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Cover Stories Series 2013> Monitoring East China Sea Airspace> Archive
UPDATED: November 26, 2012 NO. 48 NOVEMBER 29, 2012
Japan's Political War
The dissolution of the Japanese lower house triggers a new round of political discord
By Ding Ying

There are 480 seats in the lower house of the Japanese National Diet, 300 of which are elected from single-seat constituencies in first-past-the-post contests. The other 180 are chosen by proportional representation from 11 multi-seat constituencies. In December, there will be over 1,100 candidates attending the election.

The two leading parties in Japan are the ruling DPJ and the largest opposing LDP. Meanwhile, former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, known for his strongly nationalistic views, launched the new Sunrise Party on November 13, aiming to challenge the DPJ and the LDP in the House of Representatives election. Ishihara and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, head of the Japan Restoration Party, reached an agreement on November 17 to merge their new nationalist parties for the upcoming general election.

According to a poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun about the proportional election of the House of Representatives, which was released on November 17, the LDP would gain 26 percent of votes, the DPJ 13 percent, the new "third force" 13 percent, with the other parties splitting the rest.

These ratings showed it will be nearly impossible for the DPJ to win the coming election. In a poll conducted in July 2009, it got a 42-percent approval, while the LDP only had 23 percent. Meanwhile, Noda's dissolution of the lower house did not have the full support of the DPJ. By November 16, nine DPJ parliament members had quit the party, threatening the DPJ's majority in the lower house. Moreover, some DPJ parliament members are planning to switch to the LDP.

"The DPJ division is even clearer, proving that the party's internal cohesion is very weak. Without forming a common mind, it will be hard for the DPJ to compete with the LDP in the coming election," said Pang.

The LDP is very optimistic about the coming election. "A historic battle has been launched," said Shinzo Abe, former Prime Minister and head of the LDP.

Pang said that if the LDP can win an absolute majority of the lower house, which is over 260 seats, it will form an LDP cabinet. But if it gets only a relative majority (over 245 seats), it will have to form a coalition with another party or other parties. It will most likely choose its traditional ally, the New Komeito Party, which has been withstanding the DPJ together with the LDP during the past year.

Although recent polls showed that the LDP could gain the most seats in the election, the most likely outcome is that no party will take the majority.

While the DPJ's failure looms ahead, it doesn't mean that the LDP is going to be the final winner, said Liu.

Pang believed the LDP's challenge is from several emerging smaller parties, which are mostly conservative or right wing. The combination of these parties will steal the LDP's votes, like the "third force." "The LDP is hard pressed to gain the majority because of the scattered votes," said Pang.

Observers agreed that whoever takes over Noda's job will face major challenges.

Japan's economy is in recession. The country's GDP decreased 3.5 percent in the third quarter from the same period last year. The recent voluntary boycott of Japanese goods on the part of Chinese consumers over territorial disputes made the situation worse.

"Japan's next prime minister must show some capability of reviving the country's economy if he wants to stay in the position longer," said Pang. He suggested the Japanese Government should strike a balance between domestic demand and export markets, adding that the next government must also realize that negative diplomatic relationships with its neighbors can deal a huge blow to a country like Japan, which heavily relies on exports.

In the past decade, Japanese leaders have changed so frequently that other countries' officials have complained they cannot remember Japanese high-level officials' names. Recently, many of the countries' leaders have canceled scheduled meetings with Noda, believing it will be a waste of time to meet a prime minister who is going to step down.

"Unstable governments create unstable diplomatic policies," said Pang. He predicted the next Japanese cabinet will issue new diplomatic policies quite different from those of the DPJ administration.

Chinese observers pointed out that if either the DPJ or LDP keeps a hard-line tone against China, the Sino-Japanese relationship will continue to suffer.

Email us at: dingying@bjreview.com

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