s low birth rate. The DPJ even promises elimination of road tolls on expressways across Japan (tolls can reach into the hundreds of dollars) and an elimination of the current 5% consumption tax once the economy recovers.
What I find interesting about this election is that the proportional election system and Parliamentary Democracy allow many third (and fourth and fifth) parties to exist and operate at a much higher level of notariety than third parties in America. Sure, we have the Greens and the Libertarians, the Constitution Party, the Reform Party, the Communist Party, the Prohibition Party (thanks, Jacob). But other than the Green Party in 2000 and Perot’s Reform Party in 1992, these parties have had little publicity and almost no effect on election results. Even those that have been moderately successful, like Perot, win no role in governing because of the winner-take-all system of American Politics. In Japan, though you have some weird ones that have commercials on TV and put flyers in my door. I got a flyer from the Japanese Communist Party today, and one from the almost-a-cult Happiness Realization Party last week. Here’s a list of all of the parties fielding candidates in the election, along with a list of the total number of fielded candidates (both regional and proportional).
1allied with LDP
2allied with DPJ (two sources for this: wikipedia, 2.)
3party of the nutty “Happy Science” religion – deserves an entire post.
If none of this makes sense, this article in the Yomiuri Shimbun gives a good explanation on exactly how these parties are working together towards forming coalitions in the new government. The Economist also takes a nicely critical view of the whole affair.
Here’s a little slideshow of the campaign signs for four of the major parties running in the election, taken this afternoon on Saroma’s main street:
DPJ, Yukio Hatoyama pictured. Slogan: seiken koutai (regime change).
LDP. It says ima, gambaranaide dou suru? (If we don’t persist now, what will we do?) What’s up with the cartoon character?
Social Democratic Party. Slogan: seikatsu saiken (rebuilding livelihood)
Japanese Communist Party. Slogan: ima koso (now more than ever). Their party leader has to be the dorkiest looking leader of any party since Ralph Nader. The only significant minority opposition party that is not part of the DPJ coalition.