Thursday, November 17, 2005

Koizumi's Lesson to Bush

I admire the Prime Minister's political courage. I haven't had a chance to publicly congratulate him on winning his election. But he did so, and he did so in a way that confirms the great strength of democracy. He said, I'm going to take my message to the people, and we'll let the people make the decision as to whether or not there ought to be reforms here in Japan. And as a result of your courageous decision, Mr. Prime Minister, you prevailed. And I want to congratulate you for that."

-- President George W. Bush
Kyoto, Japan
November 16, 2005
Actually, George didn't get that quite right.

The message the Koizumi took to the people was a cry to "reform," that is privatize, the Japanese postal system, a solution he manufactured to a non-existing problem. And he won by getting in bed with the religious vote.

Due to the peculiarities of the Japanese election system, Koizumi's LDP party only won 48% of the vote, but received 73% of the seats:
Elections since 1994 have been based on a system that replaced Japan's old multi-member electoral constituencies with a mixture of 300 single-member, first-past-the-post seats and 180 filled by proportional representation. Koizumi's LDP won (in the proportional section of the election) the votes of 25.8 million people (38.18 per cent of those that did vote, roughly three points better than Tony Blair a few months earlier). Overall he gained 61 per cent (296) of the seats, and his coalition partner, the Buddhist Komeito (Clean Government) Party, with 8.9 million votes (13.25 per cent of the electorate) took an additional 31 seats, giving his government a two-thirds majority, 327 seats in a 480 seat House. Despite the national swing to the LDP, however, without the support of Komeito's religious votes, few of the LDP candidates would have had sufficient support to carry their single-member urban constituencies. By contrast, the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), despite its 21 million votes (likewise in the proportional representation section) or 31 per cent of the electorate, saw its representation slashed from 177 to 113 seats. Its share of votes in the single member constituency section declined by only one per cent, from 37 to 36 per cent, but its share of seats was halved, from 35 to 17 per cent.

If the overall number of votes was simply translated into seats on a proportional basis, the LDP in 2005 would have got 183 seats to the DPJ's 149, and the JCP and DSPJ would have won 35 and 27 seats respectively.
It is easy to see why Japanese electoral math appeals to Bush. The majority of "the people" did not "decide" they wanted Koizumi's so-called reforms. In fact, the majority of the people rejected Koizumi.

Koizumi used the elections as an opportunity to purge his party of people who didn't support his right-wing militarism. He took out incumbents from his own party with hand-picked candidates, whom the Japanese press called "Koizumi's assassins" or "ninjas in lipstick." His assassins included a number of high profile, glamorous women, with no political experience but loyal to Koizumi and his agenda. (Think Harriet Miers with looks. Or Anne Coulter with brains and looks.) The image-driven campaign set a new Japanese standard for style over substance.

Koizumi successfully convinced (48% of) the Japanese people to vote against their own self interest. During Koizumi's administration, the economy contracted from a GDP in 2000 of 510 trillion yen to 506 trillion yen in 2004; national debt spiraled from around 540 trillion yen in March 2001 to 780 trillion in March 2005, or over 1,000 trillion if all public liabilities are included; and working people's wages fell steadily over 7 consecutive years. The lifetime employment system has been demolished, with an increase in an exploited casual labour class (called "freeters") and the offshoring of jobs. Unsurprisingly, suicide rates also increased.

Koizumi's real lesson to Bush is: screw the workers. Gut the economy. Distract the electorate. Say one thing and do another. Run a campaign on glamour, not issues. Eliminate dissenters. Promote a handful of token women in exchange for policies that ignore women's needs. Get in bed with religion if that delivers the votes. Rule viciously without a majority mandate.

Clearly, Koizumi has nothing new to teach George Bush. On the other hand, I'm sure Bush's congratulations were the most sincere words he has uttered as president.

Further Reading
For an excellent, in-depth analysis of Koizumi's re-election, see Gavan McCormack's October 19 ZNet article "Koizumi's Kingdom of Illusion."

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