The Curtain Goes Up for Japanese Election Drama

August 18, 2009


In our previous post about the Japanese general elections we spoke of the theatrics of this year's ballot. Well the show has officially begun, the campaigning period starting this very day, August 18th. With a variety of restrictions on the use of media and promotional materials, including online tools such as Twitter, candidates and party leaders are hitting the pavement and holding street-side addresses in an effort to woo passers-by. A popular spot for these speeches in metropolitan areas are crowded train stations in the candidate's constituency. Alternatively there are the election-vans that zip around mounted with quite impressive and somewhat noisy loudspeaker systems, decrying the candidate's or affiliated party's election promises. It is truly a site to be seen, or heard as the case may be.

Enough of the theatrics for now. Another facet of politics in Japan, and journalism for that matter, is a fixation with figures. While political jostling makes for great entertainment, digits are an all important part of the mix. Here are just a few from coverage this morning that help set the stage for polling day.

A total of 1,374 people have filed their candidacies to be in the running for one of 480 seats available in the Lower House, a full 243 more candidates than in the 2005 elections. 1134 of these candidates are running for seats in the 300 single seat constituencies. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is fielding 326 candidates and the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), is fielding 330. This is the first time that the DPJ has fielded more candidates than the LDP in Lower House elections.

How is the math working now? I'll spare you a breakdown of the other political parties for now.

Other numbers of interest in this election include:

  1. This election looks to be the first complete change of political power in Japan in over half a century. The LDP has held political rule for the last 54 years, baring a 10 month break in ‘93~'94 where a coalition of smaller parties took power.
  2. This election also looks to set the stage for a true two-party political arena and a move away from the LDP status quo.
  3. Three times a charm! The use of political manifestos has finally taken center stage in their third appearance in Japan's general elections. The first in 2003 and second in 2005 were brought to you through the strategic counsel of our very own FH Japan.
  4. Since the last elections in 2005 Japan has seen four Prime Ministers. Four PMs in four years. Four is an unlucky number in Japan by the way…
  5. A key issue being debated is the need, or lack thereof, to raise consumption tax which currently sits at 5%. The LDP has indicated it would raise the tax once Japan emerges from the current economic downturn, but has not elaborated on exactly when and how much consumption tax hikes would be. The DPJ on the other hand has promised to maintain the tax at its current level for the duration of the party's first term.