World-wide Media Reaction to the November 9 Elections
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM; Japan Fellow, Stanford University)
Approximately one week after the November 9 Lower House elections it is evident that global media sources have mainly reacted to the results in two ways. The first, supported by analyses from the Christian Science Monitor, the Associated Press, the Economist, the People's Daily and the Voice of America, claims that the outcome signaled a major change in Japan's political scene. These views see a viable two party system emerging and a Democratic Party of Japan poised to take the mantle of leadership the next time around. The second grouping understands the results as signifying a personal defeat for Prime Minister Koizumi. The United Press International, Bloomberg Press, Bangladesh's Daily Star, the Guardian, and the BBC all predict that this once most popular leader is now more vulnerable than he has ever been before.
The Christian Science Monitor's reading of the election is that it signaled a "major change" in Japan's urban politics where the majority voted for the Democratic Party of Japan. Staff writer Robert Marquand concluded that the LDP coalition merely "survived" the vote and described a general consensus among voters that the LDP was an outmoded party. The Associated Press interpreted Koizumi's failure to secure an absolute majority and the DPJ"s forty seat boost in parliamentary as representative of the Prime Minister's inability to end a thirteen year economic slowdown and predicting that he will face a revived opposition, one that can legitimately challenge the LDP. The Economist was even more outspoken stating that although the LDP had won the election, it noted that the "civil war" had resumed. The Economist predicted an LDP going out of control arguing that the opposition's strong showing "will soon have the Prime Minister and his party back at each other's throats." Amy Bickers of the Voice of America headlined with "In victory, Japan's ruling party suffers notable losses" and stressed that the big winner was in fact the DPJ. Quoting academics in Japan, she argued that the real story remained in the relationship between those who gained and those who lost seats. Her claim was that while the November 9 poll "did not alter the balance of power in Japanese politics, the outcome means that Japan could be headed for a genuine two-party system after half a century of effective one party rule". Beijing's People's Daily agreed.
However, media sources that concluded the main message to be a personal loss for the Prime Minister were in the majority. The United Press International reported that the election was "a victory for his party, but … a personal defeat for Junichiro Koizumi." The article went on to state that although Koizumi did manage to secure a majority in the Lower House of the Diet the key development was "just how much the Democratic Party had gained." William Pesek Jr. of Bloomberg News reflected on the situation as one where Koizumi and the LDP managed to stay in power, but also got an unexpected slap on the wrist from fed up voters. His ultimate assessment of Koizumi's fate was that his historical political significance would be reminiscent of the legacy left by Gorbachev, a leader who helped set the stage for real reform but didn't actually put reforms in place. Whether this prediction comes true or not remains to be seen, however, the consensus supported by other papers including Bangladesh's Daily Star and the UK's Guardian and the BBC was that Koizumi could be on his last legs as a Prime Minister. The Guardian assessed that the "narrow margin of victory was hardly a ringing endorsement of his (Koizumi's) handling of the economy." The BBC remarked that "one of the biggest surprises was that Koizumi – Japan's most popular leader in decades – failed to lead his party to a bigger margin of victory."
Apart from Koizumi and the LDP, smaller parties such as the Social Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Communist Party were written off as having lost the battle and put their political future into question.
Judging from the media reaction all eyes over the next year will be on whether Koizumi can manage to hold on to his position in the LDP and as to how the Democratic Party will go about building credibility among Japanese voters and emerge as a legitimate contender for leadership in a Japan that is longing for change.
- Robert Marquand, "Japanese voters boost opposition forces in Parliament," Christian Science Monitor, 10 November 2003
- Shihoko Goto, "Japan's Koizumi wins, but grip weakens," UPI, 10 November 2003
- "Koizumi victory follows party merger," Associated Press, 10 November 2003
- William Pesek Jr., "Commentary: The true winners in Japan's election? Bondholders," Bloomberg News, 12 November 2003
- Monzurul Huq, "Election result signals tough days for Koizumi," Daily Star, 10 November 2003
- "Japan enters an era of two-party system," People's Daily, 12 November 2003
- "Election won, civil war resumed," The Economist, 11 November 2003
- Amy Bickers, "In Victory, Japan's Ruling Bloc Suffers Notable Losses," Voice of America, 10 November 2003
- Justin McCurry, "Narrow victory keeps Japan's PM in power," The Guardian, 10 November 2003
- Jonathan Head, "Analysis: Japan's two party race," The BBC, 10 November 2003