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.