Japan from the inside out

Coming up on the outside, Your Party

Posted by ampontan on Friday, January 29, 2010

RECENT POLLING about party politics in Japan has picked up a trend worth keeping an eye on. A joint Nikkei Shimbun/Tokyo TV survey conducted on the 26th and 27th asked the subjects which parties they supported and/or liked.

Here are the results in order from top to bottom:

  • Democratic Party: 42% (four points down)
  • Liberal Democratic Party: 24% (one point up)
  • Your Party: 5% (three points up)
  • Communist Party: 4% (two points up)
  • Komeito: 3% (one point down)
  • Social Democrats (part of the ruling coalition): 2% (no change)
  • People’s New Party (part of the ruling coalition): 0% (one point down)

In short, Your Party now ranks third among all parties in Japan, albeit at 5%. That’s still quite a development for a small party formed last year by LDP rebel Watanabe Yoshimi with long-time independent and bureaucracy reformer Eda Kenji. (Mr. Eda was a bureaucrat himself, so he knows where all the bodies are buried.)

This suggests the electorate is starting to realize they’re unlikely to get the reforms they seek from the DPJ and are looking elsewhere for alternatives. A few are turning to Your Party, whose reform message has so far remained consistent.

This still hasn’t translated into personal support for Mr. Watanabe, the party head. The poll also asked respondents which politician they would like to see exercise influence over Japanese politics in the future, and he didn’t show up on the list. But it’s also worth noting to see just who did, and the order in which they appeared:

  • Masuzoe Yoichi: 26% (eight points up) Mr. Masuzoe of the LDP is a former Health Minister. He has been hinting he might leave the party.
  • Maehara Seiji: 14% (seven points up) Mr. Maehara is the former head of the DPJ and now Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. This indicates the public likes what it has seen of him so far in a role more highly visible than usual for MLIT ministers. He is also a sharp critic of Ozawa Ichiro and favors modifying the Peace Clause of the Constitution to permit self-defense.
  • Okada Katsuya: 8% (one point down) Another former DPJ head and current Foreign Minister
  • Hatoyama Yukio: 8% (four points down) Are you surprised?
  • Kan Naoto: 7% (Unchanged) Current Finance Minister
  • Ishihara Nobuteru: 6% (Unchanged) Served as Minister of State for Administrative and Regulatory Reform and Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in LDP governments. He lost his bid for LDP party president last fall.
  • Ishiba Shigeru: 5% (one point down) Former Minister of Defense and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in LDP governments. He could be described as what the British once referred to as a “wet” Tory.
  • Nagatsuma Akira: 5% (one point up) Current Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare
  • Ozawa Ichiro: 2% (five points down) Are you surprised?
  • Tanigaki Sadakazu: 2% (one point down) Current LDP president. No one is surprised.

Could the terrain be slowly starting to shift? A political movement incorporating the likes of (1) Mr. Masuzoe and other disenchanted LDP reformers, (2) Mr. Maehara, who is on the right flank of the DPJ, has little in common with the teachers’ union refugees and other leftists in the party, and has informally associated with the Koizumians in the past, and (3) Your Party might just be a way out of the political wilderness for Japan.

These numbers also suggest that Messrs. Hatoyama, Kan, Ozawa, and the LDP old guard represented by Mr. Tanigaki are a spent force, regardless of the positions they currently hold. While free of the baggage weighing those people down, Mr. Okada is not the type of person to attract enthusiastic popular support. He may have become seasoned in the interim, but he was obviously out of his league when he led the party to a resounding defeat in 2005.

Former Lower House member Ono Jiro announced this week he met with Watanabe Yoshimi and agreed to join Your Party. He will be a candidate for a proportional representation seat in this summer’s upper house election in Yamanashi.

Mr. Ono was formerly an aide to Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro, who dispatched him to Yamanashi to run as an assassin in the 2005 election. He took on the incumbent opposed to postal privatization and won despite never having lived in Yamanashi. (His father was born there.) One of the so-called Koizumi Children, he lost his bid for reelection last August against the DPJ challenger.

Realizing that a) the LDP brand is fatal, and b) the party has become a field of Mimosa pudica (Sensitive Plants) and returned to its former configuration now that Mr. Koizumi has passed through, he left earlier this month.

Your Party is a natural home for some of the Koizumian reformers. One question now is whether any more will follow.

Another question is whether the observation of G.K. Chesterton will apply:

“The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”

One possible error is that Mr. Watanabe styles himself as an expert on economic affairs, but some of his ideas seem eccentric and unworkable. For example, in late 2008 when the world’s politicians were reeling from the financial crisis, he suggested the Japanese government should temporarily issue its own currency for use along with that of the yen issued by the Bank of Japan. (There is a historical precedent.)

Your Party also joined the ruling coalition and Komeito in the lower house on the 25th to pass a second supplementary budget that contains an added JPY 7.2 trillion in economic stimulus measures.

Considering the failure of the stimulus measures in the United States, and the growing public opposition to them, this does not seem like such a wise step. The demonstrable effect on private sector employment has been zero. (Saving public employees from being laid off doesn’t contribute to the economy.)

The way to strengthen a national economy is not by spending more money of the mind to incur more debt.

Eda Kenji explains on his website the reason the party voted for the measure:

“We reluctantly backed the measure for the negative reason that ‘it’s better than nothing’.

“There’s nothing new about it. They cut JPY 2.9 billion from the Aso administration’s supplementary budget, but found ways to put most of it back in. The whole budget cutting exercise seems to have been a way to exert their authority because they took control of the government.

“Not only that, much of what they did won’t have an impact on the economy, such as offsetting JPY 3 trillion in cuts of local tax grants and transfering JPY 350 billion to unemployment insurance. GDP will still decline by about 0.1%.

“The Hatoyama administration basically understands nothing about the economy, which is why they have no solutions. That’s not surprising when you have a minister who doesn’t even understand the difference between the multiplier effect and consumption propensity.”

Here is a summary of the Watanabe/Eda reform platform, which they published in book form before officially forming a party.

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