Reasons for the rout

The electoral rout has three main causes. As is often the case in Japan, scandal played a role. Hapless Prime Minister Shinzo Abe managed to burn through five ministers during his short tenure, with no less than three agricultural ministers forced out because of financial irregularities. The first, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, committed suicide while under investigation, while his successor, Norihiko Akagi, became embroiled in a funding scandal during the election campaign. Indeed, there are suggestions that Abe's own delayed decision to step down was precipitated by a money scandal that was about to be revealed in the press. Voters also probably held the government responsible for a bureaucratic scandal. In the run up to the election it was reported that the Social Insurance Agency had lost the records of some 50 million people who had been paying into Japan's public pension system. In Japan's ageing society this was electoral poison. A second cause was the canny electoral strategy of the major opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). It decided early to target constituencies with only one sitting member (many constituencies have two or more) and its leaders visited them often. This strategy maximised their chances of securing a swing against the government, and it worked brilliantly. The DPJ won 17 of these seats, with the LDP successful in just six. Further, many of these victories were in rural constituencies, vindicating their strategy of targeting policies at groups that have traditionally supported the LDP, such as in agriculture. Finally, Abe's ineptitude was surely important. As the anointed successor of star politico Junichiro Koizumi, the youthful Abe was expected to lead the party to new heights. Unfortunately, he bombed. This was due in no small part to his policy platform. It centred on the rather wishy-washy rallying cry of transforming Japan into a "Beautiful Country", and emphasised big themes of national identity rather than issues that voters cared about. Despite prodding from his colleagues he stubbornly stuck to this narrative and failed as a result.