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The Enduring Campaign Networks of Tokyo's Shitamachi District

Cheol Hee Park

Ph.D. Candidate
Columbia University

 

This paper examines how and why changes in the electoral system restructured the relationship among political actors at the local level. Based upon an empirical analysis of a conservative candidate's electoral campaign in Tokyo, the author highlights continuity as well as change in Japanese election campaigning.

Reform of the electoral system caused some changes in electoral campaigning. First, local political forces get around under the party flag without concern for intraparty competition. Local party organization is shifting from a clientalistic network to a party machine. But this does not necessarily mean that party platform matters a lot. Second, local politicians, whose actions are party-bound, are forced to make their cooperative stance clear. The nature of cooperation on the part of local politicians is shifting from voluntary choice to compulsory requirement. Third, political parties and their support organizations are urged to gear themselves more to the logic of electoral competition rather than constituent representation if they desire to remain electorally viable.

Despite electoral reform, however, certain aspects of election campaign style remain intact. First, politicians continue to rely heavily on vote-share strategy. This strategy is available to them because informal links that have been socially entrenched and historically cultivated are not cut by the formal rules of game. Second, campaign networks are getting more, not less, important for the candidate because of heavy campaign regulations, the minimized size of districts, and the volatility of floating voters. Third, personal contacts remain the most viable electoral strategy for the candidates in mobilizing supportive constituents, while image appeal is adopted for drawing the attention of the unorganized.

In explaining why some aspects of electoral reform are working while others are not, the author emphasizes two interrelated factors. First, changes in the electoral system affected the relationship among equals who are party-bound in a significant way, but it minimally affects the ties among political actors who are asymmetrically linked. Second, the new electoral system brings about rapid change in interaction among politicians with short-term electoral interests who are bound by competitive context. On the other hand, informal ties between politicians and interest groups based on the long-term exchange relationship survived the electoral reforms.

In sum, changes in the electoral system had more influence on the interaction among competitive political actors with short-term electoral interest while it exerted limited impact on the cooperative ties between politicians and support organizations.