Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Democratic Party of Japan’

Iijima Isao on the Japanese political situation

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, February 21, 2008

Political realignment has now started. That’s a 100% certainty.
Iijima Isao, former principal aide to Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro

STRUCTURAL CHANGES UNPRECEDENTED in a mature liberal democracy are now underway in Japan. These changes are transforming the nation’s legal system, local government at the sub-national level, and the educational system. The privatization of state-run enterprises, which began in the 80s under former Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro with the conversion to private sector enterprises of the national railroad and telephone systems, and which continued with the privatization of an entire government ministry (the old Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications), is now concentrated on government financial institutions.

Iijima Isao

Iijima Isao

The nation’s political structure is also undergoing a profound realignment. The old paradigm of the so-called Iron Triangle—political control by the Liberal Democratic Party, the bureaucracy, and business and financial circles—is slowly dying, and the new paradigm is now taking shape. Political reorganization has now become the common reference point for political debate and the media’s coverage of that discussion.

What form that new paradigm will take is still undetermined; even the people involved do not know. Will the country’s two major parties—the Liberal Democratic Party, which has maintained almost continuous power for more than 50 years, and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan—undergo a massive mutual exchange of members to create parties that more clearly reflect specific ideological positions? Will the reorganization instead be limited to an increase in ad hoc coalitions to deal with specific situations, or will something as yet unforeseen occur? No one has the answer.

This reorganization has accelerated because the nominal leaders of both parties—Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo of the LDP and DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro—are clearly men of the past who represent ideas whose time has come and gone. It is also important to note that neither man is completely trusted by many members within his own party, which means that the political knives have been unsheathed and begun to be sharpened.

Regardless of what happens, this reorganization will color every political act in Japan for the foreseeable future, and it will be the key to understanding the direction the country will take in the years ahead.

To provide a quick overview of recent events, the situation as it stands now, and what might happen, I have summarized an interview with Iijima Isao that appears in the March issue of Will magazine. Mr. Iijima recently resigned as the secretary (primary aide) to former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro—a position Mr. Iizuma had occupied since Mr. Koizumi’s first election victory in 1972.

Mr. Iijima was thus the political confidante and right hand man of one of the most successful and influential prime ministers in Japanese history. Renowned for his political acumen—he has been compared to Karl Rove and called the “shadow prime minister”—he is uniquely qualified to assess the state of Japanese politics today. Yes, he has a specific point of view, and perhaps an agenda, but when he speaks, Japan stops to listen.

Please note that I did not translate the entire interview, but only summarized what I thought were the most important parts for a wider audience. Hereafter, the voice is that of Mr. Iijima.

The Fukuda Administration

The mass media is writing that the Fukuda Administration is a “furnished Cabinet” (in the sense of furnished apartment), and that’s to be expected. It is perhaps the only government in the world that took office without having made campaign pledges or having a vision of its own.

After the Fukuda Administration was sworn in, both the Japanese people and the politicians in Nagata-cho realized they had no idea what the Fukuda Administration was going to do, or even what it wanted to do.

The Hosokawa Administration (a multi-party coalition government in 93/94) lasted such a short time because they merely enacted the budget and legislation that had already been drawn up during the Miyazawa Administration. They were unable to offer their own vision.

In the same way, the budget that the Fukuda Administration is now trying to get passed was drawn up last August by the Abe Administration. In the absence of policy, promises, or vision, they must resort to the use of hand-me-downs. Since they have to enact the budget by the first week of April, the bureaucracy has to put together what the Abe Administration left them.

The Cabinet won’t be reshuffled until after the budget is passed. The Abe and Fukuda administrations have the same body—only the face is different.

The Real DPJ is Invisible

If you were to ask individual voters about DPJ politicians, they would know the party members who frequently appear on television, but more than 90% of the public would recognize only those “liberal” Diet members selling themselves on TV, such as Okada Katsuya, Maehara Seiji, (both former party presidents) Haraguchi Kazuhiro, Nagatsuma Akira, Edano Yukio, and Noda Yoshihiko. (Note: Mr. Iijiima borrowed the English word “liberal”. I suspect he means it in the sense of classicial liberal, which is not the contemporary American meaning.) They probably don’t know any other Diet members.

Though these men aren’t the real voice of the party, they are the ones who have attracted most of the party’s public support. That’s not a criticism, that’s a fact. Has the mass media peeled away this wall to dispassionately examine the party?

Looking from the outside, Ozawa Ichiro is not part of this “liberal” group of DPJ lawmakers. His only objectives are to get the current Diet dissolved and to create political crises. He’s not interested in the “liberal” members, who are like floating grass without an organization. To him, they’re only pieces on a chessboard.

The people next to him are Akamatsu Hirotaka and Hachiro Yoshiro, from the (former) Socialist Party/left wing. That’s because they can provide the organizational strength from the labor unions and Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation.

Many early ballots were cast in the last upper house election. Some observers thought those were the votes of Soka Gakkai (a lay Buddhist organization closely affiliated with the New Komeito Party, the LDP coalition partners), but that wasn’t the case. Mr. Ozawa lit a fire under all the Rengo and labor union chapters around the country and controlled the single-member districts. That led to their landslide victory.

The DPJ criticized Mr. Ozawa when he brought back the proposal for a grand coalition with the LDP last fall. They rejected the proposal, causing him to quit the party presidency. But he was stopped by the party’s “liberal” wing, whose ideas are not congruent with his. That’s an odd state of affairs.

The true state of the DPJ is shrouded in darkness, and neither the people nor the voters can see it. It is a misfortune that the mass media does not report it.

Meanwhile, LDP President Fukuda has neither political pledges nor a vision. That means it won’t be possible for the two parties to form a coalition.

The Achilles Heel of the “Twisted Diet”

I don’t think my diagnosis is incorrect when I say that Mr. Ozawa is trying to win control of the government by using the (former) Socialist Party/left wing. What I don’t understand, however, is what would happen if he were to be successful. After taking power by relying on those elements, the issue would be whether he is able to do what he wants. I think that would be next to impossible. I wonder just how he intends to resolve that situation. It’s even stranger than the one involving Mr. Fukuda.

The LDP has a diverse membership. The members have different ideas, but there is an internal coherency—there are no gaps between them. But the DPJ is different. First, they started with former Socialists/left wingers. Then, standing apart from them, are former LDP members of the type who say, “(Whatever you want to do is) fine with me, I just want to be in the Diet.” Next to them are the “liberal” members. The gap between the individual elements of the party is too wide.

Some people suggest that the “liberals” could join the LDP, but the LDP already has a glut of Diet members. There’s no place for them to enter. So what can be done to resolve this situation?

At present, the LDP has a two-thirds supermajority in the lower house, and the DPJ has a majority in the upper house. This situation is called the “twisted Diet” (because it’s the first time in postwar history the two legislative houses have been controlled by different parties.)

But there is an Achilles heel. If the LDP loses 20 lower house members, that ends the current situation. There doesn’t even have to be a grand coalition. If Mr. Fukuda leaves and takes just 20 members with him and then cuts a deal with Mr. Ozawa, a new DPJ government will be born. If that happens, he will be the last of the LDP-New Komeito prime ministers, and the first of the DPJ prime ministers.

The biggest problem is who moves first. That first step is a difficult one to take. But everyone has to be careful, because once things start to move, the entire political world will move.

The Ozawa File Was Nearly a Meter High

The Abe Administration fell because of a succession of scandals. They were criticized for not doing background checks. When I was with Mr. Koizumi, we did thorough background checks. We investigated all the LDP Diet members with three years of experience, and everyone in the DPJ from Ozawa Ichiro on down. The files on Mr. Ozawa were nearly one meter high.

We didn’t use the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office or the Police Agency because our inquiries would have leaked, but you can still do the checking without them. You have to have those channels. It’s a solitary job—you have to shut yourself up in your room and go through all the documents.

Another reason the Abe Administration fell was that he clashed with the bureaucracy. Prime Minister Koizumi treasured the bureaucracy, and thought they had to be used properly.

The Koizumi Comeback Scenario

As I’ve said before, an administration that has not made any pledges or lacks vision has nothing to do. Therefore, it is not possible to line up one’s personnel. Even if the Diet were to be dissolved, it wouldn’t be possible to settle on officially recognized candidates because the party wouldn’t know if the people agreed or disagreed with those pledges.

In that sense, Mr. Fukuda is just shooting arrows into the sky. If there were a target, people would be able to tell whether he hit it or missed it, but even that can’t be known.

It is possible to make the assumption that the opposition parties will be unable to attack the Fukuda Administration, and he will stay in office for a long time. If that is the case, then political reorganization will come before the election.

When an election is held, the LDP will lose at least 20 seats no matter how well the election is timed. They will not be able to maintain their two-thirds supermajority. If that happens, an LDP-New Komeito coalition will have lost its meaning. Their coalition government would, in reality, be over at that point. If Mr. Fukuda could maintain the two-thirds majority, he’d dissolve the Diet today and hold an election, but he won’t because he can’t.

If there were public-spirited samurai, a political reorganization would likely occur. That is the truth of politics. That reorganization would then determine the new leader. A new form for a new era…a new form that would not involve a new party, or something like it…what would that be?

The DPJ has risen into view as the leading party in the upper house, but they also have an Achilles heel. Their majority in the upper house depends on only 17 members.

Before the start of the Koizumi Administration, the LDP had 90 members in the upper house and the New Komeito had 30, for a total of about 120, who were able to support the government (and its initiatives).

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that just 30 DPJ members from the lower house and 20 from the upper house formed a new political grouping with 50 people. It wouldn’t have to be a new party. Then assume 50 from the LDP formed their own grouping. That would total 100 people, which is about enough to form a government.

Who would be the leader of this new movement? A person with experience as prime minister, a person who would not act out of self-interest, and a person who is not a failure. The only person who fits those qualifications is Koizumi Jun’ichiro. He would be there for the launch of the ship. He wouldn’t have to sail it around the world–all he would have to do is tow it out to sea.

But that would mean people within the DPJ would have to call for Mr. Koizumi, in addition to those from the LDP. Here’s what I want to say to the DPJ “liberals”: Think long and hard about the person who is best suited to be at the top.

If the former prime minister is past his “sell by” date, then the ship would just drift, but I do not think he has reached that point.

How would Mr. Ozawa respond in that situation? Wouldn’t he be bothered by a third person becoming involved in the political reorganization? But if the Mr. Ozawa of today were to be cut adrift by the (former) Socialist Party/Left wing, he would be left standing alone. The only card that Mr. Ozawa holds is the one that I mentioned before: joining forces with 20 people from the LDP. If he can achieve that, victory would be his.

ENDNOTE: Whether the possible reentry of Mr. Koizumi into the political fray is an exercise in scenario spinning by Mr. Iijima, a trial balloon floated by a friendly publication, or something else altogether is anybody’s guess. One thing should be certain, however: with his background and experience, when he suggests that 100 members of the LDP and the DPJ could create a working alliance under the former prime minister, he could probably name the 100 MPs most likely to participate in such a scheme off the top of his head.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »