by Michael Roberts
Japan’s main centre-right pro-capitalist party, the Liberal Democrats
(LDP), under Shinzo Abe has won a landslide victory in Sunday’s general
election for the lower House of Representatives. So the party that was
invented by the Americans after the second world war to consolidate
capitalist democracy in Japan and has held power for most of the
succeeding 65 years, has been returned again after four years of being
in the wilderness.
What excites the media is that the LDP and its junior coalition
partner, the Komeito, have probably enough seats to obtain a two-thirds
majority in the lower house. That means the government can ensure that
its policies cannot be blocked by the upper house Senate, where the
Democratic Party (DP), the defeated government party, holds a majority.
The DP has been resoundingly defeated as the electorate have been
hugely disappointed by the failure of the DP to carry out its promises
of cleaner, less bureaucratic government and an end to the stagnation of
the economy (called the ‘lost decades’) that Japanese capitalism has
experienced since the end of the 1980s.
For the electorate, the DP turned out to be even worse than the LDP,
as the economy juddered under the shock of the global economic slump,
the tsunami and the risk of nuclear calamity. The DP just proposed more
taxes and government spending cuts and its leaders bickered, leading to
three prime ministers in four years.
But the media’s focus on the LDP’s likely huge majority means that it
has missed a much more significant fact from the election. The estimated turnout is an all-time low since figures were kept in 1890!
The voter turnout is estimated at 59.52%, below the previous record
low of 59.65% in the 1996 election and the post-war record high in the
2009 election of 69.3%. I dug up the figures from the Japanese
government and the decline in voter support in this election has been
particularly awful this time especially if you consider that elections
before 1945 were dubious, to say the least.
The main reason seemed to be an unwillingness on the part of the
ruling elite in the banks, big corporations and government to entertain a
deleveraging of the over extended financial sector. Just as the US and
European governments did in 2009, they got the taxpayers and the state
to bail out the banks and the big institutions. As a result, Japan was
left with a huge public sector debt that weighs down on the productive
sectors of the economy, sucking up new value and savings (as a
proportion of national output, public debt is more than double that of
the Europe and the US). Japanese capitalism became zombie capitalism.
In 1998, Japan’s political elite tried to ‘reform’ under a
neo-liberal prime minister Koizumi who opted for the restructuring of
the banks, privatisation of state agencies and higher taxes. This
produced a short revival in profitability, at the expense of average
living standards, reduced pensions and worse work benefits. The
electorate then hoped that the new Democratic Party, an amalgam of
former socialists, social democrats and liberals would be a new beacon
to clean up Japanese politics, end corruption and restore growth. But
the triple whammy of earthquake/tsunami, nuclear and global economic
crisis knocked Japanese capitalism over again. By 2010, Japan’s nominal
GDP was lower than that of 1994.
Now huge numbers of voters have become disillusioned with all parties
and we have this all-time low turnout. The LDP is back in the saddle,
pledged to spend more on government projects, not to raise taxes, boost
exports by devaluing the yen, to restore the nuclear facilities, raise
military spending and act ‘tougher’ with China. Indeed, the same old
tired policies of the last 30 years.
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