Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 22, 2010
ONE REASON it seems to be so difficult for Japanese politicians to create a stable two-party system is that their behavior makes it so difficult for them to gather in conventional groupings. That’s compounded by the natural impulse of politicians everywhere to look out for their own interests first.
People have been watching for some time to see whether upper house member and former Health Minister Masuzoe Yoichi of the Liberal Democratic Party would bolt to form a new party or stay put and work from within. The question is of interest because Mr. Masuzoe has been topping the polls in recent weeks as the man Japanese would most like to see as the next prime minister (at roughly the 20%-25% level). More than a few politicians suspected he would stay in the LDP because they thought he really wanted the job of party president, despite a somewhat sulky, uncooperative attitude toward other members in recent weeks.
Other politicians were spreading rumors, however, that he was having trouble coaxing enough people to join him in a new splinter party because he’s a limelight hog uninterested in applying himself to the unglamorous work of starting from scratch and putting together a structure from the ground up. Today, however, brought reports that he’s rounded up the other four Diet members needed to meet the numerical requirements to receive public funds as a political party. Perhaps he finally realized the LDP was not going to turn its lonely eyes to him, and that they would rather die separately than live together.
If there was ever an instance that demonstrates the futility of trying to predict the course of Japanese politics, here it is in capital letters. Mr. Masuzoe has been talking the talk of a small-government, Koizumian-style reformer, but that isn’t even light-years close to the philosophies of his new stablemates—he’s recruited four members of the Kaikaku Club. While that name does translate to “Reform Club”, and they’ve taken to calling themselves the Renaissance Party in English, they are reformers only because that’s what’s printed on the name tags clipped to their lapels. Indeed, most of them would have fit in well with the LDP of yesteryear. Until late summer 2008, one Kaikaku Club member now on Mr. Masuzoe’s team was a member of the now-ruling DPJ when it was in opposition, but he split for several reasons. They included an understandable exasperation with then-party head Ozawa Ichiro, an affinity for LDP policies, and a cultural conservatism that seems incompatible with the DPJ. Another member of Mr. Masuzoe’s new group, Arai Hiroyuki, was once tossed from the LDP for his opposition to postal privatization.
In fact, there were rumors when the Kaikaku Club was founded that the financial backing to create a party came from the LDP itself as a way to whittle away at the DPJ’s working majority in the upper house at the time. (Try the second half of this post for some background on what happened then and to get an idea of what they’re like.)
Has Mr. Masuzoe’s talk been as hollow all along as the Kaikaku Club’s name? Instead of a reform party, this enterprise smacks of a hastily cobbled-together vehicle of expediency. Any stickers on his campaign truck in the coming upper house election campaign should have “It’s all about me” printed on them rather than “reform”.
In the 1732 collection of proverbs known as Gnomologia, Dr. Thomas Fuller wrote: “The higher an ape mounts, the more he shows his breech.”
In Mr. Masuzoe’s case, perhaps it’s time to hide our eyes. Rather than being a productive contribution to political realignment, this is an almost perverse backward step.