Japan from the inside out

Out, damned smell

Posted by ampontan on Monday, January 18, 2010

FOR THE LAST POST on the execrable behavior of politicians in Japan and China, I lifted a line from Shakespeare about a villainous smell offending the nostrils. I lifted too soon; even the Bard would be at a loss for words to describe the sulfurous airs excreted this weekend by the Democratic Party of Japan and its allies. Their tinhorn bravado as they try to shift the blame to the prosecutors for the latest arrest of one of their leaders’ aides reeks of the sewer. (It’s four arrests in the past year, for those keeping score.)

The time has come to put the players on stage and let them speak for themselves. We’ll start with Sir Flatulence himself, DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro, delivering a soliloquy at a party conference over the weekend:

“I absolutely cannot tolerate this sort of behavior (from the prosecutors). I have resolved to stand firm and fight…It’s as if the arrest was timed for this conference. If this is allowed to stand, it will be a dark day for democracy in Japan. I am alarmed.”

We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender

He’s misreading the script–the lines that describe the behavior as intolerable are referring to him. And speaking of time, he’s the guy who couldn’t find any to show up when the prosecutors asked him to drop by and answer questions voluntarily. Besides, the timing idea works better when you consider the Diet is due to convene this week.

His call to arms was echoed by upper house member Mori Yuko, a former member of Ozawa’s Liberal Party who followed him to the DPJ and wound up in his faction. On her official Japanese-language website, she describes herself—in English—as a “Fighting Mama”.

She’s not just shadow boxing, either. During a Diet committee debate in 2003 over the question of sending Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to Iraq, she stood on a table and whacked in the head a guy trying to defend the committee chairman.

Here’s what she said at the party rally conference:

“This is all-out war between the prosecutors, a bureaucratic institution, and the DPJ, who represents the people.”

Yes, it’s a People’s Revolt against the bureaucratic oppressors!

Suzuki Muneo couldn’t resist adding his opinion, but then he never can. Recall that Mr. Suzuki, a petit baron formerly of the Liberal Democratic Party when they were in power, was arrested and did jail time for his own kickback schemes. He still holds the record for jail time by a Japanese MP. He’s since formed his own vanity party, made common cause with the DPJ, and become involved in another court battle that could send him back to jail again.

“My feeling about the prosecutors’ actions is that it is a despotic step like the young military officers of the February 26 uprising.”

He’s referring to the failed coup of 26 February 1936.

The party apparatus has also been mobilized for the all-out war effort. On the Japanese-language portion of their website, they’ve posted an article on Comrade Ozawa’s address to the cadres this weekend and repeated his pledge to fight. The last sentence reads:

“This address was validated with thunderous applause.”

That 万雷 (banrai) literally means “ten thousand claps of thunder”.

At least I steal from Shakespeare; the DPJ is stealing from the stylebook of the house organs published by every dismal, dead-from-the-waist-down Democratic People’s Republic that you forgot existed. It’s a living linguistic museum. But that’s no surprise for anyone who’s read the small print of their party platform. It’s filled with similar language because it was written by the sort of people who would have loved to have been part of the ruling class for a Democratic People’s Republic of Japan.

You think not? Take a look at their English-language website (link on right sidebar) and see if it doesn’t remind you stylistically of a current events summary from the North Korean news agency.

Since everyone else has an opinion, it was only a matter of time before Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, the party’s haribote, or papier-mâché stage property, was allowed a walk-on role:

“As the president of the DPJ, I believe Secretary-General Ozawa. I ask that he exert every effort to perform his duties, and explain his innocence, without any trepidation.”

Someone must have wound him up too tightly because the gears inside the toy hadn’t run down yet. He added:

“Please fight.”

The groundlings quickly noticed that the prime minister was asking a Diet member of his own party to resist the officers of the law, suggesting that the prosecutors were abusing their authority. His answer when called on it?

“I don’t think it was (an) inappropriate (statement). It wasn’t a criticism of the prosecutors or a presumption about the investigation.”

While it’s true that Mr. Hatoyama is a rare combination of figurehead, dunderhead, and scheißkopf whom no one takes seriously as a politician, he’s still the chief executive officer of the national government. If he thinks Mr. Ozawa is right, that must mean he thinks the prosecutors are wrong, and it’s his job to do something about it.

Mr. Clean of the Clean Party

Mr. Ozawa says it’s a dark day for Japanese democracy, the Fighting Mama says it’s an all-out war between The People and The Bureaucracy, Mr. Suzuki compares it to a coup by militarists in a reference every adult immediately recognizes, and the prime minister is playing cheerleader and waving his pom-poms.

If the prosecutors are behaving that badly, then isn’t it the government’s job to stop them? It’s legally possible for Justice Minister Chiba Keiko to exercise her authority and suspend the investigation altogether. There’s even a precedent: Inukai Ken did it in 1954. He was so distressed by circumstances that he resigned the next day.

A former member of the Socialist Party, Ms. Chiba would be unlikely to resign over principle if she were ordered to chose to use that authority—the only principle for the left is power. Their own appeals to principle are just a weapon used to attack opponents.

The possibility didn’t escape firebrand reformer Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party. He said that Mr. Hatoyama must have resigned himself to stopping the prosecutors, and statements of that sort made it inevitable.

Meanwhile, DPJ leaders have told rank-and-file party members to be careful about what they say. In other words, they’ve issued a gag order. The plebes don’t care for it at all, and they’re complaining about it off the record to the media, but in public it’s ten thousand thunderclaps of applause for Dear Leader.

The vox populi does not bear good tidings for the DPJ either. The Asahi released the results of a telephone poll it took on the 16th and 17th. The Asahi’s polls always slant left, which means this is the best the DPJ can hope for.

67%: Ozawa should resign
23%: Ozawa should stay
51%: Self-identified DPJ supporters saying Ozawa should resign

5%: Approve of his response
88%: Disapprove of his response

12%: Approve of Hatoyama’s response
79%: Disapprove of Hatoyama’s response

Here’s the worst news of all:

71%: Supported Cabinet in September
14%: Did not support Cabinet in September

42%: Support Cabinet now
41%: Do not support Cabinet now

20%: Independents who support Cabinet
54%: Independents who do not support Cabinet

The only silver lining:

16%: Support the Liberal Democratic Party

The last word should go to Watanabe Kozo, formerly a senior advisor to the DPJ. His ties with Mr. Ozawa stretch back to the days when both were friends and members of the ruling LDP. But the DPJ Secretary-General has littered the political landscape with so many former allies they could start a political party of their own.

“(The party) is just like the pre-war Imperial Rule Assistance Association.”

He’s referring to a body founded in 1940 as the nucleus of the “new political structure”. The nation’s political parties dissolved to become members, and their fellows included the bureaucracy and the army. It was an attempt to concentrate political power on the eve of the war that ultimately failed.

Mr. Watanabe’s remark had some traction. He made it on the 14th, and by the evening of the 17th there were 37,100 Google hits in Japanese for the combination of the association’s name and the DPJ.

The plot is about to become even thicker. Reports surfaced in the media on the 17th on the discovery that Kaikaku Forum 21, a political organization affiliated with Mr. Ozawa, had deposited in their bank account sometime in 2004 about JPY 1.5 billion in cash they failed to report on their income and expenditure statement.

As it turns out, the Liberal Party, which Mr. Ozawa headed, disbursed the same amount of money in 2002 to party Secretary-General Fujii Hirohisa, who recently resigned as Finance Minister.

The funds are suspected to be from the subsidy the national government provides to the parties to prevent dirty money from corrupting politics.

It’s too much to ask either Mr. Ozawa or Mr. Hatoyama to accept responsibility. That’s what they pledged to do last year when the first of Mr. Ozawa’s aides was arrested. At that time, Mr. Ozawa was party president and Mr. Hatoyama was secretary-general.

Their definition of accepting responsibility was to trade jobs. Now Mr. Ozawa is secretary-general and Mr. Hatoyama is party president.

Since then, two Hatoyama aides and another Ozawa aide have taken the fall.

When four aides responsible for handling the money of the two top men of a party that claims to be committed to reform are taking the rap for their bosses, this play’s turned into a farce.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a tragedy; all the leading characters die, and Hamlet himself lies dead on stage at the end. But if that’s to be the fate of these players, few in the audience will be reaching for their handkerchiefs when the curtain falls.

There’ll be ten thousand thunderclaps of applause instead.

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