Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Juggling elections...

Election day, 2010
Japan's Upper House election: why does it matter?

I've managed to time my annual research trip to Japan to coincide with the Upper House election in Tokyo in 21 July. Well, it's a little borderline, classes actually start on 22 July this year. Oh well, I consider it good up-to-date material to present...

Of course, currency with my field of teaching is just one reason why I like to make a regular trip to Japan. This time however, the outcome of the Japanese election could be quite important. Should the Liberal Democratic Party win a majority in the House of Councillors (a weaker version of the Australian Senate) then it will have the numbers to make major changes to the 1947 Constitution. This could have serious ramifications for the region. 
Candidates board, 2010

The incumbent Prime Minister Abe is said to be keen to 'take care if some national security business left unfinished' when he left office last time (Asahi Shimbun editorial, 8 July 2013). The proposed changes to the Constitution might lead to a stronger military interpretation of Article 9.

There are a couple of other reasons though why this election might be interesting from an Australian point of view. In Prime Minister ABE Shinzo, we have a former prime minister returning for a second go after being humbled out of office six years ago. PM Abe is building a high profile on social media using both twitter and facebook. Indeed, this is the first election where previously strict rules governing use of media have been somewhat relaxed. A number of politicians and candidates have taken up twitter as have their supporters. People still angry with the fallout from Fukushima are active users of twitter and have run a strong high profile campaign. The twitter map below (courtesy of BillioMedia and Asahi Shimbun) show tweets about nuclear energy outweigh others which include tweets about the internet and campaigning, economic policy and 'Abenomics'.
Mapping tweets... (Source: Asahi Shimbun)

We will also be watching the outcome of electronic voting.

Of course, all eyes will be on Abe as he negotiates his second term at PM, not unlike the political situation here in Australia. In a fit of party reform some years ago, the LDP also shifted its voting system for party president (who then becomes party leader/prime minister) to incorporate rank and file party members to be included in the voting process. This was also seen as trying to open up the party to its broader membership.

I will also be watching with interest how successful women candidates will be this time around. There are some high profile women in the Upper House and their success or otherwise will also tell us much about the current state of Japanese politics. Women have been quite prominent across a number of issues in Japan especially around Fukushima, nuclear power and the future health of their children. How will this translate to voting intention and voting outcome.

Engaging young people in the process is also key. One of the more high profile candidates, actor Yamamoto Taro, has been attracting large crowds to his stump speeches around Tokyo, I hope to see some of this activity over the next few days. Voting is not compulsory in Japan, unlike Australia. The activities of younger, charismatic candidates like Yamamoto are generating a new level of engagement.

Much is to be anticipated in this election for Japan. I look forward to reporting from the frontline next week.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The view from here: Griffith in 2013 (2.0 in a series)

I could not stand idly by...

The good burghers of Griffith find themselves being represented by the nation's prime minister again. Kevin Rudd has made the comeback he clearly thought he had to make to save the nation from a Tony Abbott-led government, or so he determined. I discussed the events as they unfolded on 26 June over at the twelvepastsix blog. 

The local paper (cheekily) sums it up.
We've been enduring a rather questionable period in our nation's politics, and it is now well beyond the apathy v. distrust questions which triggered this blog originally. 

There has been an underlying visceral combativeness that has not advanced our public discourse. In a forthcoming post, I will look more closely at the speech Kevin Rudd made on the day. This passage of politics has been a most interesting example of the intersection between politicians and the media, both social and 'mainstream'. There are elements of his speech which had me raising my eyebrows. How do I as a political scientist explain with conviction to students that when a politician says no, they mean no, but later on they actually didn't mean that. There are many examples. 

In the same vein, much was also said about the contrast in the speeches given by Julia Gillard on the day too...there is perhaps a deeper feminist analysis to be made there. 

The Saturday following the change in leaders, the street corners here in the electorate of Griffith were again populated by volunteers cheering on Mr Rudd's key challenger, the LNP's Bill Glasson. Of course, for Dr Glasson, he has gone from challenging a former prime minister and backbencher to back to challenging the incumbent Prime Minister. 

This will be interesting. Perhaps ordinarily, a challenger might say that the prime minister will be too busy to focus on the local issues. Kevin Rudd, however, since his first attempt at gaining the seat in 1996 (he failed at the first attempt; we should never underestimate his tenacity, he came back in 1998...and succeeded). 

There is an element of the analysis about Mr Rudd that he is loved by the public and loathed by his party. In the years I've been observing him, as a constituent and resident political tragic/analyst, and asking around the neighbourhood, Kevin Rudd is a very good local campaigner. He donates bikes to schools, he established awards for language students, he famously led a charge against the new runway at Brisbane Airport. In his speeches to Parliament, he rarely missed an opportunity to talk about his school visits, his constituent enquiries and so on. His relationship with the local paper has been, we might say, 'symbiotic' and his 'Rudd Report' a regular feature. 

I've met him as a constituent; I've engaged with him professionally. I've seen the two sides to Kevin from Queensland. For all the discussion about the public wanting Kevin Rudd as prime minister, of course, our political system means that it will be up to the good burghers of Griffith  (as he is wont to call us from time-to-time) to determine whether or not he will continue as a federal representative. He holds Griffith by a margin of about 8%. Since its establishment in 1934, it has swung reasonably evenly between the two major parties. At the 2010 election, Kevin Rudd suffered a 9% swing against on first preferences, and almost 4% on two-party preferred calculations. Most of that first preference swing went to the Greens candidate Emma-Kate Rose.

Bill Glasson comes to the electorate with a reasonably high media profile as a prominent ophthalmologist and president of the AMA. He has spent much of this year, so far, on the streets and on street corners. His team is visible...on a  Saturday morning. 

Until last week, one might have expected a similar set of figures across a similar range of candidates. The Greens will no doubt stand another candidate (they've been consistent there) and we will no doubt see a range of people putting up their hands to 'have a go' against the prime minister. 

As a psephologist, I've always been hesitant to make a 'prediction'. Certainly, I like to dig down deep into the figures: the votes cast at individual polling places, for example, and I always vote at the same polling place, simply to gauge a 'mood'. The people in the neighbourhood who have previously voted for Rudd are divided over his return to the prime ministership and the manner in which it happened. Three years ago, they were pretty annoyed at how he lost the prime ministership. 

At present, the battlelines are being drawn on the street corners of Griffith each Saturday morning. We, the burghers of Griffith, are acutely aware that the spotlight is back here and that it will be our vote that returns the 'people's PM' or offer up a Maxine McKew in Bennelong experience. That is, might the challenger defeat the incumbent PM. 

It is a different set of circumstances to those of 2007. Of the 90,000 or so of us enrolled to vote here, about 84,000 or so of us cast a formal vote (about 92% turnout on average). 35,445 went Kevin's way last time on first preferences. The previous LNP candidate garnered 28,784. There was quite a strong Greens vote last time (12,378 or about 15%). There's work to be done on all sides. It will be an interesting place to go about the usual business on a Saturday morning between now and the election. 

We'll keep you updated at this spot...