Japan Upper House election: did the DPJ pay the price for a serious head fake against it?

Or is this simply more unwinding of Ichiro Ozawa’s last gambit?

The results are no suprise that Jiminto (the LDP) won handsomely. Out of the half of seats (121) that were up for Sunday’s election, the projections are that LDP won well over 70. Combining this with the 59 it had, which were not up, gives it a majority now in the Upper House. Its junior coalition member, New Komeito, adds maybe another 10 seats to boost the coalition majority, but, overall, the strength is less than the 2/3rds that would allow Prime Minister Abe to ramrod serious Constitutional changes through the Japanese parliament.

In so far as the pending consumption tax hike to 8% (April 2014) was a campaign issue, it could be that the Finance Ministry did the DPJ quite an injustice. People who follow Japan may remember that the consumption tax hike bill was one of the last things passed when DPJ still controlled the Lower House. However, it was a bill that was aggressively sponsored by the Finance Ministry heads, who (correctly) pointed out that Japan needs adequate funding sources to support social insurance payments.

Abe Shinzo looks to have turned that all around, and leaned on the Bank of Japan to provide easy money instead of tax hikes. He also talked of delaying or cancelling the consumption tax hike. Whether this was all a campaign ruse is what the Japanese public is going to find out in coming months.

The other angle to this election is that it seems to be the unwinding of what Ozawa Ichiro built in 2007, the last time these seats were up.

At that time, there was still a disgust in the Japanese hinterlands for former Prime Minister Koizumi’s postal privatization bill, which took spending power away from the barons of the various farflung feifdoms throughout Japan. The read on the bill was that those barons would no longer be able to use postal deposits to fund porkbarrel projects for their districts. Ozawa played this resentment up, and won a lot of non-traditional district seats for the DPJ.

But, since the last six years were a fiasco for these same districts under the DPJ, we see how that was going to turn out.

So, to me, the 2013 election is simply putting back Japanese politics to where Koizumi had left it in 2006. Abe is being handed what he might have thought he should have had, had the postal privatization bill never made it through the Diet in 2005. What’s unclear, of course, is what he gets to do with a government where the Upper House will no longer stymie bills proposed in the Lower. The minority of voters (33%) who actually went out and voted on Sunday apparently don’t care.