AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Government in absentia

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More than a problem with intelligence or skills, the incompetence of the “Incompetent Gang of Four” (Kan, Sengoku, Maehara, Okada) is apparent in their overconfidence and inability to see beyond their own self-protection. They are unable to solve any problems because of an irrefutable absence of the ability to negotiate or to learn. In the worst case, they are unable even to recognize the problem. As shown by an attitude and statements that suggest the ones in the wrong are a stupid public that won’t support the Cabinet, and the Liberal Democratic Party who challenges them to debate in the Diet, failure is always treated as an external problem. The “Incompetent Gang of Four” is always right.
– Miyajima Satoshi

EVERYONE KNOWS the current Japanese government is in trouble, but it’s even worse than you knew: They’re operating as if they’ve been infected by the same Stuxnet worm that attacked the Iran nuclear program from the inside out. The world’s first weaponized computer virus took control of the centrifuges and damaged them without destroying them, while concealing what it was doing from the engineers at the control panel. As this report says: “In other words, the worm was designed to allow the Iranian program to continue but never succeed, and never to know why.”

Is there a better way to explain the behavior of the Kan Cabinet?

Outside Tokyo

A city council election was held in Matsudo, Chiba, on 21 November. The Democratic Party endorsed 11 candidates in that election, including four incumbents, and nine of them lost. One of the incumbents didn’t receive enough votes to have the cash deposit for his candidacy returned. Your Party backed two new candidates, and their aggregate vote total exceeded that of the four DPJ incumbents by more than 1,000.

Reporters for the regional edition of the Mainichi Shimbun interviewed the defeated candidates. Said one:

“We called voters to campaign for their support and votes, and as soon they heard it was the DPJ they hung up on us.”

He said he didn’t realize the central government could have that much of an impact on elections. (He should have paid closer attention to the American election returns earlier this month.) He added that people would yell at him in public when he tried to give street corner speeches:

“If that’s how you’re going to act, the DPJ can’t be entrusted with the national government.”

Moaned another one of the losers:

“One long-time party supporter asked me to leave when I visited him. ‘Go home’, he said, ‘I’m not letting the DPJ in.’”

All the DPJ candidates reported that voters dismissed them at their public campaign appearances and expressed anger at being “betrayed by Prime Minister Kan”.

Every picture tells a story (Sankei Shimbun photo)

In fact, this might have been the first election anywhere in which the losers agreed with the voters. Another incumbent, the party secretary-general in Chiba’s seventh district, said the candidates had daily “mini-meetings” during the campaign, and they often asked themselves, “Just what are they doing (in Tokyo)? It wasn’t just the gaffes—it also was the Senkakus and the Okinawa base.”

They tried to distance themselves from the national party by telling the voters they too wanted the government to get serious, but as one of the defeated candidates explained, “In the end, we had to carry the burden of the party name.”

The Mainichi thought one of the reasons for the outcome was the increase of independent voters due to the influx of new residents resulting from the urbanization of the area. Voters everywhere are more frequently identifying themselves as political independents, and that trend is particularly strong in Japan. The gaggle of RDD public opinion surveys find that those who claim no party affiliation make up more than 40% of the electorate, while the Jiji news agency poll, which is generated by face-to-face interviews, shows the default figure of independents to be more than 50%.

As for what the Matsudo election portends for the DPJ, Ubukata Yukio, the DPJ Diet representative from Chiba’s sixth district, distributed an e-mail magazine with the title, “We can only apologize to the DPJ candidates”. Mr. Ubukata wrote:

“If we go into the local elections next spring the same way, we’ll have the same results throughout the country.”

Meanwhile, two Chiba City councilmen affiliated with the DPJ left the party the same week.

Inside Tokyo

Nakano Kansei served as the DPJ Secretary-General in 2002. Last week he said:

“A national strategy is not possible without foreign policy and defense, but I doubt the current cabinet is headed in that direction.”

At a dinner with other politicians on the 29th in Tokyo, Ozawa Ichiro was resigned to the government’s failure. He was quoted as shrugging off the Kan Cabinet: “What can you do about it?” (sho ga nai)

He added:

“At this rate, the local parties will revolt, and the DPJ government will collapse from the bottom up.”

They thought someone would fall for it?

The quasi-public television and radio network NHK broadcasts important Diet proceedings live. On the 10th, they began coverage of Question Time in the lower house budget committee at 11 a.m. The committee session had begun 30 minutes earlier, but the broadcast was delayed because the DPJ government had not granted NHK permission. A political reporter for a national newspaper told one of the weekly magazines that the committee proceedings were supposed to have started at 10:00 a.m., but the opposition Liberal Democratic Party objected to NHK when they saw there would be no broadcast. The start was delayed 30 minutes.

The reason NHK didn’t turn on the cameras? “The DPJ told NHK that the LDP said a broadcast wouldn’t be necessary.”

The committee’s business that day? The first round of opposition party questioning of the government after reports had emerged that a Coast Guard officer had uploaded to You Tube the videos of the Chinese fishing boat ramming in the Senkakus.

Last year, the DPJ campaigned on the promise of a “clean and open government”. Those words have now become a weapon in the hands of every print and broadcast media outlet in the country.

Speaking of the video

The Kan Cabinet claimed that the national interest would be harmed if the videos were released to the public.

Last week, the upper house budget committee finally received a 44-minute video from the government, which it distributed to all the opposition parties. The LDP gave a copy to the national media.

If the national interest has been harmed, no one seems to be aware of it.

Sleepy and tipsy

Gendai Business Online ran an article describing the government’s initial response to the appearance of the videos on You Tube. Lower house DPJ MP Kawauchi Hiroshi heard that the videos had been uploaded from a reporter on the night of 4 November. He immediately called the Kantei (the Japanese version of the White House) to confirm the facts with Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and the measures they would take to deal with the situation.

“It was just before midnight when I called the Kantei to get in contact with Mr. Sengoku. An aide answered the phone and said, ‘I cannot connect you with the Chief Secretary.’ When I asked why I couldn’t talk to him in this emergency, he replied, ‘The Chief Cabinet Secretary has already retired for the night. I will inform him of the matter tomorrow morning.’ I was stunned.”

The Gendai article notes that Mr. Sengoku is the point man in the Kan Cabinet for gathering important information. When he is sleeping and not to be disturbed due to extreme fatigue—something that is happening with greater frequency—not only is there no crisis management, the Kantei itself ceases to function.

Prime Minister Kan Naoto has been complaining that he lacks information because Mr. Sengoku is monopolizing the flow, but when the video went up on the Net, he was out drinking with another DPJ Diet member. Saito Tsuyoshi explained:

“Mr. Kan invited me out for some drinks to celebrate my appointment as Acting Diet Affairs Committee Chair. We arrived at a traditional Japanese restaurant in Akasaka after 9:00 p.m. and had dinner. One of Mr. Kan’s aides was also with us, but there was no indication whatsoever of any report that the videos had been released.”

They left after 11:00 p.m., when word on the Net was spreading and the mass media was beginning to move. At that point many ordinary citizens knew more about what had happened than Prime Minister Kan.

Mr. Kan learned about the videos after midnight and characteristically lost his temper. He turned on the TV and started shouting, “Where? What channel is it on?” When he was told it was on the Net and not on television, he was frantic. “How do you watch You Tube? What do you do?”

Mr. Sengoku, by now awake, was more interested in who released the videos. He first suspected the culprits were either the Coast Guard or the Naha prosecutors.

They started discussing the possibilities. Mr. Kan’s aides suggested Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji, a Sengoku ally. Mr. Sengoku brought up the name of Haraguchi Kazuhiro, a Cabinet minister in the Hatoyama government and an Ozawa Ichiro stalking horse who has been critical of the government’s handling of the incident.

In other words, the highest-ranking officials in the DPJ government suspected the videos were released by other high-ranking officials in the DPJ government.

Foreign affairs, part #2

DPJ Diet member and former Environmental Minister Ozawa Sakihito, the head of a study group of party members, arranged a meeting with Chinese ambassador Chen Yong-hua. He and his group thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss the Senkakus and the North Korean shelling of South Korea. They invited all 412 of the DPJ Diet members to attend.

22 showed up.

Shooting blanks

Boldly going where no LDP government has gone before, some ministers in the Hatoyama Cabinet took immediate action to demonstrate that a governmental New Age had arrived in Japan after forming a government in September 2009. Then-Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Maehara Seiji started firing right away, and one of his targets was the suspension of construction work on the Yamba Dam in Gunma. He was anxious to show that the days of unnecessary pork barrel construction projects were over.

Unfortunately, Mr. Maehara had not studied the issue in depth before making his decision. The dam in question was controversial in the truest sense of the word. Many people opposed the project, launched decades ago to provide more water to the Tokyo region, but many also thought there was a need for it, particularly the public sector at the sub-national level. The due diligence required to make a sound decision was neglected in favor of a publicity splash.

Earlier this month, Mr. Maehara’s successor Mabuchi Sumio quietly lifted the suspension on work on the dam.

Ibuki Bunmei was right: Like grade school boys with pistols…

Boors

A ceremony was held on the 29th marking the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Diet. Attending were the Emperor and Empress, and their second son Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko (the parents of the future Emperor).

After an initial ceremony, the Prince and Princess stood up to wait for the arrival of the Emperor and Empress. One MP, identified only as a “veteran DPJ Diet member”, couldn’t restrain himself and yelled out:

“Hurry up and sit down. Can’t you see we can’t sit down either?”

The incident was related by Your Party upper house member Sakurauchi Fumiki on his blog, who also said the comment “was beyond imagining”.

The Sankei Shimbun interviewed the member in question without mentioning his name. He allowed that he “might have” said it and complained again that no one could sit down.

Like grade school boys with pistols who have to go to the bathroom…

Other people’s money

Last week, the Diet passed yet another stimulus package, this one worth $US 61 billion. One would have thought the nation’s sewers were clogged from all the stimulus money that’s already been flushed down the toilet.

The news reports were vague about how the money would be spent, saying only that the funds would be allocated to help support local governments. It’s true that several prefectural governments are struggling to keep their heads above the rising tide of red ink. Could the stimulus actually have been a public sector bailout?

Here’s a hint: One of the party’s biggest organizational supporters is the labor union for local government public employees.

The bureaucrats too

Recall that Koga Shigeaki, a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry and a critic of DPJ civil service reforms, was asked last month to testify in the Diet. Mr. Sengoku opposed his appearance and added a gangsterish threat:

“It could adversely affect his future.”

Mr. Koga had been tasked to visit local companies around the country, discuss their interaction with the Ministry, and to file a report. The title of the final three pages of his report was Personal Comments, and they were sharply critical of METI conduct.

The opposition in the Diet asked to see a copy of the report. METI obliged, but removed the three pages with Mr. Koga’s criticism before sending it over. When they were called on it, the ministry explained:

“’Personal Comments’ are the individual impressions of the person himself, and are not part of a survey report for the Diet members.”

And the prosecutors

Livid over the YouTube release of the Coast Guard’s Senkakus videos, Sengoku Yoshito ordered a full court press of an investigation that mobilized up to 80 members of the prosecutors’ office. “This is a grave situation,” he thundered, and made it known that he wanted to nail the leaker’s hide to the wall.

The prosecutors decided not to arrest him.

In their 5 December issue, the weekly Sunday Mainichi wonders if the prosecutors wanted to extract some revenge from Mr. Sengoku for shifting on them the responsibility for the decision to release the Chinese fishing boat captain without a trial.

A source familiar with the investigation said it was likely the probe would continue, and that the leaker might eventually be fined for violating the National Civil Service Law.

Rather than get upset, Mr. Sengoku should be relieved that the government will be spared the entire country demanding to know why the Chinese skipper went scot-free while the Japanese Coast Guard navigator had to face trial.

Political onanism

Here’s DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya speaking in Tokyo recently, as quoted by the Mainichi Shimbun:

“We won’t be the ruling party forever, but if we can (stay in office), I think about eight years (would be appropriate).”

In other words, he thinks the Diet should not be dissolved during the remaining three years of the term, the DPJ will win the subsequent election, and the new term would also last the full four years.

One Japanese blogger wondered if the country could survive that long under uninterrupted DPJ rule.

Mr. Okada may not have been joking. Prime Minister Kan invited his predecessor, Hatoyama Yukio, out to dinner at a Tokyo Chinese restaurant on the 27th, and the two met for about 90 minutes. Mr. Kan told him:

“I won’t quit even if the Cabinet support rate falls to 1%.”

Last week, Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito was formally censured by the upper house. That is legally non-binding, but it has an impact nevertheless—Fukuda Yasuo lasted only two months after being censured, and Aso Taro three.

Mr. Sengoku was asked on the 29th if he would resign. He answered:

“Absolutely not. I’m completely committed to my duties now…I’ve gained the confidence of the lower house. (i.e., the no-confidence motion didn’t pass the DPJ-dominated chamber.) There has to be a legal disposition regarding the issue of whether there is confidence or censure (i.e., the censure is not legally binding).”

Yes, Japanese attorneys can be every bit as assertively obnoxious as their brother lawyers in the West.

MLIT Minister Mabuchi Sumio was also censured by the upper house, and he won’t resign either. As he explained,

“Reform is my assignment.”

L’etat, c’est moi” in Japanese is 国家は私である, in case you’re wondering.

Meanwhile, Shinhodo 2001 released its latest public opinion poll on Monday.

Here are some of the results for the answers to the question of what the Kan Cabinet should do next:

Dissolve the lower house and hold a general election: 47.4%
The Cabinet should resign en masse and allow a new government to take over: 14.2%

Thus, more than 61% of the respondents think the Incompetent Gang of Four should be gone. They disagree only on the manner of departure.

Also:

Do not support the Cabinet: 72.6%
Support the Cabinet: 21.0%

The Cabinet’s ability for crisis management is high: 2.2%
Normal: 22.0%
Low: 74.0%
Don’t know: 6.4%

What party do you intend to vote for in the next election?

DPJ: 13.6%
LDP: 29%

Mr. Sengoku thinks it’s all the media’s fault. At a news conference on the 30th:

“We’ve implemented different policy reforms, but the mass media never writes anything positive about us.”

How quickly he’s forgotten.

For several weeks, the circumstances of Mr. Kan’s support rating resembled the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote after running off the edge of a cliff and furiously windmilling in midair before plummeting to the canyon floor. Many voters bought the argument that there had been too much turnover in the Prime Minister’s office, so the government was buoyed by negative support rather than positive support. The new poll results show that what some are calling the Own Goal Cabinet has performed so abysmally, even that argument can no longer keep them airborne.

In just six months, they’ve managed to alienate most of the electorate, most of the party members at the sub-national level, and former party executives at the national level. Incompetence on that scale isn’t a fluke—you have to work at it.

How do they expect to deal with the public, the opposition in the Diet, and overseas governments now that they are essentially a squatter government? Your guess is as good as mine.

It doesn’t require any guesswork to understand why they’re so desperate to hang on, however. Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku are men of the left who’d dreamed of taking power for 40 years before their chance finally came. They are well aware that once they leave, a second chance to put any of their philosophy in practice is unlikely to come for some time. Admitting failure isn’t part of their worldview.

Japan is now a country with a government in absentia.

******
Great trumpet solo:

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3 Responses to “Government in absentia”

  1. toadold said

    It all sounds so distressingly familiar, so similar. Of course I have to admire their ability to outpace the Obama administration, doing in six months what Obama Adminsitration took two years to do. Oh well, there is next year comming up……damn it.
    ———–
    T:
    I’ve also thought there are striking similarities between the two.

    – B.

  2. George said

    Did Your Party wind up winning those two seats in Matsudo? Also, is Maehara’s only redeeming quality his stance on defense issues?
    ————–
    G: Thanks for the note.

    Yes, the YP candidates were elected. They finished at 12 and 13 in a council with about 45 elected members.

    Maehara’s a puzzler, and perhaps demonstrates the problems with Japan’s party system at present–no ideological consistency.

    He’s close to politicians on the right (to use a term of convenience) in the LDP and elsewhere. That latter group includes a few people who were involved in small party in the 1990s when so many new parties formed/brokeup/merged. They have definite small government/sound fiscal policy tendencies. Yet his group in the DPJ was co-led by him and Edano Yukio, another lawyer with ties to the left, and Sengoku was a member. These groups are starting to coalesce into LDP type factions.

    He also seems to be on the shallow side, lacking the dimension of personality required to be a real national leader. Not enough life experience, perhaps. Then again, that could be said of most of the political class elsewhere.

    – A.

  3. toadold said

    The damn foot in mouth disease is everywhere it seems.
    I was reading an Irish reporter complaining about ministers who where trying to make sure “that they had their knees under a desk” rather than the crash and burn economic crash. Then in South Korea:
    http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htlead/articles/20101129.aspx

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