September 11th is a day of remembrance in the United States, but today in Japan it was time for a major election, one of the most important since the end of World War II. Prime Minister Koizumi, who saw his reform plans stalled in the Upper House, disolved the Lower House for the first time in history and called a snap election.
Maverick Koizumi took a gamble, and it paid off. He expelled those politicians in his party who refused to support his plans to privatize the post office, reducing his slim majority to just 220 seats — 241 are needed for a majority. The Liberal Democrats have had a shaky majority for the past decade, only holding power by allying with the peculiar Buddhist Party, the Komeito. But the people backed reform and the anti-reformers came up short. Way short. The final result won’t become known until Monday, but present estimates put joint LDP-Komeito seats at a whopping 327 seats — which would make it the largest parliamentary majority in Japan’s history. (Check out Gaijin Biker’s post here on perhaps one reason why postal reform was so popular.)
This election has been particularly useful in revealing who is serious about reform and who is just talk. The opposition party Democratic Party took a Kerry-esque stance where they supported privatization before they opposed Koizumi’s plans, and paid for it, dropping from 177 seats to 113. Unorthodox internet businessman Takafumi Horie had been suggested as a possible candidate for the opposition Democrats, but he was quick to endorse Koizumi’s platform and even ran against one of Koizumi’s toughest foes. Horie lost, but there is little doubt that his support of Koizumi’s platform brought plenty of disenchanted voters into the LDP camp. Then there was Governor Yasuo Tanaka of Nagano who has long been cited as an independent, pro-reform politician, but his alliance with anti-reformers to form a small opposition party has revealed him and his politics for what they really are — see this fantastic post at Japundit for more.)
As a sometime resident of Japan, I think this is great. The government’s budget is way, way into the red, and institutions like the Post Office, the largest financial institution in the world where most Japanese citizen keep their personal savings, was a great piggy bank for the politicians to fund their pork-barrel spending. And it’s also good for the US. Koizumi is an unapologetic ally of President Bush. He will keep Japan’s token force in Iraq and will continue to support US foreign policy.
The irony of this collosal electoral success is that Koizumi plans to step down next year, but who could replace him?
Quote of the campaign goes to Japundit, who gave us this this choice line:
Finally, if you ever again hear a disaffected foreigner or journalist talk about how the nail that sticks out in Japan always gets hammered in, you can tune them out right then and there. Mr. Koizumi is the archetypal nail that sticks out””?but he was the one who did the hammering.
Totally. You’re also going to hear commentators talk about how the privatization plan is wattered down. A valid criticism, but it misses the point — the Japanese people have finally been persuaded that old money politics and public investment bonanzas are no longer legitimate. Said one way, Japan’s Reagan has finally shone forth.
UPDATE: Extra bonus — Japan’s pointless, stick-in-the-mud Communist Party went from nine seats to seven. The Socialists kept their five seats.