Will media predictions ring true on Aug. 30?
As I will be working on Aug. 30, I exercised my right to vote by casting an early ballot. A steady stream of people entered the polling station at the ward branch office soon after it opened, and it felt as if election day had been moved up by one week. A senryu poem I'd seen in the Aug. 23 issue of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun popped up in my head: "I'm an early voter/ Unable to sit still (until election day)."
Election forecasts by various newspapers all point to a landslide victory by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. The Asahi Shimbun predicts that the DPJ "could capture 300 seats." The Yomiuri Shimbun says the tally "could top 300," while The Mainichi Shimbun boldly predicts "more than 320." And the later the publication date, the bigger the DPJ's expected size of victory. For the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the nightmare is looming of losing half its seats.
It appears that nonaffiliated voters, who accounted for the "Jun-chan boom" that enabled then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to lead the ruling coalition to a historic victory in 2005 with his postal privatization policy, have decided this time to go along with the surging momentum for a change of government. While many voters are uneasy about the opposition party's campaign promises that sound too good to be true, they have apparently decided to at least give the DPJ a try.
The single-seat constituency system, under which shifts in voters' moods have decisive consequences, is now a curse for the LDP and a blessing for the DPJ. The LDP has had four prime ministers in as many years. If voters have finally reached their limit of tolerance with "same old, same old" and decided to boot out the LDP, the party is in no position to disparage the "suggestible masses." In fact, the LDP has no right to lament its fate now, since it owed its 300 seats in the last Lower House election to the suggestible masses, too.
Could the public's mood change in the final week before election day? "It could change completely overnight or in a couple of days," Prime Minister Taro Aso insisted on a TV program Sunday, vowing an LDP comeback. DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama, who is afraid of his party becoming smug, concurred with Aso on the same program, saying, "There is too much media hype."
Time will tell if the media have judged the situation correctly. For the media, too, the outcome of the Aug. 30 election will be a historic moment of truth. For the first time in many years, maybe for the first time in my life, I myself feel this strong sense of being a part of history in the making--not as a newspaper columnist, but as a voting citizen.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 24(IHT/Asahi: August 25,2009)