Most observers are betting the Democratic Party of Japan will win the Aug. 30 Lower House election, with their focus now on just how big the DPJ’s victory will be.
However, some say the DPJ will not score the massive landslide as indicated in the latest opinion polls.
“The people want to give the DPJ a chance, they want to see a change in government power,” said Rei Shiratori, president of the Institute for Political Studies in Japan.
Shiratori, however, predicted the DPJ will not be able to capture a majority in the 480-seat Lower House, unlike others who foresee the party grabbing anywhere from 300 to 390 seats.
In the last Lower House election, held in September 2005 under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the LDP won by a landslide highlighted by the huge number of seats it gained in urban areas, particularly Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka.
Out of the 25 seats up for grabs in Tokyo, the DPJ only got one — filled by deputy chief Naoto Kan — while the LDP captured 23 and its ruling coalition partner, New Komeito, got the remaining one.
So even though the mainstream feeling is that the DPJ is in the driver’s seat, its candidates in urban areas are engaging in “surprisingly” close battles, Shiratori said.
“The LDP has incumbents (in Tokyo, Kanagawa and Osaka) and that has an effect,” he said. “But the DPJ is currently stronger in agricultural districts.”
There are 300 single-seat districts up for grabs and 180 seats in the proportional representation system.
Shiratori said that even if the DPJ scores gains in the single-seat districts, many key LDP lawmakers will still return to the Lower House because they are highly ranked on the party’s proportional representation list.
The political analyst explained that the LDP lawmakers would become “zombies” who first “die” after losing in their single-seat districts but rise from the dead in the proportional representation segment.
Key LDP lawmakers, including Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano, consumer affairs minister Seiko Noda, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura and ex-Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa, are all listed as dual candidates.
“So LDP lawmakers become like zombies, once being buried in a cemetery but coming back to life again abruptly after midnight through the proportional representation,” Shiratori said. “They are called zombies because (their return) occurs after midnight, after the single-seat district results are in.”
Formed in 1955, the LDP has been in power ever since except for a brief absence in the early 1990s.
The election is expected to be historic in that for the first time voters effectively have a realistic two-party choice.
Various opinion polls show voters have a strong interest in the election and a large majority plan to go to the polls.
Analysts say that is bad news for the LDP.
“The higher the voter turnout, the worse for the LDP,” Shiratori said. “The more people vote, the more they would be voting for the DPJ.”
During a debate Monday hosted by the Japan National Press Club, DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama stressed the word “change” just like U.S. President Barack Obama did during his campaign.
“Please give us the power to win government power for your lives, for your future,” Hatoyama said. “Let’s change together and revitalize Japan.”
Prime Minister Taro Aso, on the other hand, pitched the LDP’ as “consistent” and “responsible.”
“What I want the public to understand is the power of responsibility,” Aso said. “The LDP has a consistent policy platform and has the ability to achieve its goals.”
But Etsushi Tanifuji, a political science professor at Waseda University, said the LDP should start preparing to become an opposition party.
“The people had hopes (after the 2005 general election), but they are now disappointed and disillusioned,” Tanifuji said. “From now on, the LDP will be tested on its ability to be an opposition force.”