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Japan Political Pulse: The surprise in store for us -- or not -- in the election

Reality surpasses prediction. This was evidenced in Britain's so-called "Brexit" referendum, in which people voted on whether Britain should stay in or leave the European Union. Polls are all about luck, and involve an infinite number of factors that can bring about surprising results.

    According to British public opinion polls, it was predicted that the pro-remain contingent would win by a slim margin. Bookmakers, meanwhile, had predicted a 90-percent chance that the British public would vote to stay in the E.U. Both were very wrong.

    One reason reportedly cited for the major poll upset include heavy rains, thunder, and flooding lowering voter turnout in London, where a significant majority have supported the "remain" campaign. Another reason that has been suggested is a problem with the precision of public opinion polls, pointing to last year's general election, in which it was predicted that the race would be tight, but the Conservative Party ended up winning by a landslide.

    There have been dramatic upsets in the history of Japan's House of Councillors elections as well. In 1989, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) suffered a crushing defeat, and even in combination with seats that were not contested that year, the party was unable to capture a majority in the chamber.

    The adoption of a 3-percent consumption tax, the "Recruit scandal" involving insider trading and corruption, then Prime Minister Sosuke Uno's extramarital affair scandal and the opening of Japan's agricultural sector to foreign competition were said to have caused the LDP's loss.

    Newspapers, based on public opinion polls, had predicted that the LDP would suffer a setback and the then Socialist Party would make great progress, but the margin by which that happened surpassed such predictions.

    In the 1998 election, also, the LDP recorded an overwhelming defeat, and the reasons cited were the consumption tax hike from 3 percent to 5 percent the previous year, and then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's flip-flopping statements on tax cuts. At the time, it was believed that the LDP would either maintain the number of seats it had, or even if it lost, that it wouldn't lose by a large margin. But due to the prime minister's waffling remarks on tax reductions during the campaign period, things took a dramatic turn for the worse for the LDP. The number of seats the party took in that election was lower than the minimum predicted from public opinion polls.

    What about the upper house election coming up on July 10?

    Public opinion polls reported on by various newspapers on June 24 stated that the LDP would enjoy a landslide victory, while the Democratic Party (DP) would do poorly. Will this prediction be upended? Highly unlikely, if things continue to go as they have so far. There's no hint of momentum building to expand and focus criticism on the current administration. And ever since we entered the 21st century, election predictions based on public opinion polls have never been too far off from the actual results.

    According to Satoshi Machidori, a professor at Kyoto University's Faculty of Law, since the end of the Cold War, all Japanese upper house elections from 1989 onward have had the characteristic of dictating the framework for the administration several years later.

    Four years after the 1989 election surprise, a non-LDP coalition administration was founded. A year after the 1998 election upset, the coalition was switched around, establishing the origins of the LDP-Komeito coalition. Two years after the LDP's resounding defeat in the 2007 election, the then Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration was born. Two years after the 2010 election, where the DPJ suffered, the LDP returned to power. This all happened against a backdrop of globalization, the United States' positioning as the world's single superpower, and China's rise.

    House of Councillors elections are difficult to understand. And that's because it's unclear what the House of Councillors is.

    In most of the world's bicameral legislatures, priority is placed on the lower house's decision-making authority, and the upper house gets involved by serving as brakes, offering a broader or different standpoint than the lower house.

    In Japan, however, the House of Councillors and the House of Representatives -- the upper and lower chambers, respectively -- have almost equal authority. There are other countries like this, but they are few.

    To become a House of Councillors candidate, one must be at least 30 years old, while the age is at least 25 for the House of Representatives, due to the expectation that the upper house will serve as a check on the lower chamber' decisions with its wisdom.

    In reality, however, as with the House of Representatives, in the House of Councillors, the ruling parties are desperate to maintain the majority, and opposition parties are hell-bent on expanding their sphere of power, leaving no space for wisdom to come into play.

    What we need now are not smooth-talking fighters confident in their physical prowess. What we need are people who can speak about issues -- whether it's the economy, foreign diplomacy, or national security -- with creativity and originality; understand the contradictions of the House of Councillors; and are prepared to carry out reform. (By Takao Yamada, Special Senior Writer)

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