On April 12th and 26th in Japan two rounds of elections to local authorities were held. In the first round, 10 (out of 47) of governors of prefectures were elected, as well as the mayors of five large cities and members of representative bodies (assemblies) at various levels.
In the second round mayors of 131 cities and towns, as well as 11 (out of 23) special districts of Tokyo, were elected. In several hundreds of municipalities deputies of the assemblies were elected.
Special attention of the election campaign was paid to the ambiguous effects of the series of measures in the economic sphere, taken by the government of Shinzō Abe (so-called “Abenomics”). At their base is the artificial weakening of the national currency in order to improve the competitive position of national industry, for the most part working for foreign markets.
The views of the candidates on the issues of the resumption of nuclear power plants, Japan’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), as well as relations with China and the United States were also quite important.
A sufficiently clear character, confirming the emerging trends in recent years in the political life of Japan, was characteristic of the first round results. Candidates from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won all the gubernatorial elections in 40 (out of 41) local assemblies.
Regarded as the main opposition force, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has suffered another heavy defeat, despite carefully preparing for the held elections, seeing them as a “key element” of the process of revival . Candidates from the DPJ won 3.5 time less (than representatives of the LDP) seats in the assemblies, falling short by 40% of their result for the previous elections in 2011.
The results of the second round had a less certain character. Especially due to the fact, that 30-40% of mayors and more than 20% of assembly members became winners owing to the absence of competition. In addition, a significant number of applicants did not position themselves as followers of either party.
In three out of five important cities and metropolitan districts where the opposition parties put forward their competitors, the representatives of the LDP were defeated.
Apparently, lesser distinctness of the outcome of the second round of elections to local authorities allowed the DPJ Secretary General Yukio Edano to make the statement that the party had reached the bottom of its fall in popularity and is now gradually recovering its position in the eyes of voters.
As for the leaders of the LDP, the head of the secretariat of the Japanese government Yoshihide Suga assessed the outcome of the same elections as another expression of confidence by the Japanese in the economic policy of the party. In this regard the results of the general parliamentary elections of the past two years, which invariably ended in a convincing victory for the LDP, are implied.
As befits politicians, each of them expressed varying degrees of public optimism, regardless of the doubtfulness of the cause. Since one can hardly make any definite conclusions due to the very low turnout at the elections to local authorities during recent decades, which in April 2015 was in the range of 45-50%.
As the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Japan informed, commenting on the recent elections, one can only talk about the apathy of Japanese voters with certainty.
This is explicable, because in the background of the growing number of questions for the LDP’s economic and foreign policy plans, voters, having given up their illusions from the appearance of a new political force in the name of the DPJ in the last decade, do not see the next significant political player worth of attention.
However, this (albeit not new) player may still appear in the name of the Communist Party of Japan. For one of the most important results of the last elections was confirmation of the trend outlined in the last two or three years towards the revival of the CPJ. Although it is still far from the significance in Japan’s political arena that it possessed in the 50s of the last century.
According to the recent elections, the CPJ will now be represented in all 47 prefectural assemblies, having increased by one third the number of its deputies to local legislative bodies of different levels.
Commenting on the results of the first round of the elections, the British weekly The Economist noted that the CPJ could become a leading opposition political force in the country. In its ranks today there are about 300 thousand members (in the LDP – more than 700 thousand), and in 2014 alone it admitted 10 thousand people to membership. The circulation of the daily newspaper “Red Flag” is 1.2 million copies.
The political platform of the CPJ has changed only a little as compared to the peak of its popularity the 50s of the last century, when Japanese society was undergoing a tough struggle over the problem of choosing the country’s foreign policy.
Today, the CPJ opposes the military-political alliance with the United States and acceding to the TTP, as well as reducing legal barriers to the transition of the country’s military-political activity beyond its national borders. “Abenomics” is subject to tough criticism as leading to increased social and economic disparities among the population, as well as the government’s plans to resume nuclear work. All this contributes to the popularity of the party.
At the same time the accumulation of negative feelings in the population from the actions of the current government of the LDP may lead to the fact that the pendulum of sentiment will swing sharply away from this party. This already happened at the end of the last decade, when the indisputable leadership position of the LDP in its first half had been completely lost in the second.
In the fall of 2009, in general elections to the lower house of parliament the LDP suffered a crushing defeat by the DPJ, which had accumulated by this time the capital of “positive expectations” in the different layers of the Japanese public. However, to a large extent it was squandered after only a year in power.
In conditions of a fully possible aggravation of the economic and foreign policy issues of Japan, the role of the main opposition political force (instead of “centrists” in the name of the current DPJ) could go to the more radical left-wing party, which is the CPJ.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific region, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.