Japan from the inside out

Japanese politicians: Still in short pants?

Posted by ampontan on Monday, January 14, 2008

THE LOWER HOUSE OF THE JAPANESE DIET on Friday approved the bill to resume refueling activities in the Indian Ocean for the NATO coalition’s anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan, overriding the upper house’s rejection of the bill earlier the same day. As a result, next month Japan will again serve as NATO’s Indian Ocean fuel supply depot, a role it performed from 2001 until last November, when the opposition Democratic Party of Japan blocked an extension of the mission in the upper house.

This has been an important issue for two reasons, neither of which had to do with the refueling mission itself. Obviously, Japanese participation is not essential for the NATO operation to continue. The important aspects both involve domestic concerns, though one affects the ongoing redefinition of Japan’s international role.

First, both the politicians and the electorate now realize the Diet is capable of functioning with different parties in control of the two houses. For Japan, that realization is not as easy as it might seem. This is the first divided Diet in the modern political era, and not a day goes by without the media or a politician—or both—referring to it as the “twisted Diet”.

Also, some observers suggest that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has been hesitant to use its supermajority in the lower house to override any decisions by the upper house, controlled by the DPJ since last July’s election, because it could incur voter disapproval.

This hesitancy might seem odd to those familiar with politics in other countries, where political parties in control of the government do not hesitate to use their hard-won clout. The democratic ideal differs from country to country, however, and the traditional Japanese preference for harmony and consensus is a factor in all Diet deliberations. When the ruling party in other countries passes a bill with a straight up-or-down vote, observers might say they “exercised their mandate”. In Japan, however, the opposition complains that they “rammed the bill through”, and both the domestic and overseas press usually parrot that line.

Now that the LDP has exercised its mandate by ramming the bill through the Diet and discovered to their delight that lightning hasn’t struck them dead, they might decide to do it once or twice more before they lose their supermajority in the next election.

The DPJ Exposed

The second reason for the issue’s importance is that it underscored the unfortunate fact that the opposition DPJ is still emotionally incapable of leading a government.

Consider the behavior of the party and their leader, Ozawa Ichiro, since their July electoral victory. Their reason for opposing the renewal of the refueling mission when the legislative authority ended for it last November was that the military effort in Afghanistan had not received UN approval. Said Mr. Ozawa:

“The U.S.-led operations in which Japan has been taking part are not directly authorized by the UN Security Council. President Bush said the Afghan war was an American war against terrorism, and the United States unilaterally fought the war without waiting for consensus from the international community.”

This ignores United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1386, 1413, and 1510, which mandate the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Thomas Schieffer, the American ambassador to Japan, asked for a meeting with Mr. Ozawa to explain that the Security Council actually had authorized the operations.

Mr. Ozawa agreed to the meeting, and according to some accounts, kept the ambassador waiting a half an hour before seeing him. The DPJ president’s behavior has been known to resemble that of a member of the ruling family in a minor emirate. Mr. Schieffer was unable to convince him to change his mind, but that was a foregone conclusion.

Then, representatives from ten countries asked for a meeting at the Pakistani embassy to discuss the issue and try to sway the DPJ. These countries were Afghanistan, Australia, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and New Zealand in addition to Pakistan, as well as the United States.

Mr. Ozawa refused.

In a move clearly intended to remove any remaining doubts about its position, the UN Security Council renewed the authorization for NATO to continue its operations in Afghanistan last September by a vote of 14-0. (Russia abstained.) The new resolution added a sentence thanking NATO and other nations for their contributions. One of these nations was Japan and “its maritime interdiction component.”

How did the DPJ respond?

“There is no change in our stance,” Democratic lawmaker Yamaoka Kenji told reporters. “(The resolution) creates misunderstandings for the people, and if I may use harsher words, it deceives them.”

Would the adjective stubborn be sufficient to describe Ozawa Ichiro? Not unless mercurial were added to it. His next step was unexpected, and even he is probably incapable of explaining it. Mr. Ozawa wrote in the DPJ party newspaper that if the party formed a government, he wanted to participate in military ISAF operations on the ground in Afghanistan.

It took all of 24 hours for the LDP to call into question Mr. Ozawa’s reasoning (if not sanity) in the Diet. Cabinet members said the continuous land war and bombings made the suggestion too dangerous, and the use of force made it unconstitutional. The irony of LDP hawks arguing against boots-on-the-ground military action proposed by the heretofore dovish opposition because it would be dangerous and unconstitutional was political vaudeville at its finest.

The Approach to Bipartisan Discussions

With the Japanese tendency to pay more attention—or at least lip service—to achieving harmony and consensus in politics, it is also instructive to review the DPJ’s response to LDP requests for bipartisan discussions of the issue. When former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo suggested that he and Ozawa Ichiro meet and hash things out, Mr. Ozawa refused point blank. (There’s that petty emirate attitude again. Besides, at that time he still suffered from the delusion that his party’s rise to power in government was imminent.)

When Mr. Ozawa finally got together for talks with the current prime minister, Fukuda Yasuo, they wound up spending more time discussing the terms of a grand coalition than Japanese tankers on the high seas. One of the grand ideas they came up with was eliminating the single-member district election reforms that Mr. Ozawa was instrumental in achieving during the Hosokawa Administration. The DPJ president also claims that Mr. Fukuda agreed to a suggestion that would make Japanese military action in the future conditional on UN approval.

Very few people think this occurred, by the way. Mr. Ozawa would have trouble getting that idea past the hawkish wing of his own party, much less the LDP, and he hasn’t produced any concrete evidence to back up his claims.

By November of last year, polls indicated that the Japanese public was finally in favor of resuming the operation by a plurality. It should be remembered, however, that the public does not consider this a hot-button issue, and the numbers constantly shift, probably influenced by other events.

The Diet Acts

Also last November, on the 13th, the LDP-controlled lower house approved the Fukuda Cabinet’s new bill to resume the refueling operations for another year. Typically, the DPJ waited until the last possible day, last Friday, to reject the bill in the upper house. It was resubmitted immediately thereafter to the lower house, which took roughly five minutes to pass it by the two-thirds majority needed to override the upper house rejection.

Where was Mr. Ozawa when the bill was being passed? Not in the Diet—he was on his way to Osaka for a local campaign appearance. The head of Japan’s Communist Party, Shii Kazuo, termed this “irresponsible (behavior) for the leader of the primary opposition party”.

When asked by reporters in Osaka why he left before the vote, Mr. Ozawa replied:

. . . . . . .

As is happening with increasing frequency, it was left to Hatoyama Yukio, DPJ secretary-general, to clean up the mess Mr. Ozawa left behind. He told reporters:

“It wasn’t the most desirable (situation), but he went to Osaka out of a sense of public duty to highlight the reckless behavior of the ruling party.”

That’s not exactly putting the best face on a bad situation, but any politician would be taxed by having to come up with something better on short notice.

Mature Leadership?

At every step along the way when dealing with this issue and the legislation in the Diet, the DPJ and its president have displayed a petty provincialism unbecoming a serious political party in one of the world’s leading democracies. They have chosen instead to childishly manipulate the system, impressing no one, and certainly not winning any new supporters by their behavior.

Indeed, former Education Minister and now LDP Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei commented that since the DPJ’s election victory, they have behaved like a primary school student given a pistol.

This is not to say the party is wrong to use its newfound strength and confront the LDP in the Diet; that is what should happen in a healthy political system and is to be welcomed. This is also not to say that reasonable people cannot disagree with the LDP’s stand on the refueling mission (though there are DPJ legislators who favor it; only the requirement to maintain party discipline prevents them from voting their conscience).

What would a responsible political party have done after its July upper house victory? They would have chosen to confront the LDP in the Diet over a domestic issue, not by temporarily halting an ongoing operation to the detriment of Japan’s standing and reputation internationally. For an opposition party to use an international issue as a lever to gain power is myopic, arrogant, and evidence of a third-rate mentality.

Do they seek to end Japanese involvement in this operation? Fine—but they should have waited until they had attained the electoral wherewithal to form a government and let the operation end while they were in office as the mandate expired. Not only did the course they chose fail to achieve its objective, it also sullied the standing of the country and caused its natural allies in Western democracies to doubt its resolve to carry out a safe, straightforward operation just when Japan is seeking to assume greater responsibility in international affairs.

Here is an AFP article outlining last Friday’s events. It is worth noting the comments of the usual poli sci professor trotted out as the reporter’s proxy:

“The fact that the government had to resort to the last measure shows the prime minister failed to engage the opposition,” said Tetsuro Kato, political science professor at Hitotsubashi University.

Only someone as oblivious to reality as a social sciences professor could have made such an observation after the events of the past five and a half months. But he continued:

“His cabinet’s support rate could decline further,” he said.

He’ll have to guess again. Kyodo released on Sunday the results of a quick telephone poll it conducted over the weekend that found the support rate for the Cabinet in the wake of the bill’s passage rose 6.1% to 41%. After a precipitous plunge during the previous poll, the approval rate for the Fukuda Cabinet is now roughly equal to the disapproval rate, considering the standard margin of error.

The dogs bark, and the caravan moves on, as the Arabs say; or in this case, the DPJ bays at the moon as the refueling vessels weigh anchor and return to the Indian Ocean later this month.

13 Responses to “Japanese politicians: Still in short pants?”

  1. Bern said

    Parliament Yukihisa Fujita of the Japan Democratic party, made a 20 minute long statement at the House of Councillors, the upper house of the Diet (parliament) of Japan. He questioned the official version of 9/11 presented to the Japanese government and the public by the US administration in a session of the defense commission.

    He asked whether Terrorism is crime or war. Some Japanese people were killed, so he believes this was a crime, so Japanese police should investigate the real suspect even though Japanese government assumed that the suspect was Al-Queda since Bush told Koizumi so and sent the self-defense force to Iraq. Can Japanese police arrest president Bush if he was one of the suspects?

    It looks like Fujita is one of many people who do not buy the official 9/11 story. He does a very good job exposing the lies of the official story. He believes like many individual scientists, inteeligence officials and others that Twin Towers came down due to an implosion and not due to fire from the jet fuel. He also further states how WTC7 collapsed the same day without it being hit by an airplane.

    国会で911陰謀説が議論される 1/3

    国会で911陰謀説が議論される 2/3

    国会で911陰謀説が議論される 3/3

  2. Bern said

    Here is a transcript of the hearing which was broadcasted live on NHK and which put the coorporate US media and the Japanese in a state of shock.

    Mr. Fujita talks about Pentagon, Twin Towers, WTC 7 and the inside trade which was happening prior to 9/11. His theory is that Twin Towers fell due to bombs being planted and the same with WTC 7 and that something other than a commercial jet hit the Pentagon and there were people who was aware of the attacks prior to 9/11 due to inside trade in the stock market. He wants a new investigation done by Japanese officials and not relying on the US government.

    Mr Fujita speaks…..

    We are running out of time but I would also like to mention the put options. Just before the 911 attacks, ie on September 6th, 7th and 8th there were put options put out on the stocks of the two airlines United and American that were hit by hijackers. There were also put options on Merril Lynch, one of the biggest WTC tenants. In other words somebody had insider information and made a fortune selling put options of these stocks. The head of Germany’s Bundesbank at the time, who is equivalent to the Governor of the Bank of Japan, said there are lots of facts to prove the people involved in the terror attacks profited from insider information. He said there was lots of suspicious trading involving financial companies etc prior to the attacks. The had of the Bundesbank was willing to say this much. I would like to ask the Finance Minster about these put options. Did the government of Japan know about this, and what do you think about this? I would like to ask Finance Minister Nukaga about this.

    Finance Minister who pretty much dodged the question so Mr. Fujita then asks finance speicalists Asao for his opinion.

    Keiichiro Asao:

    I understand put options are a deal to sell stocks at a fixed price. In this case somebody must have had insider information to carry out such transactions because nobody could normally predict these airlines would have their planes hijacked. So, I believe this was certainly a case of insider trading.

    So there are members in the parlament and the government who thinks that there was inside trade.

    You can read the entire transcript of those 3 youtube videos.

  3. Bern said

    While I do not believe in the Bush administration and the motives of the war being against Terrorism one bit. It is heartning that someone in the Japanese Parlament is questioning the dubious official report of the 9/11 report.

    After all. 9/11 was what triggered this war on Terrorism and this is why there is a debate whether Japan should support US or not.

    Mr. Fujita’s remarks has created a debate in the Japanese media.

    On Livedoor’s news site. It says. Is Al-Qaida the real culprit?

    Priot to becoming a politician Fujita worked in various NGO humanitarian organizations.

    Fujita questioning the collapse of Twin Towers and WTC7.

    Mr. Fujita.


    Since we are running out of time I would like to present a new piece of evidence. Please look at this panel. The first picture is one you see often of the two towers that were hit by hijacked airplanes. I could understand if this happened right after the airplanes hit but here we can see large piece of material flying a large distance through the air. Some flew 150 meters. You can objects flying in this picture as if there was an explosion. Here is a picture I took from a book. This lets you see how far the objects flew. The third picture is of a fireman who was involved in the rescue talking about a series of explosions in the building that sounded like a professional demolition. We cannot present video today so I have written a translation of what the fireman said. Here his is saying “it went boom boom boom like explosions were going off.”

    Here is something said by a Japanese research team of officials from the fire department and the construction ministry. The interviewed a Japanese survivor who said that while she was fleeing there were explosions. This testimony appears in a report prepared with the aid of the construction ministry and the fire department. Now I would like you to see the following picture. Normally it is said that the twin towers collapsed because they were hit by airplanes. However, one block away from the twin towers is building number 7. It can be seen in the following map a block away from the WTC. This building collapsed 7 hours after the WTC buildings were attacked. If I could show you a video it would be easy to understand but take a look at this photograph. This is a 47 story building that fell in this manner (He drops and object to demonstrate). The building falls in five or six seconds. It is about the same speed as an object would fall in a vacuum. This building falls like something you would see in a Kabuki show. Also if falls while keeping its shape. Remember it was not hit by an airplane. You have to ask yourself if a building could fall in that manner due to a fire after 7 hours. Here we have a copy of the 911 commission report. This is a report put out by the U.S. government in July of 2004 but this report does not mention the collapse of the building I just described. It is not mentioned at all in here (he waves the book). FEMA also issued a report but they also fail to mention this building. Many people believe, especially after seeing the story about building number 7, that something is strange. Since this is an incident where many people died people think is should be investigated.


    Questions about WTC 1 & 2 explosions

    Questions about World Trade Center 7

    The theory that the Twin Towers were imploded is aparently gaining momentum in various European countries and now in Japan unlike US where there still is too much emotional sentiments to have a calm debate about it in Congress or the US media.

  4. Bern said

    Sorry for multiple posting but here is Fujita with subtitles. Regarding the implosions of the WTC buildings.

    It will be interesting if this will spark a bigger debate and if more and more main stream media will catch on to this. Fujita is expected to hold a press conference for the international press in Tokyo fairly soon.

  5. tomojiro said

    “Here is a transcript of the hearing which was broadcasted live on NHK and which put the corporate US media and the Japanese in a state of shock.”

    Really? My personal impression was “Aaah, another wacky lawmakers from the DPJ who easily engage in conspiracy theories like Jin Matsubara”. The Japanese in a state of shock? Yeah, it is sad that there are so many brainless conspiracy theorists in the diet.

    He is just another conspiracy theorists like Matsubara Jin who denies the Nanjing massacre and actually believes that if the Japanese government provides all the proves to some US investigating institute that Nanjing massacre can be denied!

    Fujita is just one of them.

    Sad situation.

  6. Bern said

    What is really sad is to dismiss the entire argument by putting the simple label “conspiracy” while the argument itself is not addressed.

  7. Bender said

    I’d want to actually see how Wall Street firms traded before jumping to any conclusions. Like “backdating” by Silicon Valley companies: looking at the charts, it was quite obvious and persuasive even for a layman like me (see below).

  8. Baramatsu said

    “Typically, the DPJ waited until the last possible day, last Friday, to reject the bill in the upper house. ”

    I’m confused as to how this was typical, given that it was the first time the DPJ-controlled Upper House has done such a thing in history.

    Also, Ozawa very clearly explained to reporters why he didn’t vote and instead went to help out with the Osaka campaign, at least at the press conference I attended. Which one were you at?

  9. ampontan said

    1. Typical of their behavior since July. Considering the snarky nature of your note, I doubt that you are “confused”.

    2. According to the article the next day in the Nishinippon Shimbun, uncredited but probably written either by their reporter or picked up from Kyodo, Ozawa “did not answer”. Obviously you weren’t at the one they were at.

    Perhaps you can tell us if his excuse was any better than the one from Hatoyama. The voting only took five minutes.

  10. Baramatsu said

    I’ll ignore the cheap shot, but again…if it’s the first time they’ve voted that way since July, what is it typical of?

  11. Jim Peel said

    More important, it’s the first contentious issue the DPJ has voted on at all while in control of the Upper House. What happened at the end of the extraordinary Diet session happened for the first time in over half a century.

    Given that you grant the role of a healthy opposition in a healthy democracy, why should that opposition not apply to international issues. It’s not about the DPJ testing its strength, it’s about the leadership of the DPJ opposing the bill.

    Furthermore, the mission is purely symbolic. No other nation was more than mildly irked. Even if others, namely the US, were outraged, why should that matter? Can Japan not decide what’s best for Japan without caving to gai-atsu at every turn?

    It sounds to me like the LDP leadership pays lip service to the validity of debate, but doesn’t want any of its plans actually opposed. The DPJ after all proposed continuing the debate in the ordinary session, the LDP refused.

    If anyone is behaving childishly, it’s the LDP.

  12. ampontan said

    I’ll ignore the cheap shot, but again…if it’s the first time they’ve voted that way since July, what is it typical of?

    That’s not all you’re ignoring. Try my answer, “Typical of their behavior since July.”

    That was a roughly 1900-word article reviewing their behavior in regard to this issue since July. You’re ignoring all that content, too.

    You’re also ignoring the question about what you heard him say, and my answer that the Japanese press reported he blew off the question in Osaka. I don’t think they made it up.

    Here’s something else from a month ago that also addresses their behavior since July.

    That’s why I included the Ibuki quote (which came from a Japanese source).

    If people want to disagree with me here and offer their reasons, I won’t get upset, even if they are in serious disagreement. I’ve banned only a couple of people, and that was for extremely obnoxious behavior. My rule is ad res instead of ad hominem.

    There are two reasons: (1) Personal cyber fistfights discourage other people from expressing an opinion. For example, I received a nice letter from one of the readers, who is a Japanese woman in her 70s. I’m interested in having readers like her contribute whenever they want without having to worry about getting kicked in the shins by some wiseguy. (2) I get all the comments as e-mail, and I’m just not interested in reading pointless crap.

    Actually, I’ve been trying to follow the rule that British newspapers had for their columnists: No responses to people who wrote letters to the editor that were printed, even if they are idiots. The columnists had their say, so it was fair to give other people their say. (Sometimes I break the rule.)

    Your note in another thread was fine (welcome, in fact).

    But here’s the deal: I get very tired very quickly of 1990s Usenet-style dingleberry-picking addressed to me. Try another tack.

  13. Bern said

    I am not a stock broker and dont know too much how the stock market works but there was inside trade prior to 9/11. Put Options. They agree to sell a stock for a fixed price. And people, companies made a fortune on it.

    Councilor Fujita Questions 9/11 Part 1

    This translation is better. He comes with very good points. When a Japanese was killed in Mynmar the Japanese authorities had an investigation of the crime. However on 9/11 despite the fact that 20 Japanese dies there has been no investigation from the Japanese side.

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