Elections can be interesting. I did not think that the recent election was going to be one of any great meaning. It came abruptly when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the Diet, and there was not much in the way of debate over policy. But it turned out to be an interesting election.
What made it interesting began with the theatrics of Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the Party of Hope that she created, followed on by the Constitutional Democratic Party coming out of nowhere. Perhaps saying that elections can be interesting reflects a lack of seriousness, but when you consider that this election was briefly charged up by Koike and her starring role in the “Koike Theater,” describing the election as “interesting” seems appropriate.
What interested me most was that, while at one point it looked like the Party of Hope was a threat to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) majority, it lost momentum as a result of “principle of exclusion” enunciated by Koike. The result was that the votes flowed to those who had been “excluded” because they would not agree to each and every one of her policy statements.
The “principle of exclusion” is not in and of itself anything odd. From her standpoint, it is completely natural to not incorporate the liberal element from the Democratic Party that differed from Koike on various issues, including revision of the Constitution.
But, she made a fundamental error in using the term “exclusion.” If she had used a softer phrase in Japanese (something like “I wish to decline” their offer to join my party) or had made use of her noted ability in English and had said something like, “It is my desire that they be excluded,” there might not have been any issue. The question is what did she think she was saying by using “exclusion.”
The result of being “excluded” was that the liberal faction of the Democratic Party gained strength and bounced back because they had refused to sacrifice their principles to join the Party of Hope. They instantly gained popularity. In fact, they were deceived by Koike. They were deceived by Seiji Maehara, the head of the Democratic Party. They were thrown out into the street.
Perhaps “deceived” is a bit too strong, but at a Democratic Party meeting made up of members of Parliament from both houses of the Diet, no one indicated any strong opposition to Maehara. If there had been any real opposition, there would have been a real brawl, and it would not have been the least bit surprising if there had been a no confidence vote directed at Maehara. As it was, it appears that the majority of the liberal faction thought they would be taken into the Party of Hope.
There is no need to try to generalize from the serendipitous result of this farce. Rather, it tells us about how mass emotion can produce sudden changes on the political stage. That is a lesson not to be ignored. Perhaps using “mass” overstates the scale of the response, but there is no question that there was an outpouring of “sympathy for the underdogs” and they attracted a sympathy vote.
On the one hand, Koike cloaked herself in the trappings of an internationally-oriented cosmopolitan intellectual, and said she was going to change Japan by getting rid of hidebound patterns. On the other hand, with just one ill-chosen word, she conjured up the worst associations with things Japanese. Koike was said to be someone who was singularly adroit at reading populist sentiment among the populace, but she herself was consumed by a populist backlash. That shows the degree to which populism is something to be feared.
Keishi Saeki is a professor emeritus, Kyoto University.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)