Japan from the inside out


Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 15, 2012

NHK broadcasts Question Time in the Diet live on both television and radio. Most of the time it is the usual hot air accompanied by the usual posturing. That makes the broadcasts a public service in the true sense of the word.

Sometimes, however, there are exceptions. It was always entertaining to listen to Koizumi Jun’ichiro, who combined a mastery of wit and repartee with remarkable bluntness, deal with the opposition. Then there was the day Tsujimoto Kiyomi, then of the Social Democrats, was questioning/berating Suzuki Muneo, then of the Liberal Democratic Party, for his involvement in several scandals. She got carried away with herself and called him a trading company for scandal. If you can imagine someone getting hysterical and going ballistic simultaneously, then you can see in your mind’s eye how Mr. Suzuki erupted/reacted.

Today’s session between LDP President Abe Shinzo and Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko was another exception.

Mr. Abe pressed the prime minister to keep his vague promise for calling a lower house election when certain conditions had been met, and the dialogue quickly became heated. Finally Mr. Noda said that he would dissolve the lower house and call for elections on Friday if the opposition would agree to support the redistricting bill to remove the electoral imbalance among Diet districts that the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional, as well a deficit financing bill.

The LDP leader snapped at the offer. As soon as the session was over, he convened a meeting of party executives. Their answer to Mr. Noda was, bring it on.

Less excited were the members of the ruling Democratic Party — they and everyone else assume many of them will be job-hunting after the election — and just the day before some senior members were talking about dumping Mr. Noda. But they decided to set the date for the polls at 16 December.

The Associated Press report was entertaining, if not informative. For example:

The pledge to call elections highlights the gridlock that has paralyzed Japanese politics for years, hindering progress on reforms needed to help revitalize an economy on the brink of recession and revamp government finances to cope with a fast-aging population.

The gridlock is five years old and started with the DPJ’s victory in the upper house election of 2007. They spent the next two years sticking a rod into the LDP spokes every chance they got to force the lower house election that finally came in 2009. It ultimately didn’t matter, because the LDP had a supermajority in the lower house and could overrule upper house decisions whenever it wanted.

And if reforms to revitalize the economy and revamping government finances were on the menu, the last people anyone should have entrusted with that task was the DPJ. They were capable of passing the legislation they wanted to implement because they started out with a ruling coalition in partnership with two smaller parties. They set records for the fewest bills passed during a Diet session on more than one occasion. Their performance was such that roughly 70 of their lower house MPs and one of their coalition partners have deserted them.

The AP also drags out an academic. It’s part of the template:

“There’s a real failure of leadership. That’s in part because Japan’s expectations for leadership are unrealistic. But also because the quality of leadership in Japan is really low,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University.

Japan’s expectations for leadership are basic competence, doing what you say you’re going to do, and taking a stab at doing what the voters actually want you to do. If that’s unrealistic, participatory democracy is in bigger trouble than we thought.

As for the quality of Japanese leadership, it’s low compared to that in which country?

Take your time.

The best pre-post-mortem for the DPJ government I’ve seen was on the blog of Sankei Shimbun reporter Abiru Rui. Here it is in English.

The lower house dissolution that I’ve been waiting so long for has finally, at last, somehow, been decided and a new election set for 16 December. After nearly three years and three months, the opportunity has come for the expression of the public will in a lower house election. The opportunity has come for the people to boldly proclaim what they’ve learned over the past few years. It’s fortunate that this situation has emerged before Japan is destroyed any further.

Before the change in government, the Liberal Democratic Party had also come to a dead end, there was systemic fatigue, and the LDP had gone far off course due to their mistaken idea that they could win enough votes to return to the days of the old LDP. Many people left the party, internal party governance fell apart, and they were still attached to the old vested interests.

Therefore, it was not unusual in the slightest that many voters would have some hope for the Democratic Party, which seemed at a glance to be a new alternative. Also, the change in government exposed the different problems and irrational aspects of the Diet, the national government, and the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy

All that is true, but these three years have been too long. The DPJ government has no ability, is not prepared, and has no qualifications to lead. It was very clear that they had reached their limit in the first few months of the Hatoyama administration. The subsequent Kan and Noda administrations were a series of blunders that elicited the contempt of foreign countries and furthered Japan’s stagnation and retrogression. Rather than being my feeling, that is what I believe.

We have learned about the costs and risks of democracy to an extent that is unpleasant. Perhaps that was one of the few effects of the change of government. Perfection isn’t possible for the systems people create, so that makes it necessary to ceaselessly check and reexamine them. It’s perhaps possible to say that the change of government has given us plenty of food for thought.

There will be no forgetting the lack of ability, impotence, mendacity, deceit, chicanery, evasions, deception under the pretense of benevolence, arrogance, cowardice, swelled heads, misconceptions, and bitterness the DPJ showed the people. From time to time I have written about the contempt, disparagement, and scorn they had for the public, and it is not possible to forgive them.

Both Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko and the senior members of the DPJ say they have no intention of handing over the control of government to another party. That might be bravado, but it can also be taken as an expression of their deep-rooted hubris.

The Japanese voters should express their will and say they’ve had enough. It is my small hope now that they realize they want no more Hatoyama, no more Kan, and no more Noda, and show that through their votes.

Of course not everything will go well after the election. The difficulties will still be with us. We don’t have a clear idea who will administer the government, nor in what sort of framework that will be. But even that will be far better than the Democratic Party of Japan, for whom words, common sense, laws, rules, and conscience have no meaning.


Another news item passed by almost unnoticed in the drama of the day. Minister of the Environment Ozawa Sakihito announced he is leaving the DPJ and expects to join Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru’s Japan Restoration Party. The DPJ is now down to 247 members in the lower house, after starting out with more than 300 three years ago. A majority in that chamber is 241.

The mudboat is sinking.

UPDATE: That mudboat is sinking very fast. Three more DPJ lower house MPs have announced they have quit the party, including former Agriculture Minister Yamada Masahiko. Two more have announced their intention to leave the party, which means they have already de facto lost their stand-alone majority in the lower house.

One of the departees, Tomioka Yoshitada, said that most of the DPJ MPs were opposed to the decision to dissolve the Diet and call an election. (No surprise there.) There are also reports that Mr. Noda planned on dissolving the Diet on the 22nd, but moved up the date a week to forestall DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma’s efforts to unseat him as party president. (No surprise there, either; Mr. Koshi’ishi is a teachers’ union leftist, and they would rather drink gasoline than voluntarily give up power, even though a lower house election had to be held by next summer.)

It isn’t just the DPJ, either. Abe Tomoko of the Social Democrats said she was leaving that party to hang out with the Greens. If this keeps up their membership will be able to meet in a sedan instead of a minivan.

UPDATE 2: Some are of the opinion that Mr. Noda expects the party to lose up to 160 of their 240-odd seats, but that none of the other parties will win a majority, either. Therefore, goes the theory, he wants to create a grand coalition with the LDP and New Komeito after the election, to last probably until the upper house election in the summer.

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