Japan’s election, 2012

You do not have to read Japanese to know that this means landslide. (This is the single-seat districts only; but even with the list-PR seats added in, the LDP and is ally, Komeito, have crossed the two-thirds mark.)

Shinzo Abe will get a second stint as Prime Minister.

It is an even bigger victory than the LDP’s most recent prior House of Representatives win in 2005. And this despite not having the hair factor so clearly in its favor.

I wonder how many election alternations have been as undeserving as this one. For that matter, how many proved as disastrous as the last one? The DPJ, winning big in 2009, proved utterly incompetent (even allowing for the rather bad hand it was dealt), and as various commentators have noted, it was not so much that the LDP won today’s election as that the DPJ simply folded.

There were various new parties that were at one point looking like they might break the LDP/DPJ dominance. But, largely due to the majoritarian elements of the mixed-member system Japan uses, there just wasn’t much chance of a breakthrough.

10 thoughts on “Japan’s election, 2012

  1. Are you sure there wasn’t a breakthrough? The far-right nationalist Restoration Party won almost as many seats as the DPJ. I can’t find any details on the vote share in a language I can read, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they won more votes overall.


  2. Wikipedia has the results up in English, though they don’t yet have up their usual maps of who won which district where.

    Not being familiar with the Japanese electoral system, I’m confused by the difference between the “local constituency vote” and the “PR block vote”. As far as I can make out, Japan uses a system where 300 representatives are elected from single member plurality district, but then there is a second election for 180 representatives chosen by proportional representation. These are two separate votes and there is nothing but links them. I’m not sure why the proportional seats aren’t put into a separate chamber. Anyway, there is a pretty sizeable discrepancy between the votes reported for the two types of seats.

    The “Japan Restoration Party” did beat the Democrats for second place in the “PR block vote”, but not in the constituency vote.

    Looking the 300 single member plurality seats in isolation, it strikes me that the Canadian House of Commons has historically had about the same amount of seats, and there have been Canadian elections just as lopsided in terms of seat distribution, most recently in 1984. Of course Canada and Japan are very different countries. This could be a result of some mixture between single member plurality and a fluid party system.


  3. Looking at the Wikipedia pages for the 2009 and 2012 elections, it appears that only just over half the votes have been counted for the 2012 election, so its too early to form conclusions. The discrepancy between the proportional vote and the constituency vote was less marked in 2009 once all the votes were counted.

    The LDP seems to have won 237 out of 300 of the constituency seats in 2012. However, the DPJ won 221 out of the 300 constituency seats in 2009. So this result appears to be less remarkable, especially given that the LDP faced divided opposition in 2012.


  4. Ed, your understanding of the MMM system is correct. I would add that the 180 list-PR seats are themselves districted, rather than allocated nationwide. (See some of my past Japan plantings for more discussion.)

    (As an aside, the second chamber, or House of Councillors, uses a somewhat similar system, but with nationwide allocation of the list seats and some M>1 SNTV districts in the highly malapportioned nominal tier.)

    Vasi, I guess it depends on what we mean by “breakthrough.” Point taken on the relative sizes of DPJ and Restoration. But some of the commentary early in the campaign suggested that the third parties would be strong enough to prevent the LDP from winning a majority. That was probably never very likely–given the majoritarian nature of the system–but my “no breakthrough” comment was directed at the absence of sufficient third-party seats to require post-electoral coalition bargaining or a minority government.


  5. Ed, thanks for the Wikipedia link. When I looked earlier, it still hadn’t updated with the popular vote—it’s nice to have a personal notification service via F&V comments 🙂

    MSS, I think “breakthrough” when an election result has realignment potential, regardless of whether there’s any effect on government formation. For an example close to home, the NDP gains in the 2011 Canadian election have been widely termed a breakthrough, though there were no coalition implications. Similarly with Labour’s recent result in Ireland: the coalition with Fine Gael would have been possible even if Labour hadn’t doubled their Dail representation, but coming far ahead of Fianna Fail is breakthrough-worthy.

    It’s clearly an overloaded term though, since you also often hear it used when a party achieves its first seat in a representative body. So I guess flexibility is called for!


    • Point taken, but the new parties aren’t, for now, in anything like the NDP’s position. Maybe if they build on this, we’ll look back at 2012 as the “breakthrough.” Right now, it just likes restoration of a dominant party, facing fragmented opposition. Of course, Canada has been there, too…


  6. Actually, political developments in Japan since 2009 bear an uncanny resemblance to those in India from 1977 to 1980, when the Congress Party – at the time India’s dominant party (not unlike the LDP in Japan from 1955 to 2009) – was shown the door in the 1977 general election, after three decades in power, with the opposition Janata Party scoring a decisive victory (much like DPJ in 2009).

    However, once in power the Janata Party proved to be fractious, inept and incompetent (again, very much like DPJ), and after three years Indian voters had enough: the party suffered a crushing defeat in the 1980 election, while Indira Gandhi’s latest incarnation of Congress was swept back into office (as was the case in last Sunday’s election with DPJ and LDP, respectively).

    That said, Congress’ dominant position in Indian politics lasted less than a decade after its 1980 comeback: the party has been in and out of power for nearly a quarter century now, and hasn’t won an overall parliamentary majority in almost three decades…


    • I agree, Manuel, though without the regional dimension of Indian politics. Another similarity: a tendency of large parties to create pre-electoral coalitions with smaller parties, in order to minimize vote-splitting (Congress and BJP with various regional parties, LDP with New Komeito, and DPJ with various smaller parties).


  7. It would appear that many Restoration Party and New Komeito voters tactically voted for the LDP in the SMDs to avoid a three-way split. The LDP got 9 million more SMD votes than PR votes, while the Restoration Party got 5.5 million more PR votes than SMD votes, and New Komeito got less than a million SMD votes and over 7 million PR votes.


    • New Komeito voters definitely have a tendency to vote strategically/tactically, as their party has been in a formal alliance with the LDP through several elections. The two parties present separate lists, but do not compete in the single-seat districts. They typically call upon their supporters to vote for the alliance candidate, even when that candidate is of the other party.

      Any such actions by Restoration Party voters were presumably not formally coordinated, but over the last several elections, Japanese voters apparently have become accustomed to the strategic imperatives of the system.


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