Election time!

It’s election time here in Japan. The official 17-day campaign period for the 2010 Upper House election began on June 24, and the actual election is scheduled to take place on July 11. The area of Kyoto where I live has been fairly quiet, but there are tell-tale signs of election time about. The number of campaign posters has increased slowly but steadily over the course of the last two weeks, and you sometimes hear the election campaign vans driving about, blasting their campaign rhetoric from an attached loudspeaker. If you go to more crowded areas, you might see a campaign volunteer standing on a street corner, making a speech to passers by. Or you might actually see a politician.

Campaign laws are relatively strict in Japan. I’m not an expert on the issue, but the aforementioned 17-day campaign period should give you an idea of what I’m talking about. In the U.S., it’s not uncommon for campaigns to last months or even years (if we’re talking about a presidential candidate). But Japanese politicians get 17 days. Also, using the Internet to campaign is currently banned under the Public Offices Election Law. The law limits the type of documents and pictures that can be distributed during a campaign to leaflets and postcards, and the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry takes the view that words and images displayed on computer screens should come under this rule. So, since the start of the 17-day official campaign period for the Upper House election, no Web sites, blogs or Twitter accounts are allowed in principle to be updated by parties or candidates. Nor can they send email as part of their campaigning.

Different from the U.S., isn’t it?

Anyway, without turning this into a mini-lecture on Japanese electoral politics, this election is something of a referendum on the future of Japan. As you may know, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has been currently in control of both houses of the Diet (Japan’s parliament) since last year, which is remarkable considering that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) held both houses for almost every single year from 1955 until 2007 (with an important blip in the early 1990s). Anyway, the Japanese public has to decide whether it wants to give the DPJ the time and ability to really take control of the government and try to make some major changes. I tend to agree with most of the American analysts who predict that the DPJ is going to lose its majority in the Upper House but still remain the dominant party—it will probably have to cobble together a coalition with one or more of the smaller parties. The LDP is probably going to pick up some seats, but it isn’t going to come close to gaining a majority. There are a number of good analyses of the election around—see GlobalTalk 21 or Shisaku for a couple of different takes.

I decided to take snapshots of some of the campaign posters that I see every day on my walk to/from Doshisha University. If the distribution of posters is any indication of party affiliation, I seem to be living in an area where most people are LDP supporters, though you still see a fair number of DPJ posters. And Komeito and the Japan Communist Party (JCP) have some representation as well. No Social Democratic Party posters around. I thought I would share some of the pictures here (along with very provisional translations of their slogans):

Democratic Party of Japan: “Restoring vitality to Japan”

The standard DPJ poster features a picture of Naoto Kan, the current prime minister of Japan. Although his support ratings have been sinking, he’s still popular enough to put on the posters. (When a PM is really unpopular, the party does its best to stay away from him.) I saw a great DPJ ad on TV this morning that talked about “cleaning up Japan” (literally, 日本を洗う), with Kan washing sheets in a somewhat heroic fashion. But of course, due to the Internet campaigning ban, I can’t find a video to share with you. (>_<)

Liberal Democratic Party: “Number one” “Let’s return again to a number one Japan”

Komeito: “A government your voices can reach”

Japanese Communist Party: “A new government that can tell American to remove Futenma” “We clearly oppose the consumption tax increase”

Anyway, this election is clearly less exciting than last year’s, but it’s still interesting to be in Japan while this is going on. Although it really seems like the media spends all of its time focusing on the recent sumo scandals. Or the psychic octopus that can apparently predict World Cup results.