Sunday 25 November 2012

Election Fever

Last week Prime Minister Noda surprised everyone by announcing that he would call a general election on 16 December and the Diet went into recess two days later. As part of a deal with the opposition last August he'd promised that he would call an election 'in the near future' and there had been much speculation on what exactly this expression chikai uchi ni 近いうちに meant. One month? Two months? Surely not 4 months? It became something of a catch phrase.

No sooner had he made this announcement than MPs began to leave the party in droves some forming new parties, only then to merge with other parties. So in addition to the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (Minshuto 民主党), we have the main opposition party LDP (Jiminto 自民党) led (again!) by former Prime Minister Abe in coalition with the Komeito 公明党 (backed by the Soka Gakkai religious group). There is a Communist Party and then there are all the parties in the middle collectively termed the 'Third Force' (daisankyoku 第三極). It's been a confusing week and at the time of writing there are 15 parties to choose from. As I'm not a Japanese national I don't have the vote but it's difficult trying to differentiate between the parties.

This is the first general election since 3.11 and you'd think, after all the debate, that nuclear would be a major issue but only three minority parties: the Communist Party, the SDP (Shaminto 社民党) and Your Party (Minna no To みんなの党) have come out firmly on the side of a zero nuclear policy. The other parties, under pressure from business and the unions, are fudging the issue. Even Osaka Mayor Hashimoto, who vocally opposed nuclear power at Kansai Electric's AGM earlier in the year seems to have  conceded this issue in order to secure the merger between his Japan Restoration Party (Ishin no Kai  維新の会) and former Tokyo Mayor Ishihara's party.

Here in Fukushima organisers face a logistical nightmare trying to ensure that evacuees get to vote. Polling booths have to set up wherever there are evacuees - and that's every prefecture in Japan! - and people given information about the candidates and motivated to vote.

And a colourful photo in the paper caught my eye. Artisans in Shirakawa hurriedly putting the final touches to the big red daruma dolls which are essential election props. Candidates black in one eye to wish for success and black in the other if they are elected. Shirakawa daruma

For those of you who're interested, the other big election issue is whether Japan should join the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) a nascent free trade organisation to which America, Australia and several east Asian countries have signed up - but not China.

So how's this election going to go? The Japanese made history three years ago when they voted in the DPJ putting an end to 40 years rule by the LDP. But they've been disappointed and I don't think they'll risk another inexperienced party like the Japan Restoration Party. I'd put my money on a forced coalition between the LDP, the DPJ and Komeito, what people here, in a handy shorthand, are calling  Jikomin 自公民. We shall see.
All the best

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