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Celeb candidates stung by real election hero


TV Tokyo began its summary coverage of last Sunday’s Upper House election later than the other stations, and included some genuine theater: A short dramatization of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s “crushing defeat.”

In this film, actors portrayed principals in the political drama that had just unfolded, and went further with a projection that indicated Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would step down and be replaced by the current foreign minister, Taro Aso.

The drama was a bold idea. Some of the actors were fairly well-known, so the production entailed a certain amount of expense and planning, not to mention risk. Obviously, well before Sunday, TV Tokyo was sure the LDP would be defeated big time.

The part about Aso emerging as prime minister wasn’t the only (as yet) unfulfilled speculation. The drama also projected that Tamisuke Watanuki and Shizuka Kamei, who had bolted the LDP in protest over former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s post-office reform in 2005 to create the People’s New Party, would return to the LDP fold as “casting votes,” meaning politicians who provide enough edge to guarantee that a party’s legislation will pass. Watanuki was a guest in the TV Tokyo studio while the drama was aired, and he was furious. “We’ll never rejoin the LDP,” he said with a yakuza-like growl. I’d like to think that TV Tokyo made the drama just to elicit this reaction.

The People’s New Party’s star candidate, former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, lost, and blamed his defeat on the fact that he couldn’t come to Japan and campaign in person. Being under house arrest in Chile can certainly be a hindrance to one’s political ambitions.

Other celebrity candidates did better. Yoshio Yokomine, the father of golf-prodigy Sakura Yokomine, won for the Democratic Party of Japan, while Hiroyuki Yoshiie, a reformed juvenile delinquent who is famous for setting other juvenile delinquents on the straight-and-narrow, won at the last minute for the LDP. Yoshiie caused the education ministry grief and expense when he announced his candidacy after first saying he wouldn’t run. He had appeared in a videotape distributed to schools, which the ministry then had to recall because his unexpected candidacy meant they were then violating election-campaign laws.

Then there was former TV Asahi announcer and University of Tokyo graduate Tamayo Marukawa, an LDP candidate. Prior to election day, Marukawa went to her Tokyo ward office to submit an absentee ballot with TV crews in tow and emerged red-faced to announce that she had forgotten to reregister her residence when she moved back to Japan from New York, and so couldn’t vote. In fact, it turns out she hasn’t voted for some time.

LDP honcho Takeo Hiranuma made sure the public knew she was suitably remorseful. At each subsequent campaign stop, Marukawa bowed deeply and sometimes even wept openly while Hiranuma dramatically scolded her at length in front of onlookers. Who says politics isn’t entertaining?

Kanako Otsuji might be considered a celebrity candidate of sorts, since she’s the first openly gay person to seek national office. She lost, but before the results were confirmed she was interviewed live on Nihon TV by comedian Shinsuke Shimada.

Other commercial stations hired showbiz talent to spice up their election coverage, but generally they weren’t on hand to comment on the voting. They were mostly there as glorified newsreaders and visual distractions.

Shimada, however, prides himself on being wise to current events and he added his two cents to the punditry. His interview with Otsuji suffered because of this pride. Shimada is a talker, not a listener; the kind of interlocutor who frames a question with the answer already included. “Because you came out, a lot of gay people were encouraged, weren’t they?” he asked Otsuji, who could only reply, “Yes.” It was a one-sided conversation.

It was also hypocritical. Like all TV comedians, Shimada makes fun of homosexuals in his work, and in the past Otsuji complained about the stereotyped media image of gays that those sort of jokes reinforce. Since Shimada dominated the interview, it wasn’t a topic that was likely to come up, and it didn’t.

All of the postelection surveys came to the same simple conclusion: The LDP lost because the electorate doesn’t like what they are doing. The DPJ’s victory had nothing to do with its policies: An Asahi Shimbun survey found that only 4 percent of the people who voted for the DPJ said they support party chief Ichiro Ozawa. The DPJ simply tapped into the citizens’ disappointment with the administration’s money scandals and its focus on ideological issues rather than policies that improve people’s lives.

The real DPJ hero of the election may have been Akira Nagatsuma, who wasn’t even a candidate. He’s a DPJ member of the Lower House, and the man who uncovered the pension scandal that became one of the main reasons for the LDP’s defeat. Nagatsuma is not an ex-bureaucrat, nor a celebrity, nor the scion of a political family. He’s a former salaryman who understands how people live. By looking into the pension problem, he did what a public servant should do and became the go-to guy whenever the media needed someone to discuss it. He not only showed up the LDP for ignoring the problem for decades, he also showed up the opposition — including his DPJ colleagues — who are so obsessed with “power games” that they never realized there was a problem.

Abe’s dream is to rid Japan of the “postwar regime” by changing the Constitution and making a “beautiful country,” vague aims that most voters don’t understand and don’t care about. Nagatsuma represents the opposite style of governing. The election results indicate it seems to be the one they want.

Masako Tsubuku contributed to this column.