Electioneering without posters and burst of crackers

For BBC viewers in Mysore, where we went through a city corporation election recently, the Japanese documentary –Campaign – came as a refreshing study in contrast. Poll time for us means noisy campaign, traffic-blocking morcha, clutter of wall posters, drum-beats and burst of crackers even at the time of filing one’s nomination papers.
The 30-minute BBC film, shown on Sunday morning, is about the poll campaign of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidate contesting the Kawasaki city council election. Forty-year-old Kazuhiko Yamauchi is a first-time candidate nominated by the party of the then PM in Japan. “I want to get famous first, and then run for PM,” he tells friends on his long-term plans. He has no plans, though, to give up his stamp and coin collecting business.
The candidate works the streets, the rail station, neighborhood fast-food joints and people’s homes.  “I’m Kazuhiko Yamauchi,” he calls out to people in a bus queue, and then thrusts his hand out to whoever extends his. In most cases, people put their hands out in sheer reflex action. Yamauchi is shown addressing a drawing-room group of traditional rival party supporters. As a fresher in politics, Yamauchi tells them could do with all the support he could get. Which was why he came to take his chances with them.  Struck by his disarming approach to vote-gathering, a spokesman of the group tells Yamauchi, “we support you, but only this time”, to enable him to find his feet and develop his own support base for the next election.
Yamauchi is what they call, a ‘parachute’ candidate, with no previous political experience, contesting a crucial council seat in Kawasaki. The rival parties shared the city council seats equally (18 seats each) and Yamauchi’s election was to decide the fate of the Japan PM’s party in the city council. PM himself puts in a brief appearance in support of the rookie party candidate.
The documentary film, by Kazuhiro Soda, follows the candidate through his campaign days, and nights. Yamauchi is shown moving about his constituency, all by himself (with no party side-kicks), lugging a poster-size picture of himself and a hand-held megaphone. He works his way through the sidewalks with a quick introduction of himself to passers-by; giving a bow and swift handshake to whoever cares to stop by for him.
An observant party senior finds fault with the way he bows, and tells the candidate how important it is to make eye-contact with the person while ending a hand-shake. “Make sure, you keep bowing, even it is to a telephone pole”, he is told. Back at his modest flat, at the end of a day’s campaigning the candidate is heard telling his friends about the de-briefing he goes through at the party office at the end of the day. In one such session Yamauchi is  asked by a senior why he showed up 30 minutes earlier at a party organized public rally earlier in the day. People expect punctuality, but they don’t want you turning up too early – “people get pissed off; they think you waste time”.
The party keeps a tab on Yamauchi’s every move. Apart from correcting him on his hand-shake, bowing posture the candidate is told some facts of life by an experienced party senior. People’s attention span is breif; they don’t listen to you for more than three seconds (or is it 30?). The party candidate, when he sets out with his wife by his side,   must refer to her  as his housewife. They reckon using the word ‘wife’ sounds strange. Isn’t that strange?
On the day of counting the going is reported to be “too close to call”. Which is seen at the party office as a sign of trouble,”Are we losing?”. The news that their candidate has won by 1000 votes is received with a bland statement, “it seems we have won”. And when they look for the candidate he is found nowhere in the room, or even outside the party office. Tracing Yamauchi at home, he is summoned to the party office, forthwith “A 40-year-old should know better,” observes a party senior, adding that he would reprimand the new–born councilor tomorrow. For today is the day of celebrations, even for the sober Japanese.

Cross-filed from Desicritic


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