Monday, February 03, 2014

Funny Business In The Tokyo Election?

Nuisance candidates, nobodies recruited to run in contests because they have names similar to those of a legitimate candidate, are a recurrent low-level feature of Japanese politics. They can exist because of the quaint custom of requiring voters to write down the names of candidates on ballot papers. Two candidates with similar names would result in a certain percentage of voters mismarking their ballots, with the voter putting down the name of one candidate while intending to vote for the other.

Most of the time nuisance candidates are simply that -- a nuisance -- stealing a few votes away from a candidate, not changing an election's outcome. Their presence can contribute to some eyebrow-raising final election results, though.

There is an argument that nuisance candidacies exist largely in the imagination -- as excuses why a candidate received the vote he or she did. The low number of similarity-of-name problems hobbling the candidacies of LDP candidates indicates, however, that there is actual funny business going on. Their primary goal has been seemingly to prevent Communist Party candidates from capturing the required percentage of the vote necessary for the party to receive a refund of the candidacy deposit (kyotakukin - Link).

Utsunomiya Kenji is likely to receive the 10% of the vote he needs to have his 3 million yen deposit returned to him after next Sunday's Tokyo gubernatorial by-election. That seemingly has not prevented someone -- or a group of someones -- from at least trying to steal votes away from a candidate supported by both the Communists and the Socialists.

Because there is another "Kenji" among the 16 other candidates for governor - a "Himeji Kenji" -- listed as being an individual involved in "building management."

A "Himeji Kenji" would be difficult difficult to mistake for an "Utsunomiya Kenji" most of the time -- even though it pits a "Name of a medium-sized city in Western Japan + Kenji" candidate against as "name of a medium-sized city of Eastern Japan + Kenji" candidate. The kanji would just be too different.

However, for reasons unexplained and yet completely transparent, "Himeji Kenji" chose to have his name listed on the ballot written entirely in syllabic hiragana -- no kanji at all -- and by the purest, most idiotic quirk of the draw, "Himeji Kenji" is in the #1 position of the list of candidates.

Who is in the #2 position, also all by the luck of the draw? Utsunomiya Kenji, written in kanji.

The confusion may cause only a few votes to slide to the nuisance candidate, whose name (ひめじけんじ) is so much easier to write than legitimate candidate's (宇都宮健児). In the case of a ballot marked just "Kenji" in hiragana the vote will be split, each candidate recorded as receiving 1/2 a vote.

Later - In comments, reader 井上エイド informs me that the listing order is not random, as indicated in the above underlined segments. Instead it reflects the order of the receipt of the candidate registration -- which makes the likelihood of "Himeji Kenji" being a stalker all the greater.


井上エイド said...

The positions on the ballot are not random or by luck of the draw. They are by the order received (候補届出順).

MTC said...

井上エイド -

On the day of the submission day? Meaning that Himeji Kenji was first in line?


Simon said...

"The confusion may cause only a few votes to slide to the nuisance candidate, whose name (うつのみけんじ)is so much easier to write than legitimate candidate's (宇都宮健児)."

Think you want ひめじけんじ in the first one there :)

Anonymous said...

I have a few questions, Mike, please do pardon me if this is off-topic.

Just what is it with Japanese aversion of party politics in gubernatorial/mayoral local elections?

With every other candidate running as "independents", receiving endorsements from parties rather than running on said parties' respective tickets. This includes the ruling LDP/Komeito coalition, who are supposed to be popular in the polls to date.

This is not just Tokyo, but every other municipality out there.

Secondly, I've observed that outside the big cities, the non-JCP opposition parties (mainly the DPJ), rather than fielding/endorsing a candidate themselves, opt to endorse the LDP-endorsed incumbent. If it weren't for the JCP candidate, we'd be seeing walk-overs everywhere.

Have these opposition parties (again mainly the DPJ) been nerfed so much by the Might of Abe that they no longer have faith in themselves in standing up against the LDP in the local level? Was it like that in the 1955-system era when the Socialists were the main opposition?

(OTOH, local assembly elections are still run on party lines. )

MTC said...

Simon -

Thanks for catching that.

MTC said...

Anonymous -

In most local elections the "independents" are just LDP members trying to develop a local base larger than the core LDP electorate. Being a nominal independent makes sense post-election as well, the executive branch being in position of having to make nice with more than just the members of one or two parties in the local assembly.

That being said, I think the independents of the 2014 Tokyo elections are real independents whose candidacies the parties had to think about -- and are still thinking about -- supporting.

井上エイド said...

Remember that if you're governor, you don't need to pool your vote together or speak as a group with other legislators as one does in a legislative house, nor do you benefit as much from debate and procedure rules oriented towards party blocs. Thus being a party member is less important for the position of governor.

井上エイド said...

I wasn't there on the 39th floor of the Tokyo Metro building, so I don't know how that works: if they submitted the applications in person, had an assistant do it, etc.

Also, given the speed (unplanned resignation), it would be quite Machiavellian indeed if Kenji Himeji somehow discovered during that very brief and unexpected candidate application window that Kenji Utsunomiya was also running and timed his application perfectly so they'd be next to each other.

I'm going through the Tokyo election rule book now (fun fact: most prefectures have their own rules) and the rules regarding permissible names and how they're ordered is quite complex and thick. There are areas where the names / posters are ordered by lottery, but the candidate list is not one of them. Also, in the (early) voting booth, the candidates names were written vertically top-down right-left, so Kenji Himeji was on the far right. Furigana and party affiliation (all unaffiliated except for "Mac") is also listed.

I'm sure there are a few people among the more than ten million eligible voters in last-name-by-habit-since-birth Japanese society that will write "kenji" on the ballot, but I'm willing to bet that even more people write their cat's name "tama" on the ballot as a protest vote. In other words, too statistically insignificant to make a noticeable.

Mulling about conspiracy theories among two candidates with the very, very common first names is a little bit of a stretch.

Now, if there were two or more candidates that had non-common family names running at the same time (i.e. "Onozawa" etc), you would have a point.