Analysis: Hunger Pains
There were no winners in Sunday's election, says Tokyo commentator Kenji Goto
By HIROKO TASHIRO
Kenji Goto is Japan's preeminent political journalist--working as a columnist for the Kyodo News Service--and the author of several books on Japanese politicians including former prime ministers Noboru Takeshita and Keizo Obuchi. TIME Tokyo reporter Hiroko Tashiro spoke to Goto about Sunday's parliamentary election
TIME: What is your analysis of the results?
Goto: In a sentence, it was an election with no winners. The ruling [Liberal Democratic-led] coalition did lose seats substantially, but they managed to still win a majority and they can run the Diet [parliament] with stability. On the other hand, the Democratic Party of Japan gained more than 30 seats, but they couldn't become the first opposition party to replace the LDP.
TIME: Why was the voting rate lower than expected?
Goto: The main opposition parties couldn't present an appealing policy to replace the ruling coalition. The people are unsatisfied with the status quo, but the favored opposition, the DPJ, was also unreliable, which led to the low voting rate.
Goto: There was a strong resentment against the coalition in the major cities. But in the rural districts, there were no appealing policies presented by the DPJ. Yukio Hatoyama [DPJ head] had a close victory over a new LDP member because he ran an urban-type election in Hokkaido, a district where the people are dependent on public works.
TIME: The DPJ won more votes in urban areas as opposed to the LDP. Is there a possibility of a change in distribution between urban and rural areas?
Goto: That's possible. This election revealed that this issue is going to be the center of conflict. In urban areas, white-collar workers pay their taxes, but get little in return. Rural areas get high returns from the government, including public works and agricultural subsidies. Whether or not the LDP and the DPJ will try to incorporate both urban and rural areas is unclear. The DPJ didn't do well in rural districts, and attention will be directed to whether or not the DPJ will compromise and start making seductive remarks that seem to appeal to voters in rural areas, or reluctantly adhere to policies appealing to urban areas.
TIME: How do the results affect Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori?
Goto: There is an overwhelming number of ruling party members who believe they suffered a close election because of Mori's gaffes. In the near future, there will be an energy within the LDP to drive off Mori with next year's Upper House election coming up. There will be a strong opinion among the Komei and New Conservative party members that they can't fight an election under Mori. If this becomes a reality, the decision to get rid of Mori will be given consideration.
TIME: Do you think there will there be a change in how the Komeito will cooperate within the coalition, because they suffered a defeat in the election due to a lack of votes from supporters of the LDP?
Goto: In the LDP-SP-Sakigake coalition in 1994, the LDP supported the policies of the Socialist Party, which had only 15 seats. To keep the coalition alive, the Komeito's policies will be increasingly taken into account.
TIME: Will Mori keep his Cabinet members?
Goto: There's no possibility that the coalition would get rid of Mori until the upcoming G-8 Summit. The only available time would be between this autumn and the end of the year. There will be a Cabinet reshuffle in December to prepare for the restructuring of government ministries and agencies. This Cabinet will only last for six months, because of the reshuffle.
TIME: Do you think the weather had any effect on this election?
Goto: No. It was raining in Tokyo, but it was clear in Hokkaido and the Tohoku region. The voters were unsatisfied with Mori, but there wasn't anybody who measured up as a replacement among the opposition. Everybody was hungry, but there was no dish on the menu that they wanted to eat.
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