So began yet another election narrative–that the voters had to vote against the DPJ in order to send it the message that they hate being taken for fools–and that they hate tax hikes, even when more than 60 percent of the populace believes the consumption tax hike to 10 percent inevitable. Unmistakable are the echoes of the traditional model of using the upper election as a means of punishing the arrogant, overbearing ruling party, even though the ruling party in this instance is the DPJ, which has been in power less than a year.
And not content with this, in the past few days the media and the parties have attempted to gin up another view of the election: that it’s all about policies. This development is largely a consequence of trying to justify the profusion of micro-parties, mostly of the right of the political spectrum, which are fighting to differentiate themselves from the two major parties in some way.
Under the D’Hondt proportional election system, which favours larger parties, and with the 73 district seats set to go to the DPJ or the LDP almost in their entirety, several of the micro-parties are in danger of winning no seats at all. The parties and the media have collaborated in a desperate attempt to outline their differences from one another. However, with the abbreviated election season of only three weeks, there’s been no easy way of introducing or explaining policies, even for the major parties, as Kan found out to his party’s detriment on the consumption tax.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that a sizable minority of the electorate still remains undecided. If they aren’t sure what this election is really about, they have a multitude of story lines from which to draw their conclusions.
There is, of course, a more fundamental reason why many voters are confused and unable to make a choice, even on the eve of a historic first election under a non-LDP government–and that is the lack of a clear national purpose. Japanese voters are highly educated, law-abiding (for the most part) and eager participants in their own democracy. Ask most of them what Japan’s national goals are, however, and you’ll draw an embarrassed silence, or some dangerous platitude like ‘to live at peace with other countries.’
Without goals or aims, it’s extremely difficult to choose which path to take. Or, in this case, which party or person you want to vote for.
Michael Cucek is a Research Associate at the MIT Center for International Studies and an independent political consultant. He is based in Tokyo.