Koizumi boosted by Japanese poll results
Reviewed By Hitoshi URABE
"Koizumi boosted by Japanese poll results"
(by Mariko Sanchanta) Financial Times
It was supposed to be a test, to measure the level of support for Mr Koizumi and his government as the by-election was the first opportunity for the people to be polled at a national level.
On October 26, seven new parliamentary members were chosen from each of seven constituencies, five for the House of Representatives and two for the House of Councilors. Of the seven elected, none belonged to a political party in a technical sense, although most were supported by one or a coalition of parties. In fact, out of the elected seven, one was backed by the opposition, one was totally independent, and the remaining five were supported by the ruling coalition led by Mr Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party.
Is it, then, a victory for Mr Koizumi so that he could pursue his policies with vigor? To the extent the opposition has experienced a brutal defeat, yes. But there are twists to that.
The problem some analysts find with the results of this by-election is that in all of the seven constituencies, record lows were marked for the turnout rate. The drops were in the ranges of 10 to almost 30 percent compared to the previous elections, and the lowest among them, Chiba prefecture, registered the turnout rate of 24.14%, which means less than one out of four people eligible to vote showed up.
Some interpret this as a result of confusion among voters on the apparent split in opinions between Mr Koizumi and the LDP, which is supposed to support the Prime Minister. It has come into focus recently that the confrontation between the senior LDP officials and Mr Takenaka, the Financial Services Minister who is backed by Mr Koizumi, has become so intense that Mr Takenaka had to abandon publicizing his plans to reform the financial services sector.
The voters could not be certain as to whether voting for a candidate supported by LDP would in fact be endorsing Mr Koizumi or be siding with the LDP officials who challenge his policies.
Another, more grave interpretation, is the people's apathy toward politics in general. It has been a while since the turnout rate for not only national but also for regional elections began sliding, where figures such as 70% were often seen thirty years ago, it is almost rare to see anything more than 50% in recent years.
Some critics have alarmed that this is endangering democracy, and are suggesting various methods to beef up the turnout rate. Some propose fines to be charged to those no-shows, as such rules are implemented in certain countries such as Australia and a number of European countries.
There are in fact arguments as to whether a turnout rate is such an important factor. But it is vaguely recognized that there could be something wrong with the system when the number gets very low. It is easy to cast the cause to the politicians for making politics boring, but perhaps it is about time for the people to remind themselves that it is they who have the obligation to maintain democracy, if so desired.