Campaigning in Japan

A few months ago I took a vacation in Japan – it was an excellent trip. Earlier in the year when I was planning the trip a friend joked that if I was really lucky, the Japanese government would collapse and there would be a snap election for me to observe – given how often this has happened in recent years it didn’t seem like that much of an outside possibility.

As it turns out, Shinzō Abe’s LDP government has been rock solid this year – their ultra-nationalistic foreign policy, and use of quantitate easing (their economics package has been nick-named “Abenomics”) has been very popular.

However, we did manage to time the trip to be just before an election for the House of Councillors (the upper house of bicameral parliament). These elections are normally a bit of a non-event, and with the LDP polling at around 70% there simply wasn’t a contest – still, we did get to see quite a bit of how the Japanese campaign.

Election campaigns in Japan are very different to what we’re used to in New Zealand.

Their election campaigns are very highly regulated – they operate under a system that would make the Electoral Finance Act look positively liberating. Their Public Offices Election Law  basically bans all activity that might be deemed to be campaigning, unless it is expressly allowed – and there is not much allowed.

Traditional Japanese election campaigns have had two techniques at their disposal.

The first is the use of posters, which take the place of what we’d call hoardings or coreflutes in New Zealand. The actual billboards are erected by the officials (I couldn’t tell if it was organised by the local government, or elections department) with each party allocated an equally sized square to put their poster in. Very recently it seems this rule has been relaxed somewhat – as we saw other (non-square!) posters taped to walls and fences in some places.

A public election billboard.
A public election billboard.
A poster for the DJP taped to a wall in Fukuoka.
A poster for the DJP taped to a wall in Fukuoka.

The second traditional campaign technique used by the Japanese are the use of campaign vans with megaphones on the roof. The candidates and their helpers drive around the streets blasting campaign messages through the speak systems. It was quite a strange experience!

With a campaign van from the centre-left DPJ party.
With a campaign van from the centre-left DPJ party.

There are also TV commercials, but we didn’t spend a lot of time watching Japanese TV and didn’t see any. Until recently – that has been it! No fliers, no direct mail, no large billboards, no door knocking and no phone calls.

Very recently the law has been changed to allow the use of social media in campaigning – before the law was changed the candidates didn’t even have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts!  The upper house election we witnessed was the first that used social media. The Japan Times has a very good article about the use of social media (in English).

Overall it was a strange experience. With the exception of their recent inclusion of social media their rules create a huge barrier between the voters and the candidates. It makes the population almost entirely reliant on the media for information about politicians and their policies, and their plummeting voter turnout levels (the last upper-house election had a 40% turnout rate) unsurprising.

Momentum building for a Living Wage

Those in New Zealand who have begun campaigning for a Living Wage will be interested by a piece in the Guardian this morning about the situation in Britain.

David Miliband has joined forces with his party leader brother Ed behind Labour plans to deliver a “living wage” of well over £7.20 an hour – rising to more than £8.30 in London – for millions of workers in both the public and the private sectors.

The Miliband brothers, whose relationship has been tense since Ed narrowly defeated David in the 2010 leadership contest, are working closely together on how to make the living wage – as opposed to the lower minimum wage – the new norm and a core economic policy for Labour at the next election.

Miliband the elder, who is still outside the Shadow Cabinet, seems to be returning to the fold. This sort of “re-unification” of the British Labour Party can only be seen as a good thing, and puts the party in a stronger more united position to take the fight to the coalition.

Here in New Zealand, Labour Leader David Shearer pledged his support for the idea six months ago. With wages static and costs rising, it is easy to see the Living Wage being a big part of the conversation come 2014.

You can’t make this up…

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been trying to reverse his lacklustre polling with a re-boot of his government, which means he is ‘more determined than ever to cut through the dither that holds this country back’.

I guess if you think the fundamental problems of the economy are “dither”, then you’re not exactly starting from a strong place.

Any, I read an article about his latest scheme and actually had to re-read it. Yes, their latest plan to re-boot the economy is with… more DIY?

David Cameron is to announce an emergency year-long free-for-all in house extensions, allowing homeowners to build up to eight metres into their gardens without council planning permission.

So I guess the boost will come from all the extra reality TV shows that will spring up to capture the misadventures of unregulated house modifications?

Bizarre.

Election Ads: London Mayoralty

One of the largest local body elections on the planet is just over a month away. It is to elect the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority. It is worth noting that any commonwealth or EU citizen living in London is eligible to vote – so make sure you remind your friends doing their OE in old blighty (details here).

The two main players, Tory Mayor, Boris Johnson, and his Labour challenger (and predecessor), Ken Livingstone have been on the campaign trail literally for years already. But they formal campaign has just kicked off with the launch of their television ads. While I do have my obvious partisan bias, I do think that Ken’s ad really outshines Boris. Very interested to hear what you think.

Firstly, Ken’s ad…

And now Boris’…

News looking good for the European left

The French elections are quickly approaching, and things are looking good (but not great) for Socialist candidate François Hollande

A quick look at the 13 – yes, 13 – polls carried out recently reveals … not a lot for the first round, next month.

Four suggest Sarkozy is leading, seven have the socialist candidate, François Hollande, ahead, and two have them neck-and-neck. The leader of the far-right Front National (FN), Marine Le Pen, is given a first-round score ranging from 13.3% to 18%, in an election when even 1% is going to make a difference.

Six of the 13 polls give the former prime minister, and Sarkozy’s sworn enemy, Dominique de Villepin between 1% and 1.5%. There is only one problem: he’s not even standing.

Interesting times.

Then in Spain, the austerity budgets of the recently elected People’s Party (Conservative) government are coming up against massive resistance

Spain‘s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, faces the toughest week of his three months in office as he is forced to announce up to €40bn (£33.45bn) in spending cuts and taxes in a budget on 30 March, the day after a general strike.

Rajoy was recently forced to backtrack by fellow EU leaders who refused to accept the deficit target of 5.8% of GDP Spain set unilaterally for this year. They told him to cut to 5.3%.

Queensland and proportional elections

Firstly, commiserations to Anna Bligh, her team and my ALP colleagues who fought so hard for Queensland. Also, congratulations to Campbell Newman – the size of his win is impressive indeed.

One thing that has struck me though, is just how un-proportional the results are. For example, Bligh’s Labor Party received 26.6% of the first preference votes, yet they are only predicted to gain seven seats in the 89 seat Parliament (roughly 8% of the seats).

I’ve crunched some numbers and determined what the Queensland state parliament would look like if they used a purely proportional voting system, with a 5% threshold. It’s important to note that there are other systems out there, such as New Zealand’s MMP, which would allow for the two independents to maintain seats and would change the makeup of Parliament. It also demonstrates the size of Newman’s LNP win – even with a proportional voting system they manage to get a majority of the seats in the parliament – something traditionally very rare with systems like this.

It leaves me feeling very grateful that here in New Zealand we have a proportional voting system!

What the current makeup of the Queensland parliament looks like.
What the Queensland parliament might look like with a proportional voting system.
Party % Vote Predicted Actual Seats Proportional Seats
Labour 27% 7 25
Liberal National 50% 78 46
Greens 8% 0 7
Australian 12% 2 11
Others 5% 2 0
Total 89 89