|JPRI Working Paper No. 49: September 1998
Fallen Political Leadership in Japan: Will a New Party Eventually Emerge?
by Mayumi Itoh
The recent election for Japan's Upper House was a big defeat for the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party. Prime Minister Hashimoto resigned to take responsibility for the defeat; but since his party, the LDP, still holds a substantial majority in the lower house, the new leader, Obuchi, was also chosen from this party. The LDP does not have to call new, lower house elections until the year 2000, and it is obviously not much inclined to do so until the Japanese economy has improved and the voters are less outraged.
Meanwhile, political maneuvering outside of the LDP revolves around the efforts to form a genuine opposition party. The largest winners in the recent Upper House election were the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which now holds 47 seats (as opposed to the LDP's 103) and the Japanese Communist Party, which holds 23 Upper House seats. Given a total of 252 seats, the LDP has thus lost control of the Upper House; and the Communists, for the first time, can expect to get some committee assignments (for example, those connected with American bases on Okinawa) that will discomfit the LDP.
But many observers have speculated that the recent vote was more a rejection of the LDP than a positive endorsement of these other parties. They doubt, for example, that the Communists would do as well in a lower house election, where the policy stakes, including the choice of a prime minister, are higher. So much attention will be focussed on the Democratic Party of Japan as a possible genuine opposition.
The DPJ was created by Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan, along with 48 other
members of the Japanese Diet, in September 1996, on the eve of the general
election for the House of Representatives. The fifty original members of the
DPJ included 29 former members of the Social Democratic Party of Japan (the
Japan Socialist Party [JSP] changed its name in 1996 to the SDPJ in order to
change its image), 14 members of the New Party Sakigake or
"Pioneers" (created in 1993 and referred to as Sakigake
below), five formers members of the Citizens' League (CL, a new group formed in
1995), one former member of Shinshinto (the New Frontier Party [NFP] created in 1994), and one independent. Of the 50, 46 were members of the House of Representatives and four (all of them from the SDPJ) were members of the Upper House of Councillors.
The two leaders are unusual in that they are relatively young, with Hatoyama
being 49 and Kan 50. They belong to the dankai no sedai (postwar baby boom generation) and share many liberal ideas. Another unique aspect of the two leaders is that both hold science degrees. Hatoyama studied engineering at the University of Tokyo and Stanford, whereas Kan was a science major at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. This contrasts sharply with the great majority of Japanese politicians, who hold liberal arts degrees (usually majoring in law).
Both Hatoyama and Kan left Sakigake to form the DPJ, and the party therefore introduced a system of dual-leadership--i.e., coequal chairmen. The party also created new slogans such as "citizens' leadership" and "friendship and love" that it hoped would appeal to Japanese voters who were disillusioned with the corruption of the "Iron Triangle"--the collusion of power among the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the bureaucracy, and big business. The party created platforms proposing "establishing a responsible liberalism," "removing sovereignty from the bureaucracy," and "constructing a mature civil society in Japan." In essence, it tried to blow fresh air into Japanese politics.
The DPJ won 52 seats in the general election for the House of
Representatives in October 1996. This made the DPJ the third largest party in
the lower house after the LDP, which won 239 seats, and the NFP, which won 142
seats. The sudden breakup of the NFP in December 1997 made the DPJ the second
largest party and, therefore, the largest opposition party in Japan. Then, in
April 1998, three other newly created opposition parties--Minseito (the
Good Governance Party), Shinto Yuai (the Amity Party), and Minshu Kaikaku Rengo (the Democratic Reform League, DRL)--joined the DPJ to form an expanded DPJ. This merger transformed the DPJ into a 136-member party in the Diet and also changed its nature.
Given its new size and opportunities, what can we expect from the DPJ? Prior to the merger, from September 1996 to April 1998, three typical patterns of behavior can be discerned in the DPJ's decision-making process. I want to describe each of these patterns and illustrate their operation in four specific cases: setting the party's basic policy, national security policy, the revision of the Law Concerning Special Measures on Land Expropriation by the U. S. Military, and the Bill Concerning Medical Insurance Systems.
The first pattern was a move toward convergence with the positions of the
Hashimoto coalition cabinet, comprised of the LDP, the SDPJ, and Sakigake. This pattern derived from the premise that the primary objective of the DPJ as a political party was to win elections. The DPJ was concerned that voters might turn away from the party if it strictly subscribed to platforms that diverged too much from the positions of the conservative Hashimoto cabinet. The underlying assumption was that the positions held by the ruling parties are supported by the majority of the voters. Thus the DPJ was tempted to adopt policies that were likely to be favored by a majority of voters.
The second pattern was one of divergence, a move away from the positions of
the ruling parties. The underlying assumption was that, even if the primary
objective of politicians and parties is to win elections, they do differ over
policy issues and attempt to win elections in order to implement these
preferred policies rather than being solely motivated by popularity or election
victories per se. In addition, the DPJ could not ignore the influence of the labor unions, which were its strong supporters. Thus, the DPJ tried to devise platforms that were different from those of the Hashimoto cabinet. It tried to attract voters by presenting distinct policy alternatives that would spark reforms in the Japanese political, economic, and financial systems.
The third pattern was one of ambivalence, in which the DPJ oscillated between convergence with and divergence from the LDP. This pattern suggests that the DPJ was unable to determine which direction the party should choose, either the office-seeker's direction or the policy-seeker's direction. Therefore, the party let itself be swung between the two, able neither to define a clear basic policy stance nor to devise coherent policy options.
Basic Party Policy
Controversy over the party's basic policy centered around
whether the party should be a kenzen yato ("wholesome opposition
party") or a kensetsu-teki yato ("constructive opposition
party"). Kenzen yato means a policy that would allow the party to
remain in genuine opposition. It would confront and demand change in the
policies endorsed by the ruling cabinet. In contrast, kensetsu-teki yato refers to a policy calling for cooperation with the ruling parties in the legislative process, even if this meant forming a coalition with the presiding cabinet in order to play a constructive role in policy formation.
The two party leaders held different opinions on this basic policy stance.
Hatoyama preferred remaining in opposition in order to challenge the Hashimoto
coalition cabinet, whereas Kan was inclined to cooperate with the ruling
parties and join the coalition cabinet. Although the party had originally
agreed on kenzen yato at the time of its formation, the voice for kensetsu-teki yato grew as Kan's power soared vis-à-vis Hatoyama's. The two camps
intensely debated whether the party should choose kenzen yato or kensetsu-teki yato as the party leadership was expected to demonstrate a clear policy stance at its first party congress in late March 1997.
In early March 1997, Hatoyama and Kan reached an agreement that the party
would pursue the "constructive opposition" stance. However, leftist
members of the party strongly reacted against Hatoyama's concession to Kan. In
response to this leftist grumbling, Kan acquiesced to the "wholesome
opposition" stance in mid-March 1997. By late March 1997, however, Kan had
managed to persuade the leftist group to accept "constructive
opposition" for the time being. In this agreement, the party would
cooperate with the ruling parties by providing policy proposals to the
Hashimoto cabinet but it would refuse to join the cabinet as it was.
Nonetheless, the agreement also stated that the party would cooperate with
other parties, including the ruling parties, as necessary. In other words, kensetsu-teki yato won the debate in the end.
It took more than half a year after its initial formation for the party to
decide this basic policy stance. Although the DPJ eventually decided to move
closer to the ruling parties, the swinging between the two policy stances
demonstrated the incoherence of the DPJ. The ambivalent stance of the party was
referred to as yuto. This word in itself does not mean anything in
Japanese, whereas yato means the opposition party and yoto refers
to the ruling party. Since yu is located in-between ya and yo in
the Japanese syllabary, the ambivalent stance of the DPJ, being neither yato nor yoto, was dubbed yuto.
National Security Policy
The DPJ also failed to work out a coherent and clear
national security policy. The original position of the DPJ on national security
was joji churyu naki Ampo, which literally means "the U.S.-Japan
Security Treaty without the continuous stationing of U.S. forces" in
Japan. (For details on this position, see JPRI's interview with Shunji Taoka, Working Paper 31, March 1997). Although the party accepted the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, it argued that continuous stationing of U.S. forces in Japan was no longer necessary; therefore, the party would seek a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces. This stance reflected the influence of the former socialists, who had traditionally been opposed to the Security Treaty. These members held a lingering opposition to the treaty even after the SDPJ itself was obliged to accept the treaty when its president, Tomiichi Murayama, became prime minister in July 1994. The influence of the former SDPJ members made the DPJ's position on national security different from that of the LDP.
In August 1997, however, the party decided to remove the term joji churyu naki Ampo from its basic outline for diplomacy and security policy to be
published in September 1997. The reason was that the meaning of the phrase had
been criticized as being too ambiguous. Party officials were also concerned
that the United States might misconstrue the expression to mean that the party
was requesting the immediate and complete withdrawal of U.S. forces. The party
thus decided to remove the term joji churyu naki Ampo and to request
only the withdrawal of the U.S. Marines from Okinawa, while accepting the
stationing of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet and the Air Force in Japan for the time being. Despite the removal of the phrase, the party still considered its ultimate goal to be achieving "multilateral national security" through the creation of an international police force.
Then, in September 1997, the party decided to revive the phrase in its basic outline for diplomacy and security policy. Former SDPJ members, including Takahiro Yokomichi, one of the party's deputy representatives and a former governor of Hokkaido, had opposed its removal, concerned that this would be interpreted as a major change in the party's security policy. Yokomichi insisted the basic security policy should remain unchanged and that the party should stick to the expression that it had established at its formation.
For his part, Kan was concerned that revival of the phrase would evoke a
possibly negative response from the U.S. In the end, he agreed to reviving joji churyu naki Ampo but managed to get a compromise from leftist members to
using a more positive expression, "U.S.-Japan Security Treaty with the conditional stationing" for the English translation, instead of the literal translation: "U.S.-Japan Security Treaty without the continuous stationing." By using the term "conditional stationing," Kan tried to clarify the party's policy of accepting the treaty on the condition that both the United States and Japan consult with each other on the forms and terms of the stationing of U.S. troops according to changes in the situation. However, the compromise left the impression that the party used a double standard in explaining the phrase to its domestic and overseas audiences.
The fact that the DPJ in the end decided to revive the phrase joji churyu naki Ampo illustrates the second pattern of behavior, i.e., divergence from the ruling parties. However, the fact that the decision took more than one year, after swinging back and forth between two positions, attests to the third pattern of behavior, namely, ambivalence.
Revision of the Special Measures Law Concerning Land Use by the U.S. Forces
In April 1997, the DPJ decided to vote for the revision of
the Law Concerning Special Measures on Land Expropriation by the U.S. Military.
The party did so despite the fact that a majority of its members were opposed
to the revision. The original law had allowed compulsory land use by U.S.
military facilities in Okinawa since the reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972.
The leases for some land used by the U.S. were about to expire on May 14, 1997.
The Hashimoto coalition cabinet submitted a bill to revise the special measures
law to allow the continued use of the land without the permission of the
landowners. According to an opinion poll conducted in March 1997 by the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper, 47 percent of the DPJ members in the Diet were opposed to the bill, while 32 percent were in favor. By comparison, 58 percent of the entire Diet membership (regardless of party affiliation) supported the bill (although out of 58 percent, 26 percent expressed only conditional support), while 23 percent were against it.
Nonetheless, the DPJ decided to support the bill because party officials felt that the DPJ's opposition would only be counterproductive, since the bill was already expected to pass thanks to an agreement between the LDP and the NFP. DPJ officials thought that the party's overt opposition in this situation would give it the image of a "resistant opposition party." They also thought that opposition would cause friction with the LDP in the future. In addition, Kan thought that opposition to the bill would create a potential policy inconsistency and illegality if the party ever came to power. He therefore thought the party should support the bill in order to avoid creating a legal problem in the future.
Kan's desire for a coherent policy may be understandable but seems logically
untenable. There are precedents for parties changing their platforms once they
come to power, but none for changing their policy preferences before they take power. For example, socialist Prime Minister Murayama abandoned his party's traditional policy and accepted the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty when he took power in 1994. U.S. President Bill Clinton changed his policy stance over China when he took office in 1993, untying the human rights issue from most-favored-nation (MFN) status. But neither Murayama nor Clinton changed his stance until after he took power.
At any rate, the party took the course of kensetsu-teki yato ("constructive opposition party") in this case. By contrast, the SDPJ, which was then part of the Hashimoto coalition cabinet, voted against the bill. Yukio Hatoyama, who went along with Kan in this decision, criticized the SDPJ, calling it the "un-constructive ruling party." In the end, the bill was passed by an overwhelming majority, including opposition parties such as the NFP and the DPJ. Only the Communists voted against it.
The DPJ's decision to vote for the bill displays the first pattern of behavior, a convergence with the ruling parties. More important, however, were the contradictions that characterized the decision. A majority of party members was opposed to the bill. The decision was also paradoxical because the bill would enable the continued stationing of U.S. forces in Okinawa, whereas the party sought the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Okinawa in its national security policy. In addition, the fact that the party voted for the bill primarily out of a concern for its image (to avoid being labelled a "resistant opposition") indicates the lack of a firm policy preference on this issue. All of these contradictions and mixed priorities signify the ambivalent nature of the party.
The Medical Insurance Bill
The DPJ decided to vote against the Bill Concerning Medical
Insurance Systems submitted by the Hashimoto coalition cabinet in May 1997. The
party made the 'no' vote binding to all its members (togi kosoku, a binding vote by party mandate). The party opposed the bill because the labor unions, the party's primary supporters, were concerned that it would increase the cost of medical insurance. The DPJ also feared losing credibility among Japanese voters. Having just voted for the previous bill (the revision of the Special Measures Law on U.S. Bases) party officials such as Hatoyama were concerned that if the party voted for yet another bill submitted by the Hashimoto cabinet, it would give the impression that the DPJ had decided on full cooperation with the ruling parties. Thus, Hatoyama thought that continued consultation with the LDP about the bill would be counterproductive and that the party should just oppose it.
In contrast, Kan originally tried to work out a consensus with the Hashimoto
cabinet to modify the bill to make it more agreeable to the DPJ. The party had
strongly requested provisions for preferential treatment of infants and a
reduction of family burdens in paying medical expenses. The Hashimoto cabinet
did not include these provisions in a modified bill and many DPJ members
strongly resented this. Kan therefore gave up working on a compromise bill, and
in the end the party made opposition to it binding on all its members by
invoking togi kosoku.
The DPJ's decision to oppose this bill is indicative of the second pattern of behavior--divergence from the ruling parties. Nonetheless, the motivation for divergence was not clear-cut, since the decision was largely based on a shallow political strategy: that it had better vote against this bill since it had voted in favor of the previous bill. This concern for its image rather than policy preferences also reveals the third pattern of behavior, ambivalence.
The Forces for Convergence Versus the Forces for Divergence
The former members of Sakigake and the NFP within the
DPJ were a driving force for convergence of the party with the ruling Hashimoto
cabinet. Both Sakigake and the NFP were splinters of the LDP, formed in
1993 and 1994, respectively. Generally speaking, they held more conservative
ideas than former members of the SDPJ, with the NFP being more conservative
than Sakigake. However, they constituted a minority within the party,
with 14 former Sakigake members (26.9 percent) and two former NFP members (3.8 percent) among the 52 members who won seats in the House of Representatives in October 1996. Together, they represent 30.8 percent of the party's members in the lower house.
A surprising and strong source for convergence was Naoto Kan. Kan was a hero
of the citizens' movements in Japan. In 1974, he served as secretary-general in
the election campaign of Fusae Ichikawa, a legendary female politician and
civic leader. He ran for the House of Representatives for the first time in
1976, and after losing three times finally won in the 1980 general election for
the lower house with the highest number of votes in his Tokyo district. Kan had
by then joined the fledgling Shakai Minshu Rengo (the Social Democratic
League, SDL), a splinter of the JSP formed in 1978. In 1994, he joined Sakigake and served as the Minister of Public Health and Welfare in the first
Hashimoto coalition cabinet (comprised of the LDP, the SDPJ, and Sakigake) in 1996.
He gained fame when he effectively dealt with the notorious yakugai eizu (medically-caused
AIDS) scandal, in which untreated blood transfusions infected uninformed
patients with AIDS. Fighting the typical procrastination of the bureaucrats,
Kan swiftly investigated the issue, which led to accusations against several
ministry officials and the pharmaceutical company that had sold the untreated
blood. This experience made Kan realize that in addition to championing popular
issues a politician must be on the ruling side to effectively carry out
policies. He had tasted power, and this experience, along with his personal
desire to become prime minister, accounted for his preference for kensetsu-teki yato (constructive opposition).
But the raison d'etre of the DPJ in principle called for the party to
diverge from the ruling parties. The party set up new and liberal political
platforms to challenge the Hashimoto coalition cabinet led by the LDP. Former
Socialists and Citizens' League members were the driving force for divergence.
These members generally held a more liberal ideology than those of Sakigake and the NFP, and they constituted a majority within the party, with 25 former SDPJ members (48 percent) and two former CL members (3.8 percent).
A strong force for divergence came from Yukio Hatoyama. While he originally
became an LDP member in the House of Representatives in 1986, he eventually
joined the anti-LDP camp in 1993 to create Sakigake with Masayoshi Takemura. This anti-LDP movement, centering on the July 1993 general election for the House of Representatives, became known as the "1993 revolution" ending the "1955 system" in which the LDP monopolized power for 38 years. Along with his younger brother, Kunio Hatoyama, a former NFP member, the Hatoyama brothers are the undisputed blue-bloods of Japanese politics and have been compared to the Kennedy brothers in American politics. Their paternal great-grandfather, Kazuo Hatoyama, was speaker of the House of Representatives in the Japanese Imperial Diet during the Meiji period. Their grandfather, Ichiro Hatoyama, was a prime minister (1954-56), and their father, Iichiro Hatoyama, was foreign minister (1976-77). The family was affluent as their mother had inherited the Bridgestone tire-manufacturing fortune. Because of their family legacy, the Democratic Party was originally referred to as the "Hatoyama New Party."
Unfortunately, Yukio Hatoyama is also regarded as weak and overly
idealistic. He induced outbursts of laughter when he stated that the DPJ would
be based on "love and friendship" and former Prime Minister Yasuhiro
Nakasone (LDP, 1982-89) ridiculed his ideas "as sweet as a soft cream (ice
cream)." Despite the derision and criticism, Hatoyama is unabashedly
serious about his idealism, which may derive in part from his academic
background. Notwithstanding the political legacy of the family, Hatoyama was
originally not interested in politics and obtained a Ph.D. in engineering from
Stanford. He taught at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and decided to enter
politics after observing the display of American patriotism during the 1976
bicentennial. The philosophical foundation for his utopian politics can also be
traced to his grandfather's liberalism. Ichiro Hatoyama regarded equality and
liberalism as the ultimate values of mankind and strongly opposed both
totalitarianism (Nazism) and communism (Stalinism). He formed the Yuaito (Friendship and Love Party) and then became the president of the Japan Democratic Party (JDP). He served as prime minister under conservative parties (the JDP and the LDP from 1954 to 1956) because of his anti-communism, but he remained a liberal at heart.
The new Democratic Party has yet to gain support from the
Japanese constituents that it sought. According to a survey by Jiji Tsushin, one of the largest news agencies in Japan, 3.8 percent supported the party at its formation in September 1996. This percentage increased to 4.8 after the general election for the House of Representatives in October 1996. Then the number declined sharply to 2.9 percent in December 1996. Since then, until July 1997, party support rates have hovered around the 2.7-2.9 percent range. After the party lost in the election for the Tokyo metropolitan assembly in July 1997, the support rate dropped sharply to 1 percent in August 1997. The figure rebounded slightly to 1.5 percent in September 1997, when the party introduced its new one-person leadership system under Naoto Kan at its first anniversary.
According to another survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun, the DPJ's support
rate was 8.3 percent in October 1996, just after its formation. Since then, its
support rate gradually declined to 3.6 percent in February 1997, and then
increased to 4.1 percent at the time of its first party congress in March 1997.
The rate became 4.2 percent in June 1997, declined to 2.5 percent in July 1997,
and then recovered to 3.3 percent in September 1997 at the party's first
anniversary. The party has never regained the popularity it had at the time of
its formation. Although the Yomiuri's survey indicates higher figures
than those quoted by Jiji Tsushin, these numbers are still much lower than the party's overall representation in the House of Representatives, 10.4 percent (52 out of 500 seats).
Why was the party unable to capture the hearts of the Japanese voters? Why
has the party's popularity remained so low despite the popularity of its two
leaders? One reason, examined in the four cases just described, is the
ambiguity of the party's policy platforms. The ambivalence of the party's positions
derives directly from the party's membership composition--a yoriai jotai (hodgepodge household) comprised mainly of splinters of the LDP and the JSP, two traditionally irreconcilable parties in postwar Japanese politics. Specifically, a strong influence from former SDPJ members prevented the DPJ from putting forth clear and realistic party platforms. Kunio Hatoyama, a party deputy representative who is much more conservative than his brother Yukio, said that the party had the image of an "asylum" for people who had left the SDPJ. This is an intrinsic structural defect of the DPJ.
Second, the unusual dual-leadership that the party originally adopted led to
different policy lines. Hatoyama adhered to the wholesome opposition, while Kan
developed a preference for the constructive opposition. It is paradoxical that
Kan became a force for convergence, despite his leftist background, whereas
Hatoyama became a force for divergence despite his LDP background. However,
their differences obliged the party to become a yuto (in between an opposition party and a ruling party).
Hatoyama was originally expected to become the new party's head, due to both
the Hatoyama legacy in Japanese politics and his family's enormous financial
contribution to the formation of the DPJ. However, Kan was by far the more
experienced politician and managed to introduce the joint-leadership system.
Kan said in an interview at the formation of the party that he regarded his
role as Hatoyama's nyobo (wife). But Kan's popularity began to surpass
that of Hatoyama as he wielded his leadership role more effectively than Hatoyama,
who was more naive and reserved. Kan became the most wanted would-be prime
minister in a poll taken by Jiji Tsushin in May 1997. Eventually, the party abandoned joint leadership and in September 1997 elected Kan as its sole head. Hatoyama was elected secretary-general.
Lack of experience in actually governing in a cabinet added to these intrinsic structural problems of the DPJ. The party's lack of self-confidence, in turn, contributed to inconsistencies in its policies. As a result, the party seemed to be constantly swinging between the centrifugal force moving it away from the ruling parties and the centripetal force moving it closer to the cabinet.
The DPJ suffered from several problems that were common to new parties formed in Japan in the wake of the 1993 revolution. The primary problem with these new parties is that most of them are splinters of the LDP. The same people who had been LDP leaders, such as Ichiro Ozawa and Tsutomu Hata, became the leaders of these new parties. To the voters, they looked not much different from the LDP. The Japanese voters quickly grew tired of these mushrooming new parties, particularly since they also failed to convince voters that they could make a difference. The further breakup of these new parties into smaller parties, mainly due to personality clashes, turned voters even further away from them. Also, the voters did not feel confident in entrusting these new, inexperienced parties with actually governing. As a result, no new parties, with their minority presence in the House of Representatives, could stand alone and seriously challenge the LDP. Several members of these new parties soon abandoned them and returned to the LDP, making it once again the majority party in the lower house.
The current political climate in Japan presents a great opportunity for opposition parties to form an alliance that would compete with the LDP in the political balance of power. There is, however, an insurmountable obstacle to this endeavor. If they attempt to combine forces against the LDP, they will be obliged to form a coalition with parties that do not share their same beliefs. Such a coalition of opposition parties would only recreate on a larger scale the same intra-party structural problems that jeopardize the DPJ. The expanded DPJ that took form in April 1998 is no exception.
Japanese Politics in General
Recent polls reveal that Japanese voters are disillusioned
with politics in general. The Yomiuri Shimbun's polls conducted in April 1998 showed that only 31.1 percent of the respondents supported the Hashimoto coalition cabinet (a record low figure), whereas 55.3 percent of the respondents did not. With regard to which party they supported, a mere 29.3 percent of the respondents supported the LDP, but only 4.6 percent supported the DPJ in April 1998 (just prior to the formation of the expanded DPJ). More important, however, was the revelation that 54.4 percent of the respondents did not support any party. Apathy was even more evident in the younger generation, with 77.3 percent of those in their twenties stating that they did not support any party.
Alarmed by these figures, the government tried to increase voter turnout in the July 1998 election for the House of Councillors. It extended voting hours and relaxed the conditions for absentee voting (for the first time, Japanese living abroad could vote in a national election, and it is suspected that many of these overseas voters were liberal and non-party-affiliated). As a result, the election turnout rate was 58.8 percent, much higher than most political analysts had predicted. Yet it was still the fourth lowest, after 1995 (44.5 percent), 1992 (50.7 percent), and 1983 (57 percent) among the 18 upper house elections since 1947. The higher-than-expected turnout meant that many non-affiliated voters voted against the LDP. The ruling party lost 16 seats, whereas the DPJ gained 9 seats.
The election made clear that Japanese voters were disaffected from the LDP. However, it did not clarify what they wanted instead. The DPJ, the second largest party, has only 47 seats out of a total of 252 in the upper house (18.7 percent) whereas the LDP still has 103 (40.9 percent). In addition to the DPJ, the JCP also gained 9 seats, making it the third largest party in the upper house, with 23 seats (9.1 percent). These results seem to indicate that the Japanese voters are still wary of trusting the inexperienced DPJ with actually governing the nation.
It remains to be seen if the expanded DPJ can solve its structural problems, work out more viable policy alternatives vis-à-vis the LDP, and lead the other opposition parties to create the second pole in the Japanese political balance of power in the near future.
MAYUMI ITOH is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her recent book is Globalization of Japan (St. Martin's Press, 1998).