Written by By Yuko Yuzuki, CNN
The election for the Japanese Diet — or parliament — is back on November 10, and incumbent Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been placed on a backfoot with big gains for the main opposition party.
But what is the big deal about this election that’s taking place almost a year earlier than usual, and what can’t voters do?
If you live in a big city, the answer’s simple: VOTE. And get to the polls if you live in a rural region.
This is not the case. While rural districts can still act as a swing seat to help determine the outcome of the election, the underperforming candidates in these rural constituencies have little or no prospect of returning.
It’s not so much “in the jungle” after all
No one has questioned the fact that at least 53 of the 163 new lawmakers will be rural district representatives. This is a victory for the silent majority, whose voices were frequently suppressed by the former party heavyweights in the area.
It is a different issue to run candidates in rural constituencies. There is a protocol that dictates how they have to campaign and carry out activities. The party alone, and in particular, the leadership, have the say on how to create leaflets, distribute them, and use mobile media for their campaign.
That leaves little time for ordinary citizens to participate and benefit from the election. “So-called ‘delicate’ issues” — where it comes to a matter of land use or water rights — that require long term vision and work must be kept in check, according to political analyst Seiko Mizuno.
When the campaign is confined to mere slogans and uninspiring candidates, voters fail to make out the difference between a party that won only one seat or the other in 2013 and one that could swing the election to a different direction.
Political discourse in rural areas
This situation was exemplified during the 2013 election, when a high volume of hostility gripped local media circles due to a fight between the then regional governor, Nobuteru Ishihara and the former secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for a rural constituency.
The governor filed a lawsuit against Ishihara for allegedly outraging citizens’ sensibilities. But it was the political propaganda, advertising and town meeting that stirred up headlines as politicians blasted each other in angry debate.
And this is the problem in rural areas.
The most prominent parties are silent on issues regarding land, water resources and political affairs such as peaceful cooperative agriculture (given the pending introduction of organic farming) and politics to address environmental issues.
Turnout in rural areas was also a factor. In 2012, on average, 73.27% of voters went to the polls in the prefectures of Aichi, Chiba, Ehime, Gifu, Gunma, Kanagawa, Iwate, Hiroshima, Kochi, Osaka, Saitama, Tochigi, Wakayama, Yamaguchi, Shizuoka, Yamaguchi-gumi, Kochi, Yamaguchi-gumi, Shiga, Tokushima, and Wakayama.
Meanwhile in the prefectures of Nara, Ibaraki, Aichi, Fukuoka, Shizuoka, Saitama, Hyogo, Chiba, Yamaguchi-gumi, and Hakone, voter turnout dropped below the 75% threshold.
Yusuke Iwata, a political candidate for the national party in Shizuoka Prefecture, said: “I was so surprised that people didn’t come out and vote. I wish more people came out to vote. There was not a single notice saying ‘please come to vote.’ We didn’t even have a poster at the station. If every district saw this, I think there would be a much better turnout.”
There are also no possible face-offs between the candidates of two parties during the election campaign: The Democratic Party of Japan does not hold candidates’ meetings in prefectures where they don’t have a powerful branch base, while Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is also known for its cautious approach to campaigning in smaller areas.