The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito together maintained a two-thirds majority in the 47th general election of the House of Representatives held on Sunday, Dec. 14. However, at the same time, the dark side of Abenomics, such as the widening wealth gap and declining regional economies, reared its head through the election campaigns. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must sincerely listen to the voices of farmers and rural communities. Worries and distrust are surging over the government’s headlong liberalistic trade policies and reform of agricultural co-operatives. He should seriously take to heart that this vote of confidence in the Abe administration is by no means a carte blanche.
There were three key figures in the election: 238, a simple majority in the 475-seat Lower House, the 266-seat goal set by ruling coalition executives to gain so-called “absolute stable majority” that would allow control of all key committees in the chamber and 317, a two-thirds majority. Having two-thirds majority in the Lower House would enable them to override votes in the Upper House and pass bills rejected by the Upper House, giving the ruling coalition more stability in government administration. The Sunday election resulted in the LDP and Komeito winning a total of 326 seats, far exceeding the two-thirds majority, meaning a big win for the ruling bloc.
The election took place less than two years after the LDP regained power as a result of the previous Lower House election in which the Democratic Party of Japan suffered a huge loss. This time, in the beginning, people focused on how many seats the DPJ would regain and how many of 295 seats the LDP would lose. However, opposition parties failed to fight together against the LDP which emphasized the achievements of Abenomics. The DPJ, which was aiming at rebuilding itself by gaining more than 100 seats, ended up with only 73.
In summary, the election resulted in the LDP staying flat, Komeito remaining firm, the DPJ showing only a little increase and the Japanese Communist Party more than doubling its seats. The so-called “third force” political parties which are trying to take the place of the two major political parties – the LDP and the DPJ – all suffered a humiliating defeat except for Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party).
The resounding victory of the ruling parties is likely to further strengthen Abe and his office’s control over the government. Regional communities’ concerns deepen as the excessive political decision making power would lead to agricultural reform which neglects the actual situations of farmers.
Many voters remained uninterested in Sunday’s election, with voter turnout marking a new postwar low of 52.66 percent. Although the ruling coalition managed to sweep the ballot, Abe should take it as a “sour vote of confidence.” No wind blew to move unaffiliated voters in any way, and the unenthusiastic election ended up in an unenthusiastic win by the ruling bloc.
In rural areas, farmers are hard hit by a triple punch of worries over future market liberalization, rising prices of farming materials due to the weakening yen, and sluggish rice prices. Through election campaigns, politicians must have learned that the benefits of Abenomics have not reached the local regions.
In Hokkaido, whose main industry is agriculture, Takahiro Sasaki, a DPJ candidate in the No. 6 district who served as state minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries when the DPJ was in power, got his seat back after losing in the previous election. In the No. 7 district, a major dairy farming region where many farmers are giving up their business, DPJ candidate Takako Suzuki came in a close second with only 225 votes less than her LDP opponent and gained a seat in the proportional representation bloc. In the Tochigi No. 2 district, agriculture minister Koya Nishikawa lost against a DPJ candidate by a narrow margin of 199 votes, and gained a seat in the proportional representation bloc. The results indicate deep-rooted discontent among farmers towards Abe’s agricultural policy based on deregulation and strengthened competition.
The ruling parties’ victory in Sunday’s election is not a vote of confidence in their agricultural policies, and still less is it a carte blanche. The Abe administration must listen to the voices farmers and local regions in coping with agricultural reform and the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks which will come to a crucial stage in the beginning of next year.
(Dec. 16, 2014)