Japan from the inside out

The race is on

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, April 27, 2010

IN JUNE 2008, we had this post covering Hiranuma Takeo’s criticism of former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro and the financial and privatization specialist in his Cabinet, Takenaka Heizo. Mr. Hiranuma was quoted as saying they would have been burned at the stake in another era. That’s an arresting statement, but it probably revealed more about the role of superstition in Mr. Hiranuma’s thought processes than it did about the accomplishments of Messrs. Koizumi and Takenaka.

Since then, Mr. Hiranuma’s recent launch of the small Sunrise Party with Yosano Kaoru generated more media heat than light among the electorate, while the Koizumian philosophy, either generally or specifically, is being raised as a banner by some of the most popular opposition politicians in Japan.

Part of that post included this prediction by former Labor Minister Murakami Masukuni, who was once in the same LDP faction as Mr. Hiranuma:

In two years the LDP-New Komeito coalition will not be in power. The next election will see a shift in the LDP’s strength relative to the opposition DPJ, resulting in an Ozawa Administration. The DPJ won’t have the numbers to form a government by themselves, but they will ally with Hiranuma’s new party for an anti-LDP, anti-New Komeito government. Once it is out of power for two years, the LDP will break up.

Well, he was right about the change of government, and about the DPJ coalition with a social conservative party, though it turned out to be the party of Kamei Shizuka and not Hiranuma Takeo. Also, no one could have foreseen at the time the scandal that would knock Ozawa Ichiro off his perch.

His last prediction about the LDP falling apart after two years in opposition is also a live possibility. To Mr. Murakami’s prediction, I added this:

Saying that the LDP would break up if it were to spend two years in the opposition is the easy prediction. Here’s the prediction Mr. Murakami won’t make: The Democratic Party of Japan would break up before it spent two years in power.

First, there are too many incompatible groups within the party for it to survive a disposition of the spoils and the determination of a uniform party policy. People have kept their mouths shut until now for the sake of party unity. They’ll stay open loud and long once they’re in a government together.

Second, we have the example of Mr. Ozawa’s previous experience at governing—albeit behind the scenes—with a coalition consisting of eight oil-and-water groups during the Hosokawa-Hata administrations. They lasted a combined total of 10 months.

If either an Ozawa Administration or the DPJ itself sticks around longer than that, chalk it up to the favors of Lady Luck.

June 2008 was also the month that former DPJ president and current Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Maehara Seiji criticized the behavior and strategy of then DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro in the monthly magazine Gendai. He would continue his criticism of Mr. Ozawa over the next few months in a roundtable discussion in another monthly magazine (in which Yosano Kaoru also participated), and in an article he wrote for a third monthly magazine.

Speculation mounted that Mr. Maehara might bolt the party to form a new group with co-faction leader Edano Yukio and some reformers from the LDP, but he kept a low public profile after that. He was in position to receive an important Cabinet portfolio once the DPJ took power, after all. He did support Okada Katsuya to replace Mr. Ozawa as party president last year, while the latter backed Hatoyama Yukio, but the two men have managed to keep their mutual dislike out of the public eye.

Until now.

When the popular dissatisfaction with the new expressway tolls was brought up in a news conference, Mr. Maehara responded that Mr. Ozawa’s insistence on building roads while simultaneously lowering or removing tolls was “antinomian”, a philosophical term for a contradiction between opposites.

It didn’t take long for the media tattletales to snitch on him to Ozawa Ichiro. When the Big Boss Man heard the story, he said:

What Maehara said or what he did neither concerns me nor interests me in the slightest.

In other words, you and the 20 members of your group can take a hike as far as I’m concerned. I don’t need you anyway.

If Mr. Maehara took the hint, he might not have to look to far for a branch on which to alight. He’s on good terms with the leaders of the new Innovation Party–they’re fellow graduates of the Matsushita Institute–and it turns out he was present when planning for the new party was discussed at a February meeting. He turned down the offer to join because he thought he couldn’t very well leave the Cabinet.

If Mr. Maehara were to switch to the silks of the Innovation Party with some of his group members, it would give the new party an instant voice in the Diet. (That’s not to say it will happen, of course.)

So the race is on. Will the LDP or the DPJ be the first to splinter?

If the summer upper house election doesn’t go well for the DPJ, that race might wind up in a photo finish.

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