AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Ears to the ground

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, April 21, 2009

SOMEONE CAME UP WITH A GREAT IDEA for the latest Shinhodo 2001 public opinion survey.

Shinhodo 2001 (New Reports 2001) is a Sunday political blabathon broadcast from 7:30 to 8:55 a.m. on the Fuji Television Network. They regularly conduct political polls, and the results of their great idea are incorporated in their survey for 16 April.

One of the questions asked in the poll is: “What (kind of) Administration are you looking for after the next general election?” The pollsters’ inspiration was to add a new choice to the list of possible answers. The new possibility immediately caught the attention of those surveyed, who liked it so much it vaulted to the top of the list. Here’s how the respondents answered the question:

  • An administration centered on a person with experience as the chief executive officer in local government, such as a prefectural governor, and who understands local conditions in Japan: 27.6%
  • A grand coalition consisting of the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan: 25.4%
  • An administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan: 19.2%
  • An administration led by the Liberal Democratic Party: 15.0%
  • An administration led by a new third force other than the LDP or DPJ: 7.8%
  • Don’t know: 5.0%

Japan’s Constitution requires the prime minister to be a member of the Diet, which means he or she must be a sitting member of the legislature. Many of the MPs (but by no means all) have had no executive experience in government. That might be one reason the late Tanaka Kakuei, the former cock of the walk in the LDP roost, decreed his politicos had to serve as the head of important party organizations and Cabinet ministries to be considered for the post of prime minister.

This new survey result suggests that the voters are now anxious to see people with the experience of solving problems in an executive capacity, and who will focus on the problems facing the country, rather than gamesmanship to gain a political edge in partisan battles in Nagata-cho after strategy sessions in the back rooms of exclusive Tokyo ryotei. And it is most interesting that the total seeking executive experience in local government, combined with the figures for those seeking a third force, outnumber the combined total of those who prefer either the LDP or DPJ singly–not to mention the number of those who hope to see a grand coalition.

It would also suggest that many of the 39.8% of the electorate undecided about which party they support (according to this poll) want to see regional devolution, and by implication a reform of the civil service system that vitiates the abnormal control of the Kasumigaseki bureaucrats in the central government.

But neither of the two major parties as presently led is likely to give the voters what they want. Therefore, they’ll have to turn to people who have had executive experience before serving in the Diet, or people serving as chief executive officers now and who may run for the Diet in the future.

Hashi and Higashi

Hashi and Higashi

Who might they be? Well, two of the most prominent prefectural governors who have chosen not to affiliate with a party and who champion the devolution of authority to local governments are frequently mentioned on this site: Miyazaki Gov. Higashikokubaru Hideo and Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru. It is surely no coincidence that both have approval ratings among their constituents northward of 80%.

Through a serendipitous coincidence (for this article), Gov. Hashimoto paid a well-publicized visit to Kyushu to have dinner with Gov. Higashikokubaru on the 12th and have private discussions with him on the 13th, as you can see from the photo. He also made a point of mentioning that he paid for the visit by cutting his own belly (in other words, out of his own pocket.)

The two men did not offer a lot of details about their discussions, but Gov. Higashikokubaru made this comment:

“He came to talk about his problems. We discussed what was going to happen to this country. I gave him my ideas.”

They also discussed the Osaka Prefectural Assembly’s recent rebuff of Gov. Hashimoto when they voted down a plan to move the prefectural government’s offices to the local World Trade Center. Mr. Higashikokubaru said he gave his Kansai counterpart some advice on dealing with the assembly. Mr. Hashimoto gushed about his host to the Asahi Shimbun:

“Higashi-san really is terrific! I learned a lot”

Unfortunately, the Asahi has been conducting a vendetta against Gov. Hashimoto (to no avail, evidently), so they neglected to mention that other topics were discussed. That was left to the Sankei Shimbun.

Said Mr. Hashimoto:

“Gov. Higashikokubaru talked about how he deals with organizations. Both the public employees and the citizens in Miyazaki are working very hard. Everyone says that the governor has made Miyazaki a more dynamic place.”

They also talked about a subject of great interest to them both, as well as to many people with an interest in the nuts and bolts of Japanese government:

“We discussed the ideal method of financial subsidies and the fundamentals of tax revenue resources once our financial liability for enterprises operated directly by the national government is ended. We want to be able to handle the work of local regions locally.”

Not only did the Asahi leave out that information while running a quote that made Mr. Hashimoto sound like a gushing schoolgirl, they headlined their article this way:

橋下知事、東国原知事と会談 「悩み相談ですよ」
Talks between Gov. Hashimoto and Gov. Higashikokubaru: “I gave him advice for his problems”

Make that a gushing schoolgirl who needs a shoulder to cry on.

And mainstream journalists wonder why people don’t take them seriously anymore.

*****

There are few earthquakes where I live in Saga, but there were a series of moderately intense temblors two or three years ago that occurred in conjunction with larger earthquakes in next-door Fukuoka. It was fascinating to discover that the approach of those earthquakes was clearly audible a few seconds before the motion of the earth began.

Are the results of this Shinhodo 2001 poll the political equivalent of the audible signs of an earthquake’s approach? The next few years in Japanese politics promise to be very interesting indeed.

Afterwords:

For the psephology folk, here are some other results from the same public opinion poll:

  • Support the Cabinet: 30.0%, down 0.2 points
  • Don’t support the Cabinet: 61.4%, down 3.8 points
  • Don’t know: 8.6%, up 3.6 points

Which party’s candidates do you plan to vote for in the next general election?

  • LDP: 24.4%, down 3.8 points
  • DPJ: 27.6%, up 4.4 points
  • Komeito: 3.2%, down 1.6 points
  • Communists: 1.8%, down 0.4 points
  • Social Democrats: 1.0%, up one point
  • People’s New Party: 0.2%, down 0.2 points…
  • Undecided 39.8%, up 1.8 points.

Which of the following two people do you think would make the best prime minister?

  • Aso Taro: 40.0%
  • Ozawa Ichiro: 25.8%
  • Others/Don’t know: 34.2%

Who would be suitable as the next prime minister?

  1. Koizumi Jun’ichiro: 10.0%
  2. Aso Taro: 8.2%
  3. Ishihara Shintaro: 6.8%
  4. Masuzoe Yoichi: 6.8%
  5. Yosano Kaoru: 6.6%
  6. Ozawa Ichiro: 6.0%
  7. Higashikokubaru Hideo: 4.8%
  8. Okada Katsuya: 4.6%
  9. Ishihara Nobuteru: 4.4%
  10. Ishiba Shigeru: 3.8%
  11. Hashimoto Toru: 3.4%
  12. Koike Yuriko: 3.2%
  13. Watanabe Yoshimi: 3.0%
  14. Kan Naoto: 3.0%
  15. Maehara Seiji: 2.2%
  16. Hatoyama Yukio: 2.0%
  17. Hatoyama Kunio: 1.6%
  18. Nakagawa Hidenao: 0.6%
  19. Noda Seiko: 0.4%
  20. Other ruling coalition MPs: 1.6%
  21. Other opposition MPs: 3.8%
  22. Don’t know: 12.6%

This might be a fruitful line of inquiry for politicians: Combine the large percentages of undecided respondents, the immense local popularity of reformers (that isn’t reflected here), the miserable support for Messrs. Aso and Ozawa, Mr. Ozawa’s inability to convert his party’s poll advantage to his personal advantage (14 points down head-to-head against Mr. Aso), an extreme state of flux implied by a rate of undecideds near 40%, and the fact that former Prime Minister Koizumi still sits atop the table about 30 months after his departure, to devise a winning electoral strategy.

The aggregate figures only for those committed to reform (which does not include those who have sold their soul to Ozawa Ichiro in the hope of taking power) total 38.4% by my calculations. (It would be higher if the DPJ eunuchs were included.) There’s no telling how far a serious reformer could go if he or she were to use that base as bedrock support and then put the pedal to the metal in a real campaign offensive.

The big problem? None of the current parties is a trustworthy vehicle.

Update: Note that the Shinhodo poll has the Communist Party losing 0.4 percentage points of support, and that only 1.8% of those surveyed said they planned on voting for them.

Now take a look at this article by (sigh) Eric Talmadge of the AP who thinks the Reds are surging in Japan. The article is very short on actual numbers, but the author backs up his assertion by interviewing a single 22-year-old college student (I know, I know) and offering blanket statements without any corroboration. The student later admits that the type of Communism he prefers isn’t the scary type, which makes one wonder whether the undergrad knows as little about Japanese politics as Mr. Talmadge, but that gets tacked on at the end of the article for the 5% of the readers who stuck it out that far. Do BMOC and ET even know that the JCP just sided with China by refusing to censure the recent North Korean missile launch? And Mr. Talmadge also thinks Shii Kazuo is “something of a media star”, which would be hilarious if it weren’t so willfully stupid.

The Communist Party in Japan has always been a receptacle for voter dissatisfaction, and voter dissatisfaction everywhere is high now. (It also started before the economic crisis.) People read Akahata because reporters feed them stories they’re unable to run themselves under Japan’s press club system. Shii Kazuo gets invited on the occasional TV show to speak bluntly because he knows that with a 1.8% support rate, he has nothing to lose.

Mr. Talmadge does not seem to follow actual Japanese politics very closely. He apparently is unaware of the existence of any of the numbers above, much less their meaning.

The Communist Party is not “surging” in Japan. As this poll shows, it’s below 2% and going backwards. A more recent Asahi poll has them at 2.0% on the nose and trending downward. Capitalism is not going to fall from any country’s tree like a ripe persimmon. Shii Kazuo is not “something of a media star”, any more than Eric Talmadge is “something of a knowledgeable journalist on Japanese issues”.

Indeed, one might think that either Mr. Talmadge has a political agenda of his own, or that he’s simply looking to write a Japanese-man-bites-Japanese-dog story. In either case, he’s wasting our time.

If all you know about Japan is what you read in the Western media, then everything you know is wrong.

3 Responses to “Ears to the ground”

  1. Bender said

    I guess you like those two former owarai tarento governors. I totally disagree. I’m kind of depressed by the fact that Japan’s alternative to ex-bureaucrats and nisei politicians are ochano-ma tarentos. How can you be the PM of a country of 130 billion people who calls people “smegma” (Hashimoto) or kicked his colleague in the face in order to show discipline (Sonomanma)? Japan deserves better!

  2. ampontan said

    I’m interested more in what they represent, rather than the persons themselves. Considering their approval ratings, I think their constituents think the same way. Someone has to carry the flag or convey the message, and to do that you need to seize the public’s imagination.

    I wouldn’t call Hashimoto an owarai tarento. He was a lawyer, after all, who converted his TV celebrity into a political career.

    What was the context for calling someone smegma?

    As for Sonomanma, he seems to have undergone some kind of conversion. He quit show biz, went to Waseda, and got a political science degree. He actually seems competent and puts his time and energy into the job. He got people in the prefectural government to cough up their slush fund money. Meanwhile, his predecessor in Miyazaki is in jail.

    I also have to admit to a bias for people who come into politics after having a real life first, and a bias for politicians who are executives at the local level before moving up.

    If I had to pick one guy I like (from what I know of him as of now) it would be Nakagawa Hidenao, though he’s had that one scandal too. He also seems to want to use Koike Yuriko as a front man, so to speak, and I’m not too sure about that one. Watanabe Y. seems to have his heart in the right place, but also seems a bit over the top.

    Wake me up when somebody in the DPJ grows a pair. Or grows up.

  3. bender said

    Japan has a long history of electing incompetent leaders….so came the the word Bakatono.

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