IT’S WORTH TAKING a close look at the photo accompanying this post even if you don’t read Japanese. The picture shows Hatoyama Yukio, the head of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, holding up a booklet with the party’s campaign slogan, Seiken Kotai, or Change of Government, as the title. Just below that the English word “manifesto” is visible. (The Japanese have imported that British term directly into their language to describe what Americans would call a party platform.) At the bottom right of the booklet is the party symbol and the name of the party.
The photo was taken at a Tokyo press conference on 27 July attended by roughly 500 members of the media when Mr. Hatoyama presented the party manifesto for the upcoming lower house election just one month away. As the vernacular edition of the Asahi Shimbun reported, it specifies the schedule for implementing the party’s primary policies if they wind up forming a government. The Asahi adds, “The DPJ positions this manifesto as its basic policy for budget formulation.” The event itself was surely the best-attended press conference in Japanese history for the presentation of an opposition party’s political platform, and that’s just how the DPJ wanted it. It was a prime opportunity to demonstrate to the nation that they are indeed capable of governing.
This time, however, the picture is not worth quite a thousand words–it helps to have some supplementation from the following three short videos of television news reports. The first video is a report of the press conference. It starts off with Mr. Hatoyama saying, “We will fight our campaign for a change in government based on the manifesto.” At the 1:25 mark, the news reader reveals that the DPJ says it will continue for the time being Japan’s UN-approved Indian Ocean refueling mission in support of the NATO effort in Afghanistan. Trying to stop that mission was the first ploy the party used to try to bring down the LDP government in the fall of 2007 after it took control of the upper house of the Diet. (It didn’t work.) Then, at about the 1:30 mark, there’s a close-up of the booklet with a clear shot of the word “manifesto”.
The news reader continues by noting that critics charge the DPJ’s spending proposals are unrealistic and will have problems finding the money. A DPJ official appears at about the 2:00 mark to say, “It’s not possible that there aren’t any funding sources.”
The second video also offers coverage of Mr. Hatoyama’s press conference. It shows the banner above and behind the podium that describes the event as the “announcement of the manifesto”.
Further, it shows Mr. Hatoyama saying that if he becomes prime minister and is unable to achieve the promises in the manifesto, “I will accept responsibility as a politician”.
It concludes with a brief clip of Prime Minister Aso Taro: “The funding sources are irresponsible. It’s extremely vague. That’s the biggest problem.”
Finally, here’s a third video of a television report with a male and female news reader. It was broadcast on Wednesday, 29 July, just two days after the DPJ presented its manifesto.
The male news reader leads off with Mr. Hatoyama’s claim that what he presented as the party “manifesto” isn’t the “official manifesto”. The female news reader adds that people think his about-face stems from Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru’s criticism of the platform, and that the DPJ is going to make some additions.
This video is worth watching if only to see the facial expression and demeanor of Mr. Hatoyama from 20-40 seconds in when he lies to the reporters realizing that every last one of them knows he’s lying as he stands there talking. What’s he saying?
“What I presented before was a “Collection of Government Policies”. It wasn’t the official manifesto. I have given instructions that language be inserted regarding a deliberative council for the nation(al government) and the region(al governments).”
The female reporter then explains Gov. Hashimoto slammed the party’s failure to include a plank in the platform calling for the creation of that body to discuss devolution.
She adds that Mr. Hatoyama now says the party won’t extend the Indian Ocean refueling mission after it expires on January 15, despite what he said two days before.
The Osaka governor has good reason to be upset. For starters, devolution is his pet policy–it’s the foundation of his political career, and it’s kept his public approval rating at the 80% level. That rating is why the DPJ is courting his support. Not long ago, they sent party bigwig Okada Katsuya to Osaka to sorta kinda promise that the DPJ would back the creation of a state/province system, which Mr. Hatoyama strongly supports.
The party’s pas de deux with the Osaka governor is made more complicated by the fact that they backed his opponent in the last election.
Then, as you can see from this English-language page on the DPJ website, four other DPJ officials paid a call on Mr. Hashimoto on 8 July. The DPJ’s report on the meeting contains this sentence:
“…in order for decentralization to take place, he wanted the DPJ to include a reference to it as a governing mechanism that would fundamentally change the relationship between the central government and the regions in the party manifesto.”
That’s not the best translation, but it’s understandable. In other words, the governor asked the party to create a deliberative council for devolution, and fewer than three weeks later, they blew him off. Were they so busy scouting around for funding sources for their other platform planks that it just plumb slipped their mind, or was their hot interest in devolution just so much hot air to attract votes?
My, but aren’t the DPJ a piece of work? They play kissy face with one of the country’s most popular politicians and then forget completely about him before the month is out. On a Monday, they hold a press conference to unveil their long-awaited party platform. Mr. Hatoyama calls it a manifesto, the banner in the hall calls it a manifesto, it says manifesto on the cover, and the mass media calls it a manifesto.
On a Tuesday, Mr. Hashimoto wonders what happened with all those sweet nothings the party fed him earlier this month. On a Wednesday, Party President Hatoyama Yukio, looking for all the world like a teenager talking to a store manager while desperately hoping the shoplifted merchandise he’s stuffed under his shirt isn’t showing, says, oh, that, that was no official manifesto, that was just a “Collection of Government Policies”.
Too bad he forget to tell the rest of the party. Clicking on the link to the Democratic Party of Japan on the right sidebar will take you to their English site. That in turn has a link to a 47-page PDF file in English that has Manifesto written all over it. It’s even there in English on the Japanese version. Could it be that it doesn’t really count because the word “manifesto” is written in English?
Then again, at the bottom of the last page of the English version, it says:
Date ***, *** 2009
Now you know why the percentage of undecided voters for the upcoming election is still hovering between 35-40%, even though the LDP is so clapped out as a political force they probably couldn’t muster the energy to rig the election if their lives depended on it.
The DPJ has been trying to convince everyone for two years that they’re finally ready to take over the reins of government. Yet two days after rolling out their party platform, they come up with a dog-ate-my-homework excuse to deny it was the platform to buy time for rewriting it and include a plank to placate an important, non-DPJ governor they were flirting with earlier this month.
During the same two-day period, Mr. Hatoyama did another 180-degree spin on his statement about the Indian Ocean refueling mission.
Here’s the funniest part: If the DPJ wins the election and forms a government, pundits and talking heads around the world will try to fill newspaper space, airtime, and websites with predictions on what the party will do while in office. But every last column inch, broadcast second, and pixel will be a waste of time for the news consumer.
The DPJ itself doesn’t have a clue what it’s going to do from day to day. How is anyone else supposed to know?
The party and its supporters like to claim it’s full of policy wanks. Maybe they’re right–who else would have so little experience with retail politics and actual government to think that the most important document in the party’s history is a cut-and-paste collage subject to change at a moment’s notice?
Manifestly, it’s no exaggeration to say that if the party’s not ready for prime time now, it never really will be.
Reading the entire DPJ platform is mildly interesting if you have some time to kill. As with most documents of this sort, it’s a combination of some good ideas and some arrant nonsense.
It was a bit of a surprise to see that they stuck with their old plan to eliminate 80 proportional representational seats from the lower house. The Social Democrats threatened to withhold any cooperation with the DPJ in government if they included that plank. Perhaps the DPJ has calculated that they don’t need their help after all.
On the other hand, they claim they have to freeze postal privatization because the LDP decided to take the step without “public engagement”. Before you ask yourself if they expect anyone to believe that bologna, remember that the party also expects people to believe that Monday’s Manifesto was really only Wednesday’s “Collection of Government Policies”.
Those who remember the lower house election of 2005 don’t need to be reminded that then-Prime Minister Koizumi dissolved the Diet and fought the campaign entirely over the issue of postal privatization. That’s the most “public engagement” a politician or party has ever offered the Japanese public in the last quarter of a century, and it electrified the country.
Then again, maybe the DPJ forgot about that, too. Okada Katsuya was party president at the time, and he does often seem as if he’s sleepwalking during broad daylight.
It’s also worth noting that the “Collection of Government Policies” does not include a call for providing voting rights in local elections to non-citizens; i.e., the people born in Japan who choose to retain Korean citizenship. All the top DPJ brass support that measure, but a reported 51 of the party’s Diet members are so strongly opposed that it created concerns of a rupture. (The constitutionality of that measure is also on the iffy side.)
And one wonders what Mr. Hatoyama means by “taking responsibility as a politician” if he’s unable as prime minister to implement the policies in the platform. The last time he said he would take responsibility, it was in the context of resigning from his party leadership position if former president Ozawa Ichiro resigned over a fund-raising scandal.
On a Monday, Mr. Ozawa did resign. On the following Saturday, Mr. Hatoyama “took responsibility” by taking Mr. Ozawa’s place.
Mr. Okada has since chimed in by saying he thinks having flexible policies is A-OK:
“We shouldn’t be reluctant to amend (the manifesto) if it’s necessary.”
In fact, the DPJ had one of its local Osaka party members visit Mr. Hashimoto for an explantion.
But everyone had to wait for the man who some think still calls the shots for the DPJ behind the scenes: disgraced former party president Ozawa Ichiro. You betcha he had an opinion, too.
“It wouldn’t be (a) bad (idea) to include (the plank about the deliberative council), but we’re saying that we will make a fundamental change to the current government mechanisms. It isn’t necessary to conduct a debate on the premise of the current mechanisms.”
In other words, he thinks the manifesto doesn’t have to be changed.
Now there are reports (which I haven’t seen first-hand), that the party has pirouetted once again and is saying their first manifesto is official after all.
If true, it would seem as if they had to go ask daddy to straighten up their most recent fine mess. It brings yet another dimension to the phrase, in loco parentis.
FURTHER UPDATE: How interesting that YouTube pulled the third video for the lack of proper authorization, but the two initial reports remain available.
Somebody somewhere obviously doesn’t want you to see something. I think we can all draw our own conclusions.