The overwhelming victory of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito coalition in the July 10 Upper House election overshadowed regional results that suggest growing numbers of voters in certain parts of Japan aren’t as dedicated to the LDP as it first appears.
It’s true that, with 146 of the 242 Upper House seats, the coalition is in firm control. But when looking at who won what, and where, the picture becomes more complicated.
There were 73 single-district seats up for grabs. The ruling coalition roughly split the country, taking about 26 seats in districts west and northwest of Aichi Prefecture and the remainder to its east. But the Democratic Party did far better in eastern, and northern, Japan than in the west.
Only five of the Democratic Party’s 21 single seat winners won west of Nagoya. The Democrats did particularly well in the traditional LDP strongholds of the Tohoku region and Hokkaido for a couple of reasons. In Tohoku, there is a growing sense that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP and Komeito reflect the values of wealthy urbanites, not those in a rural region who are struggling to rebuild from the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and subsequent meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The second reason is one the Tokyo-based media failed to fully appreciate: the depth of unease over the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. For too long, Japan’s national media have avoided serious questions about whether the agreement is really good for Japan as a whole, or good only for major Japanese corporations that will benefit from it — especially those that spend huge amounts of money on advertising in those same national media.
Regional media in Tohoku and Hokkaido, however, have spent years analyzing the pros and cons of the TPP, leading to knowledgeable questions and concerns among local voters that the candidates were forced to address in ways they don’t have to when being questioned by some Tokyo-based TV pundit. The election results indicated a lot of these voters had doubts about the way the LDP and Komeito have handled the TPP.
And western Japan? With only five seats won by the Democrats, and none by the Japan Communist Party, it’s clear that, west of Nagoya, the LDP and Komeito still have the power to stave off the opposition (Okinawa excepted). Rural areas — including most of Kyushu, all of Shikoku and the ultraconservative Hokuriku region — all went for an LDP candidate.
But even Osaka and neighboring Hyogo Prefecture saw LDP, Komeito and Osaka Ishin no Kai (which resembles the LDP in most ways) candidates winning all of the single seats. In Kyoto, where Osaka Ishin has never been popular, one LDP and one Democratic Party member won.
Lots of explanations have been offered as to why opposition parties fared poorly in western Japan: lack of local organization, an image of catering more to city-dwelling intellectuals, or too tied to trade unions that are strong in the central and eastern parts of the country but weak in the west.
Those perceptions are true or at least plausible. But a quick glance at the current Abe Cabinet reveals that, with the exception of Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki, who lost his Fukushima seat in the election, and Olympics Minister Toshiaki Endo, who is from Yamagata Prefecture, none are from Tohoku or Hokkaido. On the other hand, 11 ministers, including Abe himself, represent areas west of Nagoya or in the Hokuriku region.
Thus the presence of so many senior ministers from those parts of the country also played an important role in determining the LDP’s fate in other districts, especially those where its candidates were not as nationally visible, or as close to the centers of power in Tokyo, as their western Japan counterparts.
View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.
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