August 30 general election in Japan

Japan will be holding a general election later this month, as I was posting about yesterday. It is for Japan’s “lower house” of the parliament (called the “Diet”), and off the top of my head I forget what this is called. It might be House of Representatives. The upper house here is the House of Councillors, and is meant primarily to be a check on the lower house.

There are 480 seats in the lower house.

Currently, the Diet is split. It has been heavily controlled by the Liberal Democrats, “the LDP” or Jiminto (自民党) in Japanese. This was the result of the September 2005 general election, when the LDP won a landslide under Prime Minister Koizumi. He ran on a postal privatization platform, and his party and its allies picked up 320 something seats.

In 2007, there was a backlash in the upper house elections, because it became known that the Japanese pension administrator lost 50 million records. Up until very recently in Japan, you had a new social security number every time you started a new job. And there was no statement of contributions, or anything to really show that money withheld ended up as a credit to you. And if you got married and changed your name, that was an even bigger mess!

So a lone soul who was told to “shove it” by a local pension office, made a big brouhaha about it. The rival party, the Democratic Party of Japan, “DPJ” or Minshuto (民主党), picked up on that and other related saftey net issues, to win a big majority of the upper house.

So, for the last two years, there has been a standoff of sorts here in Japan politics. The lower house still had its big 2005 Koizumi landslide result. But the upper house, which can veto whatever the lower house passes, was controlled by the opposition party.

The LDP had just enough of a majority in the lower house to override any veto by the upper house. And so that’s how any controversial laws that did get passed, would pass.

Since Prime Minister Koizumi, Japan has had three other prime ministers. Off memory, I think their names were Shinzo Abe, Takeo(?) Fukuda, and Taro Aso, the most recent. They seemed to last about a year, and get frustrated and quit. The last one called the August election after poor results for the LDP in the Tokyo regional election July 12.

The LDP has pretty much run Japan since 1955. (That is, since shortly after General MacArthur, then General Ridgeway, and the U.S. Occupation here came to an end running the place.) There have been various factions within the LDP party, and they have traded and switched off between them.

But it is a one-party state. And anyone remembering my local New Jersey criticism about one-party control for long time periods knows that I think the smell of corruption can arise after a few decades of it.

The news polls suggest that the rival party, the DPJ, will win a noticeable victory on the 30th, and form the next government. But it remains to be seen. Part of the lower house is picked by districts, and the rest is filled “at-large” based on party preference. The DPJ would have to pick up 241 seats for a mathematical majority. Although there is some talk that they might seek an alliance with a group called New Komeito 公明党, if they don’t get the 241. New Komeito is the political arm of a Buddhist religious following here known as Soka Gakkai.

As an American, I have a good feeling about this. But also a bad feeling. What is good is that it sounds like the Japanese are finally going to enjoy something that our fighting boys of my grandparent’s generation died face down in the sand for: the orderly exchange of power in the democratic tradition between rival parties.

But the flipside is what we as Americans might be getting.

It’s clear to me that the LDP is less “pro-American” than it is “pro take advantage of the Americans as jovial suckers who can be easily bought off”.

(This is compared to Red China which, as payback for a part of World War II called the “Second Sino Japanese War”, would probably just blow 5% of Japan away, imprison 25% of the male population in labor re-education camps, and leave the rest of the population to a slow starvation like Hitler tried to do to Vichy France.)

Ever since Prime Minister Yoshida (1947?), it’s been Japan’s goal to win the peace. So I think on key issues, the LDP has cooperated very strongly with America, but then behind our back spited us left-and-right. (Hey, another post!)

The DPJ coming in, potentially they will be giving a tougher line to America. In earlier times, they said they weren’t happy with the Status of Forces Agreement (“SOFA”) by which 40,000 of our troops are stationed around Japan. They also want a “more equal” alliance partnership, whatever this exactly means.

In the DPJ’s recent campaign manifesto and in recent weeks, they have backpedaled a bit on these positions, which has the LDP livid. The LDP had been using us as a selling point to the Japanese for over 50 years, and now it sounds like the DPJ doesn’t think we’re so bad, either.

As a taxpaying American, as well as American paying taxes to Japan, I welcome any discussion about Our Role Here. As a four-year resident, I have a laundry list of things I don’t like. And if the new government wanted to debate the value of America to Japan, I think it’s a debate long overdue. But not the debate Japan would want.