AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Now what

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 28, 2011

In the several elections held since the beginning of the 21st century, the (Japanese) people have continued to shout, “Affairs cannot be entrusted to the bureaucracy,” and “Grow out of bureaucracy-led politics”.
– Sakaiya Tai’ichi

In the past, they would change the era name to stop ongoing natural disasters, but isn’t a change of government what’s needed now?
– Kan Naoto, 23 October 2004, on his blog after visiting Ehime and Kochi to view typhoon damage

SUNDAY was election day for the second and final round of sub-national elections. Even Prime Minister Kan Naoto atypically admitted the results represented a defeat for his ruling Democratic Party. His assertion that none of it was his fault, however, was all too typical.

Part two consisted primarily of balloting for chief municipal executives and assemblies. Politicians at this level in Japan are less likely to have a formal party affiliation; 60% of the winners in the assembly elections do not belong to a party, and those who do tend to be associated with the smaller parties. Nationwide, the rank of municipal seats by party before the election started with New Komeito, followed by the Communists, the Liberal-Democratic Party, and the DPJ. That ranking is unchanged after this election, and the DPJ’s gain in their aggregate seat total was marginal at best.

At the top of the tickets, DPJ party candidates went head-to-head with opposition candidates in 10 elections for chief municipal executive and lost seven. One of their victories was the reelection of the incumbent mayor of Oita City. This was the fourth such sub-national election for the DPJ since their founding, and these results, combined with their dismal showing in Round One, demonstrate the ruling party of the national government is losing ground with the electorate rather than gaining.

The defining action by the party that demonstrates its current predicament was a non-action—they failed to contest a by-election for the lower house Diet seat a DPJ member vacated in a futile campaign for Nagoya mayor in February. That failure was the focus of post-election commentary in Japan. Said the Nishinippon Shimbun:

“Conspicuous from the first round of elections was the party’s losses due to uncontested elections, and their cooperation with the LDP and other parties to back candidates. While this exposes the weakness of their local organizations, which are incapable of developing candidates of their own, in many cases they also avoided running candidates in elections they thought they would lose. The DPJ has a heavy responsibility for failing to face the voters and offer policy and electoral choices, despite being the ruling power in national government.”

The poor DPJ showing was the signal for the resumption of moves to find some way—any way—to get rid of Prime Minister Kan. The key word is “resume”; were it not for the earthquake and tsunami, he would already have been disposed. The downside to this good news is that replacing Mr. Kan might be akin to a lothario ditching a girl who gave him the crabs and winding up dating a girl with chlamydia.

First the electoral truth, and then the consequences.

OSAKA

Momentum continued to gather for Osaka Ishin no Kai, the regional party led by Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru, as their candidate Inoue Tetsuya defeated the incumbent mayor of Suita, who was supported by the DPJ and two other parties. It was Mr. Inoue’s first election campaign.

DPJ Diet member Tarutoko Shinji resigned his position as chairman of the local party federation to take responsibility for the party’s poor showing in Osaka this month. Mr. Tarutoko’s strategy was to confront Gov. Hashimoto (a switch from 2009, when the party went out of their way to kiss his posterior), and that nothing turned out to be a real uncool hand. Some party members now want to rethink their support of Osaka Mayor Hiramatsu Kunio, a Hashimoto critic, in his re-election bid this fall.

In the 17 cities of Osaka Prefecture, New Komeito and Your Party elected all of their candidates. The DPJ elected 46 of 56, or 82%, (down from 95% four years ago), and the Communist Party 63 of 73, or 86% (down from 96% four years ago). Eight candidates from local reform parties were elected in three cities, including the Ryoma Project x Suita Shinsenkai.

AICHI

Former LDP lower house MP Niwa Hideki regained the seat he lost in 2009 in Aichi #6, defeating freelance reporter Kawamura Akiyo of Tax Reduction Japan by a margin so large city employees should be congratulated for taking the time to finish counting the votes. TRJ, led by Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi, was hoping their tsunami of a victory in February would carry them into the national legislature, but in this campaign they didn’t generate a ripple. Name recognition, a wish for post-disaster stability, and Ms. Kawamura’s inexperience may have been factors. (The two Kawamuras are unrelated—different kanji for the kawa.) The LDP focused its attention on this election, and party head Tanigaki Sadakazu came to campaign several times. Mr. Niwa also had the de facto support of New Komeito. This is the race the DPJ was too chicken to run in.

The results for the TRJ were so poor Mr. Kawamura confided to an old friend in the DPJ several days before the election that it would have better to give it a pass. Nevertheless, he made some progress on his agenda in Nagoya despite the election results. His party offered a bill to permanently halve the salaries of city council. The LDP and the DPJ countered with a bill providing for a temporary salary cut with a neutral third party determining the amount. None of them had the votes to get their bills passed, so they compromised by passing a bill for a temporary 50% reduction with no time period specified. Mr. Kawamura seems to have gotten the better end of the deal for now.

AKUNE

Events in Akune, Kagoshima, over the past year have received prominent coverage nationwide. Akune is a small city, and most of its revenue goes to public employee remuneration. Former Mayor Takehara Shin’ichi had strong public backing for his plan to pay city council members on a per diem basis instead of straight salaries. When the council refused to pass his legislation, however, he started governing by decree and the public turned against him. He was recalled in a close vote a few months ago, and lost the campaign to replace himself by another close vote. But when the new mayor reinstated the old salary system, Mr. Takehara’s supporters succeeded in having the entire city council recalled.

The new election for the 16 council members was held on Sunday, and both factions ran 11 candidates. The anti-Takehara group, mainly city council veterans, campaigned on a promise to end confusion in government and won 10 seats, while the pro-Takehara group of amateurs won six seats on a platform of reducing the number of assembly members, reinstating the per diem pay system, and cutting the fixed asset tax. The group of veterans also received about 1,000 more votes in the aggregate.

The winners will still have to mind their Ps and Qs, however. The candidate who received the most votes was Takehara Emi, the former mayor’s sister, who was part of the faction calling for downsized government.

TOKYO

The DPJ lost six of eight de facto head-to-head elections among mayors and ward heads in the Tokyo Metro District. The party also must have been discouraged by Murata Nobuyuki’s failure to gain a seat as a delegate to the Meguro Ward assembly. Mr. Murata, a freelance journalist, is the husband of DPJ national poster girl and reform minister Ren Ho. His candidacy developed no traction despite an early declaration. Neither Mrs. Murata’s speeches on his behalf nor her photograph on his campaign posters helped. There were 55 candidates for 36 seats. Mr. Murata finished in 42nd place with 893 votes, 457 votes shy of a seat.

Another Tokyo election of interest was that for the chief municipal officer of Setagaya Ward. The winner was Hosaka Nobuto of the Social Democratic Party (Japan’s loony left), who campaigned on an anti-nuclear power platform. The mass media thought his victory was Very Important News Indeed and treated it as such.

What they found less worthy of reporting was that the local LDP party organizations failed to agree on a single candidate, so two candidates split the LDP vote in the ward. The party organization for the Tokyo Metro District backed Hanawa Takafumi, while the organization for Setagaya supported Kawakami Kazuhiko. Mr. Hosaka received roughly 84,000 votes, Mr. Hanawa 78,000, and Mr. Kawakami 60,000. Had there been a single LDP candidate, the news from Setagaya on election night might have been Not Very Important At All.

Nagata-cho

Sakaiya Tai’ichi once held high positions in the predecessor of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. He is now a freelance writer, commentator, and harsh critic of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy in general, the Finance Ministry in particular, and the Bank of Japan and the domestic banking industry to boot. It would be impossible to improve on his summary of the DPJ government since taking power:

“The DPJ boasted that by eliminating waste from the budget they could squeeze out JPY 7 trillion in fiscal resources. They offered such new policies as the child allowance, the elimination of expressway tolls, and subsidies to individual farm households. The people were doubtful, but they expected the party to do something new. That’s why they won 308 seats in the 2009 lower house election.

“But the people were betrayed. The new DPJ government immediately became captives of the bureaucracy, and amakudari flourished. The ministers merely read out by rote the texts the bureaucrats had written for them. The budget reviews were broadcast live, but because the Finance Ministry had drawn up the scenario, they cut out only JPY 700 billion. That’s about the same total the LDP came up with when they were in power.

“Their promise to reduce civil servant salaries by 20% was an utter lie. In addition, their ignorance and lack of information in foreign policy and defense matters was exposed with the Okinawa base issue, as well as with the Senkakus and the Northern Territories.

“That’s why the DPJ has continued to lose elections since 2010. They defended 54 seats in the July 2010 upper house election and lost 10. They lost a by-election for a Hokkaido lower house seat that October, and also lost the elections for governor of Wakayama and mayor of Fukuoka City and Kanazawa. This year they’ve been defeated in local elections in Aichi and Nagoya.”

Mr. Sakaiya left out one other complaint, but Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru finished it for him:

“The DPJ has to distance itself from public employee unions. I think popular sentiment when they took control of government was for a change in the public sector.”

The expression Uma no mimi ni nenbutsu—Buddhist sutras in a horse’s ear—would seem to be applicable.

The Kan administration’s post-earthquake behavior is just one of several reasons for the party’s electile dysfunction, but as the most recent demonstration of that dysfunction, it’s a convenient place for politicos to pitch a tent—even for those who are supposed to be their allies. Shimoji Mikio, secretary-general of the People’s New Party and technically part of the ruling coalition, gave the party some excellent advice:

“That the Kan administration’s response to the disaster is not understood by the people is reflected in the election results. Their continued election losses make even clearer the people’s lack of trust in the government. They should reevaluate their approach to policy and organization in light of these results.”

More sutras for the horse.

Sunrise Party Japan leader Hiranuma Takeo also found their approach to organization wanting:

“The government has created more than 20 councils to deal with earthquake relief and Fukushima, but their duties overlap. The people are scornful, so we must change the trend of politics.”

No one was more scornful than Keidanren Chairman Yonekura Hiroaki, who said on the 26th:

“The leadership’s erroneous instructions were the source of the confusion (after the earthquake).”

Referring to the Cabinet’s boast that it had declared a moratorium on their travel overseas to deal with the recovery efforts, Mr. Yonekura said:

“A Cabinet that does its job properly should stay at home and take charge of affairs, but if people incapable of properly performing their jobs do us the favor of leaving, I wouldn’t care.”

Exposed

It might well be a waste of energy to hold Mr. Kan and the rest of the DPJ leadership in contempt. They seem at times to be living on another plane of existence. A Fuji-Sankei poll last week asked those surveyed if the prime minister had demonstrated leadership in dealing with Fukushima. The answers:

Yes: 13.4%
No: 79.7%

The losers of an election in a democracy are supposed to accept defeat gracefully. They are expected to acknowledge that the people have spoken and accept their verdict. The standards for accepting responsibility in Japan are higher still—those in positions of authority are expected to resign. Indeed, the head of the Aichi federation of DPJ parties, lower house member Maki Yoshio, said after the elections: “I will resign the position because I don’t want the voters to think this is a party of people who don’t take responsibility.”

Contrast that with the behavior of the party’s national leaders. Election campaign committee chairman Ishii Hajime offered his resignation at first, saying:

“The DPJ was defeated in the election and it was beginning to seem as if no one would take responsibility.”

But party Secretary-General Okada Katsuya said that wouldn’t be necessary:

“The results are better than the last time. Resigning by itself is not a way to take responsibility.”

So Mr. Ishii withdrew his resignation.

For his part, Kan Naoto has exasperated many because he wouldn’t recognize the concepts of accepting responsibility and gracefully accepting the will of the people if they walked up and bit him:

“Different people have said that (the DPJ) lost because our response to the earthquake was bad, but that’s not right. Our response to the earthquake has been sound.”

In fact, he has his own view on what constitutes the responsible course of action. When asked if he would resign, he said:

“Abandoning my responsibility is not the path I should take.”

He can’t say “Après moi le déluge” because there’s already been one in the Tohoku region.

It gets worse:

“That I am in this position (at this time) is fate. The people have a quite favorable opinion of what we’ve done so far.”

People who would be national leaders must realize everything they’ve said or done will be exposed, but Mr. Kan hasn’t made it there yet. When confronted with his blog post quoted at the top of this article, this is the best he could do:

“I can’t say right away whether I wrote that or not.”

The prime minister isn’t the only DPJ leader to have failed to notice it is no longer possible to hide one’s public past in the information age. Reporters asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio about poll results showing the public was extremely unhappy with the government’s handling of Fukushima. Mr. Edano’s usual response to these questions is that there are ups and downs in individual polls, and that he won’t respond to each one; i.e., the ones that make his party look bad. He should have stuck with that line instead of what he actually said this time:

“It’s natural that criticism would be harsh (but) I don’t think public opinion polls accurately reflect public opinion.”

He might as well have written Kick Me on a piece of paper and taped it to his backside. Before the day was out, reporters had dug up other Edano comments about polls made on the record in the Diet:

“Looking at the public opinion polls, most people think Health Minister Yanagisawa Hakuo should resign.” (March 2007)

And:

“Looking at the public opinion polls, it is clear the people are opposed to the (Aso Cabinet’s) stimulus fund proposal.” (January 2009)

Enough already

It’s inevitable that political prey this weak will attract predators. But the only way to deal with people who act as if it is their fate and their mission to cling to office and make things worse is a Constitutional coup. The many plotters in this instance aren’t bothering to conceal their intentions. For starters, the Asahi Shimbun reported that destroyer-of-worlds Ozawa Ichiro met with People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka, another veteran backstage manipulator, on Sunday evening “to exchange opinions about the political structure for disaster recovery”.

Ha ha ha!

On Monday, DPJ Diet members close to Mr. Ozawa launched a petition drive to convene a party meeting and hold an election to recall Mr. Kan as party president. Some suspect the real intent is to convince Mr. Kan to resign, as the petition would require the signatures of one-third of all DPJ Diet members. Said Kawauchi Hiroshi, the ringleader of this particular plot:

“Prime Minister Kan has no management ability. At a time such as this, the absence of a true leader will cause real trouble.”

Some politicians are accused of having lapdogs. Ozawa Ichiro has a lap pit bull, Yamaoka Kenji, one of the most obnoxious and nasty politicians ever to cast a shadow in a parliament building. Mr. Yamaoka convened a meeting this week of a group whose stated intention is knocking off Mr. Kan. The lineup was predictable: Boss Tweed’s daughter, former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko; politicians allied with former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio; and Haraguchi Kazuhiro, an Ozawa acolyte who served in the Hatoyama Cabinet.

About 50 or 60 people attended, an impressive showing of rebels for a party in power. In this case, however, it falls short of the 80 DPJ MPs needed to pass a no-confidence motion in the lower house, and it’s just about half the DPJ pols the media assumes are allied with Mr. Ozawa. Because everyone involved is aware of the numbers, they took the unusual step of calling on New Komeito to join them in forming a new coalition government. (That would give them a two-vote majority in the upper house, where the current government now falls short.)

Another reason, however, is that most members of the opposition LDP outside of the mudboat wing want nothing to do with an Ozawa Ichiro plot. They would prefer not to work with the Ozawa group if the latter were to submit a no-confidence motion. If the LDP were to submit their own no-confidence motion, however, an aye vote by a DPJ member would mean expulsion from the party. Therefore, the idea is to get inside the LDP’s collective head and threaten them with the loss of their former coalition partner.

Do they know something no one else does? New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo has already said Mr. Ozawa should resign from the Diet altogether. Urushibara Yoshio, New Komeito’s Diet Affairs Chairman, told his LDP counterpart not to worry:

“They used the New Komeito name without asking us about it. We’re not in lockstep (with Ozawa).”

While the people want the Kan Cabinet gone, that isn’t the group they want to replace them. They lost what little confidence they had in Mr. Kan long ago, but they lost their confidence in the likes of Mr. Hatoyama, Mr. Ozawa, and the rest of the DPJ before that.

Here’s a comment from one person identified as a “long-time Nagata-cho observer”:

“The LDP and New Komeito dislike and reject Prime Minister Kan and Mr. Ozawa in equal measure. Many in the DPJ also dislike Ozawa. If a no-confidence motion were to pass, it might cause a political realignment that would shut out both Kan and Ozawa.”

Compatible with that observation is another scenario involving Nishioka Takeo, the president of the upper house. Serving in that role requires the resignation of their party membership, and Mr. Nishioka was an Ozawa ally in the DPJ. He’s been calling for the prime minister’s resignation for several weeks, and finally said he would have to make a decision of his own if Mr. Kan doesn’t quit. By that, people assume he will ask the opposition to submit a censure motion in the upper house, which would likely pass. Such a motion is not legally binding, but the Kan Cabinet would find it impossible to govern if the opposition decided to boycott the Diet until they resigned.

One writer speculated another ungainly platypus-like coalition might result: LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu as prime minister and former DPJ Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito as deputy prime minister. Though Mr. Sengoku is from the same leftist turf where Kan Naoto grazes, he has a low opinion of the prime minister. After being brought back to the Cabinet as a deputy chief cabinet secretary to handle the recovery/reconstruction effort, he has openly criticized Mr. Kan’s conduct of post-earthquake affairs and the many organizations that he’s created.

Everyone would have to hold their noses, but that arrangement might work as a time-limited grand coalition with the LDP, New Komeito, and the anti-Ozawa faction in the DPJ to handle the recovery without having either Mr. Kan or Mr. Ozawa involved. The LDP has the experience, Mr. Sengoku is an intelligent and capable man, and no exchange of money between Mr. Ozawa and the construction companies would occur in addition to what already is being passed under the table.

How does Mr. Kan view these moves? There are now rumors that he wants to reshuffle the Cabinet and include some Ozawa and Hatoyama allies to forestall a DPJ revolt and prolong his political life.

History will judge Kan Naoto harshly as prime minister, to the extent that he is remembered at all. The longer he stays in office, the harsher that judgment will be.

*****
Mustt Mustt is the title of a qawwalli that translates as “lost in intoxication”. The Indian singer has something else in mind, but that’s as good an explanation as any for the pride the Kan Cabinet takes in being dazed and confused.

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One Response to “Now what”

  1. Marellus said

    Ampontan.

    It sure makes you think.

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