Ideologues without Borders: Don't ya know that when a voter says 'yes' he really means 'no'?

Duopoly ideology knows no borders. The elections for Japan's House of Representatives, which resulted in the historic defeat of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party in favor of the opposition coalition, headed by the Democratic Party of Japan, are quickly being incorporated into a well-developed media narrative constructed in conformity with the logic of duopoly ideology, which reduces all political antagonism to the binary form most conducive to the propagation of bipartisan fetishism. At Reuters, Linda Sieg writes:
Observers of Japanese politics who have long thought the country was ripe for a real two-party system are watching Sunday’s election with a dual sense of incredulity — surprise that it has taken so long to oust the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and surprise that it finally looks like happening.
It is not entirely correct, however, to presume that Japan has had a "one-party system" since the middle of the last century. Japan has a multi-party system in a bicameral parliament, with a parallel voting system that incorporates aspects of plurality voting and proportional representation. Members of eight different parties and a number of independents represent the people of Japan in its lower house. The duopolist frame thus serves to marginalize a diverse array of political forces.

The New York Times reports, for instance:
In the powerful lower house, the opposition Democrats virtually swapped places with the governing Liberal Democratic Party, winning 308 of the 480 seats . . . The incumbents took just 119 seats, about a third of their previous total. The remaining seats were won by smaller parties.
Xinhua, on the other hand, is careful to note:
the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won 308 seats in Sunday's 480-seat lower house election, sweeping the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) out of almost unbroken power since 1955, according to broadcaster TV Asahi. LDP gained 119 seats and its smaller ally New Komeito won 21 seats. Three other parties in the opposition bloc, Social Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party and the People's New Party won seven, nine and three seats respectively.
Representatives of smaller parties have consistently decried the media's focus on the development of a two-party system in Japan. Over the course of the election season, articles on the apparent resurgence of interest in the Japanese Communist Party –for instance, and to continue yesterday's focus on the red menace–, quoted the head of the party, Kazuo Shii, criticizing duopolist bias in the Japanese press. As I noted in April:
Shii complained that the focus of the media on the potential emergence of a two-party system has created an even darker shadow from which his party must emerge.
In a round-up of the media reaction to the election results around the globe, the BBC juxtaposed views from Washington and Tokyo. In the Washington Post, Daniel Sneider pronounced that the elections represent "more than a simple shift in power. It ushers in a competitive, two-party democracy." Perhaps Sneider is correct. An editorial in the Japan Times effectively declares the emergence of a lesser-of-two-evils mentality, with its characteristic negativity, among Japanese voters: "the election's outcome should not be interpreted as a simple "yes" vote for the DPJ, despite its landslide victory. It was, in fact, a "no" vote for the LDP."


derek said...

Very interesting take on this story. You're right, it's more pessimistic than I expected. The shift to two party really does cover the already vibrant multi-party system.

d.eris said...

There is no doubt that the results are historic, and I didn't want to minimize the importance of such a radical change, but I am suspicious of the media's "spontaneous" interpretation of it in the familiar terms of the duopoly charade, which serves to aggrandize the two-party form while obscuring what makes the Japanese system different. The emphasis on that cast the negative shadow over the whole thing.

At first glance it makes sense intuitively to compare the LDP and DPJ rivalry to a two-party system, at least for the purposes of comparison to the US, but does it make sense to set up the notion of "two party democracy" as the pre-eminent sign of political maturity, as the end goal of all representational politics and government? Numerous officials from the winning, former opposition party, the DPJ, seemed to be framing the election in those terms, it may likely have been part of their winning strategy, saying a vote for the other guys is a vote for a one party state. But that doesn't imply that it's the appropriate lens through which to analyze the actual dynamics of the system.

Unfortunately, because the media adopt the duopolist frame, it is difficult to get a nuanced sense of things just from the press.