Sunday, September 25, 2005

Koizumi's electoral victory, part 1

I've been following Japan's recent national election, especially its implications for the country's future, or at least the future possibility of serious reform in Japan. Every single account of the election describes the overwhelming victory of Prime Minister Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as the Japanese public's resounding affirmation of Koizumi's reformist agenda.

But what I haven't read is an alternate interpretation: that Koizumi successfully co-opted the opposition, preserving his party's dominance on Japan's political scene and avoiding the even greater reforms that the opposition party had been promoting in its manifesto.

In a nutshell, here's what happened:

Back in August, a bill, backed by Koizumi, that would have privatized the Japan Postal Service passed the lower house of Japan's diet but was then voted down by the upper house.

After the rejection of his bill, Koizumi promptly dissolved the lower house and called an election for September 11. This meant that every member of the lower house had to run again for his or her seat. In the press, Koizumi made sure the public understood that this was a one-issue election about postal reform, his goal being to force out those of his own party who opposed the postal privatization bill in the lower house and even win more seats from the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). He was successful on both counts: 17 of the 30 LDP renegades lost to candidates (dubbed "assassins" by the press) hand-picked by Koizumi to run against them, and the DPJ's lower-house presence shrank from 177 to 113 seats. As a result, the LDP won a two-thirds majority in the lower house, enough to override an upper-house veto of a postal reform bill.

So what's next?

To be continued in another posting...

—Mellow Monk

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