Results of ouse of Representatives election on December 16, 2012, LDP in Green

The Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide victory in the 46th House of Representatives election on December 16, 2012, securing 294 seats, well above the 241 needed for a majority in the 480-seat chamber. With its coalition partner New Komeito added in the LDP-Komeito coalition won a combined 325 seats, exceeding the 320 seats needed for a two-thirds majority. The election victory put the LDP back in power after three years and three months in opposition. A two-thirds majority allowed the LDP-Komeito alliance to override the House of Councillors by passing bills into law through a second vote in the lower house.

The Democratic Party of Japan suffered a humiliating defeat, taking only 57 seats, fewer than a quarter of the 230 seats it held before the election. Eight incumbent Cabinet ministers lost their seats, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura and education minister Makiko Tanaka, the highest number in lower house elections conducted under the current Constitution. After the elections former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda resigned as DPJ president.Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), anticipated as a possible third political force, won 54 seats, becoming the third-largest party in the lower house. Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan) was soundly defeated, falling from 61 seats to nine.

Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times: “Japan’s voters handed a landslide victory to the Liberal Democratic Party in national parliamentary elections, giving power back to the conservative party that had governed Japan for decades until a historic defeat three years ago. In a chaotic election crowded with new parties making sweeping promises, from abolishing nuclear power after the Fukushima accident to creating an American-style federal system, the Liberal Democrats prevailed with their less radical vision of reviving the recession-bound economy and standing up to China. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, December 16, 2012]

The dominant view of the election was that it was not so much a weakening of Japan’s desire for drastic change, or a swing to an anti-Chinese right, as a rebuke of the incumbent Democrats. They swept aside the Liberal Democrats with bold vows to overhaul Japan’s sclerotic postwar order, only to disappoint voters by failing to deliver on economic improvements. LDP leader Shinzo Abe acknowledged as much, saying that his party had simply ridden a wave of public disgust in the failures of his opponents. “We recognize that this was not a restoration of confidence in the Liberal Democratic Party, but a rejection of three years of incompetent rule by the Democratic Party,” Mr. Abe said.

A dozen parties fielded a total of 1,504 candidates, the largest number ever. But in a sign of the election’s failure to excite, only 59 percent of voters cast ballots, one of the lowest turnouts on record. Taking responsibility for the DPJ’s loss, Noda said, “We failed to meet the people’s hopes after the change of government three years and four months ago.” In a sign of how far the pendulum had swung against the incumbents, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan lost his seat in a Tokyo suburb in a tight race with a relatively unknown Liberal Democratic challenger.

One reason for the size of the victory was the failure of new parties to convince voters that they were viable alternatives. One of the biggest losers was the Tomorrow Party of Japan, which was formed late last month to ride a wave of antinuclear sentiment after the Fukushima accident but fizzled amid concerns that electrical shortages could hurt the already shrinking economy. The Liberal Democrats even won most of the seats in Fukushima itself, where 160,000 remain homeless because of radioactive fallout, in an apparent protest vote against the incumbents’ botched handling of the accident.

In interviews, voters said they had voted for the Liberal Democrats because they felt the party was the only choice. Many analysts warned that meant public opinion could just as easily swing again against the Liberal Democrats if they pursued unpopular steps, such as trying to rewrite the antiwar Constitution to allow a full-fledged military, something Mr. Abe has vowed to do. “This is a landslide without a mandate,” said Satoshi Machidori, a political scientist at Kyoto University. “Mr. Abe shouldn’t view this as a carte blanche to do as he pleases.”

Prime Minister Noda Dissolves Lower House for December 2012 Election

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Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda
In mid-November 2012, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the House of Representatives and schedule the lower house election for December 16, with official campaigning starting on December 4. In a press conference held after the dissolution, the prime minister vowed to break the political stalemate. "I previously said I would ask for a public mandate once the integrated reform of the social security and tax systems was achieved. I dissolved [the chamber] to fulfill this promise," he said. "We have an ongoing political situation in which we are unable to make decisions. By dissolving [the lower house], I'd like to put an end to this evil practice.” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 17, 2012]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The “dissolution came 100 days after Noda pledged to dissolve it "sometime soon" during a meeting with the leaders of the LDP and Komeito. In line with Article 7 of the Constitution, the Cabinet approved the dissolution at its regular meeting, where the prime minister sought endorsement of the dissolution from his Cabinet ministers, who all signed the relevant paperwork. The Emperor then signed an Imperial rescript dissolving the chamber, which lower house Speaker Takahiro Yokomichi read to a plenary session as part the formalities to dissolve the chamber.

Noda raised five points that could become major campaign issues for the upcoming election: social security and tax reforms, the direction of economic measures, energy policy, diplomatic and security issues and political reforms. Meanwhile, LDP President Shinzo Abe said winning the election was his party's "mission for the public.”

Growing public distrust of the two main political parties, the DPJ and the LDP, has caused new parties to sprout one after another, hoping to establish a third political force. If the smaller parties were to gain momentum, they could force a reorganization of the national political scene and possibly even influence the structure of the next government to lead the country.

The dissolution came after the House of Councillors approved two key bills: one to allow the government to issue deficit-covering bonds and another that will eliminate five single-seat constituencies to correct lower house vote-value disparities. Both bills passed with support from lawmakers of the DPJ, the LDP and Komeito. Passage of the legislation was among conditions set by Noda for calling an election. However, since the rezoning of single-seat constituencies will take several months, the Dec. 16 vote will be based on the current electoral system. The Supreme Court has ruled that the 2009 lower house election was in a "state of unconstitutionality" due to the disparities.

Background Behind Noda’s Decision to Dissolve the Diet

Some said Noda dissolved the parliament when he did to strike against rivals within his arty that wanted remove him as leader. Satoshi Ogawa and Hajime Furukawa wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Creating surprise is apparently one motivation behind Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's sudden announcement of a schedule for dissolution of the House of Representatives. Some believe Noda announced the schedule as a preemptive strike against moves within his Democratic Party of Japan to remove him from his posts as DPJ leader and prime minister. [Source: Satoshi Ogawa and Hajime Furukawa, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 16, 2012]

"I can dissolve [the lower house] Friday." Noda remarked during a debate with LDP President Shinzo Abe on Wednesday. After he said that there was a collective gasp and murmurings among those in attendance . Noda then blamed the LDP for Japan’s problems. "The current deflation has been ongoing since your party [the LDP] was in power. We also have heavy debts--a huge negative legacy," Noda said.

In order to make the decision on when to dissolve the lower house, Noda reportedly has a basic principle that the lower house election should be finished by the time work to formulate the fiscal 2013 budget begins in earnest. Many DPJ members expressed opposition after media reports of Noda's plans. At a meeting of the DPJ Standing Officers Council, senior DPJ members agreed to oppose dissolution of the lower house in 2012 with moves to remove Noda from his posts within the party becoming obvious. Facing a revolt within his own party, Noda reportedly vented his anger to those close to him, saying, "How could they do this to me?" Noda then accelerated moves toward dissolving the lower house. "After the council meeting, Noda became more worried a coup to bring him down could take place during his visit to Cambodia for an ASEAN meeting also attended by U.S. President Barrack Obama. “Therefore, he moved forward the dissolution schedule," one of Noda's aides said.

Noda Reelected as DPJ Leader

In September 2012, Noda easily won reelection as president of the ruling DPJ. Jiji Press reported: “Noda secured a three-year term as DPJ chief, beating three rivals in the party leadership election--former agriculture minister Hirotaka Akamatsu, former internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi, and former agriculture minister Michihiko Kano. Based on votes cast by DPJ lawmakers and others including rank-and-file party members, Noda garnered 818 points of the total of 1,231 points, against 154 points for Haraguchi, 123 points for Akamatsu and 113 points for Kano. [Source: Jiji Press, September 22, 2012]

After winning Noda reshuffled his Cabinet. By that time the DPJ had 245 seats, down from 308 seats after the 2009 election. DPJ defectors included Ozawa and his supporters and those who recently offered to leave the party to join Nippon Ishin no Kai, or the Japan Restoration Party. If 10 more DPJ lawmakers had left the party, it would lose its combined majority with its coalition partner, the People's New Party, in the lower house.

Abe wins LDP Presidency

Abe campaigning in 2012

In September 2012, the Liberal Democratic Party elected former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as its new president. Masami Ito wrote in the Japan Times: “The former prime minister came from behind in a runoff to defeat ex-defense chief Shigeru Ishiba by a vote of 108-89. But despite his victory, strong internal and public criticism has stigmatized Abe, who quit as prime minister in 2007 while suffering from ulcerative colitis, which he insists is cured now. [Source: Masami Ito, Japan Times, September 27, 2012]

At age 52, Abe became Japan's youngest leader in postwar history in 2006. When he was voted LDP leader again he was 58. After the vote, Abe said: "I caused a lot of trouble by quitting out of the blue . . . (but) you have given me a mission to build a new and strong LDP and to stand at the party's helm in these difficult times. This victory does not erase the responsibility I bear from five years ago but I keep that firmly in mind and will devote myself to seizing government power with everyone.”

The LDP race had five candidates but none took a first-round majority, prompting a runoff with the top two candidates---Abe and Ishiba. A total of 498 ballots were cast in the first round of the election, with Diet members accounting for 198 and local party chapters 300. Ishiba, backed by the local chapters, catapulted to an overwhelming first-round victory, garnering 165 votes to Abe's 87. Ishiba, however, was only able to collect 34 of the lawmakers votes while Abe won 54. But in the runoff, Abe bounced back on the strength of his party ties, besting Ishiba 108-89 in a vote restricted to Diet members.

December 2012 Lower House Election Results and What They Means

Japan’s December 2012 election results: 1) Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) (won 294 seats, up from 118 seats before the election for an increase of 176 seats); 2) Democratic Party of Japan (Minshuto, DPJ) (won 57 seats, down from 230 seats before the election for a decrease of 173 seats); 3) Restoration Party (won 54 seats, up from 11 seats before the election for an increase of 43 seats); 4) New Komeito (won 31 seats, up from 21 seats before the election for an increase of 10 seats); 5) Your Party (won 18 seats, up from 8 seats before the election for an increase of 10 seats); 6) Tomorrow Party (won 9 seats, down from 61 seats before the election for decrease of 52 seats); 7) Japan Communist Party (won 8 seats, down from 9 seats before the election for a decrease of 1 seat); 8) Japan Social Democratic Party (won 2 seats, down from 5 seats before the election for a decrease of 3 seats); 9) People New Party (won 1 seat, down from 3 seats before the election for a decrease of 2 seats). [Wikipedia]

2012 election results, by party

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The December 16, 2012 election fielded the largest number of candidates under the current Constitution, as well as the largest number of parties under the current electoral system, which combines single-seat constituencies and proportional representation blocs. Twelve parties fielded a total of 1,504 candidates in the race — 1,294 for 300 single-seat constituencies and 210 for 180 seats in proportional representation blocs. Voters cast their ballots at 49,133 polling stations nationwide. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 16, 2012]

In Hokkaido Constituency No. 9, which former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama represented before he announced his retirement, LDP newcomer Manabu Horii was certain to win the seat vacated by Hatoyama. Ichiro Ozawa, an influential member of Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan), retained his seat in Iwate Constituency No. 4. Shintaro Ishihara, leader of Ishin no Kai, was sure to win a seat in the Tokyo proportional representation bloc. His son Nobuteru, former LDP secretary general, also was to retain his seat in Tokyo Constituency No. 8. Ishin no Kai was did especially well in the proportional representation blocs.

The major issues of the election were the economy and energy. On these issues, the LDP and DPJ clearly demonstrated a confrontational stance. However, party leaders failed to delve into discussions on Japan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework, which was seen to be another key issue. On the economy, Abe pointed to the strong yen and prolonged deflation as the main factors hurting the Japanese economy. To prop up the economy, Abe pledged to adopt stronger financial and fiscal policies than those taken under previous LDP administrations. More specifically, he called for adopting bold, monetary easing policies by establishing a structure to enhance cooperation between the government and the Bank of Japan. He also pledged to actively promote public works projects.

However, Noda rejected Abe's argument, saying history shows it is impossible to end deflation through public works projects. He also emphasized that the DPJ-led government managed to create jobs via investment in fields with high growth potential. But Sunday's poll showed that many voters were apparently disappointed by the DPJ's handling of the economy. Ishin no Kai pledged in its campaign platform that it would aim to achieve economic growth through measures other than promoting public works projects. The party also emphasized the need to amend the Constitution, especially the pacifist Article 9.

As the election was the first national election since the Great East Japan Earthquake, parties also strongly focused on the nation's energy policy, particularly nuclear power. While the DPJ called for abolishing nuclear power use in the 2030s, Abe denounced such nuclear-free slogans as "irresponsible." The LDP pledged that the nation would be fully prepared to ensure a stable energy supply. Nippon Mirai no To stressed the need for denuclearization, calling for a "graduation from nuclear [power]" within 10 years, but failed to attract voters.

Low Voter Turnout, Millions of Early Ballots and Oversleeping Poll Officials

Voter turnout in the December 2012 lower house election was just above 59 percent. Kyodo reported: “Turnout sank to 59.32 percent for single-seat constituencies and 59.31 percent for the proportional representation segment, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. Both figures represent a drop of 9.96 points from the previous election in 2009. The previous record low for a House of Representatives election was set in 1996, when turnout fell to 59.65 percent for single seats and 59.62 percent in proportional representation. [Source: Kyodo, December 18, 2012]

Jiji Press reported: “A total of 12,039,570 voters cast their ballots in early voting for the December 2012 House of Representatives election, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said. The number fell 13.9 percent from 13,984,085 for the election in 2009. The proportion of voters using the early voting system accounted for 11.5 percent of the country's total voting population of about 104.36 million, down from 13.5 percent. The early voting system allowed voters to cast their ballots between Dec. 5, one day after the election campaign for candidates started, and the day before the election. The number of early voters surged for the 2009 lower house election. But this time, the figure fell for the first time since early voting was first adopted for a lower house election in 2005. [Source: Jiji Press, December 17, 2012]

The early voting system was introduced in 2003 to boost voter turnout by allowing voters who cannot visit polling stations on the election day for various reasons as such as work, travel, and ceremonial occasions including weddings and funerals, to cast their ballots beforehand in their own electoral districts. This time, the system was utilized especially in areas devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, election boards set up temporary polling stations at evacuation areas so that those in temporary housing could cast ballots there.

Some early voters were unable to vote because late-sleeping election officials failed to show up at the polls on time. Jiji Press reported: “The start of voting for the House of Representatives election on Sunday was delayed in the cities of Akita and Gifu because city government custodians of ballot papers overslept. Of the voters who were waiting for polling stations to open in the morning, about 10 in Akita and two in Gifu went home without casting their ballots.

According to the election management committee of Akita, a city employee in his 40s did not show up at a polling station by the designated time of 6:30 a.m. A call to his mobile phone went unanswered. A staffer at the polling station then went to his home to collect the electoral roll and 5,700 ballot papers that were in his custody. At 7 a.m., when the polling station was supposed to open, nearly 30 voters were waiting outside. Only 17 of them cast ballots after voting started 15 minutes late. At a polling station in Gifu, a 49-year-old city employee who was in possession of the electoral roll and 4,500 ballot papers overslept. Voting started 27 minutes behind schedule after two of three voters had already left the polling station.

LDP Wins Majority of Seats with Only 43 Percent of the Popular Vote

Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “While the Liberal Democratic Party won 237 seats in single-seat constituencies, a record high under the current electoral system that combines single-seat constituencies and proportional representation blocs, it did so without winning a wide majority of votes cast. While the 237 LDP seats account for 79 percent of the 300 seats available, the party only won 43.01 percent of total votes cast. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 18, 2012]

This has only occurred twice since the House of Representatives adopted the current electoral system in 1996: the LDP's victory in 2005, and the DPJ's victory in 2009. In the 2005 lower house election, the LDP won 219 seats in single-seat constituencies with just 47.77 percent of votes cast. In the same election, the DPJ won 36.44 percent of votes cast, but only won 52 seats. In the 2009 lower house election, the DPJ won 221 seats in single-seat constituencies with 47.43 percent of the vote.

In the latest election, the percentage of votes won by the LDP was about 4 points less than in 2005 and 2009. Despite this, the party achieved a landslide victory in single-seat constituencies. This may have occurred because the votes of those critical of the LDP are believed to have been split among candidates from the DPJ and so-called third political force parties--Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), Your Party and Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan)--giving an advantage to LDP candidates.

There were 12 single-seat constituencies in which the LDP, DPJ and all three third force parties fielded candidates. All were won by the LDP. In every one of the 12 constituencies, however, LDP candidates won fewer votes than the combined total of candidates from the DPJ and three other parties.

For the 180 seats in the proportional representation blocs, the LDP garnered 27.62 percent of total votes cast. This figure is close to the 26.73 percent the LDP won in the 2009 lower house election in which the party suffered a major setback. Meanwhile, the DPJ won only 16 percent of votes cast in proportional representation blocs compared to the 42.41 percent in the 2009 election, when it won by a landslide. Combined, the LDP and DPJ won 43.62 percent of votes cast, a marked decline from previous elections. Since the 2003 lower house elections, the two parties have won a combined total of about 70 percent of votes cast.

By contrast, Ishin no Kai won 40 seats, the second-largest amount won under the proportional representation blocs, surpassing the 30 seats won by the DPJ. Ishin no Kai won 20.38 percent of votes cast in the blocs, and won at least one seat in each of the 11 regional blocs. The party was particularly successful in the Kinki bloc--its electoral base--where it surpassed even the LDP by winning 10 out of 29 seats.

Your Party won 8.72 percent of votes cast in the proportional representation blocs, compared to the 4.27 percent in the 2009 election. Nippon Mirai no To, on the other hand, garnered only 5.69 percent of votes cast in this category. The JCP and SDP, however, did not win as many votes as in the 2009 election, indicating both parties are on the decline.

Independent Voters Play a Big Part in DPJ Defeat

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Democratic Party of Japan's failure to retain the support of nonaffiliated voters is believed to have been a main factor in its crushing defeat in the House of Representatives election. The DPJ suffered a massive setback in Sunday's poll, with its number of seats in the Diet dwindling from 230 before the election to just 57. Of particular note was the party's poor performance in 52 single-seat constituencies that were thought to have been solid DPJ turf. The party managed to keep its seats in these constituencies in the 2005 lower house election, when it also suffered a major setback. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun. December 18, 2012]

Though the party fielded candidates in 51 of the 52 constituencies, the party secured seats in just 17 blocs. Those who lost seats include Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Wakio Mitsui and National Public Safety Commission Chairman Tadamasa Kodaira.

The DPJ took the reins of power after winning 308 seats in the 2009 lower house election. However, a number of problems emerged under the DPJ-led government, including disputes over the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture and the collapse of its manifesto pledges. The party also suffered an internal split over the integrated reform of social security and tax systems. These problems apparently led voters to render a harsh judgment on the party as reflected in the vote count. A major factor in the DPJ's defeat was its failure to retain the support of nonaffiliated voters, which helped the party effect a change of government in the previous election.

An increasing number of voters have begun to describe themselves as not affiliated with any political party, indicating weakening party loyalty in recent years. According to joint exit polls by The Yomiuri Shimbun and NTV-affiliated TV stations, only 13 percent of nonaffiliated voters cast ballots for the DPJ under the proportional representation system in the Sunday poll, far behind Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) at 28 percent and the LDP at 20 percent. In the 2009 election, the party won support from more than half of nonaffiliated voters. Even among DPJ supporters, about 47 percent said they cast ballots for a party other than the DPJ in the proportional representation system, showing the party failed to retain even its conventional support.

Numerous Parties Try to Emerge as a Third Force

2012 campaign posters

Twelve political parties fought for voters' support in the December 2012 House of Representatives election. In 2009 after the Democratic Party of Japan was swept into power into seemed that Japan was heading for a two-party system — with the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party as the dominant parties. But that changed in 2012 when a number of new parties emerged and tried to become a “Third Force” in Japanese politics.[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 6, 2012]

Before the election the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The political landscape's latest transformation occurred Nov. 28, when a new party, Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan), led by Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, reported its inauguration to the internal affairs and communications minister. Two other fledgling parties, People's Life First and Genzei Nippon, Han-TPP, Datsu-Gempatsu o Jitsugen suru To (party to advocate tax cuts and national denuclearization and oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact) have merged with Nippon Mirai no To.

Twelve parties have fielded candidates in the lower house poll, the most since the current electoral system combining single-seat constituencies with proportional representation was introduced in 1996. This is the upshot of the rapid creation of a slew of so-called third-force parties aiming to topple the two major parties, the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party.

These new political forces have undergone realignment several times already in their young lives. Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party) was established Nov. 13, based on Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan), but within four days it merged with Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party). Another new party, Midori no Kaze (Green Wind), lost three of its Diet members to Mirai no To, depriving it of the legal definition of a political party because it now has fewer than five Diet lawmakers within its ranks.

Many of the budding political groups have fortified their positions by reeling in Diet members who broke away from the DPJ after becoming disillusioned with the party's direction. The current hodgepodge of parties can therefore be primarily ascribed to the "dismantling" of the DPJ. After the 2009 lower house election, the LDP also saw some of its Diet members bolt from the party to form new groups, such as the Sunrise Party of Japan.

The third political forces have emerged with the common goal of censuring the DPJ and the LDP. Ishin no Kai's acting leader Toru Hashimoto, who also is Osaka mayor, said in a campaign speech on a Fukushima street in late November, "The central government has badly mishandled the tasks of addressing problems caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and providing relief to victims of the disaster." Kada has lashed out at the government's nuclear energy policy.

Many of these third-force groups are led by heads of local governments--a unique development unseen before. These leaders have seen their positions strengthened in recent years as a result of the decentralization of power, and they have attracted the spotlight as they take the central government to task. Meiji Gakuin University Prof. Kazuhisa Kawakami, an expert in political psychology, said, "Although the third forces are quite adroit at shaping the debate over particular issues, they should come out with a broader spectrum of policies.”

Restoration Party Does Best of New Parties in December 2012 Election

The Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) did the best of the parties that tried to emerge as a Third Force. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Riding on the appeal of its dual leadership, Nippon Ishin no Kai was able to successfully win over nonaffiliated voters in the House of Representatives election. Party leader Shintaro Ishihara and acting party head Toru Hashimoto attracted nonaffiliated voters who were dissatisfied with the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan. The party captured 51 seats, meaning it can submit budget-related bills and no-confidence motions against the Cabinet on its own. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 18, 2012]

Before the election, Ishin no Kai only had 11 seats. But with 54 seats, the party can now rival the DPJ with 57 seats. The party steadily secured votes in the Kinki proportional representation bloc, the home turf of the party's predecessor, Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group), a regional political group. "I wanted to create a powerful second force. We moved a step closer [to my goal]," former Tokyo Gov. Ishihara said on an NHK program Sunday night regarding the election outcome. Osaka Mayor Hashimoto also praised the election results, saying, "We were able to win these seats, starting with the reform of the Osaka local government." However, given Hashimoto's popularity and the large following Ishin no Kai gained when it was formed, some party members are not satisfied with the result, sources said.

Ishin no Kai became a political party in September and merged with Ishihara's Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party) in November to improve its chances in the election. In a Yomiuri Shimbun survey conducted before the election, Ishihara placed second when people were asked who was best suited for the post of prime minister. Ishihara However, during the initial stages of election campaigning, there was brief speculation that Ishin no Kai had lost some of its popularity. Differing opinions over key issues, such as nuclear power and energy policy, between Ishihara and Hashimoto could have been one reason support for the party was less than expected. Ishihara said, "Abolishing all nuclear plants is a sort of desire." However, Hashimoto had been opposed to the restart of Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture in July. In addition, Ishin no Kai faced a serious challenge in single-seat constituencies because its fragile organizational structure and poor financial resources made it difficult for the party to select more potential candidates for the election.

Ishin no Kai also failed to set a candidate for prime minister after the election. Ishihara said he had no intention of becoming prime minister due to his age, while Hashimoto did not run in the election. This seemed to have a cooling effect on people's fervor for the party. Ishihara said he believed Hashimoto is a future candidate for prime minister and that he was committed to supporting Hashimoto to the end by reconciling their differing policies.

Nippon Ishin no Kai formed an alliance with Taiyo no To (the Sunrise Party) but was unable to do the same with the small opposition party Your Party. Yoshimi Watanabe, head of Your Party, said that his party would not ally with Ishin no Kai due to differences on key policies and political ideals. It had earlier been reported that the two sides were poised to join hands. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 20, 2011]

Seat Numbers Determine Post-Election Diet Politics

The number of seats won by each party in the December 2012 House of Representatives election will set the course for postelection politics, as explained by the figures below. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 17, 2012]

241: Majority to pass bills. In the lower house, the ruling party cannot pass bills, including budget-related items, without a 241-seat majority. The Liberal Democratic Party won a majority in the 2005 and 2102 polls and the Democratic Party of Japan won a majority in the 2009 poll. The LDP won 294 seats in the December 2012 election.

320: Two-thirds majority. A more important figure for the ruling party is 320, the number corresponding to two-thirds of the total seats in the lower house. Article 59 of the Constitution stipulates, "A bill that is passed by the House of Representatives, and upon which the House of Councillors makes a decision different from that of the House of Representatives, becomes a law when passed a second time by the House of Representatives by a majority of two-thirds or more of the members present." The LDP and New Komeito together won 325 seats in the December 2012 election.

Currently no party holds a majority in the House of Councillors. No matter how the lower house election turns out, it is possible the current state of a divided Diet, in which the ruling bloc controls the lower house while the opposition holds a collective upper house majority, will continue. Given the circumstances, if the ruling party gains a two-thirds majority in the lower house, government administration will become easier. In the 2005 lower house election, the LDP and New Komeito won a total of 327 seats. The two parties lost the majority in the 2007 upper house election and the Diet became divided. However, the ruling bloc was able to enact laws, including the revised Antiterrorism Law, from 2007 to 2009 through second voting in the lower house.

51: Third force exerts influence. The Diet Law and the lower house rules stipulate that a Diet member can only submit bills related to no-confidence motions and budgets with the support of at least 50 other lawmakers. To submit a bill unrelated to the budget, a member must obtain support from a minimum of 20 other members. In other words, to submit these two types of bills, each party must secure 51 seats and 21 seats, respectively. For party leaders to take part in interpellations with the prime minister, a party must hold at least 10 seats in either the lower or upper house. The Restoration Party won 54 seats in the December 2012 election.

2012 Election Campaign

The campaign for the 2012 lower house election lasted for 12 days, running from December 4 to December 15, the day before election day. The day after the campaigning kicked off, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The heads of political parties took to the streets Tuesday morning to deliver their first speeches in a 12-day electoral war of words. At least 1,489 people had declared their candidacies for the lower house election, with 1,293 running in the 300 single-seat constituencies and 971 in the 180-seat proportional representation section as of 1:20 p.m. Some candidates are running in both segments. Issues at stake include energy policy — with whether to maintain or abolish nuclear power at its center--and integrated reform of the social security and tax systems. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 5, 2012]

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda--the DPJ president--visited Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, where he stressed that the nation as a whole cannot revive without the prefecture's revival from the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Noda expressed his determination to keep the DPJ in power. "The question in this election is whether we move forward or return to old politics," Noda said. LDP President Shinzo Abe made his first speech of the campaign in Fukushima city, saying it is important to change what he described as the DPJ government's wrongheaded politician-led policymaking and motivate bureaucrats. "We'll implement an evolved economic policy to bail the economy out of deflation," he added.

Ishin no Kai head Shintaro Ishihara was visiting Kita Ward, Osaka. "The nation's politics are dominated by bureaucrats who spend all their time doing useless things," Ishihara said. "Japan will face ruin unless all of us restore the nation." Mirai no To head Yukiko Kada chose Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, for her first speech of the campaign. "We would revitalize local economies by shifting from nuclear power to natural energy," Kada said. "An economy that produces locally and consumes locally has stability if a disaster occurs," she added. "We'd like to bring a change to Japan, starting from the local communities.”

The general election, the 46th in the nation's parliamentary democracy, follows the August 2009 contest, in which the DPJ won a landslide victory to achieve a change of government. The number of officially recognized parties that have fielded candidates is 12, surpassing the 10 that contended in the 2000 general election to become the highest since the current electoral system combining single-seat constituencies with proportional representation was introduced in 1996.

When it comes to nuclear energy policy, the DPJ says it would implement all possible political measures to achieve a target of zero nuclear power plants operating in the 2030s, while the LDP insists that it is irresponsible for other parties to propose a zero-nuclear option by expecting the spread of renewable energy at a time when it has not yet been put into significant practical use. Ishin no Kai has an ambiguous stance over this issue, as its campaign platform says existing nuclear plants would "fade out by the 2030s," while Ishihara insists these facilities be maintained. Mirai no To proposes a policy of decommissioning all nuclear power reactors within 10 years.

The DPJ, the LDP and Ishin no Kai share the same stance of advocating an increase in the consumption tax rate, but they are divided over the purposes for which the revenues should be spent. The DPJ and the LDP say they all should be used for social security programs, while Ishin no Kai proposes making the consumption tax a local tax. Mirai no To is against the hike.

Party Leaders Traveled 69,000 Km During Campaigns, AKB48 Tries to Get Out the Vote

New Komeito campaign bus

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Leaders of the 12 political parties that fielded candidates in Sunday's House of Representatives election collectively traveled about 69,000 kilometers, equal to 1 ½ times the Earth's circumference, according to Yomiuri Shimbun research. Party leaders traveled across the nation to campaign on behalf of their parties and candidates in the Dec. 16 election, urging support through countless stump speeches. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 17, 2012]

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, traveled 4,400 kilometers in total. Noda voiced criticisms of the Liberal Democratic Party throughout his speeches, describing the party's political leanings as hawkish. But between last Monday and Wednesday morning, Noda limited campaign appearances while on standby for North Korea's announced launch of a rocket believed to be a ballistic missile.

LDP President Shinzo Abe traveled a total of about 8,000 kilometers between Hokkaido and Kyushu. Though Abe resigned as prime minister for health reasons five years ago, he has recently emphasized that he has regained his health. Shintaro Ishihara, leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), made audiences laugh by introducing himself as "a stampeding old man." Ishihara delivered speeches primarily in major cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto. Japanese Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii traveled the greatest distance among party leaders, as he was the only party leader who visited both Hokkaido and Okinawa Prefecture. Nine party leaders visited the three prefectures devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake--Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima--where they promised to speed up reconstruction.

As for AKB48, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Tokyo metropolitan election administration committee is hoping the pulling power of pop idol group AKB48 and a special Facebook page will encourage more young people to vote in the House of Representatives and Tokyo gubernatorial elections Dec. 16. "Do you have your voting card with you?" a member of AKB48 asks visitors to the Facebook page, the first the committee has created for an election. "Don't forget," is the gentle reminder from another member of the all-girl group.

Not only does the page provide information on the candidates and early voting, but visitors who click a button promising they will go to the polls receive AKB48 original wallpaper or other items. The Tokyo metropolitan government's official website is also linked to the page. The committee decided to use Facebook because of its popularity among young people, who generally have a low turnout in elections. In the five previous gubernatorial polls, the voting rate of people in their 20s hovered from 26 percent to 39 percent. Turnout among this age bracket for the most recent election in April 2011 was the highest at 39.16 percent, although this was still well below the overall turnout of 57.8 percent.

In the 10 days following the launch of the Facebook page on Nov. 20, about 4,000 people clicked the "Like" button. The committee said it seems its new project has been well received, despite some criticism about whether it is "really necessary to use pop idols to encourage people to vote?"

Ban on Internet Campaigning 'Ineffective'

In Japan the use of the Internet in election campaigns is prohibited by law. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that even so during the campaign “a number of major political parties have been updating their websites with party executives' event schedules even after the official start of the campaign period for Sunday's House of Representatives election. Some party leaders have continued posting messages on the microblogging site Twitter, and support groups are distributing schedules of candidates' speeches via e-mail. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 12, 2012]

While candidates and campaign staff argue the regulation is outdated, Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry officials say such acts could be considered violations of the law. When an incumbent lawmaker delivered a campaign speech Thursday in Tokyo, one of the campaign staff told supporters there, "When you write on blogs or Twitter, please indicate 'One vote [for the lawmaker].'"

Taking into consideration the possibility of violating the election law, campaign staff have refrained from updating blogs and Twitter on their own after the official start of the election campaign. About the appeal for blog and Twitter support at Thursday's event, another campaign staff member said, "A supporter did that on their own, and it should not be problematic as long as individuals are calling for votes [for the lawmaker] on their own blogs and other such means." The staff member added, "There are many gray zones indeed concerning the use of the Internet.”

An incumbent lawmaker in Shizuoka Prefecture who had a website stopped updating it after the official start of the campaign. But a group of supporters has instead started distributing e-mail newsletters. Anyone who registers can receive the bulletins, which include such information as the schedule of the candidate's street speeches. A campaign staff member for that candidate said: "The support group is distributing [the newsletters]. They just carry the candidate's schedule and do not call for support [for the candidate]." But a ministry official said, "[These cases] could possibly be deemed violating the election law if such acts are part of election campaigning.”

Many first-time candidates lack solid support organizations and therefore want to use the Internet to reach out to as many voters as possible. A first-time candidate of the Liberal Democratic Party in Osaka Prefecture posted a final blog update at midnight on the eve of the official start of the campaign. The candidate complained, "It's just irrational to restrict the use of the Net while calling on young people to participate in politics.”

The election law stipulates that the distribution to large numbers of unspecified people of "literature and images" that have not undergone proper procedures at election administration committees is grounds for imprisonment of up to two years or a fine of up to 500,000 yen. In For the sake of fairness in election campaigning in light of differences in each candidate's financial resources, the law stipulates the number of such items allowed for distribution as well as how they should be distributed. Calling for support through e-mail, blogs and Twitter is prohibited because it is considered to be the distribution of documents in forms not authorized under the law, regardless of whether it is done by a candidate or a supporter. May 2010, the ruling and opposition parties agreed to revise the election law to lift the ban on updating websites and blogs during campaign periods. But the Diet was disrupted over the resignation of then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Since then, such revision has yet to be made.

TV Debate Features Candidates from 11 parties

A television debate during the debate was attended by the leaders of all but one of the 12 political parties. Jiji Press reported: “Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda stressed Friday his readiness to do all he can to enhance social security in a debate between political party leaders ahead of the upcoming general election. Noda, also leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, said, "Based on comprehensive reforms of the social security and tax systems, we will provide firm reassurances to people on pensions or receiving medical and nursing care." [Source: Jiji Press, December 1, 2012]

"In particular, we will offer extensive support for child-rearing," he said during the debate organized by the Japan National Press Club in the run-up to the Dec. 16 election for the House of Representatives. "At stake in the election will be whether to push politics forward or backward," Noda also said.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe emphasized his resolve to take power back from the DPJ, saying, "Our mission is to bring back proper politics." While attaching high priority to combating deflation and curbing the yen's strength, Abe demonstrated his intention to rebuild the Japan-U.S. alliance, which he said had been undermined by the DPJ administration. "We will restore Japan's diplomatic strength," Abe said.

Assassin Candidates in the 2012 Election

Japanese voting in 2012

In the early days of the campaign, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “"Assassin candidates" dispatched to take out opponents from rival parties in keenly contested constituencies began their missions. The candidates, sent like assassins to take out their opponents, switched constituencies in the key districts after the lower chamber was dissolved in an attempt to boost support for their parties. At least one hopeful will enter the race before finding a place to live. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 5, November 29 2012]

While Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, is busy canvassing across the country, Yukiko Miyake, an incumbent lower house member, was sent as an assassin candidate of Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan) to Noda's electoral district of Chiba Constituency No. 4. In the previous election, Miyake ran on the DPJ ticket in Gunma Constituency No. 4. Although she failed to win in the single-seat constituency, she won a lower house seat under the proportional representation bloc. In July, she left the DPJ with former party leader Ichiro Ozawa in disgust at the party leadership's decision to approve the consumption tax hike. She belonged to Ozawa-led People's Life First party and then joined Nippon Mirai no To, created with members of People's Life First party and others.

Miyake started making street speeches before even finding a place to settle, having to move from one hotel to another. The change of her constituency was decided Nov. 16, the day the lower house was dissolved. Miyake is criticizing Noda as "one who is responsible for making people worry about their lives." Despite having won the seat five times, Noda's support base in the district may not be solid enough to guarantee victory. In the 2005 election, he narrowly won the seat by about 900 votes. In the 1996 lower house election, he failed to win by a margin of 105.

Not to be outdone, the DPJ has sent assassin candidates to take out leading incumbent house members who bolted from the ruling party. One such example is Tokyo Constituency No. 15. In the previous election, Shozo Azuma, who ran on the DPJ ticket, won the seat. The DPJ has decided to field Mieko Tanaka in the constituency, an incumbent lower house member who put up a good fight against former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in Ishikawa Constituency No. 2 in the 2009 general election. In the DPJ, both Azuma and Tanaka were close to Ozawa, but Tanaka parted from Ozawa and remained in the DPJ.

DPJ Leaders Criticized on the Election Loss

Jun Kato and Kensaku Fujiwara wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Leaders of the Democratic Party of Japan were chastised for the party's crushing defeat in the House of Representatives election at a closed meeting of its Diet members, defeated candidates and secretaries general of party local branches. While the participants expressed a desire to rebuild the party ahead of the House of Councillors election next summer, the revitalization process is expected to take some time. [Source: December 24, 2012]

The informal meeting was held because many party members had demanded discussions and an analysis of the election results before a new leader is chosen. There were 341 attendees--119 incumbent Diet members, 143 who lost lower house seats, and 79 secretaries general and other senior officials of prefectural federations of party branches. The meeting began at 2 p.m. and lasted for about 2-1/2 hours.

At the start of the meeting, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, outgoing DPJ president, apologized over the lower house election result. "I'm very sorry. I have no words," he said. About 50 attendees criticized members of the party's Standing Officers Council. "Preparations for the election were insufficient despite our being in a position to dissolve the lower house and call a general election," one said. Another said, "The party should not have been constituted in a way that allowed a large number of members to bolt.”

This anger was mainly directed at the party management, which failed to stop many members from leaving the party because of their opposition to integrated social security and tax reform, with the consumption tax hike as its core, as well as the timing of the dissolution and the DPJ's election tactics. Even members of intraparty groups that supported the Noda administration voiced criticism. Makiko Kikuta, a lower house member in a group led by State Minister for National Policy Seiji Maehara, pointed out problems in election preparations. She lost in her constituency but held onto her Diet seat in the proportional representation segment. Noda wore a tense expression on his face throughout the meeting. Those in attendance said Noda did not directly respond to criticism.

Former lower house members who lost their seats in the election and representatives of local branches criticized party executives while urging a speedy recovery of the party. Former lower house member Koji Yazaki said: "No good will come if we can't unite and the DPJ remains a party that can't make decisions. I want the DPJ to engage in decisive politics." Former lower house member Shiori Yamao said: "I want the DPJ to be a united party in which members don't shift blame. If this party can't choose its new leader, I can't continue supporting it.”

LDP heavyweights campaigning in Nagano in 2012

Top Court Says 2012 Election Unconstitutional, but Not Invalid

In November 2013, Reuters reported: “Japan’s top court held unconstitutional some district polls in the 2012 election that brought Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to power because of wide gaps in the weight of rural and urban votes, but stopped short of invalidating the result, the country’s media reported. Holding the elections invalid could have sparked political chaos since no precedent exists, but few had expected the Supreme Court to take that stance since the top judiciary is not known for rocking the establishment boat. The court decision leaves the issue of reforms in lawmakers’ hands. [Source: Reuters, November 21, 2013 ]

“Noting that changes made since last year’s election had not addressed fundamental problems with distribution, the court urged parliament to tackle further reform. “It is necessary to continue to steadily deal with the issue of fixing the electoral system,” Kyodo news agency quoted the court as saying. Critics say Japan’s electoral system gives more influence to rural voters, many of whom are elderly, than to younger city dwellers, so driving politicians to push for policies favoring welfare and protectionism over economic growth. The system has also been credited with keeping Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in power for most of the past 60 years.

“Election reform is a bedrock issue for Abenomics,” wrote Robert Feldman, chief economist at Morgan Stanley MUFG in Tokyo, ahead of the ruling. “Without electoral reform that ends the major disparities of voter weights, the election incentives that have created and preserved vested interests would not change. Hence, both economic and fiscal reform would remain extremely difficult.”

“High courts ruling on 16 lawsuits in March 2013 said elections in 31 of the 300 single-seat districts for parliament’s 480-member lower house last December were unconstitutional, or held in a “state of unconstitutionality”, because of wide disparities in vote weights. A single vote in the least populous district carried 2.43 times the weight of one in the most heavily populated district. Two courts also took the unprecedented step of declaring elections invalid in three constituencies. The Supreme Court ruling covered all those 16 suits.

“The Supreme Court had already ruled in 2011 that because one vote in the least populous district effectively carried the weight of more than two votes in the most populous constituency, the 2009 election was held in a “state of unconstitutionality”, but similarly declined to rule the poll invalid. After that ruling, lawmakers passed a bill to redress the imbalance by cutting one seat from each of five sparsely populated districts. This reduced the maximum disparity to just under two, but the measures had yet to be finalised when a snap election was called. Redistricting has since been completed but disparities remain and have widened in some cases.

“More drastic reforms are needed to reduce the excess clout of vested interests such as farmers and the elderly and ease the way to reforms to generate economic growth, experts said. But some analysts said the outlook for meaningful change remained dim. “They continued the previous warning and didn’t push it up a notch. They are still leaving it to the legislature,” said Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano. Lawyers’ groups have filed separate suits to invalidate the results of last July’s election for parliament’s upper house, in which the maximum vote value disparity was 4.77. Abe’s ruling bloc won that election, resolving a parliamentary deadlock that had hobbled policy steps.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Kantei, Office of the Japanese Prime Minister

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, Mainichi Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2016

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