Japan from the inside out

Japan’s political Big Bang, V.2

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 14, 2009

WE’VE ALL HEARD THE EXPRESSION about running around like a chicken with its head cut off. That’s derived from the way in which chickens will thrash around the barnyard in a headless state.

After the reports on the radio I heard yesterday morning about how the pols in the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party were taking their party’s defeat in the Tokyo Metro elections on Sunday, I can imagine what it must have been like to see dinosaurs with their heads cut off.

Some thought a lower house election should be called right away, while others were aghast at the prospect. Former Cabinet member Hatoyama “Little Brother” Kunio was uncharacteristically lucid when he said that holding an election now would be like group suicide. Yamasaki Hiraku (AKA Taku), who’s already pushing a petition from within the party to oust Mr. Aso, observed that dissolving the lower house would be fine if the prime minister intended to leave the LDP a burnt-out wasteland. Mr. Yamasaki purposely chose a phrase the Japanese use to describe the state of their cities after the flyovers of Allied bombers during the war.

About an hour later, NHK interrupted their broadcast to announce that Prime Minister Aso had chosen the group suicide/wasteland option after briefly consulting with leaders in the LDP and the party’s New Komeito coalition partners. He’ll dissolve the Diet later this month and scheduled an election for 30 August.

Some reports claim there was shock over the election results in the LDP camp, but surely they jest. Japanese pollsters can add just as well as those elsewhere, particularly the ones hired by the major parties, so they already had to have put two and two together. Not that anyone needed a pollster to know in advance. Indeed, if they really are shocked, they need to be looking for another job, and as soon as possible, please.

Mr. Aso put on a brave face and said the Tokyo Metro results were unrelated to national issues. He plans to campaign on his government’s financial policies, i.e., a promise to be responsible and raise taxes. (The more responsible position would be to eliminate wide swaths of the Nagata-cho and Kasumigaseki Leviathan while cutting some taxes, but I digress.)

He knows that’s nonsense, of course, because his party’s national polls have to be showing the same numbers as the Tokyo results writ large. Does he think he can prevent the opposition Democratic Party of Japan from obtaining a majority and limit them to replacing the LDP as the largest party in the Diet? A DPJ government in an alliance with their motley crew of potential coalition partners would certainly be a chabangeki, the Japanese term for a farce or burlesque. Perhaps the party poobahs are calculating that a DPJ-led coalition government likely to strew its own path with banana peels would cause a voter revulsion and reversion back to the LDP that much sooner.

Or does he and the rest of the party realize that Nagata-cho needs a political realignment, and it won’t start unless the LDP is in the opposition? The party isn’t capable of resolving its internal conflict between the mudboaters and the reformers while it’s still in power, so they can conduct their headchopping out of public view while the DPJ circus occupies center ring.

Reorganizing around philosophical viewpoints rather than personal associations—if that’s what they intend—will be a lot easier after the smoke clears, the bodies are counted, and the identity of the survivors is known next month.

Quo Vadis?

Political predictions in Japan are pointless, which is why I seldom read or write any, but here’s one anyway: The upcoming lower house election will be Part Two of the Japanese political Big Bang, following an interval of more than a decade after Part One and the short-lived Hosokawa administration. Or from a scatological perspective, it will be the second flush of the toilet. There’s still too much residue in the bowl that needs to be sent to the sewer, and political health demands proper hygiene.

With some luck, it just might happen. For example, former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro is worried about the challenge in his district from ex-tour conductor Tanaka Mieko, who is less than half his age. On the one hand, it was already time for him to go during the 20th century, and I’m of the school that holds we’d get better government by picking names at random from the phone book. Then again, Ms. Tanaka’s voting choices will probably be determined at party headquarters by people who should be shuffling on board the same ferry across the Styx as Mr. Mori.

Here’s something else that shouldn’t be a surprise: DPJ leader Hatoyama Yukio now says a DPJ-led government won’t end the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean for the NATO-backed effort in Afghanistan. That should make some people feel foolish—including some English-language journalists—for taking the party seriously in the fall of 2007 when they tried to leverage Japan’s reputation abroad for petty political advantage at home. There’s a reason the LDP calls on its opponents to pursue policy rather than political crisis, but the Japanese phrase for that is uma no mimi ni nembutsu: Like a sutra in a horse’s ear.

Why should anyone be surprised about their about face when that’s the only dance step they know? Mr. Hatoyama promised to vacate his office to accept responsibility if Ozawa Ichiro resigned as party head, but instead wound up in Mr. Ozawa’s old office less than a week after the resignation. Now that’s a golden parachute! The party also opposed the bill dealing with the Somali pirates, but also said they wouldn’t eliminate it if they formed a government.

And now comes the report that DPJ and three smaller parties will introduce a motion in the upper house to censure Prime Minister Aso, coupled with a no-confidence measure in the lower house. Well, what’s the bleedin’ point, as Basil Fawlty would ask. The man will be gone before autumn. Then again, what’s the bloody point of bothering with serious criticism of the DPJ when they’ve demonstrated the only thing they take seriously is a manufactured political crisis? At least the Koizumi Children—or most of them—behaved like adults.

What to do?

If the LDP had an ounce of wit left in their collective DNA, they’d see the DPJ’s bet and raise it by agreeing with them. They could say yes, we know, but since we’ve already set the election date, we’ll replace Mr. Aso with (Fill in the Name of Plausible Reformer) until the election. That seems to be a longshot now; the members most likely to be interested are heading back to their districts to keep their own necks off the chopping block. Some say one of the men who could lead that effort, Nakagawa Hidenao, is thinking of developing his own platform to position himself and his fellow travelers for an apres-election aligment with Watanabe Yoshimi and other reformers.

Some well-meaning and serious people are urging the citizens to read the political platforms of the parties before deciding how to vote. Now what would be the bleedin’ point of that? It’s obvious even to real children that policy for a DPJ-led government will be an ad hoc affair. Why read their platform when the key point about the DPJ’s behavior regarding the Indian Ocean refueling mission won’t be in it? That might let down the policy wanks, but it isn’t as if there’s anything scientific about “political science”, now is there?

An additional benefit of the upcoming election will be to set the fuse for Part Three of the Japanese political Big Bang, whether it is lit soon or late. Or, to put it another way, there’s so much crap in the system it will take another flush—at least—to get rid of it all.

For the next two months, many in the old and the new media will be making the cyber-welkin ring with unreadable/unwatchable meta-commentary on Japanese politics, but it’s safe to predict they too will miss the bleedin’ point. Flushing away this layer of crap won’t result in a clean toilet bowl: It will just expose the next layer of crap outside the LDP that the older layer has partially obscured until now.

Looks like a job for Ben and Joe the Plumbers!

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