Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2014.12.22

Myths about Abe's Victory

JBpress on December 19, 2014

All is fair in democracy, as long as candidates abide by the electoral rules. The winners don't have to do a lot if the losers are destined to lose. This was the case in last week's general election in Japan. The opposition parties were divided, weak and unprepared, and Abe took a chance. The imperturbable voters don't wholeheartedly support Abe but gave Abenomics a second chance.

Some pundits have criticized Abe's victory. Their conclusions, however, are based on stereotypical myths and, in many cases, miss the most important issues. Their observations are generally shallow, if not amateurish and their subjective creeds and personal beliefs seem to eclipse the objective facts about the election results. For example, an influential critic states:

"While the ruling coalition gained a seat, the LDP lost four seats dropping from 295 to 291"
This observation ignores that the total number of seats in the lower house was reduced from 480 to 475. Percentagewise, the LDP ratio remains at the same level, i.e. 61.46% in 2012 and 61.26% this time. Such a superficial analysis may mislead many ordinary readers.

"Turnout was a record postwar low of 53.3 percent, 6 points below the 2012 general election"
Be more objective and fair. The voter turnouts in the last five United States presidential elections, for example, have been 58.2% in 2012, 56.8% in 2008, 55.27% in 2004, 51.30% in 2000 and just 49.08 in 1996. It is no surprise that the turnout in the 2014 U.S. mid-term election was only 36.3%.

"The LDP won 75 percent of the seats in single-member districts with just 48 percent of the vote"
This is the common dilemma of the single-seat district electoral system which is also used in the United States, the United Kingdom and many other British Commonwealth nations. Japan uses a mixture of single-seat district and proportionate representation systems.

The issue here is the so-called "dead votes" in the single-seat district system. LDP's 48% is a great number, given that Japan has multiple political parties. Even under such two-party system as in the United States, President Obama was re-elected with only 50.9% of the total votes in 2012, when GOP candidate Romney won 47.1%. Thus, more than 60 million votes were "dead."

"The LDP won nearly twice the number of seats in 2009 with 1.8 million fewer votes than in 2009"
The reason for this is the different voter turnouts in 2009 and 2014 which are "given conditions" in the elections and are equally applied to every single candidate. The real problem for Japan is that in 2012 and 2014 the opposition parties lost so many votes which they had won in 2009.

"One big winner was the Japan Communist Party (JCP), which got the protest votes"
In the history of Japan's parliamentary elections, the JCP always wins a big number of protest votes whenever major political parties lose credibility. This time, however, it was not the LDP's but the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)'s votes which went to the JCP as protest votes.

"'Snap' elections are held when a government loses its majority in parliament"
Who ever said this? The Israeli Prime Minister doesn't dissolve the Knesset because he loses his majority. As stated before, all is fair in democratic elections. The silent majority of Japanese consider that the Prime Minister can always constitutionally dissolve the Diet, Japan's parliament, at his will.

Under democracy, the electoral rules apply non-discriminatorily to all. In 2011, for example, the DPJ Prime Minister could have dissolved the Diet but he didn't, and actually couldn't due to political considerations. That was his political decision at that time and this time it was Abe's. In a nutshell, all of the above critical remarks about Abe's victory miss the following fundamental features of the 2014 general election.

-Simply put, the Japanese voters didn't trust the opposition parties. The trauma of the DPJ's rule between 2009 and 2012 still lingers and memories of their fiascos are still vivid. Actually, Abe didn't win. Those in the opposition just could not unite themselves and haven't done anything for the past two years. Abe's LDP was a reluctant choice for the silent majority of Japanese.

-A striking result was the disappearance of the "Party for Future Generations," a right-wing ultra-conservative group of politicians, whose number of seats dropped from 19 to only 2. This simply shows that the recent "Japan Drifting to the Right" campaign against Tokyo was an illusion. They received so few votes that they could not get a seat in proportionate representation.

-Another notable result was the fact that, according to a Kyodo News survey, 84.8% of the winning candidates in the election approve of amending Japan's Constitution. 50-60% of them support additional human rights provisions, easing procedures for constitutional amendments or strengthening the Prime Minister's authority in emergencies.

Right-wingers lost seats but constitutional amendments are favored by more parliamentarians. Is Japan tilting to the right? Hardly. Japan is finally getting back to the center. We should not ignore the fact that even among DPJ parliamentarians 62.5% endorse constitutional change. This is Japan's democracy that no one should underestimate.