AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Japanese Political Realignment’

Normalization

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 14, 2012

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Foreigners are making a big commotion about how Japan is moving to the right, but that’s all those people have been saying for the past 60 years. We’re not on some clock, and even if we are moving rightward, militarism is not going to return. So, just how far to the right is Japan moving then?

- The Tweeter known as Aceface

JAPAN will go to the polls on Sunday to select 480 members of the lower house of the Diet, and, as a consequence, a new government. This will be an important election for several reasons. One is that it will be the first election after the Democratic Party of Japan betrayed the public’s trust in the same way the Liberal-Democratic Party did post-Koizumi, while demonstrating unspeakable incompetence in the bargain. Thus, the politicians are facing an electorate who does not want to get fooled again.

Another is that it will be the expression of the political will of a younger generation of Japanese for whom debate of events several decades ago in a world long dead and gone has no meaning. Why should they? Their parents were born after the war. It is as of little interest to them as America’s victory in that war is for the Millennials in the United States, many of whom don’t know the difference between Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt.

Regardless of who wins — and it looks now as if a negotiated coalition could result — there will be more people in the Diet representing ideas that make some people outside the country uncomfortable. There is growing interest in amending the Japanese Constitution to remove the indignity of Article 9, the peace clause. Everyone has the right to defend themselves, including the Japanese. Americans once thought, and many still do, that self-defense is a natural and inalienable right. Events over the years have shown the Japanese are no more likely to become involved in malevolent adventures abroad than any other country. Events in recent years have shown they are a lot less likely to become involved in those adventures than some of their neighbors.

Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru isn’t running for the Diet, but he —- and Chinese behavior — has made constitutional reform a legitimate issue for public discussion. Some detractors label him a dictator and use the word Hashism as a code word for his movement. That reaction to what he represents shares much in common with those in America who tar with the racist brush those who criticize Barack Obama for spending too much time on the golf course or employing the poison ball brand of Chicago politics he was schooled in.

Dictatorial? Mr. Hashimoto wants a national referendum on the question. What could be more democratic?

The Osaka mayor also said:

We must create the defensive capabilities and policies for Japan to defend its sovereignty and land by itself.

He and many like him would draw the line with China which needs to be drawn and continue cooperation with the United States. He’s written:

China has become a great power with responsibility, so it also has to behave responsibly. Demonstrations are one thing, but they have to stop the violence. It would also be a good idea to end the childish threats to cut off all relations whenever disputes occur. The international community jeers at them behind their back….

…Japan should be proud of the path it has taken in the postwar period. It should be proud of the more than JPY 3 trillion in ODA they’ve given to China. It should say what needs to be said to China. But we should also be aware that it won’t be so easy to wash away our past behavior.

As for other territorial disputes:

We cannot change South Korea’s effective control of Takeshima with military force.

He therefore proposed joint management of the islets while taking the case to the International Court of Justice. (Prime Minister Noda’s government is backing off their threat to do so. They’re waiting to see who wins the South Korean presidential election and thought sub-ministerial discussions with the Koreans have gone well lately. All of that is pointless considering the hard-wired Korean intransigence.)

He’s also in favor of downsizing government, rethinking the government’s social welfare responsibilities, decentralizing government authority, and controlling the out-of-control public sector unions.

Another result of the election is that Abe Shinzo, who also wants to amend the Constitution, and who passed the legislation enabling national referendums during his term as prime minister, might be serving a second term.

That the Chinese, the South Koreans, and some in the United States throw up their hands as if they were maidens threatened with violation and exclaim “extreme right wing!” or “nationalism!” says more about them than it does about the Japanese. Ending the renunciation of warfare and enforced pacifism is not right-wing, nationalistic, hawkish, or abnormal. The abnormality lies with those who object because they might lose their favorite diplomatic weapon. Are Japanese born with some geopolitical original sin that afflicts no one else?

The real complaint is that Japan is moving to end the postwar regime. That would inconvenience too many people not only in China and South Korea, but also the United States. Who knows? If they keep going down this road, Japan might actually start to tell the Americans no. Can’t have that, can we?

William Choong in the Straits Times of Singapore understands. He discusses both Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Abe in this article, and says:

(I)t is important to see things in perspective. Japan’s rightward shift does not mean that it will go all the way right and revert to its odious World War II-era aggression. Instead, Japan is moving right to the centre.

In the long run, Japan will become a “normal” country – it will retain the right to wage war, assemble a standing army (as opposed to self-defence forces), and contribute substantially to the provision of regional and global security.

(Forgive him the “all the way to the right” line. Pre-war Japan had fascist political tendencies, and those are always statist — and therefore of the left.)

Mr. Choong also quotes University of Macau Prof. Wang Jianwei on China’s proper response:

Japan should sign a formal statement of apology for its wartime crimes, ban visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by its prime ministers, relinquish its bid to control the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands and resolve the dispute through negotiation.

If Japan were to agree to such conditions, China could, writes Prof Wang, recognize Japan’s “normal” country status and even support Tokyo’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

Why the Chinese need another apology from the Japanese government after having received more than 20 already, JPY 3 trillion in ODA as de facto reparations, and signed a treaty normalizing relations that pledged to let bygones be bygones is not explained. In any event, China would be no more likely to keep its promise about supporting a Security Council seat than the South Koreans have kept their promises in bilateral negotiations over the years.

In a larger sense that few people outside the country can understand, Sunday’s election is not about government. Japan has all the government it needs, and like everyone else, needs a lot less of what it has.

Rather, the vote on Sunday will be another step in Japan’s reclamation of its nationhood. When that reclamation is complete, then it will be normal again.

*****
It’s been a long and winding road.

Posted in China, Government, International relations, Military affairs, Politics, Social trends, South Korea, World War II | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Interview with Watanabe Yoshimi

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Watanabe Yoshimi

WATANABE Yoshimi, the president of Your Party, the first of the Third Force reform parties, gave an interview published in the press last week. Here it is in English.

What is your strategy for victory in the lower house election?

WY: The key to victory is whether we can segregate the candidates of the so-called Third Forces and avoid going head-to-head against each other in election districts. An inability to do that will create the worst result, which would be crushing each other.

You’re competing with the Japan Restoration Party in some districts.

WY: We took our time to select good people and meet our target of 70 candidates. In those places where we couldn’t reach a compromise, we have no choice but to go head to head.

You weren’t able to merge with the Japan Restoration Party.

WY: We reached a broad agreement with the party in policy discussions, but the gulf between us is too wide to allow a merger. As soon as they merged with (Ishihara Shintaro’s) Sun Party, the opposition to nuclear power disappeared. Civil service reform is the A of the ABCs for both Your Party and the Japan Restoration Party, but this has also disappeared. Won’t the people wonder what happened and view this suspiciously?

What are the points at issue in the lower house election?

WY: We intend to fight on the policies of growth without a consumption tax increase, small government, and regional devolution as opposed to centralization. Governance by the bureaucracy in Japan has resulted in a deflationary economy. The political class is no longer the control tower of governance. National strategy has been left entirely to the vertically divided central government bureaucracies. We will restore the Japanese economy by creating a real control tower and implementing a competitive growth strategy.

You’re calling for a suspension of the consumption tax increase and converting the tax to a revenue source for local government.

WY: Allowing an increase in the national government tax will facilitate bureaucratic governance. The dependency on central government will become chronic. That’s why we want to make that tax a local government revenue source. The starting point for this debate is a new state/province system with regional autonomy.

How will you achieve “zero nuclear energy”?

WY: Nuclear energy is the extension of the electric power supply system based on regional monopolies. If each of the utilities can achieve mutual adaptability, we can secure enough energy at peak periods without nuclear energy. We will promote the deregulation of power generation and the separation of the generation and supply systems through the entry of new companies into the industry. More consumers will choose their power sources. That way, nuclear power will gradually fall away.

What will the framework of government be after the election?

WY: That all depends on the outcome. If the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito become the largest bloc, they will probably have to create a coalition with the Democratic Party to supplement their own forces and create a stable government. That’s because gridlock would still exist in the upper house. It is very likely that the system of three-party collusion will be maintained.

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ain’t that peculiar

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 29, 2012

Iida Tetsunari and Kada Yukiko

Shiga Gov. Kada Yukiko has formed a national political party called the Japan Future Party. I met Ms. Iida several times when I was governor of Miyazaki, and we’ve appeared on the same television programs together. What’s odd about this, however, is that there is a lot of criticism and censure whenever the chief executive of a local government becomes the head of a political party. ‘Is it possible for a local government leader to head a national party’, they ask. ‘Do they have that much spare time?’ ‘They’re making light of national government.’ None of that has happened this time. I’ve said from the beginning that it is possible to do both jobs if you’re willing to work without sleeping. Where did all the people who were so critical go the last time this happened?

- Higashikokubaru Hideo, former Miyazaki governor and current Japan Restoration Party candidate for a PR seat, making an unspoken reference to Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru

NOW ain’t that peculiar?

SHIGA Gov. Kada Yukiko is well known in citizen-activist circles for a her commitment to governmental reform. She was elected governor in 2006 after campaigning on a platform of opposing a new Shinkansen station and several dams, using the slogan “It’s a waste of money.” She was part of the now idle Sentaku group of local government leaders working to change Japanese politics. But outside of Shiga, she has little name recognition with the Japanese public.

Thus, it was like grabbing a stick from a bamboo grove, as the Japanese call a bolt from the blue, when she announced this week that she was forming a new national political party from scratch to contest the lower house election — in 19 days.

She said the primary objective of her Japan Future Party was to have Japan “graduate” from nuclear power in 10 years. She was disappointed in Hashimoto Toru for allowing the resumption of power generation at the Oi plants in Fukui, and his Japan Restoration Party for backing off its no-nuclear-power pledge. Ms. Kada also thinks women’s and children’s issues are important:

We agree with Japan Restoration on detaching ourselves from the bureaucracy and central authority, but we differ on two points. Mr. Hashimoto’s perspective is the big city, while mine is the country. Japan Restoration is not aware of the diversity of views of women and children. There are areas in which we could complement each other.

Appearing at the news conference was the man who is described as the party’s “second in command, the controversial Iida Tetsunari, who founded the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies. He thinks Japan can convert to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

He was once the energy policy advisor to Mr. Hashimoto, but left when the Osaka mayor decided to back the restart of the Oi plants. He ran for governor of Yamaguchi, but could manage only 35% of the vote despite the free media publicity at the height of the anti-nuclear power hysteria in Japan. Mr. Hashimoto did not make the short trip down from Osaka to campaign for him.

She doesn’t seem to have thought very carefully about any of her policies. An official from METI, which were responsible for regulating the nuclear power industry, said:

It is not possible to imagine a path that achieves zero nuclear power in 10 years.

He pointed out that apart from water power, renewable energy, including solar, wind, and geothermal, accounts for 2% of power generation now.

The rest of the new party’s platform consists of other phantasms that aren’t the business of national government: She wants to “create more opportunities for women and promote a work-life balance that makes it easier for families to raise children.” Ms. Kada said she also wants create hiring in the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. She didn’t say how she intends to do any of that, but it’s safe to assume the regional devolution supporter will have no qualms about strengthening the central government to achieve it.

Another plank in her platform is to require companies to rehire their non-regular employees as full time employees. That means they and new people entering the work force will wind up as non-employees.

She also promised to roll back the consumption tax increase until government waste was eliminated. That was the same promise the Democratic Party of Japan made three years ago and broke this year.

Was there anything about foreign policy? Do you have to ask?

In other words, she is a generic and watery social democrat of the type that appeal to bored housewives, hairballs, and show biz types such as Sakamoto Ryuichi (who is a Kada supporter).

It becomes more peculiar: Ms. Kada will not run for a Diet seat, and told one of her aides at the statehouse that she intends to devote most of her attention to her duties there rather than the national party. Further, her party has no Diet members and no declared candidates. (Mr. Iida is not going to run for the Diet either.) She had demonstrated no interest in forming a national political party before, and certainly has no experience in navigating those shark-infested waters. How could she do this so quickly? Just what is going on here?

What is going on became clear within a few hours of her announcement. Yamaoka Kenji, the vice-president of Ozawa Ichiro’s People’s Lives First Party and Mr. Ozawa’s designated torpedo, said:

I think we’ll merge (with Kada’s party) after dissolving our party.

And they did. In other words, Ozawa Ichiro, the Great Destroyer, facing political extinction in this election with personal negatives well north of 80% and his party slithering along at less than 2% in the polls, decided to save his career and salvage his power by doing what he has done several times in the past. That is to create a new party (his seventh), change his policy clothes into whatever seems fashionable at the time, and enlist someone pleasant, innocuous, and superficially appealing person as his front man. Only this time, the front man is a woman.

It wasn’t long before it became clearer still. Former LDP bigwig, splinter group-head, and DPJ coalition partner Kamei Shizuka recently broke up his even smaller and newer two-man splinter party to join Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi’s Tax Reduction Japan Party. That group will also become part of the Japan Future Party. Also joining is former Social Democrat Abe Tomoko, who quit to join the Greens, and Hatsushika Akihiro, Pyeongyang’s pal in the Diet, who left the DPJ earlier this month.

It became perfectly obvious yesterday, when the Japan Future Party became an official national party with eight founding members from the recently dissolved Diet. In addition to Abe Tomoko, they include Yamada Masahiko, the other half of Mr. Kamei’s two-man party, former Olympic judo champion Tani Ryoko, whom Mr. Ozawa groomed as a celebrity upper house candidate for the DPJ in 2010, and several men who have followed Mr. Ozawa through three political parties and now into a fourth.

A chart on the front page of this morning’s newspaper shows that Japan Future has 61 Diet members, which, if the Diet had not been dissolved, would make it the third-largest party behind the DPJ and LDP. When asked at a news conference how many members her party had, Ms. Kada replied:

“I understand there are about 73-74 as of now.”

“She understands”? She’s the boss. Doesn’t she know?

Of course she doesn’t know. Ms. Kada is sticking to her knitting as the Shiga governor while sallying forth for the occasional national speech and television performance. The people running the party are the people who really organized the party — Ozawa Ichiro and Kamei Shizuka.

But Mr. Ozawa is so unpopular with the public that giving him a formal position in Japan Future would ensure it would be stillborn. Mr. Iida was asked if he would be made an officer, and he answered:

“I understand that he will not have that role.”

“He understands”? He’s the number two man in the party. Doesn’t he know?

It doesn’t take long for the Japanese media to ferret out information related to political plots, and they were quick off the ball this time as well. It turns out that Messrs. Ozawa and Kamei have been discussing ways to create a new party for the last three months. Mr. Ozawa had already met Gov. Kada in June and offered her the top job in People’s Lives First then. UPDATE: The latest report is that Iwate Gov. Tasso Tatsuya, an Ozawa supporter, made the proposal to Ms. Kada for this party in late September.

They met again last week to iron out the details. Reported the Asahi:

Kada offered a draft of her plan to form a loose alliance of anti-nuclear parties, comparing it to the Olive Tree coalition in Italy, when she met Ozawa on Nov. 24.

That’s a dead giveaway that she was hooked by the Ozawa line. Mr. Ozawa has been talking up the possibility of a Japanese version of the Olive Tree coalition for some months, though he already created one in the early 90s with the eight- and then seven-party coalition governments of Hosokawa Morihiro and Hata Tsutomu in the early 90s. That lasted less than a year, thanks in part to the efforts of Kamei Shizuka to sabotage them. But that was then, and this is now.

Everyone in Japanese politics also knew exactly what was going on. Said Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi:

I hope she doesn’t become a puppet. I hope the big man behind her doesn’t manipulate her like a kuroko.

He was asked if Your Party would join the Japan Future Party, because they do share an anti-nuclear power stance. Mr. Watanabe said it wasn’t possible for this election because it was too late, and his party’s candidates have already been selected. Mr. Iida, however, said that policy discussions between the two groups were underway.

Reporters addressed that issue with Ms. Kada. Here’s what the boss said:

I will work so that this does not become the new Ozawa party, and embed mechanisms into the party that reflect the voices of women and young people.

The media is not about to let it go, either. They asked her again today, and she replied that the relationship would be beneficial because “he has a lot of experience and I have a lot to learn”.

And I have a need for one of those eye-rolling icons.

She also announced today that Mori Yuko, the token woman nominally in charge of Ozawa’s Putting People’s Lives First, will be given a leadership role in Japan Future. Ms. Mori is quite attractive, so the new party’s electoral strategy and organization has gone beyond obvious to blatant.

Even Azumi Jun, the acting Secretary-General of the DPJ knew what was up:

The Japan Future Party is the classic unholy political alliance.

He also referred to the party as a kakikomidera. That was a temple during the Edo period to which a woman would flee to begin ascetic practices and thereby establish a divorce from her husband.

When he heard that Ms. Kada wants to restore the government stipend/child rearing allowance that the DPJ implemented and withdrew after the Tohoku disaster, Mr. Azumi said it looked like they were making the same mistake the DPJ made.

Former Prime Minister Kan Naoto knew the score too:

Ms. Kada is a true environmentalist, but if the structure of the party is such that Ozawa Ichiro has the real authority, it will fall apart.

Well, wait — some politicians thought it was a good idea. Here’s former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio:

The thinking of the Japan Future Party is the starting point for the ideas of the original Democratic Party of Japan.

I really need one of those eye-rolling icons.

One more aspect to this is Ms. Kada’s desire to create a new “third force” in Japanese politics. That is the phrase usually applied to the movement now spearheaded by Hashimoto Toru’s Japan Restoration Party. The Japan Future Party is therefore an Ozawa-Kamei vehicle designed to crush that group.

Whether it works or not remains to be seen. The Japan Future Party was born out of Ozawa Ichiro’s desperation to remain a force in Japanese politics. Had he stood pat, his People’s Lives First party would have been the one to be crushed. That isn’t to say this move will be successful — the same newspaper chart this morning that gives Japan Future 61 members has photographs of both Ms. Kada and Mr. Ozawa. People know who’s pulling the strings, and a lot of them won’t like it.

Also, opposition to nuclear power has not been the path to electoral success in Japan, and polls show it isn’t near the top of the list of voter concerns. This might well be a last gasp rather than a new opening.

It’s almost possible to feel sorry for Kada Yukiko, until you remember that she was quite willing to make this Faustian bargain to serve as window dressing. While all politicos are liars who would do violence to us all (to combine observations from I.F. Stone and Tolstoy), people from her part of the political pasture are the most likely to believe that their righteously holy ends justify any means whatsoever. Even if that means lying to themselves to cut a deal with Old Scratch.

Whether this party is a success or a failure, one thing is certain: nothing good will come of this in the future. The more unpleasant of the two possibilities would manifest if the party is successful. That would mean Japan’s future really will be very bleak.

More Peculiarities

Speaking of desperate politicians, Prime Minister Noda plans to approve a JPY 880 billion emergency stimulus package this week. It is his second emergency stimulus package in two months. Of course this one won’t work either, but hey, it’s not his money. Don’t ask him what’s in it, because he doesn’t know. His party didn’t even know how the government funds for rebuilding the Tohoku region are being spent. Now they’ve decided to suspend some of them, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that their left hands don’t know what their right hands are doing.

This is an unusual step because the Diet has been dissolved. Yes, it does look like a last-gasp legal vote-buying scheme, doesn’t it?

The party’s new manifesto contains employment measures that will promote hiring in “green sectors” (energy and the environment) and the “life sector” (medical services and nursing care). They don’t seem to have learned anything from Spain that promoting green policy beggars the economy instead of making it better.

The party believes that this, combined with their consumption tax increase, will somehow increase household disposable income.

Well, what do you expect from a party of the left? Common sense? Sound financial policies? An understanding of how economic growth and prosperity for the greater population is created?

That really would be peculiar.

Afterwords:

The person who understands how to increase employment in the agricultural sector is Hashimoto Toru. From a Hashimoto tweet this week:

Growing the agricultural sector through industrialization (i.e., agribusiness) is essential for Japan’s growth. Young people will not seek work with individual farmers. It would be better if blue chip companies got involved with agriculture. They will also be a source of employment for young people. Unless a situation is created that will attract young people, the sector will wither and die. Structural reform of this sector is the only path.

This was also the path selected by the Koizumi-Abe LDP, who implemented measures to promote the creation of agribusiness. The DPJ led by Ozawa Ichiro used those measures as leverage to win farm votes by promising to roll them back and provide government subsidies to individual farm households.

*****

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The wild bunch

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 26, 2012



* The Japan Restoration Party and Your Party reached a broad agreement on common policy. But after (Japan Restoration) reached a policy agreement with the Sun Party, their policies of eliminating nuclear power and creating a governmental revenue agency have fallen away. We no longer know whether they are positive or negative toward the TPP. (Your Party President) Watanabe Yoshimi always says the spirit of a party is its policies.
- Kakizawa Mito, Your Party MP

* I’ve been asked why I left Your Party. Regrettably, Your Party cannot achieve reform…Your Party wants to pursue its own course. They want to be different than the other parties. That’s not how you change the world.
- Sakurauchi Fukimi, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat and current upper house member, who shifted from Your Party to the Japan Restoration Party

IT’S been just 10 days since the process of electing a new lower house in the Diet and installing a new government in Japan began, and three weeks remain before the election. Yet this has already become the wildest, most freewheeling, most confusing, and most exhilarating election campaign I’ve seen in any country. More has flown by the past week than the several months of UFOs that get airborne over America during a presidential election campaign.

One reason is the astonishing state of flux in the political world. Eleven MPs have left the ruling Democratic Party of Japan since the Diet was dissolved. The party had 423 members in both houses when they took power three years ago, but have lost a total of 102 since then. They would not have a majority in the lower house today. That is both due to their multitudinous failures and the result of political karma for slapping together a smorgasbord of a group with very little in common except the desire to oust the old Liberal Democratic Party. How many other parties in the world contain both serious socialists with terrorist connections and Thatcher worshippers? The DPJ does.

But in a few instances, they did share a general policy consensus. Lower house MP Nagao Takashi recently left the party with the intention of switching to the LDP. He is in favor of amending the peace clause of the Constitution, which the DPJ opposes. He wrote on his blog:

I was always alone.

Another reason for the excitement is that the Japanese public is extraordinarily engaged. There are much fewer political ads on television here than in the U.S. (the smaller parties can’t afford it, for one), so most of the politicking is retail. All the candidates give street corner speeches, sometimes standing right there on the sidewalk, and sometimes on the back of flatbed trucks or temporary platforms.

The heckling of the speakers is said to be intense this year, and the outgoing ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan, is bearing the most of the public dissatisfaction. Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has been buffeted with shouts of “Liar!” and “Fake manifesto”” during his street speeches.

In Saitama, current economy, trade, and industry minister and former chief cabinet secretary (during the Fukushima disaster) Edano Yukio tried to beautify the DPJ performance after three years in office, but admitted they were not sterling. He was answered with shouts of, “You were terrible”, and “Cut the crap!” (ふざけるな).

Former social democrat and current DPJ MP and terrorist moll Tsujimoto Kiyomi also got an earful throughout an entire speech in Osaka when she begged the public not to forsake the Democratic Party.

Concerns are even being raised in some quarters that the younger voters will adopt a “burn it all down” approach and cast their votes for the newer third force parties rather than the established parties. If so, they would be following a trend that’s been underway in local elections throughout the country for several years. It might be that this is the year the fire goes national at last.

Mr. Noda and LDP President Abe Shinzo blast away at each other in every speech to an extent unusual for Japanese elections. Mr. Noda challenged Mr. Abe to a debate Japanese style, which the LDP chief initially refused. He’s since changed his mind, however, and something is being arranged to be broadcast on an Internet channel. UPDATE: The LDP suggested the Niconico video channel, but the DPJ is backing off. One reason speculated for their hesitancy is that Niconico allows viewers to upload comments in real time during the broadcast, and they’re worried they’re not going to like what the viewing public has to say.

Indeed, it’s so crazy it’s impossible to keep up with it all, which is another factor causing concerns. There are 14 parties contesting the election, and it’s not easy to keep up with the shifting alliances and party memberships. It could very well be that the public won’t wind up with the decisive politics it seeks, at least for this electoral cycle. (There’s no voting for the upper house, and the membership there will remain static until next summer.) The extent of the success of the so-called third forces could keep the situation fluid for the foreseeable future.

The problem facing Ozawa Ichiro is a case in point. Mr. Ozawa formed a party in July called the People’s Lives First Party in English, or Kokumin no Seikatsu ga Daiichi in the original. All Japanese ballots are cast by write-in vote. That means the voters have to write in the name of the party they choose in the proportional representation phase of the voting, and all parties have their preferred abbreviations.

His party prefers the word Seikatsu, or lives. Because the party is still so new, however, some party leaders are worried the voters will write in Kokumin, or people, which is the term used for the People’s New Party that was the last coalition partner of the DPJ.

Even a local party executive in Mr. Ozawa’s home prefecture of Iwate thinks the name still hasn’t penetrated fully there, but sighs and says it’s too late now. One newspaper interviewed an older resident of Rikuzentakata in the prefecture, who cackled:

I’ve always backed Mr. Ozawa, but he keeps changing parties and I can’t remember their names. But I certainly won’t mistake it for the Democratic Party of Japan.

Bickering among the challengers

Emblematic of all this glorious chaos is the running battle being waged between the Japan Restoration Party of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru (and now Ishihara Shintaro) and Your Party, the first national reform party.

This is not their first rift, as we’ve seen before. Earlier this year, Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi wanted Japan Restoration to merge with them. Believing he and his party held the upper hand, Hashimoto Toru refused and suggested they join him instead. The upshot of that was mutual huff. It was exacerbated when three Your Party members bolted to join the Osaka group.

With too much to lose from poor relations, however, the two parties patched up their quarrel and were discussing areas of policy agreement to work together in the election. But then Mr. Hashimoto announced on television last Friday that he had called Mr. Watanabe and Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji and asked them “to make the bold decision to create a single group in some form.” He followed that up on Saturday with the explanation that while Japan Restoration wants to win an outright majority, it would be more realistic to achieve that with Your Party seats. He added, “Mr. Watanabe’s decision will be a major step toward political realignment.”

The Osaka mayor made the proposal for several reasons. First, he does not think his party will be able to field a full slate of candidates to give his party a chance to win a majority. Second, the two parties are competing against each other in 18 election districts in eight districts, which is suicidal. Both would siphon off votes from the reform-minded electorate, making it easier for an establishment party to pick up the seat.

Mr. Watanabe dismissed the proposal out of hand. He complained that they had changed their position on eliminating nuclear power after merging with Ishihara Shintaro’s Sun Party.

We are not satisfied with the agreement between Japan Restoration and the Sun Party. Working with the Sun Party has somehow obscured their principles and policies. Haven’t they become somewhat desperate?

He added:

The word ‘reform’ does not appear in their policy agreement. They have not written about their resolve to fight.

In fact, he made any discussion about an alliance conditional on Japan Restoration dumping Mr. Ishihara and the Sun Party.

What are we supposed to say after they ask to work together now that they’ve merged with the Sun Party: “Oh, really”? That won’t cut it. No discussion about working together will proceed until they divorce the Sun Party.

Said Eda Kenji:

Our policies have to align on abandoning nuclear power, preventing the consumption tax increase, participating in the TPP, and prohibiting all corporate and group donations.

Japanese political observers suspect that apart from the desire to stand firm on their policies, Your Party is taking a hard line because they think they’re stronger in the greater Tokyo region than Ishihara Shintaro’s Sun Party. Their strength is in Tokyo and Kanagawa, where Yokohama is located.

In retribution for their stance, Ishihara Shintaro told fellow Sun Party member Sonoda Hiroyuki to call both Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Eda and tell them their agreement to work together in the election for Tokyo Metro District governor was off. (It’s scheduled on the same day as the Diet election to fill the remainder of Mr. Ishihara’s term.) That further irritated the Your Party leaders. Said Mr. Watanabe:

Breaking an agreement that we put in writing with one phone call doesn’t sit well with me…Holding discussions with them at this point is probably pointless.

Japan Restoration Party officials are none too happy either. Said Secretary-General Matsui Ichiro:

Just because they became established as a party first, does that mean Japan Restoration has to concede everything to them?

Another Japan Restoration exec who remained anonymous considered the Your Party statements to be a type of declaration of war. He thought they were being self-serving, and pointed out that Japan Restoration had a larger political organization despite being the newer body.

Affairs then took a turn for the absurd when Hashimoto Toru gave it one more try in public to convince Your Party to work together and avoid competing in the same districts:

We can make the final judgment on working out (who runs in which district) with (the) rock scissors paper (game). I will not insist on making an issue of my position as the acting president of Japan Restoration.

Retorted Mr. Watanabe:

Who could permit something that stupid? We haven’t selected the sort of candidates for our party that can be decided by rock scissors paper.

He wasn’t the only one who jumped on that comment — all the establishment parties piled on as well, only too happy to find some tool to hammer the Osaka mayor. But Hashimoto Toru never sits still for hammer blows:

Critics (of that comment) have no sense of language. Rock scissors paper was not meant to be taken in a literal sense. It was instead a strong message to become unified. People incapable of understanding at least that much would make me uneasy and fearful if they were involved in conducting the affairs of national government.

This does not necessarily mean Japan Restoration is in a weaker position. Ikeda Nobuo, who is often quoted around here, thinks Your Party is weaker and fading. A recent poll taken in Tokyo (which we’ll get to in a minute) supports that view.

Regardless, this dispute, plus the silliness with Kawamura Takashi and Tax Reduction Japan moving away from both of these parties to tie up with the likes of Kamei Shizuka (and perhaps Ozawa Ichiro) can only make things easier for the DPJ and the LDP.

Meanwhile, in other news:

* Japan Restoration has reached an agreement to not run candidates against New Komeito candidates in nine districts, and will perhaps even support them. They still do not have an outright majority in the assembly in Osaka, so they need New Komeito’s cooperation to get anything passed locally. That sort of arrangement is unremarkable in politics, and would be here, too — were not New Komeito allied with the LDP.

* Speaking of the LDP, Hashimoto Toru is taking them on, too:

The Takeshima problem began when South Korea declared the Syngman Rhee line in the Sea of Japan. After that, South Korea built structures on the islets. The ones who did not prevent the steady and repeated Korean efforts to maintain effective control was the LDP. Is it so important for them to shelve their responsibility while calling for the name of the Self-Defense Forces to be changed to the National Defense Forces? And that’s not all — their coalition partners New Komeito are also opposed. That’s just incoherent.

* Three members of the Ishihara family are running for Diet seats in this election. Father Shintaro is running for a proportional representation seat in the Tokyo bloc, son Nobuteru of the LDP is running for an eighth term in his Suginami Ward district in Tokyo, and #3 son Hirotaka (48) is running Tokyo District #3, which includes Shinagawa and other areas. Hirotaka already served one term in the Diet, which he won during the 2005 LDP landslide. He lost that seat in the2009 DPJ landslide.

* Shinhodo 2001 released its weekly poll on 22 November. It’s conducted only in the Tokyo area, but politicians find it a useful guide. Here are some of the results:

Who is the most suitable leader for Japan?

1. Ishihara Shintaro: 15.0%
2. Hashimoto Toru: 12.8%
3. Noda Yoshihiko: 12.2% (tied with:
3. Ishiba Shigeru: 12.2% (LDP Secretary-General)
5. Abe Shinzo: 12.0%

The low numbers should not be a surprise. This is a frequent question in the poll, many possible answers are offered, and the respondents choose only one. The only person I’ve seen score over 20% was Koizumi Jun’ichiro after he stepped down from the premiership and before he retired.

What party will you vote for in the proportional representation phase?

LDP: 24.0%
DPJ: 13.2%
Japan Restoration: 10.2%
New Komeito: 3.8%
Your Party: 1.4%
Undecided: 40.1%

There’s the indication that Your Party might be fading. The latest Kyodo poll has Japan Restoration in second place now, with the DPJ down to the 8% level. The former party has gained ground in that poll since their merger with Sun Party, while the LDP and DPJ have slid.

What form would you like the new government to be?

LDP alone: 28.2%
Third force combination (Japan Restoration, Your Party): 26.0%
LDP/DPJ coalition: 20.0%
DPJ alone: 10.8%

No one can predict what the final form will be, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve seen the last of a DPJ-centered government for a while.

Afterwords:

A post written by Francisco Toro at the Latitudes blog at the New York Times on Hashimoto Toru’s impact on this election, called The Rise of the Green Tea Party, is surprisingly good for that newspaper. Fancy that; somebody at the Times at last decided to do some research about Japan before writing about it. But having them do enough research was too much to expect, alas:

The gray-suited world of Japanese politics isn’t known as a hotbed of excitement, but insofar as next month’s general election is generating any buzz at all it’s because of one man: Toru Hashimoto, the plain-talking 43-year-old mayor of Osaka. An outsider with a hard-nosed reform agenda centered on cutting spending, Hashimoto has pioneered a new kind of Japanese populism. Call it the Green Tea Party.

After his 2008 landslide election to lead the 8.9 million people of Osaka, Hashimoto set out to do what no Japanese politician is supposed to get away with: rocking the boat. This took the form of a cost-cutting crusade, which pitted Hashimoto against some of the city’s sacred cows.

The only way to deal with this is to be blunt: Anyone who thinks the Japanese politicians aren’t allowed to rock the boat, that the electorate doesn’t love it when they do rock the boat, that Japanese politics is an unexciting “gray-suited world”, or that this election wouldn’t have generated any buzz without Hashimoto Toru, is not qualified to write about Japanese politics. All of that is very wrong, and it should be evident to even the casual observer.

*****
Listen to this tune by Okuma Wataru’s group all the way through, and see if you don’t think it makes a perfect theme song for this election.

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When eligibility makes you ineligible

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 23, 2012

* I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.

* The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taken one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office.

-H.L. Mencken

THERE’S little to add to Mencken’s observations about politicians except specific examples that illustrate his point. It would be easy to find those examples just by shutting your eyes and sticking your finger on a random point on a world map. But two examples from Japan sprang off the newsfeed yesterday, so we’ll use those.

The first involves Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi, mentioned this week in a post about regional reform parties. He’s the leader of Tax Reduction Japan, which had six Diet members. Mr. Kawamura’s wanted to formally merge with other reform parties, but those desires were unrequited. He was even jilted by Ishihara Shintaro and his Sun Party days after they accepted his proposal. They chose to walk down the political aisle with Hashimoto Toru and Japan Restoration instead.

Kawamura Takashi and Kamei Shizuka

The latter group ostensibly rejected his overtures because of his policy positions — anti-TPP, anti-nuclear energy, and anti-consumption tax increase. Rather than modify any of those positions, he chose to keep them. He spun this as his own rejection of an alliance with the new Japan Restoration. That caused him to lose one of his six Diet members, with the possibility that two or three more might also flake.

The requirement for political parties to receive public funds as a subsidy is five Diet members, and that puts Mr. Kawamura in a bind. He was thrown a political life preserver by Kamei Shizuka and his two-man Anti-TPP, Anti-Nuclear Power, Achieve a Freeze of the Consumption Tax Party. In other words, they are kindred policy spirits.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kamei is one of the breed that combines cultural conservatism with a preference for Big Government. He so opposed the privatization of Japan Post and its banking and insurance business that he was thrown out of the LDP. He then formed the People’s New Party to cleave to those bureaucratic interests.

Mr. Kamei followed that up by becoming a junior partner in the DPJ coalition, who fiddled around with his single issue hobby horse for three years while using his party’s votes to maintain an upper house majority. His primary contribution to the DPJ administration was to require financial institutions to suspend their acceptance of loan payments from struggling businesses, while being reimbursed by the government. In short, he lacks even a rudimentary understanding of the free market.

He also personally selected an ex-Finance Ministry official to take over Japan Post just months after the DPJ won election on a promise to keep the bureaucracy at arm’s length.

So that’s who Kawamura Takashi the reformer is interested in being partners with. And now he’s talking about working out an arrangement with Ozawa Ichiro the fixer and his drolly named People’s Lives First Party. If you’re going to jump into the septic tank, you might as well dive head first, right?

For that matter, they might as well join the Social Democrats. They’re pushing the same three policy positions, though they go full-bore socially democratic by calling for an increase in the income tax rate to a maximum of 50%. (So is Japan’s Communist Party, for that matter.)

The two men even say they are interested in working with the Greens, which have yet to take off in Japan. Now I ask you…

Meanwhile, five political groups in the Nagoya City Council, including those from the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito, urged Mr. Kawamura to forget about national politics and concentrate on his job in the city. They say his involvement with the political party is causing problems in municipal administration.

All of this leaves on-again off-again ally Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki hanging in mid-air. Recall that Mr. Omura and the Nagoya mayor resolved their disagreements that resulted from the former’s interest in being a local branch of Japan Restoration. Mr. Omura was given a position as advisor to Japan Restoration, and as part of that deal, given the authority to select a candidate to run from an Aichi district in next month’s lower house election. He gave all that up earlier this week to maintain his local alliance.

Now he says he won’t back any candidates in Aichi this time. It looks like he made the wrong choice.

On the last loop

That brings us to former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. Japan’s first junior high school girl to serve as prime minister was in Hokkaido this week to talk to supporters in his Diet district after announcing that he wouldn’t contest the election. The Mainichi Shimbun included this passage in its Japanese-language report:

In regard to the issue of moving the American Futenma air base in Ginowan, Okinawa, Mr. Hatoyama declared just before the 2009 lower house election that he would move it outside the prefecture at a minimum. After he became prime minister, he returned to the plan developed by the LDP-New Komeito administration to move the base to Henoko in the same prefecture. This generated a fierce response from local citizens.

The Mainichi doesn’t say that his promise also included moving the base outside the country as the ideal beyond the minimum, that his government spent six of its eight-month lifespan flopping like a fish dumped from a net on the deck of a trawler over the issue, and that it became apparent during the first month of the process he was unsuited for national government. The Mainichi also doesn’t mention that Wikileaks suggest he never seriously intended to move the base out of Okinawa to begin with.

Here’s what Mr. Hatoyama said in Hokkaido.

I want to be involved in the future in some way with the Okinawa issue, and want to cooperate to make ‘outside the prefecture at a minimum’ a reality.

Now you know why the Americans dismissed him as loopy, and more than a few Japanese agreed. What point would there be in telling him he could have made that a reality when he was prime minister, but chose not to? It would float in one ear and pass unobstructed to float out the other.

Indeed, Mr. Hatoyama lacks even the sole talent that Mencken attributed to politicians. He has no particular talent for getting and holding office. What he does have is a famous political name and vaults full of money.

Eldridge Cleaver once said that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Kawamura Takashi and Hatoyama Yukio offered themselves as solutions to the problems the public wants resolved. It didn’t take long for both them to expose themselves as part of the real problem.

Afterwords:

Talk about wet cement: Kobayashi Koki, the man who left Tax Reduction Japan for Japan Restoration, was rejected by Japan Restoration and is mulling a return to Tax Reduction Japan. The Ishihara branch of Japan Restoration was willing to admit him, but the core of the party in Osaka is said to have “very harsh opinions” about him.

The two parties are offering candidates in the same district in two cases: One in Aichi and one in Ibaraki.

The Wild West is probably a better analogy for the state of Japanese politics now than wet cement.

UPDATE: The Kawamura-Kamei party has now expressed in public an interest in getting it on with Ozawa Ichiro’s People’s Lives First party. Mr. Kawamura said he wants to create as large a party as possible, and that the group should be considered Reform Team B. That’s in contrast to Japan Restoration and Your Party, which he dubbed Team A.

A Yomiuri Shimbun article said some people perceived this as a “middle-of-the road, liberal force”. With the paleo Kamei Shizuka and the policy-as-disposable-tissue-paper Ozawa Ichiro? It is to laugh.

*****

Maybe they should all think about living together on a Yellow Submarine.

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Wet cement

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I wonder about these people who would take advantage of Hashimoto Toru’s popularity to win a Diet seat (by joining his party, the Japan Restoration Party).
- Maehara Seiji, head of the Democratic Party’s Policy Research Committee

We’ll act in such a way that we don’t become what the Democratic Party is now.
- Matsui Ichiro, Osaka governor and secretary-generation of Japan Restoration, in reply
————-
The key is when and to what extent Mr. Abe approaches the third forces (reform parties). I would really prefer that the electorate votes with that knowledge. But considering his position, it is probably to his advantage to keep that quiet for now.
- Yamazaki Hajime, journalist on economic matters and a fellow at the Rakuten Securities Economic Research Institute

THERE are eight million stories in the naked city, intones the narrator at the conclusion of both the film and television version of The Naked City, and this has been one of them. Shifting the dramatist’s eye to Japan’s lower house election scheduled for 16 December, there are what seems like several thousand stories, and the reform/regional parties that are fomenting revolution from the bottom up account for quite a few of them.

Telling some of those stories requires a list of the dramatis personae, however, and that’s where we’ll start.

* Hashimoto Toru, the mayor of Osaka, Japan’s second largest city, who became the nation’s most prominent regional politician to call for the devolution of government authority with stronger power given to local government. That has been an issue for more than two decades here, but he’s the man who achieved ignition and liftoff. He started a local party/movement called One Osaka that is now a national party known as the Japan Restoration Party.

* Watanabe Yoshimi, a former Liberal Democratic Party member and minister in the Abe and Fukuda cabinets with responsibility for governmental reform. A supporter of devolution and radical civil service reform to tame the Japanese bureaucracy and its political influence, he left the LDP when prime ministers Fukuda and Aso abandoned that course. He then created Your Party with independent Diet member and former MITI bureaucrat Eda Kenji.

* Kawamura Takashi, a former Democratic Party of Japan member and lower house MP. He ran in several elections for party president, which means he sees a prime minister when he looks in the mirror in the morning. He resigned from the DPJ to run for mayor of Nagoya on a platform of cutting municipal taxes and the remuneration of city council members by half. This is part of an ongoing movement for sub-national governments in Japan. He struggled to get his policy package passed by municipal legislators (natch), and stunned the political world and the country both when he resigned, ran again to make the election a referendum on his policies, and won in a walk. There’s more at this previous post.

He’s formed a local party called Tax Reduction Japan that is now a national party with six five members in the Diet. They want to reduce the number of lower house Diet members by 80 (to 400) and cut their salaries in half.

* Omura Hideaki, a former Liberal Democratic Party of Japan member and lower house MP. He forged an alliance with Kawamura Takashi during the latter’s second run for mayor of Nagoya. He was elected governor of Aichi, in which Nagoya is located, on the same day. He shares the same general political principles.

* Ishihara Shintaro, former upper house and lower house MP, and governor of the Tokyo Metro District. Everyone knows who he is.

The stupefying ineptitude of the Democratic Party government, the inability of the Liberal Democratic Party to reinvent itself as a coherent alternative during three years in opposition, the futility of seeking real reform from either of them, years of public dissatisfaction combined with a willingness to support anyone willing to take an axe to the waste and abuse in the public sector, and younger generations reaching middle age, have resulted in the national prominence of Hashimoto Toru. It soon became a question of when, not if, he would establish a national political organization. The answer was soon rather than late — less than a year after winning election as Osaka mayor, after spending three years as governor of Osaka Prefecture.

Here’s what he said at the time:

True reform for Osaka requires further amendments to (national) law. But even when we try to do something locally, we run into the wall of Nagata-cho (a metonym for the Diet) and Kasumigaseki (a metonym for the bureaucracy), who control the mechanism of Japan. We have to change Japan from the roots.

In addition to regional devolution, Mr. Hashimoto’s group also calls for the cutting the membership of the Diet’s lower house in half to 240, and cutting their salaries and publicly funded party subsidies by one-third.

At that point the narrative became one of wondering who would and would not become his political allies. Not only did they need to team with simpatico regional parties, Japan Restoration needed someone or some group with a national reputation. Eliminated right away were the establishment LDP and the labor union-backed DPJ, but everyone had discounted that because both were part of the problem and not part of this solution.

In an intriguing move, the Osaka mayor approached former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in August to ask whether he would be interested in switching from the LDP to Japan Restoration. Mr. Abe expressed a strong desire to form some sort of alliance, particularly because they share an interest in amending the Constitution. But Mr. Abe eventually chose to remain in the LDP and run for party president, a campaign that he won.

While both men would surely like to work together, the LDP is unlikely to support the long-standing Hashimoto proposal to convert the consumption tax into a funding source for local government, and end the current system in which the national government allocates public funds. The shape and nature of any alliance will probably be determined after the election. The results will determine who needs whom, and the extent of that need.

* Hashimoto and Your Party

Speculation on ties with Japan Restoration had always started with Your Party, the first real national reform party. Several of their most important positions meshed, including the creation of a new system of sub-national governments with greater authority and civil service reform. They both also came out for eliminating nuclear power (probably for populist reasons), though Mr. Hashimoto has since backed away from that one. Further, Your Party supported Mr. Hashimoto in the election for Osaka mayor, and they share some of the same advisors.

At one point not long ago, people assumed that there would be a formal alliance. Rumors circulated that they had cut a deal in which Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi would become the first prime minister if they won enough seats in the aggregate to form a government.

But that’s not how it worked out. The reason seems to have been a dispute over who was going to be the boss. Your Party held talks with the people from Osaka before Japan Restoration was formed, and they wanted them to join the existing party before they created their own. Knowing that his poll numbers are better Your Party’s (they can’t seem to hump it into double digits), Mr. Hashimoto refused and suggested that they disband and rearrange themselves.

Relations took a turn for the worse when three Your Party members, said to be unhappy with Watanabe Yoshimi’s leadership, quit and joined Japan Restoration. That caused more than a few unpleasantries to be hurled in the direction of Osaka.

But discussions resumed because an alliance remains in both their interests. They talked about cooperation to implement eight common policies, which at that time included opposition to the consumption tax increase, opposition to nuclear power, support for regional devolution and the state/province system, support for civil service reform, support for constitutional amendments, support for election system reform, economic growth policies, and foreign policy (they both favor participation in TPP).

The calls for a solid alliance seem to have come from Your Party, and Japan Restoration has turned down the offer for now. There was a meeting with Hashimoto Toru, Matsui Ichiro, and Watanabe Yoshimi at which blunt words were spoken.

Mr. Watanabe suggested they jointly offer an “east-west” slate of candidates for the lower house election, with Your Party covering the east (Tokyo and the Kanto region) and Japan Restoration covering the west (Osaka and the Kansai region). Mr. Matsui rejected it, and here was his explanation:

Their policies have not gained ground in the Diet, and they have become a group who can’t achieve them. Politics means taking responsibility for results. That requires a team that can create a decision-making approach.

Gov. Matsui also told Mr. Watanabe in so many words to come down off his high horse: “It was our idea to create a new type of political organization.” The Your Party boss responded that they’ve been calling for political reorganization from the day they formed the party (which is true). He asked again for an equal merger, and again he was rejected.

Mr. Matsui later said they will continue to talk to avoid running candidates in the same election districts, but it will be unavoidable, and they will try to minimize it.

Perhaps Japan Restoration has some foresight about Your Party’s fortunes. Mr. Watanabe campaigned several times for a Your Party candidate in a local election last weekend in his home district in Tochigi, but the candidate lost to one backed by the LDP and New Komeito.

Affairs are still in flux, however. Just yesterday Hashimoto Toru said Japan Restoration would probably be able to field only 100 candidates in time for the election. (One reason the major parties want an earlier election is to prevent the smaller parties from building a full candidate list.) He made a reference to working with Your Party if they also ran 100 candidates — in other words, supporting the east-west alliance he rejected a few weeks ago. Watanabe Yoshimi also gave a campaign speech today calling for the support of Japan Restoration.

Whatever is going on here, you won’t be able to read a reliable account of it in either the Yomiuri Shimbun or the Asahi Shimbun, the nation’s two largest newspapers. The Asahi is opposed to Mr. Hashimoto because they’re of the left, and the Yomiuri is opposed to him because he’s anti-establishment.

* Omura and Kawamura

As the story at the link above shows, Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi and Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki formed a regional alliance for the Triple Election in February last year. Both also organized political seminars this year to train people who supported their ideas for elective office.

Mr. Kawamura was the first to create a political party: Tax Reduction Japan. Mr. Omura followed by creating the Aichi is Top of Japan Party. The trouble started when he converted that party into the Chukyo Ishin no Kai, or the Chukyo Restoration Group, in August. The name is intentionally modeled on that of the Japan Restoration Party. His group was formed specifically to align with the Hashimoto group and fulfill the conditions for becoming a national party.

That cheesed off Mr. Kawamura, who was on an overseas trip at the time. He was miffed because the Aichi governor told Mr. Hashimoto about his plans, but didn’t tell him. The Nagoya mayor flew off the handle, saying their relationship of trust was broken and they couldn’t work together any more.

Some people saw it as a deliberate snub by Mr. Omura to break off ties with Mr. Kawamura. The former (at the left in the photo) is the straight-arrow policy type, while the latter (at the right) is the unkempt populist with a desire to be a major player. For example, he wondered if the Chukyo region would be relegated to being the subcontractor for Osaka.

Hashimoto Toru encouraged both of them to patch up their differences, because working together is would benefit everyone, and the policies were more similar than different.

And that’s just what the two men seem to have done while the media spotlight was pointed in a different direction. They announced an agreement to work together for the coming election after discussions that lasted late into the night of the 19th.

* Hashimoto and Omura and Kawamura

During the Triple Election campaign in Nagoya and Aichi, volunteers from the Osaka group went to the region to help both candidates because of their general agreement on devolution. Since then, however, it’s been a long strange trip that keeps getting stranger.

When Omura Hideaki created the Chukyo Restoration Group, Hashimoto Toru said that despite the name, they were unrelated to the Osaka group. They were independent and they hadn’t thought about an alliance for the national election. He added that Aichi support for their positions would be the condition for any alliance.

But then in October, a group from Osaka went to Aichi for a conference with letter from Hashimoto Toru asking Mr. Omura to form an Aichi Restoration Party. The alliance seemed like a natural: Not only are their policies similar, but they share policy advisors in journalist Tahara Soichiro, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat Takahashi Yoichi, and Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s jack of all trades, Takenaka Heizo.

The Aichi governor said that an alliance would take time, however, because he was still working with Kawamura Takashi. A blurb of two or three sentences appeared in one newspaper earlier this week announcing that Aichi and Osaka had worked out an agreement. In fact, Mr. Omura would be given the leeway to choose the candidate for one of the Aichi Diet districts in the election.

But just this morning, Mr. Omura announced that he would resign his position as advisor to the Osaka party to focus on his ties with Kawamura Takashi.

Your guess is as good as mine about this one. The best I can come up with is that working with Mr. Kawahara is a better way to solidify his position in Aichi.

—–
Meanwhile, Kawahara Takashi’s attitude toward an agreement with Hashimoto Toru was 180° in the opposite direction. He was so anxious to create an alliance that a hand was coming out of his throat, as an old Japanese expression has it.

He’s long been friendly with Ozawa Ichiro, but when he spoke at a political seminar for the People First Party, the new Ozawa Ichiro vehicle, he said his priority was working with Hashimoto Toru and former Tokyo Metro Governor Ishihara Shintaro. (That might also have been a function of his assessment of the extent of Ozawa Ichiro’s political influence in the future; i.e., not very much.)

The problem, however, is that both Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Matsui have been giving the Nagoya mayor their cold shoulders. Mr. Kawamura thought a merger with Japan Restoration was going to happen when he reached an agreement to do just that with Ishihara Shintaro and his Sun Party, but no one else thought so. Mr. Ishimura thought it might be a problem with the tax reduction name in his party, and Mr. Kawamura obligingly offered to change it.

But Hashimoto Toru said the name had nothing to do with it: it was all content. He also said, however, that “In today’s circumstances, tax reduction is the wrong message.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the Osaka mayor is a tax hiker; rather, his position has always been that there should be a public debate and a consensus formed about what public services people want to receive. After reaching that consensus, it will then be time to figure out how to pay for them.

Mr. Kawamura, on the other hand, seems to favor the Starve the Beast approach: Don’t give the public sector the money to begin with. It isn’t widely known, but he also favors establishing neighborhood citizens’ councils to determine how public funds will be spent. In other words, his approach is the reverse of Mr. Hashimoto’s.

The Nagoya mayor is also opposed to TPP participation, while the Osaka mayor favors it. They were both anti-nuclear power, but Mr. Hashimoto has since modified that stance. Also, two of the five Diet members in Mr. Kawamura’s national party, which was formed at end of October, were LDP postal privatization rebels that former Prime Minister Koizumi threw out of the party. Hashimoto Toru supports the privatization of Japan Post.

Another reason Mr. Hashimoto cited for being unwilling to work with Tax Cut Japan is that another one of their Diet members, Kumada Atsushi, a lower house MP from Osaka, switched his party affiliation from the DPJ, but not before he accepted JPY 3 million to offset his campaign expenses. That’s not the sort of person he wants to work with.

Matsui Ichiro offered a blander rationale:

It’s not possible as of now. We haven’t had any policy discussions. There’s not enough time.

But wait!

After weeks of letting his tongue hang out in the national media, insisting that it would be easy to overcome the differences with Japan Reform, Mr. Kawamura announced today that he — he! — was rejecting an alliance with them. He’ll work with Aichi Gov. Omura instead.

But wait again!

Lower House MP Kobayashi Koki, Tax Reduction Japan’s acting president, said the whole point of the party going national was to work with people like Japan Restoration. After Mr. Kawamura’s announcement, he said he wanted to leave the party and join Japan Restoration. He got approval for both of his requests.

* Hashimoto and Ishihara

That brings us to strangest story of them all — the merger of Japan Restoration with Ishihara Shintaro’s four-day-old Sun Party and the appointment of Mr. Ishihara as the head of the party.

It was strange because Hashimoto Toru insisted that it wouldn’t happen, for several reasons. The first was policy differences — Mr. Ishihara and the Sun Party support nuclear power and oppose participation in TPP. Those positions are the opposite of those of Japan Restoration. The second was outlook. Mr. Hashimoto said an alliance was out of the question if the members of the Sunrise Japan party, the group that the Tokyo governor formed two years ago, joined the Sun Party. He explained that there would be no union with “pure conservatives”. (By that he means paleo-cultural conservatives.)

Another factor is that Your Party wants no part of Ishihara Shintaro at all. An alliance would threaten any cooperation with them.

The Osaka mayor said talks would get nowhere unless they changed their policies. What happened is that he changed his, even after Sunrise Japan joined the Sun Party. Here’s the list of common policies they agreed on:

1. Convert the consumption tax to a regional tax and cap the rate at 11%.

Making the consumption tax a regional tax will make a close relationship with the LDP difficult.

2. Begin discussions to achieve a state/province system

3. Implement measures to support SMBEs and microenterprises.

4. Social welfare funding sources: Eliminate the portion of central government tax revenues allocated to local governments, optimize social insurance premiums, reexamine benefit levels, and supplement the funding with revenues from the income tax and asset tax.

5. Take a positive attitude toward TPP negotiations but will oppose them if they’re not in national interest.

This is a compromise for both men.

6. Create rules and other safety standards for nuclear power.

Not only has is that a reversal of the Hashimoto position, it just might end opposition to nuclear power as a political issue. An NHK poll taken this week found that only 9% of the electorate considers it to be their most important issue.

7. Urge China to take Senkakus dispute to ICJ.

8. Prohibit corporate and group donations to politics.

[[UPDATE: Yankdownunder sent in this link showing #8 is now inoperable.]]

Mr. Ishihara suggested that he and Mr. Hashimoto share the party presidency, but the younger man declined and took the de facto number two position. His thinking was that he still has a job to do in Osaka, and Osakans would be displeased if he gave up his position a year into his term for a Diet seat.

Said Mr. Ishihara after the deal was cut:

The popular will is filled with fluffy ideas, such as ‘nuclear power is frightening’. Populism is flattering those ideas….The largest, most definite segment of the popular will, however, is ‘This country is in trouble. Do something!’ We must change the structure of governance by the central bureaucracy…

…People talk about a ‘third force’, but we have to become the second force. We have to discard our minor disagreements in favor of our greater agreements and fight together. I’ll be the one to die first, so I’ll pass on the baton later to Mr. Hashimoto. There’s no other politician who acts as if his life depends on it.

Putting aside the question of whether this merger pays off in votes and Diet seats, there are advantages for both parties. Don’t forget that Ishihara Shintaro was the co-author of the Japan That Can Say No. He now is allied with a popular and adroit younger politician who can create the environment in which public figures will stand up for Japan, rather than truckle to other countries. He’s also popular enough to drive the issue of Constitutional reform — and several other previously taboo issues besides.

For example, this week Ishihara Shintaro said this week that Japan should conduct a simulation of the use of a nuclear weapon as a deterrent. He added that he was not calling for a public discussion of whether Japan should now make nuclear weapons, but that it was only his personal opinion.

It might be only his personal opinion, but it has now been broached for public discussion. He added:

Saying that you won’t have nuclear weapons means that your voice in world affairs carries absolutely no weight. Even the US gets all wobbly when it comes to North Korea’s nuclear program.

There will also be no sucking air through the teeth and saying so sorry to China:

It would be desirable if Japan-China relations were friendly, but it would not be desirable at all if Japan became a second Tibet due to Chinese hegemonism.

For his part, Mr. Hashimoto is now allied with someone who has a power base in Tokyo/Kanto, giving the party a real east-west presence. That ally also has a national presence, which Mr. Hashimoto is still developing. It should not be overlooked that the most popular politicians in the country’s two largest cities are now allies working to reduce the power of the central government. (And Nagoya is the third-largest city; even without a formal alliance, Kawamura Takashi is likely to work with them more often than not.)

The drawback is that this merger creates a political party with as much internal incompatibility as the Democratic Party of Japan. One of Hashimoto Toru’s most prominent advisors and supporters is Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru. Also in the party by way of Sunrise Japan is that most paleo of paleo-conservatives, Hiranuma Takeo. Here’s what Mr. Hiranuma thinks of the Koizumi/Takenaka policies.

Perhaps it is the hope of the folks in Osaka that they’ll have outlived the paleos when the time comes they are no longer of use to each other.

*****
I’m no psephologist, and I have no desire to become one, so there will be no predictions from me about this election. You can hear all sorts of wildly varying predictions now anyway. The weekly Sunday Mainichi thinks the LDP and New Komeito combined will win 280 seats, giving them a lower house majority. They project the DPJ will win only 90 seats. The weekly Shukan Gendai, however, wonders if the LDP and New Komeito can reach 200 seats, and they think 75 is a real possibility for Japan Restoration.

The polls are all over the place, and as of this week, close to half the electorate is still undecided. A recent NHK poll found public interest in the election to be very high, and turnout could soar. That means anything in this election is possible, and all sorts of possibilities are flying around. There are now 14 political parties qualified to take part in the election, many of which will not exist at this time next year. One of them is a two-man party formed by a DPJ renegade and ex-People’s New Party head (and before that, ex-LDP honcho) Kamei Shizuka. Mr. Kamei formed his old party as a receptacle for the vested interests of Japan Post after he was dumped from the LDP for opposing privatization. He was a junior coalition partner of the DPJ for the specific purpose of allowing the DPJ to pass legislation in the upper house, and his reward was a Cabinet ministry. The party name for this dynamic duo is The Anti-TPP, Anti-Nuclear Power, Achieve a Freeze of the Consumption Tax Party. (Oh, yes it is!)

The cement in Japanese politics is now wet. The political realignment that people have been waiting for has arrived, or at least the first phase of it. The Big Bang election that just as many people have been waiting for has also arrived, or at least the first in a series of large bangs. If nothing else, the political class will finally learn what they can expect from the voters for betraying their trust and expectations after three years with the DPJ in charge. If they don’t now, they never will.

Afterwords:

* Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko said this week:

I will not participate in a competition to lean rightward.

This is the self-described conservative speaking.

On the other hand, he has no choice, whatever it is he really believes.

Roughly 40% of the current DPJ MPs have close labor union ties, and the party’s largest source of organizational support is labor unions.

* During a 15 November TV broadcast, DPJ lower house MP and member of the Noda faction/group, said: “Noda’s attitude changed after he made the deal with Abe. He dissolved the Diet because Abe could put him in the Cabinet — particularly because the Finance Ministry wants him to see the consumption tax through.”

Sitting next to him was former agriculture minister, former DPJ member, and for another month anyway, lower house MP Yamada Masahiko. He heard this and marveled, “Oh, of course that’s what must have happened!” The announcer changed the subject.

Some people expect an LDP-DPJ-New Komeito coalition based on the consumption tax increase passage. Perhaps this has all been a chaban geki designed to stifle the local parties while the stifling’s still possible.

* Said LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru:

The LDP’s biggest foe is the LDP from three years ago, not the DPJ.

He’s right.

* Prime Minister Noda is demanding that all candidates sign a loyalty oath to the party’s policies. That was the excuse Hatoyama Yukio was looking for to retire from politics. It will save him the embarrassment of losing his Hokkaido seat outright, which was a real possibility.

* Former TV comedian and popular Miyazaki Gov. Higashikokubaru Hideo, who palled around a lot with Hashimoto Toru in 2008, is mulling a run as a PR representative for Japan Restoration in either the Tokyo or Kyushu bloc.

He considered running again for Tokyo Metro District governor — he lost to Ishihara Shintaro last year — but decided against it.

But that was earlier this week. Today he said he was still thinking about which he would do.

* Only the old-line journalists are talking much about Ozawa Ichiro in this election. I suspect he is a man whose time has come and gone, and people see him as holding a losing hand. Both Hashimoto Toru and Matsui Ichiro have said they weren’t interested in any arrangement with him. One reason is that his unpopularity would wound Mr. Hashimoto in the same way that Abe Shinzo’s decision to readmit the Japan Post rebels to the LDP wounded him.

* There are other local Restoration parties in addition to the ones discussed here. Three of them are in Ehime: One for the prefecture itself, with four prefecture council members, one for the city of Matsuyama, with 13 city council members (29% of the council), and one for the city of Seiyo, with seven council members (one-third of the total). They’re all working together.

*****
Everybody needs to go to the same karaoke box and belt this out:

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Big bluster and the big bang

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 18, 2012

Left, nay; right, aye

(They are) people who brought forth self-interested proposals using our common property, such as “the new public commons” and “from concrete to people”. Those ideas are now so tattered no one will ever be able to wear them again.

- Ushioda Michio, member of the Mainichi Shimbun editorial committee, on the Democratic Party of Japan

ONE of Japan’s sports traditions is the national high school boys’ baseball championship at summer’s end. Teams play a single-elimination tournament for the right to represent their prefecture in the national round, and the prefectural winners play a single-elimination tournament to determine the national champions.

One tradition within that tradition is for the players of a losing team at the national championships to scoop dirt from the playing field to take home as a souvenir. The Yomiuri Shimbun observed a similar scene in the lower house of the Diet on Friday when Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko dissolved the Diet for an election next month. Several members, particularly first-termers from the ruling Democratic Party, pocketed the blue and white (actually plain) wooden sticks they use to cast their recorded votes. They know they’re not likely to use them again.

Big bluster

Speaking of baseball, one ancient observation about the game is that it doesn’t build character, it reveals it. The same can be said of politics, although it might be better to say that politics exposes character — or the lack of it.

Mr. Noda’s speech to the Diet dissolving the chamber was an exposure that revealed he never transcended his only defining characteristic before he became Finance Minister — big bluster. Every day for more than 20 years, he stood outside his local train station and delivered a political speech haranguing the commuters as they headed off to work. We’ve seen before that the content of those speeches bore no relation to his actions once he entered national government. The speech he delivered on Friday was just another page from the same script. It was a minor marvel of political surrealism.

He began by congratulating himself for a heroic performance in facing up to a difficult job, an assessment shared by 17% of his fellow citizens. He blamed most of the difficulties on the pre-2009 Liberal Democratic Party administrations, which suggests that someone’s been translating Barack Obama’s speeches into Japanese. He did not mention that the annual budget deficits of the DPJ governments are 500% higher than the 2007 Abe/Fukuda deficit, and roughly double the annual deficit when Koizumi Jun’ichiro took office in 2001. That suggests he borrowed the excuse for the same reason Mr. Obama created it.

The prime minister then hailed the great reforms achieved since the DPJ took control of the government three years ago. If you give the man on the street a week, perhaps he’d be able to think of one. He dismissed the Koizumi 2005 lower house landslide as a single-issue election, and said this election will be conducted on the basis of overall policy and the direction of the country. What he chose to ignore is that the single issue of Japan Post privatization represented the most important issue in Japanese domestic politics — breaking up the old Iron Triangle of politicians, the bureaucracy, and big business. Mr. Noda’s DPJ chose to turn back the clock, halt the privatization process, and place a Finance Ministry OB in charge of the operation.

And speaking of turning back the clock, the prime minister used that phrase while warning that the LDP would take the country back to the political Stone Age. One wonders why he thought it was convincing. He and those bothering to listen knew one reason the people gave up on the DPJ long ago was that their behavior was even worse than that of the old LDP.

He also attacked those who share the growing interest in amending the Constitution and ditching the pacifist peace clause. While the prime minister allowed that “sound nationalism” is necessary, it must not degenerate into “anti-foreigner rhetoric”. Unmentioned was that few people think Hatoyama Yukio’s claim that the Japanese archipelago was “not just for the Japanese”, bestowing permanent resident non-citizens the right to vote in local elections, and giving public assistance to a group of private schools run by a Korean citizens’ group affiliated with North Korea constitutes “sound nationalism”, if they had any idea what that means.

What perhaps drew the most derision was his rationale for dissolving the Diet that he presented during Question Time on Wednesday: He had promised to do so if certain legislative conditions were met, and he didn’t want to be considered a liar. If being thought a liar was so horrible, came the chorus of the media and the reading and thinking public on the Internet, why did he and his government break all of their promises in their 2009 election manifesto — starting with the promise not to raise the consumption tax?

The strangeness continued at the news conference following his speech. Mr. Noda criticized the LDP for their reliance on people from multi-generational political families. LDP President Abe Shinzo, for example, is a third-generation pol whose father was foreign minister and maternal grandfather was prime minister.

Of course Mr. Noda did not mention the first DPJ prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio, who (with his brother) has one of the longest political bloodlines in the Diet. He is the fourth-generation politico in his family — his great-grandfather was a Diet member in the 19th century.

The DPJ seems to be serious about this, though it is unlikely to have much of an impact on the electorate’s choices. Mr. Hatoyama got in trouble with his party for abstaining from a vote against the consumption tax increase, though he ran on a manifesto promising no consumption tax increase in four years. While he says he is willing to stay in the party he bankrolled with his mother’s money, he also thinks the DPJ could refuse to certify him as a party candidate. Mr. Hatoyama says he’s heard rumors that because Koizumi Jun’ichiro won acclaim for refusing to back former PMs Nakasone and Miyazawa in 2005, the party could give the same treatment to him.

How like the DPJ to misunderstand the difference. Mr. Koizumi made that decision based on the ages of the other two men (both were well over 80). But considering that Hatoyama Yukio was just as unpopular as Mr. Noda is now, and he might very well lose his seat anyway, the party could be looking for a way to present a candidate with a better chance of winning.

They’ve taken this strange step one step further. DPJ member and former 64-day prime minister Hata Tsutomu (in a different party) is retiring from his Nagano constituency as of this election. His son Hata Yuichiro is a DPJ upper house MP and the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport in the current Noda Cabinet. He wanted to resign his upper house seat and run for his father’s lower house seat, but the DPJ told him they would refuse to certify him.

In other words, he’s worthy of a Cabinet post and an upper house badge, but unsuited for the lower house. There’s no guarantee, incidentally, that the person they do certify for that district will even be from Nagano. (Meanwhile, LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru told them to knock off the performance politics.)

Big bang

The Japanese like to create unique names for events, and the wags have created a few for this one. It’s variously been referred to as the suicide bombing dissolution, the narcissism dissolution, and the flight-from-being-called-a-liar dissolution

Someone close to Ozawa Ichiro in People’s Life First Party said, “This is the ‘kill everybody’ dissolution.” By that he meant the prime minister took the step to forestall a dump Noda move in the party, knowing the DPJ would lose a lot of seats. He added, “This will kill all of us, too.”

But LDP head Abe Shinzo looked forward to it:

We in the LDP and the people have waited three years for this day. We are going to boldly confront them with policy.

My favorite comment came from Fukushima Mizuho, the head of the Social Democrats:

This dissolution was a coup d’etat by the prime minister. The social security reform and the dissolution were arranged by the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito. The people weren’t consulted.

No, socialist activist lawyers masquerading as social democrats don’t know much about constitutional democracy or electoral politics, do they?

The most pertinent observation, however, came from Your Party chief Watanabe Yoshimi. He thinks this could be Japan’s political Big Bang.

The Japanese electorate has for years told the political class what it wants very clearly, and held them responsible when they don’t listen. They went big for small government, privatization, and reform in the 2005 Koizumi landslide. When the LDP turned its back on the Koizumi path, the exasperated public gave the opposition DPJ power in the 2009 landslide. Within months they were exposed as inept charlatans, and now all that land will slide on them.

You wouldn’t know it by reading the Anglosphere media, but voters in Japan spontaneously created their own combination Tea Party and Hope and Change movement long before either arose in the United States, both more ruthless than their American counterparts. They are quick to support the people who say what they want to hear, and just as quick to withdraw that support when they don’t walk the walk.

It’s a funny old world. All eyes were on the American presidential election this month, and few eyes will be on the Japanese election next month. The vote in Japan is of much greater interest, however. It will be a more compelling display of democracy in action than the one held in the United States.

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Middling

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We must have people who can carry the country on their back, who have the vision for domestic and foreign affairs. We also must create a network of people who can implement that vision. I want to start getting ready… It isn’t that I think I have to be prime minister, but this country will be in real trouble unless there are several people like me. Look at Nagata-cho: Few politicians are preparing themselves to govern the nation.

- Hosono Goshi, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party Policy Bureau, 12 November

The Kyodo poll released in first week of November showed the support rate for the Noda Cabinet at 17.7%, down 11.5 points from previous month. It was the first time that Mr. Noda came in below 20% — representing the electorate’s utter rejection — in the Kyodo poll. That’s even lower than Hatoyama Yukio went. Those who don’t support the Cabinet totaled 66.1%, up 10.8 points. The plunge from an already unsustainable low level is attributed to the reaction to Mr. Noda’s poorly conceived Cabinet reshuffle and the continued defection of MPs leaving the party.

One report had an internal DPJ poll also showing that an election would turn their offices in the Diet into a charnel house. During their three years in government, their prime ministers and Cabinets have lurched from one dismal failure to the next. Their term in office has exposed their incompetence both as individuals and as a group. The MPs realize they won’t be successful if their campaign message consists of apologies. They have to rebrand themselves and stand for something.

Prime Minister Noda is set to call for an election this week, apparently having decided he can’t put it off any longer. He seems disposed to contest the next lower house election on Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he favors. Others in his party, however, have a different idea. Some in the DPJ — whose center of gravity is social democracy and which has more than a few ex-Socialists — wants to run under the banner of moderation.

That faction also wants to run on the issue of national security, which is strange considering all they’ve done to mishandle security issues. It is a deliberate choice to rebrand and differentiate themselves from opposition LDP President Abe Shinzo and the former governor of the Tokyo Metro District, Ishihara Shintaro, who is forming a new party that he will call the Sun Party. Not mentioned by the DPJ, but just as much a factor, is Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and his Japan Restoration Party.

During Question Time in the Diet on 31 October, Mr. Abe said:

We should recognize the execution of the collective right to self-defense. We must change the interpretation of the Constitution.

The current interpretation of the Constitution is a peculiar one. It permits collective self-defense, but successive governments have said they will not exercise it.

Another peculiar one is that Prime Minister Noda said the interpretation will not change, though his personal view on this matter is identical to that of Mr. Abe’s.

Hosono Goshi spoke of Ishihara Shintaro’s wish to discard the Constitution altogether and start from scratch:

That will be a point at issue in the next election. Will we uphold the history of the postwar period in which he have thought prudently about security, or will we reject it like Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Abe? That is our basic stance…they seem a little dangerous.

Said Acting DPJ Secretary General Azumi Jun:

There will be no change in the fundamental principle of pacifism….Some are of the opinion that we should take the plunge and change it, but we will not go down that road as long as I am in a position of responsibility.

That naturally leads to the following charge Mr. Hosono made during a debate with Hashimoto Toru on a television program:

Amending the Constitution would result in the elimination of the regulations of authority. Selecting Abe’s LDP and Ishihara’s new party contains the danger that war might break out.

The objective of this faction in the party is to define themselves as middle-of-the-road (中道). Again from Mr. Azumi:

LDP President Abe is more right-wing than anyone in the LDP has been before…we will uphold the good postwar tradition of being smack in the middle of the middle of the road.

Remember that for this faction, smack in the middle of the middle of the road is pacifism. One wonders what there is to the left of that.

Abe Shinzo charged that the new cleavage to the center represented the DPJ’s “fallen spirit”, and that it was “an ugly attempt to pander to the public”.

Of course, Sengoku Yoshito, one of the party’s several vice presidents and a former member of the Socialist Party, couldn’t let that stand:

Let’s have a public debate about our beliefs, philosophies, policies… Abe Shinzo is a third-generation politician, and he’s about reached his limit.

Mr. Abe replied by saying he had no time to respond to all Diet members, though he later offered to hold a written debate with Mr. Sengoku on his Facebook page. (That’s not as strange as it sounds. It’s the easiest way to ensure the largest possible audience.)

There are two problems with the DPJ’s rebranding, however. The first is that the party doesn’t have a clear definition of what middle-of-the-road means. Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya took a stab when he elaborated on the phrase “middle-of-the-road democracy” that was included in the party’s basic principles when they were founded in 1998:

It indicates the range from middle-of-the-road liberals to moderate conservatives.

That will leave out many in the DPJ if they decide to tell the truth about their beliefs.

Former Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji is another who thinks it’s not clear what middle of the road is supposed to mean. He’s coming out with a book soon — he still wants to be prime minister — that says his party, the DPJ, has a problem with governance, and they’ve shaken the people’s trust. His idea is that the party should reorganize and retain the conservatives who share the same concepts and directions.

The second problem is that Prime Minister Noda doesn’t consider himself middle-of-the-road. During a meeting with Mr. Azumi and Mr. Hosono last month at the Kantei, he told them:

“I’m conservative. You can’t use the term middle of the road.”

Instead of that expression, he prefers chuyo (中庸), or moderate.

But why stop now that we’ve started talking about peculiar definitions of words? Here’s some more on Noda Yoshihiko’s political philosophy, as expressed last November during the upper house debate on the consumption tax increase.

Mr. Noda was asked by MP Kawasaki Minoru, who is in the same party:

I do not understand the basis of your economic policy. Do you intend to reduce the role of government and move from the bureaucracy to the people, or will you have a big government with enhanced social welfare?

Mr. Noda’s answer:

I do not think in terms of a binomial opposition of big government and small government.

He later added what he does think in terms of:

The values that humankind has risked its life to obtain are liberty and equality. Both of these are essential. When a socialistic outlook is strong, we come out with our right foot of liberty. When the gaps among members of society grow, we must put out our left foot of equality. The policy judgment differs with the age.

During the consumption tax debate he said it was time for the left foot.

In other words, the man who objects to the use of middle-of-the-road and calls himself a conservative is actually a proponent of the Third Way. That’s not even on the same continent as conservatism. Seldom will you hear a self-described conservative find ways to argue for a compromise on liberty.

But while the DPJ is arguing what words mean, with some presenting party dissolution scenarios and some staying true to middle-of-the-road pacifism to keep the fire-breathers from starting a war, other people with less interest in semantics might make up their minds for them.

Ye Xiaowen, a member of the China-Japan Friendship 21st Century Committee, wrote an article that appeared on Japanese-language Searchina site that focuses on China. The title of the article, which isn’t very friendly to Japan, is, “Four things Noda doesn’t understand” .

Here’s the fourth:

He doesn’t understand that America can stick its nose into the Senkaku islets dispute, but can they be expected to help Japan if something happens there?

It sounds like he thinks he knows the answer, doesn’t it?

One thing a lot of other people don’t understand is how middle-of-the-road pacifism would be an acceptable response. You have to be in the DPJ to figure that one out.

*****

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Consistency

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 7, 2012

PRIME MINISTER Noda Yoshihiko’s personnel reassignments for his Cabinet and party last Monday were the picture of consistency. First, his Democratic Party government remains consistent in keeping the revolving door of Cabinet positions spinning at a frequency that prevents them from performing any role other than as press secretary for the ministries they represent. Second, Mr. Noda remains consistent in his distribution of ministerial portfolios to people unqualified to receive them. Finally, an unqualified English-language news media remains consistent in its incapacity to understand and present useful explanations of the events.

Writing in Gendai Business Online, Isoyama Yukihiro reminds his readers that when Hatoyama Yukio, the first DPJ prime minister, assumed his duties three years ago, he said he wanted to maintain one intact Cabinet per administration. The law provides for as many as 14 ministers in addition to the prime minister, and Mr. Hatoyama did keep the reshuffling to a minimum. He appointed only 19 ministers, but then he lasted only nine months in office. His first finance minister, Fujii Hirohisa, lasted fewer than four months before resigning — and he was the only one qualified to serve that the party has assigned to that position. (In 1976, he was the head of the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau, the control tower of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy.)

Mr. Isoyama notes there was dissatisfaction within the DPJ because not all of the victors were receiving the spoils. As a result, Mr. Hatoyama’s successor, Kan Naoto, used Cabinet appointments as the front end of a quid pro quo before the party’s presidential election. He went through 35 people in 15 months. Meanwhile, Mr. Noda has already tapped 38 different people in his year in office, partly because his power base in the party is weak. He also has to use the posts as gold stars and cookies to stem the flow of MPs leaving the DPJ for other parties. Altogether, 68 separate people have served as DPJ Cabinet ministers, and the overall total of appointments, reappointments, and reassignments within their Cabinets now total 152.

Your Party chief Watanabe Yoshimi compared the Noda Cabinet V.3 to an “inventory clearance sale for people seeing Cabinet posts”. Azuma Shozo of the People’s Life First party (the Ozawa group) called it the “Making Memories Cabinet.”

This might be excusable to an extent if competent people were being appointed, but that isn’t the case. Mr. Noda keeps putting people with no experience or sector-specific expertise in Cabinet positions, a tacit admission that the bureaucracy still exercises real control. Once again, he appointed as finance minister someone who knows nothing about government finance, and who has never held a Cabinet position before. Yet some in the news media still do not understand what’s happening. Here’s this from the AFP just before the changes:

Another highlight of the reshuffle is who will replace Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who is being propelled into a top party post.

Although Azumi has not been universally popular in financial circles, there have been concerns of a policy gap now that he is departing, although the minister has assured there will be no “political vacuum”.

And here’s what Reuters said after Mr. Noda made his decision:

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda plans to name senior lawmaker Koriki Jojima as the country’s new finance minister in a cabinet shake-up due later on Monday, Japanese media reported.

Jojima, who has served as parliamentary affairs chief in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), would replace Jun Azumi and take charge of the world’s third largest economy as it teeters on the brink of recession in the face of a global slowdown and strong yen.

Jojima would likely stick to a fiscal reform drive pursued by fiscal hawk Noda, as he has worked closely with the premier in designing Noda’s signature plan to double the sales tax to 10 percent by October 2015.

But little is known about Jojima’s view on monetary and currency policies.

But a lot is known about how little is known about Japanese politics by the AFP and Reuters sausage grinders. There were no real concerns of a “policy gap”, because Mr. Azumi, a former TV presenter, knows nothing about fiscal policy other than what his Finance Ministry tutors spoonfed him after his appointment. Little is known about Jojima’s view on monetary and currency policies because he doesn’t have any. He majored in animal husbandry at university, was hired by Ajinomoto after graduation, and decided that labor union activities were preferable to working for a living.

“Fiscal reform” in Reuters-speak means tax increases, especially of the progressive variety. The media applies the term “fiscal hawk” to Mr. Noda, as they did to Kan Naoto, because they’re parroting, either directly or indirectly, the Finance Ministry’s talking points. Mr. Kan couldn’t even explain the multiplier effect during his first Question Time session in the Diet after his appointment.

What they don’t say is what everyone in Japan who pays attention knows. Here’s more from a different column in Gendai Business Online. It explains who really designed the DPJ tax increase plan:

Vice-Minister Katsu Eijiro resigned in mid-August, and it is reported that negotiations are underway to replace him with Manago Yasushi, head of the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau (N.B.: He got the job.) …The climate at the Finance Ministry is that achieving a tax increase (as Katsu did) is a medal for services rendered and a meritorious deed. Increases in tax revenue do not determine the evaluations of the Finance Ministry bureaucracy. That happens naturally when the economy improves. But increases in the tax rate are easily understood accomplishments. Those require amendments in the tax law, and are also proof that they twisted the “idiot politicians” around their little finger. Bureaucrats such as these are the real “kings of the Finance Ministry”, because they have shown themselves to be of higher caliber than the politicians.

Here’s a report a few days after the appointment:

New Finance Minister Koriki Jojima said the government must “carefully consider” whether to extend the currency swap agreement with South Korea but refused to be drawn out on whether Tokyo will propose an extension.

In other words, the Finance Ministry hasn’t decided yet.

But the biggest name in the new Cabinet is former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko:

Noda may tap Beijing-friendly Makiko Tanaka, 68, as a new addition to the cabinet, the Asahi Shimbun daily reported on Sunday.

Tanaka, daughter of former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka who normalised diplomatic ties with Beijing 40 years ago, has warm links with China which has been jousting with Japan over disputed East China Sea islands.

Noda is considering appointing Tanaka to a ministerial post to signal to Beijing Tokyo’s intention of repairing the damaged relationship, the Asahi said.

Commentator Ikeda Nobuo had only one word when he read that: “Stupid”. It is stupid, for at least two reasons.

One is that the Chinese will interpret it as weakness and as a prelude to a modern form of tribute paid to a vassal. The other is that Tanaka Makiko is temperamentally unfit for any executive position in general, and a Cabinet portfolio in particular. We found that out from her spin as a daytime drama queen when she was Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s Foreign Minister.

For some reason, Ms. Tanaka wound up as Education Secretary, a position for which she has shown no particular interest or aptitude. As everyone expected, she immediately demonstrated that she still doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut. One of her first bon mots was that “There are deficiencies in Japan’s history education,” though she didn’t specify what they were.

The Chinese took it and ran with it. Here’s Li Wen from the Chinese academy of Social Sciences:

“Tanaka Makiko is the daughter of former PM Tanaka Kakuei, and for her to make this statement after her appointment is significant in that it would correct the rightward tendency in Japanese society to an extent, improve Sino-Japanese relations, and ameliorate Japan’s relations with its neighbors…We hope that it will expand, without ceasing, the progressive capacity to limit the rightward tendency of Japanese society, and improve its ability to act for peace in the Asia-Pacific region and the world.”

“The progressive capacity to limit Japan’s rightwing tendency and act for world peace?” Yeah, they’ve still got Reds in China. You hadn’t noticed?

The Tanaka comment is the product of mixing someone who favors tilting foreign policy toward China and away from the West with the need to satisfy the “progressive” teachers’ unions, one of the party’s principal power bases. It might help relax the immediate tensions with China, but only in the sense that it will lead the Chinese to think that the Japanese leadership is finally showing some sense and starting to deal with those crazy rightwingers.

It won’t help. Absent the arrival of a gargantuan black swan, she won’t be Education Minister this time next year, the DPJ won’t be in power, and there will be little change, if any, in the history curriculum.

Then there are the problems on the domestic side. She already criticized the government’s nuclear energy policy when she said she doesn’t think ending nuclear power by 2030 is feasible. She’s right, but that’s what you get when you roll a loose cannon into the Cabinet. You never know when it will go off and where the muzzle will be pointing when it does.

Makiko is also being Makiko. Another report just a day after her appointment claimed that she summoned one of the aides assigned from the Education Ministry bureaucracy into the women’s restroom to give him lengthy, detailed instructions on a particular matter. The report didn’t specify what she was doing in the women’s restroom at the time.

Japanese pundits saw other reasons for her selection. One suggested her current strength is roughly at the level required to snatch the focus from the opposition Liberal Democrats and the up-and-coming Japan Restoration Party on the daytime TV talk/gossip shows. (Those programs juggle politics, show business, and human interest stories.)

Another thought she might have been chosen because she’s one of the few politicians in the country who wouldn’t flinch from doing verbal battle with Osaka Mayor Hashimoto, the head of the Japan Restoration Party. Mr. Hashimoto has thrashed the teachers unions in both the city and prefecture of Osaka, and the theory goes that the DPJ wants someone in the Education Ministry capable of standing up to him.

Unfortunately for them, however, is that Ms. Tanaka verbal skills are due primarily to her “poison tongue”, as the saying goes in Japan. She’s quite entertaining when she runs people down, which is another reason she’s popular daytime television fare. (She once referred to former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro as “Old Man Pomade”.)

She is less successful when it comes to the give and take of debate, or persuading an audience through the power of logic and persuasion.

If Mr. Noda’s intent was to have some imagined Tanaka star power refloat his Cabinet, he was mistaken. Here’s one of the questions and the answer received when the Kyodo news agency polled the public from 1-2 October.

Q: How do you evaluate the selection of Tanaka Makiko to the Cabinet?

Good idea: 34.6%
Bad idea: 53.8%
No answer: 11.6%

The Kyodo poll

Speaking of the Kyodo Poll, it might be useful as a rough guide to the mood of the electorate, despite being conducted by random digit dialing (RDD).

Here are some of the other questions and answers. The numbers in parentheses are the totals from the previous month:

* Do you support the Noda Cabinet?
Yes: 29.2% (26.3%)
No: 55.3% (59.4%)
Don’t know: 15.5% (14.3%)

The Yomiuri Shimbun poll had the support rate for the Noda Cabinet a few points higher, but it’s not enough to make a difference. The increase was normal for a Cabinet reshuffle, and absent other factors, it will have subsided in the next month or two.

* Which party do you support?
Democratic Party of Japan (ruling party): 12.3% (12.9%)
Liberal Democratic Party (primary opposition): 30.4% (19.3%)
Japan Restoration Party (Hashimoto group): 10.7%
Putting People First (Ozawa Ichiro group): 1.9% (2.1%)

Note that the LDP supporters are more than double those of the DPJ, which in turn is barely ahead of Mr. Hashimoto’s party. Note also that the voters finally seem to be getting ready to flush the toilet with Ozawa Ichiro.

* Do you approve of the DPJ leadership changes?
Yes: 23.8%
No: 69.5%

* Do you approve of the LDP leadership changes?
Yes: 42.6%
No: 52.4%

* How do you evaluate the Japan Restoration Party?
Positive: 50.6% (60.2%)
Negative: 43.0% (34.7%)

* For which party will you cast your vote in the proportional representation phase of the election?
DPJ: 12.3% (12.4%)
LDP: 31.3% (22.2%)
Japan Restoration Party: 13.9% (17.6%)
Putting People First: 2.7% (4.9%)
Sunrise Japan: 0.3% (1.2%)

This is important for several reasons. First, it shows that the public has written off the DPJ, which are now beyond political redemption (perhaps for good). Second, this poll was taken after the LDP selected former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo as party head. Note the month-to-month increase from last month to this. Those numbers are giving the Japanese left (and the residential foreigner left) gas pains.

These results for Putting People First again show that Mr. Ozawa is fading away. He is a man out of time, and a man out of his time.

Perhaps you’ve read the commentary that the Senkakus spat with China is all the fault of Tokyo Metro District Gov. Ishihara Shinto, the “fiery rightwing nationalist”. Some people desperately want to believe that his influence on the relative Japanese hardline in the Senkakus is proof that he’s leading the country to the right.

Lunchmeat. Sunrise Japan is the party that Mr. Ishihara was instrumental in creating. There you see in black and pale blue (on this website) the influence of his party on national politics.

The correlation of his views and that of many members of the public on a specific issue does not indicate he is at the forefront of a greater national trend. This seems to be beyond the capacity of some drive-by commentators or pundettes with an agenda (sometimes the same people) to see.

The Hashimoto slide

Further, the numbers in this and other national polls show the first significant drop in support for Hashimoto Toru since his rise to national prominence. Some attribute that to the rough patch he’s had coordinating affairs with the Diet MPs who recently joined his party, or with some vagaries in the party’s statement of principles.

I disagree, just as I disagree with the LDP’s claim that their jump from the previous month came solely from the election of Abe Shinzo. What I think is happening is something that isn’t showing up in the polls, because the news media polls are too generalized to elicit certain answers.

This was the first round of polls taken after the Chinese ran amok in their September riots, implicitly encouraged by the modern Mandarins. The Japanese public is coming to see China as an existential threat. The shift to the LDP, I suspect, is due to the public’s choice of the political group they think is most capable of protecting them from that existential threat.

After being appalled by how the Kan Cabinet handled the previous episode in the fall of 2010, they know that’s beyond the DPJ’s capabilities. Mr. Hashimoto’s deportment in the past month was not so bad (or so different) to cause the public to sour on him. Had not China and South Korea behaved as they have over the past two months, his numbers probably wouldn’t have changed. The public, in general, still wants reforms of the type he is promoting. His problem is that they’ve already seen how one set of amateurs deals with the Chinese, and they aren’t willing to entrust foreign policy now to a new group of beginners.

Finally, lower house MP Sugimoto Kazumi, a first-termer from Aichi, left the DPJ and is considering membership in Your Party. That reduced the DPJ lower house delegation to 247, down from an original total higher than 300. They also have three members from the People’s New Party in their coalition, making 250. Subtracting Mr. Sugimoto and the three DPJ members who announced their intention to join the Japan Restoration Party, the DPJ’s magic number for losing the outright majority is eight, as one newspaper put it.

Noda Yoshihiko’s objective seems to be to put off a lower house election until the last possible minute, which is next summer. If the leakage from the DPJ continues, that decision might be taken out of his and his party’s hands altogether.

UPDATE:

Political correctness might have been a factor in the selection of Tanaka Makiko. The weekly Shukan Asahi quotes a source “close to the prime minister” as saying, “We searched for a woman to put in the Cabinet, but couldn’t find a suitable candidate. Still, we had to have at least one.”

They also cite a few other of the nicknames given to the new lineup: “The clean out the inventory Cabinet”, and one that’s not easy to translate concisely, but means “Put something good on their resume to dress them up for the election”.

Mr. Noda also dismissed the idea that she was appointed to ease the strained relations with China. He said, “It’s not as if I appointed her as Foreign Minister.”

*****
Maybe not tomorrow, but not too much longer

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Ichigen koji (173)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 16, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

In a column in the Sankei Shimbun, Yayama Taro calls for a political reorganization based on a decoupling from the bureaucracy. He concludes, “In domestic affairs, the question is whether or not politicians are capable of the persistence for a decoupling from the bureaucracy. As (Osaka Mayor) Hashimoto has shown, it is possible if the political will is there.” His argument is correct.

The reason 60% of the public has a positive view of the entry of One Osaka, the group he leads, into national politics, is that he has conducted governmental reform for five years in Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka. He has been persistent in his efforts to achieve a decoupling from the bureaucracy.

In contrast, the Democratic Party of Japan was able win public support and take control of the government by promising a decoupling from the bureaucracy. But their efforts to make the National Strategy Bureau the control tower for reform were a failure, they were unable to create a basic program that would be a blueprint for reform, they deboned initiatives to decouple from the bureaucracy, and the moves to eradicate amakudari, reform civil service, and promote regional devolution were all aborted. In the end, all they accomplished was a consumption tax increase, breaking their promise not to do so.

For three years, the DPJ government has been unable to decouple from the bureaucracy. Rather, it has become a bureaucracy-led government. That’s why the public is showing the DPJ government the red card, and 60% of them are supporting the entry of One Osaka into national politics.

The problem is the Liberal-Democratic Party. It is the LDP that should form the framework for a government to transcend the bureaucracy-led politics of the DPJ. From 2003 to 2007, the Koizumi and Abe governments established the Council on Fiscal and Economic Policy as the control tower of reform, created a basic reform policy, and in accordance with that, delivered a “Japan Where the Sun Rises Again”.

The question that must be asked in the LDP presidential election is whether the party will proceed on the Koizumi – Abe course, or whether it will repudiate that course.

Some members of the Kasumigaseki Bureaucracy do not seem to look kindly on the LDP pursuing the Koizumi – Abe course and the idea of a “Japan Where the Sun Rises Again”. I’ve heard rumors that they’re starting their information war. When the LDP becomes incapable of reform, I think we all know what will happen in politics.

- Nakagawa Hidenao, former secretary-general of the LDP

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All you have to do is look (47)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 13, 2012

Osaka City Mayor Hashimoto Toru and Osaka Prefecture Gov. Matsui Ichiro announce the formation of a national political party at a news conference.

The party has unveiled its new logo and English name:

The South Korean website Naver quoted Mr. Hashimoto as saying that both Takeshima and the Senkakus were in the map of Japan in the logo. I don’t see Takeshima in there, but Mr. Hashimoto has made an art form of jerking people’s chains.

Posted in Government, Mass media, Photographs and videos, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Hashimoto Toru (10): Decision-making

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 13, 2012

Procedures are governance itself.
- Hashimoto Toru

ONE criticism the Japanese often hurl at Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru is that he is a dictator. Cartoons of his likeness graffitied with toothbrush moustaches became hackneyed long ago. This criticism is sometimes parroted by the English-language news media, but they have no more understanding of the nature of the charge than a parrot has of the sounds he is mimicking.

What they fail to see (assuming they’re even looking) is that the behavior some in Japan deem dictatorial would not only be unexceptional for a Western politician, but in fact be considered praiseworthy and an essential leadership trait.

The criticism should be understood in the context of the current debate in Japan about what leadership requires and how it should be exercised. That might puzzle outside observers, but it’s a matter of serious concern to the Japanese who read and think about public affairs. The mode of leadership exercised in this country for centuries has been culturally specific. The national mindset has changed in the modern era, however, and the change has been so rapid that people are only now beginning to perceive the existence of a new weltanschauung. A reappraisal of the qualities required for decision-making and leadership is underway. The debate includes frequent references to the Edo period and the national leadership in the pre-war and wartime years.

Earlier this week, Mr. Hashimoto fired off a prodigious round of Tweets addressing these matters. I’ve translated a condensed version of some of them here. Decide for yourself if these are the words and thoughts of an autocrat manqué. The emphasis on one sentence is mine.

*****
* Of course there are different opinions on the extent to which an issue should be debated, but democratic politics does not function unless someone makes a decision at some point.

* The concept of procedures is value-neutral, so it can be applied to all issues, no matter what they are.

* In some circumstances, this might lead to a result I would find unsatisfactory. The result might benefit an opponent. But unless we establish fair procedures, we cannot achieve results that we find satisfactory. Recognizing that a chance should be provided to our opponents to bring about a result they find satisfactory so that we can also bring about a result we find satisfactory is (at the heart of) the concept of procedures.

* National government in Japan has been a serious failure. The opposition parties do nothing but oppose. They do not think of what they will do when they become the ruling party. That’s why, when they do become the ruling party, the new opposition party does the same thing the old opposition party did, and nothing is accomplished. Our priority should be to establish fair procedures for the democratic determination of our conduct.

* The procedures are to obtain consent for results obtained in accordance with those procedures, regardless of our own position. That is the greatest deficiency of the current Diet, and it has resulted in indecisive politics. Opposition parties should think of what they would do if they were the ruling party. Opposition to everything for the sake of opposition is unacceptable.

* If I want to achieve a certain result, I have to give my opponents a chance to achieve their result. Creating this environment enables a complete competition with the opponent. In addition, the result that emerges from the process is accepted. This is the great principle of democracy, but it is not taught in Japanese education.

* As soon as someone becomes a part of the intelligentsia, no rules are established for making decisions through debate. This is the cause of the poverty of Japanese politics.

* As typified by the Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun, the objective for the intelligentsia is debate. They have an extreme dislike for making decisions. This is democracy at its worst. Everyone discussing and reaching agreement (is what should happen instead). It is difficult enough to reach a unanimous agreement in my family of nine. In a unit of several million people…

* There is a tendency in Japan to think decision = discarding minority opinions = dictatorship. Until now, we’ve somehow managed to get by without making difficult political decisions. The primary role of politics in the past was to distribute the benefits of high growth. But from now on, there will be a series of difficult political decisions. It will not be possible to obtain the consent of all the people.

* The present age marks a turning point, and with the issue of the consumption tax increase, the Asahi Shimbun has changed the tenor of its argument. Politics and democracy in Japan today require discussion of procedures that are not bound by policy values. How will the people opposed to a policy assent to a decision? After the Democratic Party took power in 2009, the Diet members should also have keenly sensed this.

* The functioning of politics in Japan requires the establishment of the concept of decision-making, not just policy – who decides what, how, and, in particular, how to accept election results. Though Japan has conventions in legislative conduct that are of piddling value, there are no accepted practices for critically important election results.

* It is a peculiar country indeed in which the legislators do not unite even after election results. Despite that, excessive attention is paid to what are only internal party procedures to create binding party decisions. The mass media argues that the legislators who vote counter to their party’s decisions should be dealt with harshly. If members are going to be bound to party decisions to that extent, legislators must be bound even further to election results.

* Japan takes elections lightly, and that is the responsibility of the politicians. Previous elections have come across to the electorate merely as ceremonies that enable politicians to capture Diet seats. Even when elections have had consequences, the legislators ignore the results by saying those results aren’t everything, and behave as they wish. This is not how democracy develops.

* Election results are the instructions given to government on the operating program. The politicians do not create this program themselves. In any other sphere of activity, people have to accept the consequences of defeat. But defeat can be ignored in the (Japanese) political world. That’s why elections don’t determine anything.

* What is required for democracy now is the process of decision-making by the majority which the minority has no choice but to accept. Total unanimity is a farce.

On the One Osaka Eight Policy Statements

* They are points for discussion in which everyone must be involved to make a decision on the direction. They are points for discussion for moving in the direction in which the country should proceed. If these decisions are taken, we will likely move in the same direction for the individual items that remain. The Policy Statements are different from a political manifesto, which is a list of policies that the party says it will implement.

*****
Not everyone recognizes the need for change, however. According to the Sankei Shimbun, DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma will examine the possibility of a decision-making approach for the party using as a reference the LDP General Council, in which total unanimity is the rule. The LDP General Council is often cited as an example of a decision-making approach based on a “village get-together”.

Noted one Japanese commentator:

Is even the DPJ returning to the Edo period? One reason Japanese organizations cannot make decisions is the principle of total unanimity. In reality, there is almost never a case in which everyone’s opinions are in accord on a political decision.

This from a party that couldn’t reach agreement on a common statement of principles even before Ozawa Ichiro’s Liberal Party joined.

Today, by the way, Prime Minister Noda told the Diet that any DPJ member who wasn’t on board with a consumption tax increase in the next general election risked losing their party affiliation for the next general election.

They’ve already reduced former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s suspension from six month to three for his failure to follow the party line on the consumption tax increase. Some suspect that was to allow him to run as a DPJ candidate in the next lower house election.

We’ll see if they maintain the double standard, or if Mr. Hatoyama takes his money and goes elsewhere.

Head ‘em off at the pass, continued

Speaking of the next general election, the National Political Establishment is ramping up its efforts to derail Mr. Hashimoto, One Osaka, and the regional rebels.

Recall that immediately before the Osaka mayoral election, two weekly magazines ran the information that Mr. Hashimoto’s late father was a gangster (of a now defunct gang) and probably of the burakumin caste. (Just coincidence, you understand.) The people didn’t care; he won in a walk. The extreme voter dissatisfaction with the NPE has to be apparent even to them, but that hasn’t prompted any behavior modification. It isn’t part of the thought process in oligarchies.

A week ago, another weekly magazine published the rumor (labeled as such) that the mayor had a secret love child. (He already has a wife and seven children.) Mr. Hashimoto denied it and said he would resign immediately if the existence of any such child could be verified. He was also philosophical about the issue — he knows what the deal is — but he didn’t enjoy having to explain it to his junior high school daughter before she heard of it from another source. He also said his wife was quite angry about it.

The weekly Shukan Post said the rumor was started by an unnamed prominent LDP politician who once headed a government. If true, my money’s on Mori Yoshiro.

The Post also pointed out the motivation behind certain provisions in the ruling Democratic Party’s proposal to modify the national election districts. The Supreme Court ruled that the apportionment of seats for the lower house is unconstitutional because the discrepancy is too large between different districts in the population represented by each seat. The DPJ’s bill would rectify that problem.

From the NPE perspective, it would also help rectify another problem. The proportional representation seats in the lower house are allocated by party list based on the vote totals in 11 blocs nationwide. The PR seats in the upper house, however, are allocated based on national vote totals. The new DPJ plan would convert the lower house PR system into the same system used by the upper house.

The regional parties, specifically the ones in Osaka, Nagoya, and Aichi, would clean the clocks of the NPE in a lower house election today in the areas where they entered candidates. It is possible that One Osaka could receive more votes in the Kansai bloc than the three parties of the NPE combined.

Apportioning seats based on the nationwide vote, however, would dilute their totals and reduce the number of PR seats awarded to them. This might also affect the New Ozawa Party, because they are expected to be relatively stronger in the Tohoku region, Mr. Ozawa’s home grounds.

Jiggering the national electoral system to deprive the voters of a voice and maintain their power, perquisites, and authority?

And to think some people — including some Westerners — were thrilled at the DPJ “revolution” in 2009.

Well, it certainly has been revolting.

Afterwords

* On more than one occasion, my wife has listened to a news report on a debate in the Diet, and commented in exasperation about the opposition: “Hantai! Hantai! (We’re opposed). That’s all they say!”

* Perhaps it’s my American background, but part of the problem seems to me to be derived from the combination of the traditional Japanese approach to consensus with the worst aspects of the Westminster system.

I do not understand the demand in that system for rigid party unanimity for votes in the national legislature. It reminds me of the old geezers rising as one in the legislatures of People’s Republics to hold up their party ID badges when “voting” on a proposal.

Party primaries end that practice. Your Party has already offered legislation requiring that.

* Hashimoto Toru writes an enormous amount of material for Twitter nearly every day, explaining his views in detail. I can think of no politician anywhere who has made such an effort to present directly to the people, unfiltered, his own opinions in his own words. The Tweets could easily be edited into a book, which would probably become a best seller.

And he uses no ghostwriters (for the Tweets, at any rate), much less teleprompters. Other than a very recent book that discusses Mr. Hashimoto’s use of Twitter, most Japanese take it in stride.

Is that not an interesting contrast to a famous politician in another country? His confirmed writings demonstrate an appalling grasp of English grammar (such as noun-verb agreement), while the bibliolaters in his amen corner hold up his ghost-written works as evidence of his luminous brilliance.

UPDATE:
Jiji has released the results of its latest monthly poll, conducted last week. Theirs is not an RDD poll, so it is widely assumed to be the most accurate of the media polls.

Noda Cabinet support rate: 21.3%, down 3 points from June
Noda Cabinet disapproval rate: 60.3%, + 5.5 points
DPJ generic support rate: 6.7%, – 1.4 points, third straight record low since they become the governing party. It’s roughly 20% of the 29.4% rate in October 2009, when they officially took control.
Self-identified independents: 71.4%, another record high. Jiji has consistently shown this to be more than 50% since 2005, except for the periods immediately preceding and after national elections.

****
Making decisions can be a problem for anybody. I got distracted by an older sister once myself.

Posted in Government, History, Politics, Social trends, Traditions | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

New directions in Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The) next (lower house election) will be the last chance to change Japan…We must sweep away the old politics of Japan and create the new…If there is a call for what is happening in Osaka to be extended throughout Japan, One Osaka will answer the call.

- Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, 28 June, in Osaka

SOME people say that governments at the subnational level make the best public sector laboratories. Groups and politicians at that level in Japan are beavering away at the lab workbench to produce useful new devices. The National Political Establishment (NPE) is at work in their own lab, but they’ve spent their time creating mini-monsters which they proclaim to be beautiful in form and function.

Here’s a look at some of the beauties and the beasts.

Vouchers

The Osaka City government under Mayor Hashimoto Toru will implement a program to provide vouchers to low-income parents in Nishinari Ward, enabling them to send their children to private-sector, extra-curricular educational institutes. Not only did the magician pull the voucher rabbit out of his hat, he kept the rabbit invisible from the teachers’ unions until the measure was adopted.

Roughly one in four people in the Airin district in the ward receive public assistance. The voucher program will begin in September and be extended throughout the city starting with the new school year in April. There are about 950 eligible junior high school students in the ward. Up to about 70% of junior high school students in the city will be eligible for a JPY 10,000 voucher every month to use both at juku (supplementary educational institutes mistakenly referred to as cram schools) and other institutions. The reports mentioned sports instruction; one example might be swimming schools for children, of which there are many in Japan. (This probably also applies to small classrooms offering lessons in calligraphy and other such pursuits.) They will not be used for regular private schools. The institutions offering the instruction must register with the city.

University professor/author/blogger Ikeda Nobuo was impressed:

“The amount of work he (Hashimoto) has accomplished in six months as mayor is more than four years’ worth of work for an ordinary mayor. Most of it involves intricate problems local to Osaka, so the Tokyo media doesn’t cover it, but the real Hashimoto can be seen in those local policies. I understood what he was doing when I spoke with him on a debate program in Osaka.”

The praise from Mr. Ikeda is noteworthy because he is pro-nuclear power and had a short but intense Tweet battle with the mayor over that issue. Mr. Ikeda was stunned because this is the first educational voucher program in Japan, and it has received next to no publicity. He says it resembles the system first proposed by Milton Friedman 50 years ago of supplementing tuition costs by giving vouchers to parents, rather than giving public funds to public schools.

“This, in effect, will privatize public schools, which will arouse strong opposition from public school teachers. That’s why no country has ever done it. Some American states have voucher programs, but the federal government does not. President Bush proposed something similar in 2002, but it was buried by the intense Democratic Party and labor union opposition. It was brought up as a topic in the Abe administration, but seldom discussed. During a conference with DPJ officials, I suggested they quit their giveaways such as the child support allowance and implement educational vouchers. They told me: ‘As soon as they hear the word voucher, the Japan Teachers’ Union says they will never permit it’.”

Teachers’ unions: God love ‘em. What would education be without them?

Mr. Ikeda adds that unions might have withheld their opposition because the vouchers are not for regular education, and thinks they are unlikely to be adopted at the national level. He hopes the program becomes so successful that other local governments will adopt it in their regions. He notes that the OECD has come out in favor of a switch to a “rational system” of vouchers for nursery schools, but Japan’s Health, Labor, and Welfare ministry ignores that.

Finally, he says the important aspect to consider is that public subsidies are being provided to consumers, similar to Mr. Hashimoto’s negative income tax proposal, which redistributes income directly to individuals without passing through intermediate companies or other organizations. It is a significant change in Japan’s welfare and education policies.

“The opposition to Mr. Hashimoto’s policy of introducing competitive principles in education is strong, but parents will not accept the argument of maintaining the current system under the guise of neutrality in education, when students cannot even speak English properly.”

There are reports the local Kansai media has started with the sob stories, however: The heartless Hashimoto reforms are depriving the poor children of places to go to.

It’s a waste of time to get aroused by the news media any longer. They’re only fulfilling their primary function — to entertain. Expecting them to do anything else is pointless.

Personnel expenses

The mayor proposed sharp cuts in expenditures for the municipal transportation bureau earlier this year. The city’s bus drivers in particular receive a salary 38% higher than their private sector counterparts in Osaka, according to the Nikkei Shimbun. The bus operations alone have been in the red for 29 straight years. He was able to coax out JPY 4.2 billion in cuts from the bureau this year after four bargaining sessions that ended on the night of the 10th. This includes a 20% across-the-board cut of management salaries, and a 3%-19% reduction for regular employees. The new, lower salaries take effect in August. Nakamura Yoshio, the head of the city’s transport workers’ union, said the primary concern of the union was to protect jobs.

Arts subsidies

We’ve seen before that Hashimoto Toru was able to eliminate subsidies to musical groups as governor of Osaka Prefecture, and is now involved in debates to rethink the local subsidies to the traditional art of bunraku. He’s also made an issue out of the public funds the city gives to the Osaka Philharmonic.

After much discussion, the city has decided to cut 10% of the orchestra’s subsidy in the upcoming fiscal year, and continue the reductions in subsequent years. Said the mayor:

“The Osaka Philharmonic now recognizes they have to move in the direction of self-sufficiency. I have some respect (for the person assigned) to create a course toward self-sufficiency in four years, with a three-year preparatory period in the interval. That differs from unthinkingly providing operating subsidies, as has been the case until now.”

Here’s why he thinks the subsidies should be reduced or eliminated:

“The Osaka Philharmonic has completely forgotten their work of attracting an audience. They do not hesitate at all to demand that a certain amount of their income be guaranteed, regardless of the amount of audience revenue or whether or not an audience comes, just because they practice a sophisticated art.”

The city will establish an Arts Council of third party evaluators in August to handle the subject of all subsidies to the arts.

The political class

Reporter to Mr. Hashimoto: When working to achieve an Osaka Metropolitan District, should the number of city council delegate be reduced?

Hashimoto: Politics now should be conducted without excuses. If the Democratic Party of Japan had cut civil service expenses by 20% and the number of Diet members by 180 when their coalition had a majority in both houses, their support rate would have stayed 90% forever. Things have come to this pass because they failed to use their opportunity. Whether or not the Osaka Metro District becomes a reality, it is the mission of politics to show the direction toward reduction if there are too many legislators.

The point he makes in the second sentence is a point I’ve made many times: Japan’s electorate has demonstrated time and again what it wants and the type of politicians it wants to support, but other than Koizumi Jun’ichiro, the NPE time and again ignores them.

Speaking of expense cutting, One Osaka will introduce legislation to reduce from JPY 510,000 to JPY 420,000 the research allowances city legislators receive in addition to their salaries. These allowances have been a point at issue at the sub-national government level throughout the country for the past few years. Local governments have found they can save money simply by requiring receipts and expense accounts for these allowances. When that happens, more unused funds are returned to the treasury every year.

Ward officers

There is a definite sense of a “Go West, young man” phenomenon in Osaka for people wishing to take an active part in the political experimentation. After his election as mayor, Hashimoto Toru solicited applications from around the country for people to serve as the chief executive officer of the city’s 24 wards. They came, they applied, and the hirings were recently announced.

The youngest new ward chief is a 27-year-old former NHK reporter, and the oldest, at 60, is the former head of the prefectural labor committee office in Iwate. One is a former Kansai Electric Power company employee, and another was the mayor of Kasai in Hyogo. The man selected for the post in Nishinari, where the educational voucher program has begun, was the former chief municipal officer of Nakagawa-cho in Tokushima.

Eighteen of the 24 now live outside Osaka. The other six are incumbents already on the job. The 18 new ward chiefs will start work in August — except for the two who now live overseas.

One Osaka is also taking on the issue of government involvement in social welfare expenditures. That story requires a post of its own, however.

Takenaka Heizo, the mainstay of the Koizumi Cabinet, spoke to the students of the One Osaka political juku earlier this week. He commented:

“After the discussion with the class was over, I talked with Mayor Hashimoto, Gov. Matsui, and One Osaka Policy Chief Asada. I honestly hope their aspirations and energy will be the savior of Japanese politics, where ugly battles over political advantage continue keep progress at a standstill.”

Perhaps this phenomenon might be best understood as the Koizumi Reforms V.2.

Bring ‘em on!

Your Party

Your Party is the sole ally of One Osaka among the national parties. Last month, the party submitted a bill to the Diet to convert the national pension system to a pay-as-you-go scheme. The objective is to ameliorate the problem of a younger working population growing progressively smaller transferring its income to an older retired population growing progressively larger. Their plan was devised by first term upper house member Sakurauchi Fumiki, a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat who is said to be an expert on accounting.

The party also submitted a bill that would require party primaries to select candidates for Diet seats. Officials in all parties now select their candidates. By making the candidates responsible primarily to the voters rather than to the party, it would go a long way toward ending the nonsense of an insistence on straight party line votes in the Diet, with punishments for those who buck the bosses, either through conscience or personal interest.

Neither bill will be approved, but it is a glimpse of coming attractions in the event the regional rebels and their allies take control of the national government.

Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka recently issued a revised version of its eight statements of principle for the next lower house election. It too included a passage calling for a pay-as-you-go pension. Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi read the document and said, “It’s difficult to find any (policy) areas that differ from Your Party.”

He added:

“If Mr. Hashimoto himself decides to run in a general election, the impact would be tremendous. Then, each of the political forces would not have to fight separately, but work together in accord on policy and principle to stop higher taxes, prevent the resumption of nuclear power generation, and achieve regional sovereignty. Conditions could be created for a decisive battle with the tax increase coalition of the DPJ and LDP that defend groups with vested interests, starting with the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy.

“In that event, there would be no meaning in contesting 100 or 150 seats. We must put up candidates in all 300 election districts and win a majority.”

Maybe he won’t run, but from a media report on the 28th last month:

Mayor Toru Hashimoto announced his local Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) group will assist candidates nationwide in the next Lower House election who favor fundamental tax reforms that would greatly reduce the central government’s power of the purse.

Hashimoto made the announcement at an Osaka Ishin no Kai fundraiser Thursday night that was attended by 1,500 people, including Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, a close Hashimoto supporter who is expected to field his own candidates in the next Lower House election.

The Osaka mayor criticized the way the Diet handled the recent passage of legislation to raise the consumption tax, and said changing the structure of the tax system to give local authorities more control over how the money is spent will now be the major campaign issue.

“We can change Japan by simply making the consumption tax a local tax and abolishing the system whereby the central government allocates a portion of tax money to localities. Financially, this will allow local governments to become more independent from the central government,” Hashimoto said.

Head ‘em off at the pass

The Democratic Party, their coalition partner the People’s New Party (yes, they’re still around), the Liberal Democrats, their New Komeito partners, and Your Party have reached agreement to reconcile their separate bills to create an Osaka Metro District, the signature issue of Hashimoto Toru and One Osaka. (The three bills were those submitted by #1+#2, #3+#4, and #5 respectively.) It will allow the creation of special districts resembling the 23 wards of Tokyo, which Mr. Hashimoto wants to provide with more autonomy. The chief executive officers of the wards would be chosen by election. The new bill, which will be submitted by all five parties this Diet session, will enable any specially designated city (which has authority resembling that of a prefecture) to merge with surrounding local governments if there is an aggregate population of two million.

Your Party has favored such a plan since the party’s inception, and they also propose an administrative reorganization of prefecture-level governments into a state/province system.

Mr. Watanabe again:

“Looking back on the course of events, this groundbreaking plan was created with One Osaka, and it overturns existing national law based on Your Party’s regional initiatives. The LDP and New Komeito have come closer to our position. DPJ had various (internal) issues, but they’ve compiled a plan that moves in the same direction. It’s not perfect, but it is the first step in changing Japan’s governance mechanisms.”

The other four parties, however, are backing the legislation because they think it’s an inexpensive way to co-opt the mayor and his movement, and thereby protect their seats against a local party revolt.

I wouldn’t be too cocksure about that, even after the bill passes. For the NPE to give in a little to the regional rebels might have the same effect of implementing glasnost and perestroika during the Soviet endgame — hastening the process of change, rather than preventing it.

Nagoya

Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi might be one of the first to take advantage of that new law in addition to One Osaka. He’s proposed a new twist to the Chukyo Metro District concept that would encompass both Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture, governed by ally Omura Hideaki, another local rebel. Mr. Kawamura calls it the Owari Nagoya Republic (Owari being the name of an ancient settlement and later a domain in western Aichi), which would have a population of four million. He’s anxious to discuss it with Mr. Omura.

Gov. Omura, however, was initially lukewarm and said the republic was a different concept than the idea they both ran on in the February 2011 election they won by landslides, and they shouldn’t change.

“I don’t know whether he wants a merger with the surrounding municipalities or a regional alliance. This won’t turn out to be anything but talk unless the details are ironed out.”

Other Nagoya city officials said they understood the city and the prefecture had different ideas, but the city should keep the republic concept in mind. Mr. Omura said that Nagoya City Hall should put some more thought into the matter to determine what they want to do.

They’ll probably find common ground. They’ve got the wind at their back, and they realize it’s in their interests to work together.

Mr. Omura isn’t impressed with the NPE either, by the way:

“Moving toward a tax increase without governmental reform and without a growth strategy is nonsense. The discussions between the DPJ and the LDP were just to rig the game.”

And Mr. Kawamura opened an office for his local Tax Reduction Japan party in Tokyo on Monday. Another of his money-saving ideas is eliminating the pensions of national and local legislators. Your Party lower house member Kakizawa Mito attended the opening ceremony, but said he felt a bit out of place because Ozawa Ichiro was there as well.

The beasts

The NPE is offering new ideas of their own, and the one thing they have in common is that all of them are bad. Start with this from the Nikkei Shimbun to see what I mean:

Allowing company employees to retire at age 40 would give Japan’s labor market a much-needed churn, according to a government report outlining a long-term vision for the nation.

The “Frontier” report, issued Friday by a National Policy Unit subcommittee, recommends polices for maximizing individual and corporate productivity, with the aim of transforming Japan by 2050.

Employment policy holds prominent place in the vision. Blaming the current retirement age of 60 for hindering job turnover, the report calls for loosening employment rules to allow people to retire at 40, an age when many workers reach management positions. Companies choosing this option would be required to provide income assistance to early retirees for one to two years.

What the Nikkei article doesn’t mention, but a Japanese-language article in the Mainichi Shimbun did, is that the proposed system would allow people to work to age 75 if they want to. The idea is to create a mechanism enabling people to leave at age 40 after grinding away for some monolith, and then switch to a small, vibrant growth company.

It is not the business of government to decide when a company should let a person retire, much less act as if it were a vision for transforming the nation. Nor is it their business to require a company to pay a stipend to a person who decides to take a hike at 40 and get retraining to work somewhere else.

Freelance journalist Wakabayashi Aki recommends the government go first and put it in practice themselves, seeing as how they’ve come up with other ideas that are a model for the private sector. She cited the 20-day paid work furloughs and extending maternity leave for teachers from one year to three.

The report also recommends creating worker retraining programs, placing term limits on all employment agreements and eliminating the distinction between full-time and temporary workers.

That’s another step closer to the fascisto-progressive ideal of the corporative state. The private sector is allowed to retain ownership of the company as long as they do what the public sector wants them to do.

The proposals are certain to meet with stiff resistance from workers opposed to being pushed into early retirement, and from firms who see training young employees as an upfront investment to be recouped later.

As well as from those who realize that no one in any government anywhere has the capacity to dictate how a company should run its affairs. Had they the capacity to do so, they’d be running companies themselves.

Then again, some governments in Japan do. About 20 years ago, there was a boom in what was called the Third Sector, or in the United States, public-private sector partnerships. Companies and local governments found ways to go into business together for some do-gooder reason or another. More than 70% of them are in the red. One mini-shopping mall in my city went bankrupt within two years.

It’s no surprise that Mr. Hashimoto in Osaka has an idea how to deal with the Third Sector, too. The city and prefecture of Osaka, in partnership with another local city and a quasi-government agency, had a 70% stake in the Osaka Textile Resource Center, which was capitalized (excessively) at JPY 2.75 billion. The private sector ownership included the chamber of commerce and industry, a few companies in the textile industry, and some trading companies.

The center was created in 1990 to support and improve the textile business based on the Textile Vision of the old Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1988. It was involved with consulting work, research surveys, design development, training, and event planning. It lost JPY 73 million in 2011, and the prefecture covered its liabilities that year with a JPY 1.033 billion loan. Nevertheless, it essentially stopped functioning last summer.

Mr. Hashimoto cut off the city stipend, and it went out of business on 15 June.

Speaking of other operations that are losing money, the Japanese government is 200% in the red. But they want to create a vision to transform Japan by redefining the employer-employee relationship?

The fertility rate would improve if people had more choices for when and where they work, the report contends.

And the cow jumped over the moon.

Said Mr. Noda about the report: “We must present a pioneering model for the state to the world.”

What makes politicians and their orbiting bureaucrats and academics think they need to create a model for the state, when it’s beyond their abilities to operate the existing ones? Every modern model created for a state has flopped face down in the mud, often accompanied by industrial-scale deprivation and death.

Some people think government is broken and needs to be fixed. That’s got it backwards. This is as fixed as government ever gets. What we’ve got now needs to be broken, rethought, and reorganized into the smallest possible units that prevent anarchy.

Not working is good for the economy

The government and the DPJ are discussing a plan to create three day weekends by providing a compensatory day off if a national holiday falls on a Saturday. That’s already the case with Sunday holidays. They think this will stimulate domestic tourism.

Don’t laugh — these are the same folks who think raising the consumption tax will encourage people to consume more.

And these are the same people who think they can create a pioneering model for the state.

As the report had it, this will be included in the Cabinet’s Japan Revival Strategy, which will also include sections for the creation of new industries, in light of the Tohoku disaster.

How can they expect to create new industries when they can’t even balance a budget?

They’re also still talking about a long holiday (a week or so) in the fall, similar to the Golden Week holiday in the spring, to be taken in shifts in regional areas. The stimulation of domestic tourism is also the objective with this plan.

It is unlikely to happen, however, because corporations throughout the country realize that a long holiday in one part of the country will be a long semi-holiday everywhere else. Politicians would realize it too, if they had ever spent quality time in the private sector.

The Japanese nanny state

From a generic media report:

As of last Sunday, restaurants were prohibited from serving raw beef liver by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which advises heating the liver to its core before serving, especially during summer.

The ministry reviewed the hygiene standards for beef in the wake of a series of food poisoning cases at a yakiniku barbecue restaurant chain in spring last year.

The O-157 strain of E. coli bacteria was found to exist in beef liver, and no effective method of disinfecting raw liver has been determined.

The ministry is calling on food and beverage establishments to take such measures as heating liver to its center for at least one minute at 75 C, and using separate tongs, chopsticks and cooking utensils for raw meat.

Restaurants that violate the guidelines will be reprimanded by local governments.

Said Komiyama Yoko, health minister:

“We will make every effort to make sure that (the regulation) is being properly complied with.”

Another source reported that rather than reprimands, those who violate the ban could be sentenced to up to two years in jail or a JPY two million fine.

This from a country that has been eating the poisonous blowfish as haute cuisine for centuries.

Sankei Shimbun journalist Abiru Rui blogged about the subject. He was speaking casually to an aide of an LDP Diet member, and the ban came up in the conversation. She was unhappy:

“I don’t want the government to decide what I can eat! The DPJ government has spent all its time pursuing creepy, wooly-headed ideas, but this is the first time I really hate what they’ve done….”

Mr. Abiru noted that if the LDP were to propose lifting the ban on liver, it would conform to the spirit of self-help, and asked: If you strongly supported lifting the ban on the principle of individual freedom, wouldn’t you risk being branded a neo-liberal?

“Maybe.”

In other words, she was ready for it and didn’t care.

The Japanese left likes to use that expression as if it were a trump card, but they never seem do it in the presence of neo-liberals. Perhaps they’re worried they’ll get stuck with the Old Maid.

Maybe I should have Cafepress print up some neo-liberal t-shirts.

Russell Roberts recently observed that some people would never intervene in the lives of their neighbors, but are anxious to make society at large conform to whatever their cause du jour happens to be.

Those on the other side of the spectrum of government intervention often lack this humility (of intervening in the lives of strangers). They claim to know what is best for others–what they should eat, how they should behave in the bedroom, whether they purchase health insurance, and what is the best use of other people’s money. When these plans go awry, when they cause harm to those they would help, they fall back on their motives–after all, they meant well.

The Seamoon is back

Generic media report (GMR):

An army of reserve soldiers that was never mobilized after last year’s disasters has been cited as an example of waste by Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who also called for tighter control of government spending.

Funny how the Seamoon finance minister and his party couldn’t dispose of much waste at all with their policy reviews, even though they and everyone else knows where to find plenty of it. Or that he voted for his party’s three consecutive record-high budgets. Or that this minor example of government waste is the best he can do, when other people suggest that entire agencies and ministries could be eliminated entirely.

But with the likely passage of the consumption tax increase, his programmers in the Finance Ministry want him out in front on “tighter control of government spending”, much in the way they spread the silliness, parroted by the lazy English-language media, that Kan Naoto and Noda Yoshihiko were “fiscal hawks” during their terms as Finance Ministry press secretaries finance ministers. (The fiscal equivalent of wings, talons, and a knowledge of hawk behavior are requirements for fiscal hawk impersonators. They were the fiscal equivalent of wingless birds with webbed feet.)

International edition

From another generic report:

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has praise for Japan’s move to raise its sales tax to curb the swollen national debt.

Here’s what Ms. Lagarde knows about taxes:

Christine Lagarde, the IMF boss who caused international outrage after she suggested in an interview with the Guardian on Friday that beleaguered Greeks might do well to pay their taxes, pays no taxes, it has emerged.

As an official of an international institution, her salary of $467,940 (£298,675) a year plus $83,760 additional allowance a year is not subject to any taxes.

Lagarde, 56, receives a pay and benefits package worth more than American president Barack Obama earns from the United States government, and he pays taxes on it…

Officials from the various organisations (IMF, et al.) have long maintained that the high salaries are a way of attracting talent from the private sector. In fact, most senior employees are recruited from government posts.

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

China

Still another generic report:

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s political group will seek a referendum apparently with the goal of easing the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, policy proposals obtained Thursday that may be part of the group’s campaign platform for the next general election indicate.

Asian neighbors are concerned, due to historical reasons, with Japan’s move to amend its constitution, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday.

The standard Chinese response whenever another nation has an issue with their behavior is to dismiss it by saying it is unwarranted interference in their internal affairs. Yet whenever another country does something that rubs their fur the wrong way, such as giving a visa to the Dalai Lama or former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, or arresting fishing boat captains that run amok, they react as if they were a 70-year-old nun who had just received a proposition for anal intercourse from a sake-soaked derelict who’s lived in a cardboard box under a bridge for the past two years.

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

*****
Whichever directions become tomorrow’s ephemeral path to the promised land, the double disasters of the Democratic Party government and the Tohoku/Fukushima problems have had the salutory effect of arousing the public, particularly the reading and thinking public. The betrayal by the DPJ and the institutional response to the destruction caused by the earthquake/tsunami has demonstrated to everyone the necessity for taking the responsibility to take action on their own. That process has started.

There’ll be some changes made.

Afterwords:

Just 12 days after another declaration of One Osaka’s readiness to participate in the next national election, Mayor Hashimoto took everyone by surprise yet again on 10 July:

“Prime Minister Noda is amazing (sugoi). He’s worked out an agreement between five parties on a bill to create an Osaka Metro District, he’s raised the consumption tax…he supports the collective right to self-defense, he wants to join the TPP, and is also talking about a state/province system. He has expressed his sense of values and his central beliefs…There are divergent opinions within the party, but he has indicated a specific direction…He is implementing the politics of decisiveness. I think the DPJ rate of support will rapidly recover.”

Remember, two weeks ago he criticized the DPJ handling of the consumption tax and cited it as one of the reasons One Osaka would establish a national presence.

Also:

“There are people in the LDP and DPJ whose thinking is similar. We have hopes for a political reorganization. ..The thinking of many mid-tier and younger members of the LDP is similar to the prime minister’s. If affairs continue to proceed on this course, they could create a new group, and I think their popularity would soar.”

That immediately started speculation of a One Osaka – Noda DPJ alliance, although it might be possible to interpret his transcribed statements as forecasting just a rump DPJ/LDP alliance.

But Mr. Hashimoto also noted the difficulties of working with Mr. Noda as long as the DPJ maintains its ties with the public sector unions, the party’s largest support group. Among the mayor’s principal accomplishments in politics has been his readiness to pick a fight with those unions — and win. He can’t expect, nor does he want, any part of an alliance with them.

Thus, the remnants of the post-Ozawa Democratic Party would have to split further into (a) the labor union left and (b) everyone else. That would leave not so many of everyone else. Further, a realignment with elements of the DPJ and the LDP would cause a split between One Osaka and Your Party, and their members constitute an important part of the One Osaka political juku.

I would not read too much into this, for the nonce anyway. Mr. Hashimoto says all sorts of things. Four years ago, when he was Osaka governor, he said Hatoyama Yukio was sugoi. A few months ago, he said Ozawa-sensei was sugoi. It is unlikely that he takes Mr. Hatoyama seriously, and he had this to say about Mr. Ozawa when talking about Mr. Noda’s sugoi-ness:

“(The new party is) Ozawa-sensei’s idea. There are different ways of thinking, and he chose to take that action.”

You can feel the wet blanket, can’t you?

And speaking of Mr. Hatoyama, his criticism of Noda Yoshihiko on the same day was pertinent to the discussion:

“He can’t even govern the party, so how can he be expected to govern the nation?”

With Hashimoto Toru, actions speak louder than words. He’s a lawyer, after all. Better just to wait and see what he does. It’s impossible to know his strategy. What we do know is that he will do something.

*****
The NPE might be off course, but Off Course never were. This performance of Ai wo Tomenaide (Don’t Stop Love) appeared on their live double LP in the pre-digital age.

I’m knocking on the door to your heart.
And your heart is softly, softly starting to shake.

Posted in China, Education, Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Watanabe Yoshimi on political alliances

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 6, 2012

A coalition government would be the best (way) to prevent an election being fought on the issues of a consumption tax increase and the restart of the nuclear power plants.
- Sengoku Yoshito, chief cabinet secretary in the first Kan Naoto cabinet and current backroom DPJ heavyweight

THE biweekly Sapio interviewed Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi about his views on potential alliances between his party, the successful regional parties, and a new party that might be formed by Tokyo Metro Gov. Ishihara Shintaro. The premise of the interview was that the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal Democrats and New Komeito have formed a de facto coalition to pass the consumption tax increase. The magazine referred to this coalition as Tax Increase Assistance Association, a deliberate play on words using some of the kanji from the name of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, a body formed in 1940 by disbanding the political parties and merging them into one central organization with the bureaucracy and military leadership. The interview appeared in the 18 July edition.

Q: Tokyo Metro District Governor Ishihara Shintaro is showing signs of responding to the One Osaka group by forming a new political party. Will Your Party, One Osaka, and a new Ishihara party create a third force in Japanese politics?

Watanabe: I’ll be paying attention to the policies of a new Ishihara party. Gov. Ishihara’s true values have been those of a right-leaning conservative politician for many years. In contrast, while Mr. Hashimoto does support the group singing of the national anthem, he is not necessarily a politician that leans to the right. I have the impression that his thoughts and beliefs are very restrained. You can get an idea of his thinking by looking at the instructors in foreign policy and security at his political juku, based on One Osaka’s eight statements of principle. They selected people who aren’t hawks, such as Okamoto Yukio and Kitaoka Shin’ichi.

I wonder how far Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Ishihara would be able to work together on foreign policy and security. To begin with, the stance of One Osaka is opposition to the consumption tax increase and their proposal that the tax should be made a revenue source for local government. I have not heard Mr. Ishihara express an opinion like that.

Q: People are saying that Sonoda Hiroyuki, the Sunrise Japan party secretary general and the driving force behind a new Ishihara party, has called on One Osaka and Your Party to form an alliance.

Watanabe: The next election will certainly be fought on the issues of the tax increase and the restart of the nuclear power plants. We’ve said that there are things to do before raising taxes, and things we must do before restarting the plants. Sunrise Japan probably supports the restart of the plants, and thinks the tax increase is necessary, putting them close to the LDP. Even if Mr. Ishihara created a new party with people of that sort and became its head, it wouldn’t create an opposing force to the LDP and DPJ.

Q: You could not create a third force with a new Ishihara party?

Watanabe: I haven’t heard that Mr. Ishihara is opposed to a tax increase or restarting the power plants. Without agreement on those…

Q: Both Your Party and One Osaka promote the deregulation of power generation. You’re in agreement with Gov. Ishihara on that point.

Watanabe: The deregulation of power generation is part of our agenda. We think Tokyo Electric Power should be liquidated, and the assets that can be sold should be sold off on the premise that the generation and transmission operations will be separated. Discussions might move forward if he goes so far as to make that argument for complete deregulation. Mr. Ishihara says he is going to launch a new party. I’m at the stage now where I can’t make a judgement until the party has been formed and I hear what policies they will pursue.

Further, the extremely strong ties in the Ishihara family are very well known. His children respect their father, and the father is concerned about his sons. Mr. Ishihara’s eldest son is the secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, and his third son was defeated in an election running as an LDP candidate. Considering that, I wonder if he would really launch a new party that would interfere with his sons. If the intent of the new party is to be a supplementary force to the LDP, then we wouldn’t be able to work with them. It is necessary to take the measure of the new Ishihara party policies and their political course.

Q: But One Osaka has invited Mr. Ishihara to lecture at their political juku, and Mr. Hashimoto and other senior party members are holding discussions with former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo of the LDP. Aren’t One Osaka and the LDP coming closer together?

Watanabe: Perhaps the thinking of the people at One Osaka is that if none of their senior members, such as Mayor Hashimoto or Osaka Gov. Matsui, enter national politics, the only people from One Osaka who will be in national politics are first term council members. One might imagine that they could have exchanged opinions with Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Abe about who would be suitable to play a leadership role in uniting the Diet members.

If that is the case, it would be a problem if all of a sudden, their leader in the Diet was still an LDP member. But Mr. Ishihara seems to be thinking of using Sunrise Japan as the core of his new party, and Mr. Abe does not seem to be interested in leaving the LDP.

In that regard, I think One Osaka’s strategy and organization will now begin to take shape. What’s important is that the DPJ and the LDP have gotten on board the current governance mechanism of centralized authority led by the bureaucracy. Both Your Party and One Osaka say that governance mechanism should be changed. We would be finished in the instant we joined hands with an existing party. That’s why we will not become a supplementary force to an existing party.

*****
They’ve got the ABCs down, now to work it out as far as the XYZs. Uehara Hiromi playing piano is as good an image as any of the political ferment in Japan today below the level of the National Political Establishment. Watch and listen to her bang her right fist into the keyboard at about the 2.30 mark, slip in a bit of salsa, and then go roaring off in several other directions.

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Almost pointless

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 5, 2012

None of this is worth critiquing. It’s just like a comic book. It’s not possible to say that those who would leave everything up to Mr. Ozawa are “representatives of the people”.
- Ishiba Shigeru, former Defense Minister and LDP policy chief

TELL it as a generic story and the citizenry would rise as one with a hearty cheer, carry the protagonist on their shoulders, and storm the seat of government to take control.

A national legislator with a knack for retail politics turns his back on the monolithic party that nurtured him and strikes out on his own. He publishes a book with his vision for the country. The introduction has such an arresting image that people are still moved by it 20 years later. He forges a coalition of eight small parties that brings down the monolith, which brings down his coalition the following year. He forms a new party and joins the monolith in another coalition, but leaves again when he sees he can’t change them from the inside out. He merges his party with the primary opposition party, molds them into a credible force, and teaches them how to win elections.

Three years after that opposition party has taken control of government in a landslide victory, most people either dismiss them as incompetent amateurs or despise them. Now coopted by the establishment, the party leaders decide to break one of their critical primary election promises and join forces with the other establishmentarians, including the remnants of the monolith, to force through an unpopular piece of legislation.

The protagonist strives to change their minds. When that proves impossible, he leaves the party before it can punish him for the crime of insisting they keep the promise they’ve broken, taking about 50 allies with him. He reads a statement to a news conference with a declaration of principle so clear that even his enemies cannot object to the integrity of its content. It says, in part:

The people who lay aside their promises with the public are trashing the people who would defend those promises. When the former punish the latter, they have it all backwards.

Now tell the same story and insert the name of Ozawa Ichiro as the protagonist and listen to the cheers turn to jeers. An Asahi Shimbun poll found that only 17% of the public supported the passage of the consumption tax increase during this Diet session, yet an FNN poll revealed that only 11.1% of those surveyed had any expectations for the new party Mr. Ozawa is expected to form as a result of his opposition to the hike. (It will be the fourth new party he has created.) More telling is that 73.2% of the respondents disagreed with the statement that Mr. Ozawa is opposed to the consumption tax increase because he’s putting people’s lives first — the slogan of the DPJ, the party that’s doubling their tax rate.

After 20 years of Ozawa observation, people have concluded that for him the word “principle” is code for finding an excuse to amass power and money. Some remember that he was all in on a bureaucracy-inspired consumption tax increase during the Hosokawa administration when he floated a plan to raise it to 7% and allocate it to welfare expenditures. Some remember that he was also all in on breaking the political promise to prevent a different tax increase at the end of 2009. The DPJ said it would abolish the “provisional” gasoline surtax (it had been provisional for more than 30 years), thereby reducing taxes by JPY 2.5 trillion. When the Hatoyama government compiled its first budget that fall, Mr. Ozawa as party secretary general insisted that the tax be maintained and the revenue diverted to the general account. In those days, his demand was their command.

Finally, some people remember that 19 years ago to the month, Mr. Ozawa led another 50 Diet members out of a different ruling party, that one the LDP. (It was 54, to be exact.)

If anyone in Japan is saying anything positive about these Ozawa-events and those to come in the foreseeable future, they’ve been drowned out by the Tokyo equivalent of Bronx cheers.

An explosion less destructive than loud

It hasn’t helped that Mr. Ozawa can’t get his own ducks in a row. Neither could the New York Times, as they wrote incorrectly:

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda suffered another setback on Monday when the largest faction of his governing Democratic Party quit in protest over a proposed tax increase.

The Ozawa faction might have been the party’s largest with an estimated 100 members, but only 52 of them volunteered to jump ship, two of those changed their minds at the last minute, and one more won’t join the new Ozawa party. Some of his allies abstained from voting and stayed in the party, while a third element actually voted for the bill.

As one Twitter wag put it: “That group is nothing more than a party at a karaoke box.” The numbers are short of the total needed to submit a no-confidence motion in the lower house, even with the support of his allies from different parties.

Rather than serve out front and take the heat as prime minister himself, Ozawa Ichiro prefers to establish in that position metrosexual figureheads whom the female public is more likely to find appealing. His first was Hosokawa Morihiro (whose reputation in the Diet derived from his blue blood, family wealth, and perpetual quest to shag yet another staffer), and his last was Hatoyama Yukio, the man who reminded Nakasone Yasuhiro of melted ice cream.

Mr. Ozawa seemed to be grooming Haraguchi Kazuhiro, the internal affairs minister in the Hatoyama Cabinet, for that role in the future, and told him he would be a key man in a new party. Mr. Haraguchi was quite the toady two years ago, frequently stopping by the great man’s office to lick his boots and receive political instruction. He also fired an early shot at Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s back from within the party just before the Tohoku disaster extended the latter’s political life by three or four months.

But understanding that it won’t be easy to win election as a DPJ member the next time around, and next to impossible as a member of the New Ozawans, Mr. Haraguchi not only refused the offer, he dissuaded other people from bolting the party. In their gratitude, the DPJ “severely cautioned” him for abstaining from the consumption tax vote, rather than vote against it. Meanwhile, they threw out 37 members who voted against the bill and resigned from the party (you can’t quit, we cast you into the wilderness!), suspended for two months the party privileges of 18 people who voted against the bill but stayed in the party, and suspended for six months the privileges of former Prime Minister and party founder/bankroller Hatoyama Yukio, who also cast a nay vote. (Mr. Hatoyama’s explanation for his decision captured the absurdity of the situation. He said he couldn’t vote for the bill because “my face is on the cover” of the party’s manifesto that contained the promise not to raise the tax for four years.)

Mr. Ozawa is telling people that his current objective is to put together a Japanese version of the Olive Tree coalition of smaller parties to create a Third Force in politics. The original Olive Tree ruled Italy on and off from 1995-2001 and consisted mostly of various shades from the sinister side of the political spectrum, including social democrats, communists, and greens. The term was coined by Romano Prodi, a former “leftist Christian Democrat” who became prime minister. In 2001, the Olive Tree’s only self-identified centrist party was known as “Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy”.

It is not clear why Mr. Ozawa describes the goal in terms of the Italian group, considering that his coalition of eight parties with Hosokawa Morihiro as prime minister predated the Olive Tree by a year.

Barren

Be that as it may, that tree will produce little, if any, fruit. Instead of creating and leading a bandwagon of his own, he’s jumping on an existing one that doesn’t want him aboard. The parties he wants to aggregate into a coalition are the regional groups that have captivated the popular imagination and — the part Mr. Ozawa likes —- win elections by large margins. They include Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka, Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi’s Tax Reduction Japan, and Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki’s Aichi is Top of Japan (yes, I typed that properly). Others mentioned as partners are a possible new party created by Tokyo Gov. Ishihara Shintaro and the vanity New Party Daiichi of Suzuki Muneo, known primarily for holding the record for days spent behind bars by a Diet member. That Mr. Suzuki is the only one who might be interested captures the absurdity of this situation.

From Matsui Ichiro, the One Osaka secretary general and Osaka governor:

“There are many areas of incompatibility with their manifesto and our policies, so we will not join with people in a political group who would implement that manifesto.”

He’s referring to the DPJ manifesto and the DPJ’s failure to adhere to it, which is the nominal reason for the Ozawa revolt.

Kawamura Takashi and Omura Hideaki are thought by some to be likely recruits. Mr. Kawamura is on good terms with Mr. Ozawa, and the three met publicly in Tokyo one day after the stunning Kawamura/Omura election victories in February 2011. Mr. Kawamura was sympathetic (he also left the Democratic Party), but said he has no plans to form an alliance now.

“He had no choice, because the DPJ broke its election promise. ..I would like to talk with them about their thoughts on tax reduction and eliminating nuclear power, but first we’ll work together with Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Hashimoto.”

Ishihara Shintaro was more direct. Here he’s quoted by the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Ishihara also said Thursday in a radio program of Nippon Broadcasting System: “Nobody expects anything of Mr. Ozawa’s new party. I’d never [tie up with it] even if I had to die.”

And Omura Hideaki hasn’t said anything in public about Mr. Ozawa that I could find. He’s limited himself to criticizing the DPJ-LDP-New Komeito “collusion” to increase taxes. “I hate that kind of practice,” he said. Mr. Omura much prefers an alliance with One Osaka, and said their respective platforms are “80%-90% identical”.

The natural alliance for these groups is with the Watanabe/Eda-led Your Party, whose views on an Ozawa alliance are similar to those of Ishihara Shintaro.

But one of the national parties is interested in working with the New Ozawans: the Social Democrats, Japan’s version of the flannel-headed death spiral left who’d have had their own perch in the Italian Olive Tree house. Said party head Fukushima Mizuho:

“The Noda Cabinet has ignored the people and ignored voices within the DPJ, so the bill has come due with a large defection. I’d like to form a policy alliance with Mr. Ozawa and the others based on opposition to the consumption tax increase and nuclear power, if we can.”

All of this is an excellent illustration of the Japanese proverb Taizan meido shite, nezumi ippiki 大山鳴動して鼠一匹 (The mountain rumbles and brings forth a mouse.)

When a political mountain rumbles and produces a litter of mice that consists of a handful of long-time loyalists, first-termers beholden to the mount for their seat, and the likes of Suzuki Muneo and Fukushima Mizuho, it is proof that the mountain has been downgraded to a molehill.

The only fruit on this tree.

The political platypus that is the Democratic Party is splitting up into something that will be more internally manageable. Most of the remnants will resemble the American Democrats — Third Wayers at the moderate end, and people who realize that being part of a smaller, more openly leftist party isn’t a viable career option at the other. But as the weekly Shukan Bunshun suggests, it will be hell to join the new Ozawa party, and hell to stay in the DPJ. Many of the splitters and splittees both will be looking for work after the next election.

*****
This Ozawa-DPJ timeline from the Jiji news agency might help put the recent events into focus.

2003
September: Dissolves Liberal Party into the Democratic Party
December: Becomes acting president of the Democratic Party
2004
May: Withdraws candidacy just before the election for DPJ president after the resignation of Kan Naoto, as well as other offices within the party.
June: Forms the Isshinkai study group in the party
November: Assumes role of deputy party president at the request of party president Okada Katsuya. (He or his acolytes later conducted an anonymous note/backstabbing campaign against Mr. Okada in the 2009 party presidential election that Hatoyama Yukio won.)
2005
September: Refused request of party president Maehara to become acting party president. (Ozawa = oil, Maehara = water. They mix just as well.)
2006
April: Wins election for party presidency after resignation of Maehara Seiji.
2007
November: Cuts a deal with LDP Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo for a coalition government (reportedly because he thinks the DPJ has no one capable of serving in government and they need the training). The pre-Ozawa DPJ leadership rejected the deal. He quits the party presidency in a tear-stained press conference and returned three days later. Now, four years later, the same people who rejected the idea of a coalition government have entered a de facto coalition with the LDP and New Komeito to pass the tax legislation, an arrangement that Mr. Ozawa objected to.
2009
March: Aide arrested in connection with violation of political funds law involving money from Nishimatsu Construction. The DPJ had just taken the lead in national polls for the first time ever in January. They lost the lead immediately after the arrest.
May: Resigns party presidency, becomes acting party president
September: Becomes party secretary-general when the Hatoyama administration took office.
2010
September: Loses to Kan Naoto in party presidential election.
November: Forms Hokushinkai for young party members.
2011
January: Indicted for violation of political funds law.
February: Party membership suspended; stories circulate that he will be thrown out if convicted.
June: Does not appear in Diet to vote for no-confidence motion the opposition submitted against Kan Naoto, after he encouraged it. It was likely to pass until what is now the core DPJ leadership cooked up an arrangement the night before to keep Hatoyama Yukio on board.
August: Supported Kaieda Banri for party president after Mr. Kan resigned. Mr. Kaieda lost.
December: Starts new policy study group
2012
April: Acquitted of political funds law violation.
May: Ruling appealed.
June: Votes against consumption tax increase.
July: Leaves party

*****
Some politicians write their own books (Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson), and some just put their name on the cover. We now know that Profiles in Courage was written by a committee chaired by JFK. Ted Sorenson did most of the actual work, but didn’t receive the Pulitzer Prize. Both Bill Ayers and Michelle Obama have said that Ayers wrote the first Obama book. (His speechwriter wrote the second.) Now we find that other than the famous introduction, Ozawa Ichiro’s Blueprint for a New Japan was also written by committee. One of the authors was a then-unknown Takenaka Heizo, later to become the mainstay of the Koizumi Cabinet.

*****
Here’s a blast from the past, written in 2008:

An extremely influential LDP politician who headed the party’s upper house members, Murakami Masakuni was one of the Gang of Five who controversially selected Mori Yoshiro in secret to replace Obuchi Keizo as prime minister after the latter’s stroke. Though he resigned due to a financial scandal (and is now in jail), Mr. Murakami is said to still wield significant influence behind the scenes.

The Sunday Mainichi (weekly) attached a brief interview with Mr. Murakami to the end of its piece about Hiranuma Takeo, in which the former “upper house don” gave his predictions for the next two years. Here they are:

“In two years the LDP-New Komeito coalition will not be in power. The next election will see a shift in the LDP’s strength relative to the opposition DPJ, resulting in an Ozawa Administration. The DPJ won’t have the numbers to form a government by themselves, but they will ally with Hiranuma’s new party for an anti-LDP, anti-New Komeito government. Once it is out of power for two years, the LDP will break up.”

Saying that the LDP would break up if it were to spend two years in the opposition is the easy prediction. Here’s the prediction Mr. Murakami won’t make: The Democratic Party of Japan would break up before it spent two years in power.

First, there are too many incompatible groups within the party for it to survive a disposition of the spoils and the determination of a uniform party policy. People have kept their mouths shut until now for the sake of party unity. They’ll stay open loud and long once they’re in a government together.

Second, we have the example of Mr. Ozawa’s previous experience at governing—albeit behind the scenes—with a coalition consisting of eight oil-and-water groups during the Hosokawa-Hata administrations. They lasted a combined total of 10 months.

If either an Ozawa Administration or the DPJ itself sticks around longer than that, chalk it up to the favors of Lady Luck.

There you have one of the few political predictions I’ve ever made on this site: The DPJ would break up as a unit two years after taking power.

And so it has. I was off by nine months.

Not that it was particularly prescient. It was obvious. All anyone had to do was look.

*****
Only one musical performance could serve as a theme to this sequence of events, and that’s Sakata Akira’s version of Summertime. (It’s seasonal, too!) It also might wake Gershwin from the dead. Watanabe Kazumi, who has made many discs of his own, is playing guitar. I have an old Sakata comedy/music LP on cassette tape. This video offers but the merest glimpse of his strangeness in all its over-the-top glory.

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