Japan from the inside out

Purges and predictions

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 18, 2010

PRIME MINISTER Kan Naoto rearranged his Cabinet on Friday, adding nine new members to the 17-person lineup and redistributing a portfolio or two. Everyone immediately noticed that none of the new additions were allies of Ozawa Ichiro, the man he defeated in Tuesday’s DPJ presidential election. The most prominent of his supporters in the new Cabinet is Kaieda Banri, the new Minister in Charge of Economic and Financial Policy. Mr. Kaeda, however, is affiliated with former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s group/faction and not with Mr. Ozawa himself.

Newspaper headlines are referring to this as following a course of “disassociating with Ozawa”. (It works better in Japanese.) But the ever-quotable Watanabe Yoshimi, head of Your Party, likened it to a purge during a television interview:

The left-wing government of the Democratic Party will stop at nothing, including killing their rivals. The Liberal Democrats won’t go that far. They just wait until their rivals get old.

That touched off a flurry of comments in the Japanese blogosphere about Robespierre, old Socialists of different nationalities, and other birds of a reddish feather.

Mr. Watanabe added:

That (the new Cabinet lineup) means the switch has been turned on for the breakup of the DPJ.

Reader Raoul asked me earlier this week for a prediction about the timing of the next lower house election. I answered that I don’t care for journalists or commentators making predictions. They’re about as useful as a sportswriter’s predictions of the final standings whenever a new season starts.

But Watanabe Yoshimi’s comment about the switch being turned on for the breakup of the DPJ does remind me of an old observation. Murakami Masanori, former Labor Minister in a Liberal Democratic Party government and the long-time head of the LDP caucus in the upper house (and who should be getting out of jail any day now), once said that if the LDP fell from power, it would break up in two years. I thought that was possible, and I also thought it was just as likely that if the DPJ ever attained power, it would break up in two years. (The Japanese frequently use the term “oil and water” to describe the cohesion of the different DPJ groups.)

It seems Mr. Watanabe thinks so too.

As for the next election, he had this to say a fortnight ago:

The conduct of affairs in this administration will not go well if Prime Minister Kan Naoto continues in office, so it could possibly accelerate the (timing of a) general election.

People in political circles are looking at next March, when the FY 2011 budget has to pass the Diet. The DPJ won’t be able to get the enabling legislation (for deficit-financing bonds, etc.) through the upper house unless they get help from an opposition party or parties. Mr. Kan is better at purging than coalition-building, and, as the current issue of a weekly magazine has it, better at pejorative than policy. The Japanese hold local elections simultaneously throughout the country once every four years, and the next one is scheduled for April 2011.

That’s not a prediction, but it is something to keep in mind.


Consider this: There are 18 posts in the Cabinet, and three of them are Finance Minister, Financial Services Minister, and Economic and Financial Policy Minister.

Now consider the state of the Japanese economy.

If Big Government is the answer, you can bet the question isn’t “How do we improve the nation’s economic performance?”

On the other hand, the Asahi Shimbun drily notes that Mr. Kaieda is one of the few people in the Democratic Party who knows anything about economics.


The opposition is certainly factoring DPJ unity, or lack of it, into its political considerations. On a television program this morning, LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru addressed Prime Minister Kan’s statement that he would discuss the particulars of a supplementary budget for the current fiscal year with the opposition parties before submitting it to the Diet. He said:

Even if we submitted a proposal and Prime Minister Kan accepted it, what would happen if Ozawa Ichiro said, “We’re opposed”? (Cooperation is unlikely) as long as we don’t know just how serious Prime Minister Kan is.

When he was named to the secretary-general post earlier this month, Mr. Ishihara indicated a willingness to work with the DPJ, but now says that the nearly even split in Diet member votes between candidates Kan and Ozawa in the DPJ election means events have shifted in an unfavorable direction.

And one more I almost forgot…

On 23 August, Mr. Kan held a meeting with the DPJ’s first term Diet members and told them he wanted to create a “forward looking approach” that included Mr. Ozawa. His objective, of course, was to forestall an Ozawa candidacy or win their support if Mr. Ozawa ran, which he wound up doing.

Everyone knows politicians make promises they have no intention of keeping, but that’s usually for popular consumption–not the members of their own party.

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4 Responses to “Purges and predictions”

  1. Roual Deetlefs said


    Somehow I do believe Japan is headed to some come of authoritarian government. This state of affairs can’t go on forever …
    I don’t think so. You realize that Watanabe was speaking figuratively and not literally, right?

    – A.

  2. yasu said

    Always thanks for your interesting posts.
    Though the pronunciation of the name is irregular,
    Y: Thanks, I fixed it.

    – A.

  3. Ken Y-N said

    Watching the news over the weekend, I thought the popular viewpoint amongst the pundits was that Ozawa and others in his group refused cabinet posts and there was a quote (anonymous, I think) going around about it being easier to criticise Kan from the outside.
    KYN: Thanks for the note. That’s very possible. I go off the written media, but don’t watch TV much. There is a rumor from a freelance journalist with sources in the Ozawa camp (so it might be disinformation) that since the public subsidies to the parties are distributed in October and December (four times a year in all), it would be too late to split in October but November or early December was a possibility to receive the money. That might explain why they turned down Cabinet offers, if the broadcast media reports are true.

    – A.

  4. By making a comment I get to subscribe so this is the comment!

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