Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 9, 2011
THE CURRENT political situation in Japan can only be described as extraordinary. Prime Minister Kan Naoto, a man whose distinguishing traits are amorality, powerlust, and a conviction in his vindication by history, long ago lost what little claim to a mandate he ever had. Nevertheless, he has leveraged the structural flaws of the Westminster system and the endemic character flaws of politicos everywhere (a desire to retain their plush make-work positions and a fear of the electorate) to operate a de facto dictatorship within a democracy. While not an anticipated result of a Kan premiership, neither is it surprising. In his book on politics, Mr. Kan offered the novel thesis that democracies were just time-limited dictatorships.
When stuck in a not dissimilar mess, the Romanians had a simple solution: They stood Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife next to a wall and shot them. That is not an option the Japanese would or should entertain, however, and so they are stumped.
While I continue to work on a post about last week’s events in Nagata-cho, this excerpt from the current issue of the weekly Shukan Post should give you an idea of the hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing Mr. Kan inspires in his countrymen.
To set the stage: He attended a meeting of all the Democratic Party MPs on the 28th. The gathering was not going well for him; indeed, the Asahi Shimbun reported that he was jeered by some in attendance. In response, he flashed a threat to dissolve the Diet and call an election that none of them want to contest — this is his own party, remember — and then left early, pleading the demands of public affairs. (He did have a meeting with South Korean legislators, but it was not scheduled to begin for a while yet.)
“If you think you can do it (call an election), why don’t you try? The Democratic Party will of course be slaughtered, and Mr. Kan and his associates will be the first to go down. They will probably never appear on the political stage again. But a man whose thirst for power is so strong is unlikely to have the guts to take that gamble.
“Former DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro dismissed the bluff with a curt comment, ‘There’s no way he’s capable of it.’ But many DPJ Diet members think he is all too capable of it. They’ve taken his threat so seriously that they’ve backed down. As a result, this crowd, which has no confidence of receiving any support from the people, is permitting Kan to stay in office.
“It is absolutely the same for the opposition parties, including the LDP. Party head Tanigaki Sadakazu has cold feet: “It wouldn’t make any sense to dissolve the Diet right away.” Considering the circumstances of the people in the areas affected by the earthquake/tsunami, of course it would be best not to create a political vacuum, but we’ve already got a political vacuum now, haven’t we? For the people as well, starting over with a general election is by no means a bad idea. In short, the LDP has no self-confidence either.
“The prime minister who has been abandoned by the people is now out of control. The responsibility for the inability to stop him lies with the other 719 members of the Diet. There is a well-known Confucian expression that people who fail to act despite knowing what they should do have no courage. The first thing both the ruling and the opposition parties should do is stop mouthing such trivialities and simply make Kan quit. They should try to do the job the people unquestionably want them to do.
“Some Diet members justify the failure to perform their duties with the excuse of ‘(the people in) the distressed areas…’, but we wonder if any of them have ever been there. Most of the people there who have talked to reporters from this publication told them they want Prime Minister Kan to quit as soon as possible.
“If it is the case that we have a collection of 720 fatheads on our hands, we voters must also reflect on our own errors. In the coming election, talk of past accomplishments or connections will be irrelevant. Our only choice is to select politicians capable of acting in accordance with the will of the people. The current Diet members are running away from an election because they find it frightening, and all of them are worthless.
“’How about that’, laughs the Empty Kan Prime Minister as he empties one can of beer after another, ‘the people hate me, but you’re all afraid of the voters too!’.
Just who is responsible for this period of a do-nothing government?
The publication gets one thing wrong in the above excerpt, unfortunately. Japan’s Diet has a proportional representation system, which is a form of legal vote-rigging, so current Diet members could lose their seats by the most lopsided of margins and still keep their jobs if the party puts them at the top of the PR slate. Those seats are decided separately by percentage of party vote.
Some American readers might have done a double-take at the line about the prime minister and his beer, but few in Japan will. They already know he’s got a head start on the embalming process — compare his recent photographs with those of the latter-stage Boris Yeltsin, for example — and in these matters the Japanese eschew the puritanical hypocrisy of the Yanks.
The same article in the Shukan Post describes a guided tour of the prime minister’s residence that Mr. Kan’s wife Nobuko recently gave to a group of friends and associates. Here’s another excerpt:
“What caused the eyes of the invited guests to bug out during the tour was the stack of empty beer cases in the kitchen.
“When she was asked who drank that much, Mrs. Kan raised her voice and laughed.
“’It’s not easy for us to go out for a drink, you know? So we buy it in bulk from a nearby liquor store. Kan and I drink it ourselves.’
“Beer, shochu, or wine, anything is fine with Kan Nobuko. Even if her husband is passed out drunk in a corner, she’s been known to ignore him and keep drinking and chatting away. There are well-known stories that when their sons were still children, Mr. and Mrs. Kan would take them along to a small counter bar in the Golden-gai district of Shinjuku. They occupied a corner and knocked back drinks one after another.
“Having a taste for liquor is one thing, but the person who related the story of the beer cases added, ‘It wasn’t an amount that they could have drunk in a month or two.’”
One of the essential chapters to Friedrich Hayek’s essential work, The Road to Serfdom, is titled, Why the Worst Get on Top. Hayek’s focus was on the totalitarian societies of the left in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union, but some of his argument is applicable to other contexts as well.
More to come.
Set ‘em up, John Lee.