Last Sunday’s elections to the upper house of the Japanese parliament were a huge defeat for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the right wing prime minister Shinzo Abe. Elections were held for 121 seats – half of the upper house. The LDP only won 37 seats, while the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) gained a majority with 60 seats.
Shinzo Abe has said he will continue despite the result. However, the Asahi newspaper – Japan’s equivalent of the Guardian – wrote on Sunday: “Voices saying ‘no to Abe’s LDP’ swirled around the whole country.”
The election was a vote of no-confidence in Abe’s pro-war, neoliberal policies.
Japanese troops have joined the occupation of Iraq, in violation of the country’s “peace constitution”. Abe has continued to support the Iraq war and wants to change the constitution to allow troop deployment. He has also changed Japan’s education system to foster nationalism and deny Japan’s wartime atrocities.
At home Abe has continued the neoliberal programme of his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi. This programme includes the privatisation of the Japanese post office, the world’s largest financial institution. In campaigning for Sunday’s election, Abe tried to present himself as a new force despite being the incumbent candidate of a party that has ruled almost continuously for 50 years.
The attempt failed. A series of LDP corruption scandals and blunders – one minister committed suicide and another described women as ‘breeding machines’ – reminded voters just how far the LDP is from ordinary people.
The biggest scandal for the LDP was the “loss” of 64 million people’s pension records. That scandal is part of a bigger crisis in the Japanese pension system. As in Britain, bosses in Japan want workers to retire later on smaller pensions. The pensions scandal has been a focus for anger at this situation.
This anger resulted in the victory of the opposition DPJ, though its policies are not much better than those of the LDP – and in some cases are worse. The party is a collection of anti-LDP groups rather than a coherent force, but their main criticism of Abe’s “reform” of the economy is that it is not deep enough. The party President Ichiro Ozawa is a former LDP secretary who wants to send even more Japanese troops abroad.
Left-wing parties did not do well in the election. The Social Democratic Party kept its two seats, the Japanese Communist Party kept three of its four seats. Nonetheless, the election shows that people do not accept the LDP and Abe’s neoliberal and nationalist policies. This means that for anti-war and anti-capitalist activists next year’s G8 in Japan will be even more important.