AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Fukuda Y.’

Ichigen koji (150)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 25, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

Mr. Koizumi was a master of language. A sense of tension disappeared with Mr. Abe, dreams disappeared with Mr. Fukuda, and intelligence disappeared with Mr. Aso. Reality completely flew out the window with the spaceman, Mr. Hatoyama, and it disappeared without a trace with Mr. Kan. That is the power of language.

– Inose Naoki, deputy governor of the Tokyo Metro District, and a non-fiction author

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Ichigen koji (108)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, June 1, 2012

一言居士

– A person who has something to say about everything

Keeping records of deliberations is important for understanding the process of how a policy was forumulated. It is essential to be able to understand decades later who proposed what law for what purpose and under what circumstances. That is one of the starting points for democracy. It was of critical importance to keep records of the response to the once-in-a-millenium disaster and accident. The failure of the (DPJ) government to keep these records was criminal.

– Former Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo

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Ichigen koji (103)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 20, 2012

一言居士

– A person who has something to say about everything

I still clearly remember the words of (then) Democratic Party President Ozawa Ichiro when he proposed a grand coaltion to the Fukuda Yasuo administration (in November 2007). I was LDP secretary-general at the time. “The Democratic Party,” he said, “lacks both the ability and the qualities to lead a government. You must allow them into the Cabinet to study.” The idea of a grand coalition foundered due to Democratic Party internal opposition, but looking at them now as the ruling party, it is just as Mr. Ozawa said.

– Ibuki Bunmei

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Rankings first to worst

Posted by ampontan on Monday, January 9, 2012

THE results of two recent public opinion polls tell us more about the Japanese perceptions of their political leaders than anything you’ll read in the English-language media.

The first is from Nikoniko News, which sponsored an online poll for two weeks in October asking people to rank their selections for the best prime ministers since Mori Yoshiro in 2000. They broke down the responses by sex, which reveals some eyebrow-raising differences. The caveats: It was an Internet questionnaire survey and it had a small sample size, as the baseball statheads like to say.

* Name your favorite prime ministers since 2000. Multiple answers are accepted.

Males

1. Koizumi Jun’ichiro: 55.3%
2. There weren’t any good prime ministers: 24.9%
3. Aso Taro: 15.7%
4. Abe Shinzo: 5.4%
5. Fukuda Yasuo: 2.2%

They liked Mr. Koizumi when he took over, they liked him throughout his term, and they’d vote for him tomorrow. Funny how some people like to pretend he never existed.

The respondents who chose him said they liked his guts, charisma, ability to act, and leadership.

Those men who didn’t like anybody typically said that Diet members act only to look after themselves.

The totals for Mr. Aso are higher than one might expect. His supporters liked him because he “worked for Japan”.

One respondent said about Mr. Abe: I can’t see any problems with him. He was just crushed by the media.

The guys don’t seem to care much for the three Democratic Party prime ministers, do they?

Females

1. Koizumi: 51.8%
2. Nobody: 36.4%
3. Aso: 6.0%
4. Noda Yoshihiko: 2.9%
5. Kan Naoto: 2.5%

That Kan Naoto slipped in, albeit with just 2.5%, is surprising, if only because most media reports said he was particularly unpopular among women. Their comments:

Koizumi: Leadership / Brought the abductees back home / Stayed true to his beliefs despite what others said or thought

None: They’re all half-baked / It’s hard to tell with the media criticism / If Japan had a good prime minister, we wouldn’t have all this debt. (Can’t fault that one)

Aso: Sound foreign policy / Did a good job despite media bashing

Noda: Sincere / Tranquil

Kan: Didn’t run away from the Tohoku disaster / Didn’t give up in the face of criticism

Worthy of note: Most of the commentariat criticized Mr. Kan for running away from taking responsibility for any of the serious issues. (One of his nicknames was Nige-Kan; nige(ru) means to flee or run away.) Yet the women who liked him thought he was a stout-hearted man.

Meanwhile, the Sankei Shimbun announced on 1 January the results of a poll on leadership conducted in cooperation with Macromill, an online market research company. Here are the questions:

* Regardless of the time period in which they were active, name one person you would not want to have as a leader, and your reasons.

1. Hatoyama Yukio
2. Kan Naoto
3. Ozawa Ichiro

It’s a hat trick for the DPJ!

4. Watanabe Tsuneo, chairman of the company that publishes the Yomiuri Shimbun. Guess which newspaper is unlikely to run these results.
5. Noda Yoshihiko

* Of Japan’s 33 postwar prime ministers, select the person you thought was the worst leader.

1. Hatoyama
2. Kan
3. Uno Sosuke (Prime minister for three months in 1989, was in charge when the first consumption tax was instituted, was outed by a mistress (expensive nightclub hostess mistakenly identified as a geisha) who said he treated her rough and didn’t give her enough money.

The reasons:

Hatoyama: Wishy-washy / Ignorant waffler / How could anyone get any work done under a leader like that? / Changed his mind day to day (literally: Spoke, slept, woke up, said something different) / Spaceman / Never could understand what he was talking about / Weird / Casual liar

Kan: An unexpectedly ridiculous politician / Dreck / Thought only of himself / Untrustworthy / Never seen such an idiot / First time I’ve ever seen anyone so half-assed (ii kagen na yatsu) / Unaware of his own (lack of) ability / Slapdash from first to last

Ozawa: Out only for himself / Dishonest / Unmanly (N.B.: That never occurred to me before, but they have a point.) / Dirty / Sloughs his crimes off on his underlings / Shady

Apart from Kan Naoto’s name popping up in the Niconico women’s poll and the relatively good showing of Aso Taro, little of this is surprising, and most of the attributes of the prime ministers were already apparent before they took office.

Maybe people just enjoy fooling themselves.

*****
All they brought was love in their khaki suits and things, but it was enough to win the top ranking in the UK.

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Four wasted years

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 11, 2011

JIJI is reporting that Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Komiyama Yoko said after a Cabinet meeting this week the government plans to introduce a bill during the regular Diet session next year to combine the country’s separate pension systems — one for salaried employees and the other for public employees and teachers at private sector schools.

They still haven’t got it together enough to submit their proposal at the start of the session, but she says they’ll come up with something in time for a vote. Leave it to the DPJ to add their distinctive touch combining the incompetent and surreal. She added:

“We’re thinking of basing it on the bill that was introduced in 2007.”

That bill to unify the two systems was offered by the Abe Shinzo government. It ran into trouble later that year after the DPJ became the leading party in the upper house in the July 2007 election, and Fukuda Yasuo had become prime minister.

The LDP and DPJ had differences of opinion on the structure of the unified system, but another obstacle was the DPJ insistence that all the revenue from the consumption tax be allocated to fund the pensions. The LDP wanted to have the public continue to pay premiums. (Note the distinction between the Big Government DPJ, which prefers to play lord of the progressive manor and dispense the benefits centrally from taxes, while the Somewhat Smaller Big Government LDP wanted people to pay into the system directly. One creates a sense of dependency, and the other creates a sense of personal responsibility.)

Further, the DPJ insisted that the consumption tax rate not be raised. In contrast, Prime Minister Fukuda said that raising the consumption tax might be unavoidable under the DPJ proposal.

The LDP finally abandoned the legislation in 2009 in the face of DPJ opposition. The DPJ took control of the government after the August 2009 election, when they ran on a platform that included a promise not to raise the consumption tax.

Here we are four years later, and now the DPJ will base its new bill on the 2007 LDP bill — when they get around to it — and are getting ready to ram a consumption tax increase down people’s throats, even though they were dead set against it when Mr. Fukuda suggested a tax increase would be inevitable.

Observing the DPJ after their victory in the upper house election of 2007, former LDP Secretary General Ibuki Bunmei said the party was behaving like a grade school boy with a loaded pistol.

So, the DPJ has shot their wad, and all they have to show for it is four wasted years and three prime ministers full of proverbial bullet holes.

If anyone can think of anything positive these time-servers, hacks, and mendacious leftoids have done for the country in that time, the comment section is all yours.

*****
PS: I forgot to include the category of “juvenile airheads”. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio in September commended Prime Minister Noda for avoiding the practice of impromptu news conferences began by Koizumi Jun’ichiro. He said:

I think I had to resign (after less than a year) because I held so many (impromptu) interviews. It looks like Noda has learned from my mistakes.

No, Honest to God, as my Great Uncle Julius used to say, those words actually came out of his mouth.
*****
From the ridiculous to the nearly sublime

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The soda pop government

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 14, 2011

IT’S a tossup which is worse: Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s pledge that he will call for a grand coalition government of national salvation if elected DPJ president, or the ill-disguised squeals of delight by the rapid response team in the English-language media. Their reports on the story appeared on the wires as quickly as the August 1945 news that the Japanese Tenno had agreed to accept the provisions of the Potsdam Declaration.

Here’s part of what AFP had to say:

Japan’s finance minister, tipped as a candidate to become the country’s next premier, proposed to form a government of national unity to spearhead the country’s recovery from natural disasters.

“The ruling and opposition parties must have heart-to-heart discussions with each other. That’s the bottom line,” Yoshihiko Noda said in a political talk show on the TV Tokyo network aired on Saturday.

“We’d rather form a national salvation government. That’ll be a coalition. Otherwise politics won’t move forward,” he added.

Pfui. The ruling and opposition parties have already had successful “heart-to-heart” talks with each other for the second supplementary budget, the legislation for enabling the issue of deficit-financing bonds, and a revision of the national energy strategy. The opposition parties have blocked no serious proposals for recovery. They have tried to put the scotch on extraneous measures unrelated to the recovery, most of which involve the DPJ spending more money that the government doesn’t have.

Saying no to bad ideas is a very good way to move politics forward.

The idea of a national salvation coalition does sound superficially wonderful and heart-cockle warming, especially to those who see the Coca-Cola ® ad campaigns of the past 40 years — saccharine without the saccharin — as the perfect place to live. The objectives of both those enterprises are the same, after all: ephemeral sugar highs.

Here’s a closer look at what a grand coalition would mean, with the caveats that Mr. Noda hasn’t been selected yet, and that his backers might not be able to achieve a grand coaltion even if he is.

* The proposal is a de facto DPJ admission that they are incapable of handling the Tohoku recovery themselves. This will not be news to the Japanese public.

* The opposition parties do not need to be part of the government for effective recovery measures to be implemented. The last time this idea fizzed to the surface, Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji objected that mechanisms already exist through which the opposition parties can provide input at the highest level.

The reason these mechanisms haven’t worked is that the DPJ government has been incapable of bringing concrete, specific proposals to the table that it can guarantee the party will support as its final position. The reason it is incapable of making these proposals is that it is incapable of creating a sustainable consensus within the party to support any particular policy or position.

In other words, the ruling party of government can’t agree internally on what it wants to do. This too will not be news to the Japanese public. The DPJ never has been able to reach an internal consensus on anything other than doing what is required to achieve and retain power.

* The DPJ spewed like Vesuvius when it was in the opposition and the LDP brought in its second replacement prime minister (Fukuda Yasuo) without a lower house election. The spew reached exospheric levels when they brought in their third (Aso Taro). Now they’ll have to justify their continued existence as the party of government despite doing exactly what they pilloried the LDP for — and despite support ratings lower than those recorded for the LDP governments.

Thus, forming a coalition government allows the DPJ to avoid the decimation of a lower house election.

But the word decimation does not do justice to what would be an election debacle. That word originated in the practice of the Roman Army to punish mutineers by killing one of every ten soldiers. The unlucky 10% were selected by lot and clubbed to death by the other grunts.

There’s no Latin derivative for killing (metaphorically) anywhere from one-half to two-thirds of an army’s loyal soldiers, i.e., the current DPJ representation in the lower house, for the failures and incompetence of the General Staff.

* It would be manna from heaven for the ruling elite. The three parties can implement the tax increase of the Finance Ministry’s dreams without having to get serious about reducing government expenditures, and no single party will get stuck with the responsibility.

They will offer the excuse that the national crisis makes a tax hike unavoidable. They will ignore the serious proposals offered by more than a few politicians and commentators that would pay for the entire recovery using funds the government already has on hand.

* A grand coalition government will make it impossible to throw the bums out. It would probably last for two years, when the legally mandated term of the lower house expires and the next regularly scheduled upper house election must be held. A tax increase is so unpopular that the mere suggestion of it by Kan Naoto last summer turned a likely upper house election victory into defeat.

A tax hike implemented by a grand coalition followed by a double election in two years effectively disenfranchises the electorate.

* The overseas media seem to be unaware that the LDP is not the only upper house opposition party. The DPJ has negotiated with New Komeito, the Communist Party, and Your Party to successfully pass several bills that the LDP opposed. One of them was an extension of the unaffordable child allowance earlier this year, which the three putative coalition partners recently agreed to scrap starting next year.

The text in the latter part of the AFP article insinuates that the LDP are being killjoys in the upper house by queering all the glorious enlightened plans of the DPJ. That is true — up to a point. Rather than blocking legitimate measures for recovery, they have opposed unrelated measures, such as the child allowance. They balked at the budget or bond proposals because they included the funding for the unnecessary expenditures.

Most of those schemes needed to be thwacked, if not choked until they turned blue. For example, the DPJ still plans to establish a Human Rights Commission based on the Canadian Star Chamber knockoff that effectively functions to limit human rights.

To be sure, the AFP reveals its orientation by describing the DPJ government as “centre-left”. That’s the media weaselword of choice for leftist governments that don’t nationalize lemonade stands or stitch a hammer and sickle patch into the flag.

The approach of many in the DPJ leadership could be characterized as a Japanese version of what Stanley Kurtz refers to as Midwest Academy socialism in the United States. Kan Naoto, Sengoku Yoshito, and Edano Yukio fit this general description. Hatoyama Yukio slurped down the milquetoast version.

And the AFP is again trying to refry the beans of “centre-left” fiduciary responsibility by pasting the label of “fiscal hawk” on Noda Yoshihiko. They said the same thing last summer about Kan Naoto, and we know how credible that was. Mr. Kan would have been incapable of explaining the difference between “fiscal” and “monetary” before he became Finance Minister and his Finance Ministry tutors explained it to him in remedial one-on-one classes before the workday began.

Who other than the industrial media would define a “fiscal hawk” as a person or party responsible for two consecutive budgets with record high deficits and record high deficit bond flotations, and who proposed to double the consumption tax rate to pay for it all?

A definition of fiscal hawkery that fails to include talon-sharp spending slashes means that someone needs a new dictionary, and it ain’t me. But don’t expect to read that in the papers anytime soon.

Speaking of what you’re not reading in the papers, here’s what Noda Yoshihiko said at the same time he brought up the idea of a coalition. AFP and the others thought it wasn’t fit to print.

We will confront the opposition parties and achieve the government/ruling party policy of raising the consumption tax in stages by mid-decade. We must not back down from that.

He added:

Some argue that the timing isn’t right, and that taxes shouldn’t be raised when economic conditions are so difficult, but we’ve been dithering by insisting that certain conditions must be met. This must be done at some point by someone.

Ah, so. In short, Mr. Noda is saying:

* There will be no backing down from the government/ruling party agreement to raise taxes. The LDP and New Komeito should do us the favor of agreeing with the government and forming a grand coalition to cover our butts for a tax increase.

* It doesn’t make any difference what shape the economy’s in. We’re going to raise taxes anyway.

Meanwhile, Mr. Noda said on an NHK broadcast today that Japan’s deflation was caused by a supply-demand imbalance, and that demand was insufficient. He thinks the demand resulting from the Tohoku reconstruction is an excellent opportunity to end deflation, but is oblivious to the effect a sharp consumption tax increase will have on demand.

Did you notice how the “finance minister” fell for the old broken window fallacy that disasters have economic benefits? His Finance Ministry tutors evidently didn’t tell him about Frederic Bastiat.

That’s Noda Yoshihiko — fiscal hawk and founder of the national salvation government. Don’t spit that soft drink out of your nose!

Once again, those interested in reading the AFP article have enough information here to find it with the search engine of their choice. Links belong to the legit.

*****
The idea of a grand coalition makes me bubble up with such happiness I feel like hippity-hopping over to the nearest vending machine. Ain’t the kids cute ‘n funky now? Those with sharp eyes will spot an excerpt from the start of it all 40 years ago.

And isn’t it odd they think it’s still possible to distinguish Monopoly money from the Real Thing?

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Mass media, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Ichigen Koji (20)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 14, 2011

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

“After I voted in favor of the no-confidence motion, I received about 4,000 e-mails and letters from people expressing their support and encouragement. Some of the messages say, ‘I wasn’t interested in politics, but I’ll pay attention now because there’s someone like you.’ Some of the praise is embarrassing.

“The 8th seems to have been the first anniversary of the Kan administration. Congratulations. But I’ve been observing events in Nagata-cho for 33 years since coming to work as an aide, and I regret to say that this is the most iniquitous and least effective government I’ve ever seen. What they say and what they do is an absolute shambles…

“Senior executives of the DPJ have made positive statements about the idea of a Grand Coalition between the DPJ and the LDP. But in 2007, when then-President Ozawa Ichiro sounded out Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo about a Grand Coalition, he was harshly criticized by some people in the party. I think it’s time for those people to shut up.”

– Matsuki Kenko, DPJ lower house MP from Hokkaido

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Maneuvering on a multicellular level

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Democratic Party is essentially the same as the Liberal Democratic Party, so they’ll be tranquil when they put up with their differences to avoid a civil war, or when they’re forcibly held in check. Once a fight breaks out, however, the situation will spin out of control.
– Watanabe Yoshimi, Your Party president

I would go so far as to say that, for the political objectives I want to achieve, it would be better not to become prime minister
– Ozawa Ichiro, in a self-published 1996 interview

THE FIRST TIME Ozawa Ichiro disappeared from public view for a few weeks was in July 1993. He emerged with an eight-party coalition that became the Hosokawa administration, the first non-LDP government since 1955. That and the subsequent Hata administration lasted a combined 11 months.

Just before evaporating a second time after the ruling Democratic Party’s poor showing in the July upper house election, he told the media that “anything could happen”. Once a drama queen, always a drama queen.

In happier times

As we’ll see later, some unusual things almost did happen, but after Kan Naoto refused an offer he couldn’t accept, Mr. Ozawa chose to go bare-knuckle with the prime minister for the DPJ presidency. During his seclusion, he stayed in several hotels in the Tokyo area for private meetings with politicians from all the parties and the leaders of large interest groups, such as Koga Nobuaki of Rengo (the Japanese Trade Union Confederation), to examine his options and to count the votes.

Regardless of what people think of Mr. Ozawa, everyone will stipulate to this: He is capable of conceiving options that elude everyone else and making those options a reality. Take it for granted that he has counted the votes.

The other numbers he can count are what some estimate to be JPY three billion in a personal political kitty with perhaps the Hatoyama family fortune and an emergency fund that Rengo has saved for a rainy day in reserve. Japanese law does not limit how much can be spent on a party election, and the Japanese tradition of fishing politicians often involves baiting the hook with wads of yen. There is also one more number to consider—he is 68 years old, and this will be his last chance to shape Japanese politics. The only things he hasn’t left to chance are the calculated risks.

So, for a quick review:

In January 2009, the DPJ under the leadership of Ozawa Ichiro overtook the LDP in public opinion surveys at last to become the leading party in Japan. The polls somersaulted again shortly thereafter when an Ozawa aide was arrested in connection with a political funding scandal. Following a few months of soba-opera, Mr. Ozawa and then-Secretary General Hatoyama Yukio accepted responsibility for their malfeasance by trading jobs.

Mr. Hatoyama became prime minister in September. By the end of the year, the bottom began to fall out on DPJ support again when the public discovered that (1) The DPJ had no business leading a government (2) Anyone picked at random from the phone book would have made a better prime minister than Hatoyama Yukio, and (3) More Ozawa and Hatoyama aides were arrested for more political funding scandals.

With his party facing decimation at the polls in July, Mr. Hatoyama showed some public spine for the first time in his life by taking Mr. Ozawa with him when he resigned. Mr. Hatoyama then said he would retire from politics after his lower house term expired.

But his replacement, Kan Naoto, forgot the sandbox factor in politics. He made a point of telling Mr. Ozawa in public to zip his lip and appointed well-known Ozawa detesters to the key posts in his Cabinet. The new Kan-Sengoku-Edano troika saw their chance to get rid of him for good and use that for their advantage it in the election. It almost worked. But Mr. Kan stuck his other foot in it by botching the election campaign.

Therefore, just three months after being shown the door, Ozawa Ichiro, the former:

  • Secretary-general of the LDP
  • Secretary-general of the Japan Renewal Party
  • Secretary-general and president of the New Frontier Party
  • President of the Liberal Party, and
  • Secretary-general and president (twice) of the DPJ

…will run for party president a third time with the backing of Hatoyama Yukio, who isn’t going to resign from the Diet after all. They’ve faced off in a DPJ presidential election once before, and Mr. Ozawa won handily.

People overseas think Japanese politicians are disposable. Meanwhile, the Japanese public would like nothing better than to get rid of these guys for good.

Machinations early

After the upper house election, Japanese politicians started doing what they do best—hashing out Byzantine alliances in hotel suites and the private rooms of exclusive restaurants.

Mr. Ozawa began his series of entre nous meetings with everyone except the Kan clique. Those close to the prime minister complained that Mr. Ozawa didn’t return his calls, but those close to Mr. Ozawa said he didn’t receive any. Either or both could be lying.

Maehara Seiji

Secrecy spawns rumor, and some of the rumors about the people whom Mr. Ozawa met were quite delicious. For example, former DPJ head and current Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Minister Maehara Seiji has long been part of the anti-Ozawa camp, and even openly flirted two years ago with some prominent LDP members. Nevertheless, the story arose of a possible rapprochement, with Mr. Maehara being sounded out to run against Kan Naoto. The go-between was said to be Inamori Kazuo, the founder of Kyocera, KDDI, and the Inamori Foundation, as well as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist priest. He is connected with both men. (Both he and Mr. Maehara are based in Kyoto.)

One reason it might make sense is that Mr. Maehara is closer to the political center than the leftists now in control of the DPJ, and he wants to be prime minister too. At the same time, a story began circulating of a backstabber in the Kan Cabinet, and all fingers pointed immediately to him. Another report had him meeting with former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro, which ignited speculation that Mr. Ozawa was exploring the option of a grand coalition between some elements of the DPJ, the LDP, and smaller parties.

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and DPJ Secretary-General Edano Yukio are members of the same group/faction within the party, so Mr. Maehara’s support for someone other than the prime minister would mean the end of his support group in the party. He might also have been swayed by Mr. Sengoku’s promise that he would be the next prime minister, which was another delicious rumor.

Sengoku Yoshito

The chief cabinet secretary has options of his own, and he wants to be prime minister too. One story had him obtaining a promise of money supplied by the Finance Ministry to fish long-time Ozawa loyalist/pit bull Yamaoka Kenji, but he came home with an empty creel. That did not go down well with Mr. Ozawa. There were also whispers of a Sengoku overture to Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP, though what an old Socialist and a Koizumian would have in common isn’t clear.

Ozawa Ichiro

Mr. Ozawa sounded out former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko, the daughter of his patron Tanaka Kakuei, for a possible run as prime minister in July, but she passed. She instead encouraged him to run, but he said there wasn’t enough time to put a candidacy together. He is said to have changed his mind about Ms. Tanaka as a surrogate when she blabbed about the content of their meeting to reporters. Omerta is part of the Ozawa code, too.

Ozawa's back

Remember that Mr. Ozawa had a deal in place with former Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo of the LDP two years ago for a grand coalition. That was another option he explored, and it still isn’t off the table, either as head of the DPJ or at the head of a new party if he loses and leaves. There are an estimated 30 Ozawa diehards in the DPJ out of the roughly 160 in his group; if he managed to take 100 people with him and struck a deal with some people in the LDP and the smaller parties, the DPJ government is over. The new coalition would pass a no confidence motion, triggering a general election.

Mr. Ozawa knows that the Kan/Sengoku/Edano wing of the party wants him out, and he’s also heard the tasty tidbit that they were ready to kick him out had one of the prosecutors’ review panels decided it would have been “appropriate” to prosecute Mr. Ozawa, rather than their judgment of “inappropriate not to prosecute”.

The grand coalition talk of two years ago was brokered by Yomiuri Shimbun publisher Watanabe Tsuneo and LDP elder statesman Nakasone Yasuhiro, who sees in Mr. Ozawa the best chance to achieve one of his own ambitions, which is to rewrite the Japanese constitution.

Sharp-eyed observers have noticed that the Yomiuri and Sankei newspapers on the right have toned down their Ozawa bashing. The Ozawa camp confirmed rumors that their man had met with some senior LDP party members even during the upper house campaign. Yet another rumor circulated that some of the visitors to the Ozawa hotel suite included Fukuda Yasuo and former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro.

There were even whispers that Mr. Ozawa went fishing for Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi, as unlikely as the prospects for success would seem to be. Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji will have nothing to do with the man, but the story gave some people pause because Mr. Ozawa almost fished Mr. Watanabe’s father Michio from the LDP to replace Hosokawa Morihiro more than 15 years ago.

Machinations late

19 August

Hatoyama Yukio conducts a political seminar every year during the summer at his Karuizawa villa. This year’s seminar was held just as speculation about Ozawa Ichiro’s intentions started to peak. More people than usual showed up—160, which accounts for just under 40% of the party’s Diet membership. They included Mr. Ozawa, for his second visit ever, and his ally Koshi’ishi Azuma, head of the DPJ upper house caucus. An estimated 70 to 80 were from the Ozawa group, while about 40-50 were from the Hatoyama group.

The newspapers ran photos of the three grinning amigos, drinks in hand. Mr. Ozawa was serenaded with shouts of “kiai” (fighting spirit). Some observers insisted Mr. Ozawa would not run, but that episode alone should have given them pause. And they really should have reexamined their assumptions when long-time Hatoyama associate Hirano Hirofumi, the chief cabinet secretary in the Hatoyama administration, also publicly urged Mr. Ozawa to make it a race.

23 August

Mr. Kan held a meeting of his own with the DPJ’s first term Diet members. He raised a few eyebrows by telling them he wanted to create a “forward looking approach” that included Mr. Ozawa—just a few months after telling Mr. Ozawa to put a sock in it and appointing his enemies to key party positions.

24 August

Four people are said to have met in a private room in the New Otani Hotel in Tokyo–Hatoyama Yukio, Hirano Hirofumi, Ozawa Ichiro, and Hidaka Takeshi, a former deputy secretary-general of the party and the son-in-law of Hirano Sadao, a retired politician who is the closest of Mr. Ozawa’s associates.

Here’s a mix of rumor and fact as to what happened:

Mr. Ozawa ran down the numbers for Mr. Hatoyama and showed him that he would win the election with Hatoyama support. Mr. Hatoyama wanted to avoid an election brawl because he thought it would split the party. He also realized the party might split regardless of who won.

According to one story, the generalities of which have been partially confirmed, Mr. Hatoyama acted as a go-between and called Mr. Kan on the spot to report the numbers. He offered the Ozawa deal: You can stay as prime minister, but tell your friends Sengoku Yoshito, Edano Yukio, and (probably) Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko they’ll have to go. The new Cabinet would have an Ozawa ally as secretary-general (perhaps Yamaoka Kenji) and perhaps a Hatoyama ally as chief cabinet secretary. Mr. Kan would be allowed to stay on until next spring. He would then be replaced by Ozawa for a year, followed by someone else, perhaps Maehara Seiji.

25 August

Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Kan met. Another version of the story says that this was the meeting at which the Ozawa deal was offered.

At the news conference afterwards, Mr. Hatoyama said:

I told him what Ozawa Ichiro was thinking, and that if he wanted his cooperation, he would have to ask for it very seriously. We didn’t come to any conclusions…Mr. Ozawa is not taking the idea of the so-called shift away from Ozawa (in the party) in good humor. The explanation that it was just for party unity is not satisfactory.

There’s an even wilder story that lends credence to the idea of a grand coalition. Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya and MLIT Minister Maehara Seiji could stay in the Cabinet, perhaps with different portfolios. They would be joined by former Finance Minister Yosano Kaoru of the Sunrise Party (ex-LDP member), former Health Minister Masuzoe Yoichi of the New Renaissance Party (ex-LDP member), and former Financial Services Minister Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party (ex-LDP member whose party is still in the DPJ coalition). The possibility of New Komeito joining the festivities was also discussed. The possibility of Fukushima Mizuho’s Social Democrats joining wasn’t.

Mr. Kan, to his credit, turned the offer down. No one knows exactly what he wants to do, but becoming another Ozawa puppet isn’t part of it. The most he would offer in return is to appoint Ozawa Ichiro as a “senior advisor to the party”, which translates as “old guy who used to be important but isn’t any more”.

26 August

After a morning meeting with Hatoyama Yukio at the latter’s office, Ozawa Ichiro held a news conference and announced he would run for the party presidency with Hatoyama support. Mr. Hatoyama later confirmed it. Considering the circumstances when Mr. Ozawa joined the party, he said, it was for the greater good.

When a reporter asked about his previous, sphinx-like support for Kan Naoto, he answered:

I said that in the sense that it was natural as one party member to support the prime minister who has acted as the head of the government.

What’s in it for him? After his national humiliation, he gets to play kingmaker again in the party he created with his mother’s money. He might also be foreign minister in an Ozawa Ichiro administration. Other people would formulate the policy, while he would get to meet exotic people and travel with his trophy wife to exotic places and talk about yuai all day long.

Then there’s the sandbox factor again. Some people say he doesn’t like Mr. Kan very much.

The election

It’s mostly a fight between punks. It’s even worse than the faction battles of the old LDP…I’m going to be fed up with having to watch this for the next three weeks.
– Watanabe Yoshimi

This is going to be a cutthroat election…It will probably be very difficult for the DPJ to conduct their own affairs (during the campaign)…It’s also possible this will provide an opportunity for a political realignment.
– Sonoda Hiroyuki, secretary-general of the Sunrise Japan Party

This will be the 14th DPJ presidential election since the party was founded—an average of one every 10 months—but it’s only the second to allow the votes of party members and supporters. The latter two groups are differentiated by the amount of money they spent to buy the privilege. Anyone over 18 can be a supporter for JPY 2,000 (about $US 23.55), and the DPJ website says that foreigners are eligible to be both party members and supporters. Thus, though their votes could be counted in units of parts per million, foreigners will have a say in who becomes the next prime minister of Japan.

The Big O: I am the one I've been waiting for

The breakdown of votes goes like this: the ballots of the 413 DPJ Diet members count two points each, for 826. The votes of all sub-national assembly members will count for 100 points in the aggregate. The aggregate for the party members and supporters is 300 points, for a total of 1,226.

The other inclusive election was in 2002, when there were four candidates. Kan Naoto won the most votes among Diet members, but Hatoyama Yukio won the election with the votes of local prefectural assembly members.

Kan Naoto has run in eight of the previous 13 elections. He’s won four and lost four.

Ozawa Ichiro is said to be strong among all those groups, particularly among the upper house Diet members and in the prefectural legislatures. The man has spent a lot of time on retail campaigning on the rubber sushi circuit. He’s also assigned quotas to the members of his group to round up votes among the party members and supporters, after dividing the country into blocs. They started work as soon as Mr. Ozawa made his announcement.

Ishiba Shigeru, now of the LDP, was a member of the New Frontier Party when Hata Tsutomu and Ozawa Ichiro ran for party president in 1995. He remembers that a large volume of ballots from supporters appeared for counting at the last minute. All of them had only “Ichiro” written on them in the same handwriting. When he and some other members heard the story, they went to look for the ballots, only to find they had already been thrown out.

Who’s going to win this time? Making predictions for anything in Japanese politics is a silly way to kill time, especialy when ballot box-stuffers are running, but this election reminds me of some advice an old man gave me years ago: Never bet against the New York Yankees in the World Series. Substituting Ozawa Ichiro for baseball’s evil empire is a fair comp. And as long as we’re betting on form, here’s another tip: Take the block in the office pool that has his administration lasting less than a year and collapsing in rubble.

The weekly Shukan Post has already made up its mind. Here’s one of their headlines on the cover of the 6 August issue:

“Ozawa Landslide: Already Kan’s only choice is to submit”

Why Kan?

Because he’s a steady hand on the tiller of the ship of state? Let’s pause for the laughter to die down.

There aren’t many reasons to vote for Mr. Kan unless you like desiccated social democrats/political activists who sold out what remained of their principles to the bureaucrats of the Finance Ministry to stay in power.

He offers no coherent policy, no political skills, and he’s unlikely to be in office this time next year even if he wins. The only reasons to vote for him are negative rather than positive, and that’s exactly how his supporters are selling him.

Party poster girl Ren Ho, who is in the anti-Ozawa camp, gives her reasons for supporting the prime minister:

I welcome the party president election itself in September, but if there is a new prime minister, there would normally be a dissolution of the lower house and a general election.

She’s only just started her second term in the upper house, but that’s some serious gall she’s got working. If the election of a new prime minister requires a general election, Mr. Kan should have already called one after replacing Hatoyama Yukio in June–particularly after the upper house election defeat. But she didn’t stop there:

There will be a policy review of the special account at the end of October, and that will have a big impact on it. One reason I support the prime minister is to minimize the effect on the policy review.

She’s the minister in charge of policy reviews, so she should already be directing a continuous policy review. But she’s afraid a mid-September election will interfere with the TV coverage of her star turn six weeks later. If reviewing policies were her intention, based on her previous three or however many there were after the first one, she could have a report on the desk of the prime minister by 1 September so he could give it to the Finance Ministry for approval.

The Asahi Shimbun took her first argument even further in an editorial. They claimed there was a new principle in this age of change in governments that prime ministers should be replaced only through general elections. Where did this new principle come from? From the backside of the editorial writer on the day he wrote the piece.

Another reason to oppose Ozawa Ichiro is his identification with money politics in general and the possibility that he could still be prosecuted for political fund scandals. Said Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya:

It would be strange to have as party president and prime minister someone who could be indicted. Changing the national leader so many times in a short period is a problem for the national interest.

Showing some gall of his own, Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications and Ozawa toady Haraguchi Kazuhiro responded:

We should not make statements that stray from the fundamentals of democracy. The principle of presumed innocence is the principle of democracy.

To which Mr. Okada retorted:

The presumption of innocence is an issue of the law. Discussing issues of political ethics is in a different dimension.

And yes, both of these men are in the same party and in the same Cabinet at the same time. Isn’t the nation in good hands?

Why Ozawa?

Yamaoka Kenji counts two reasons. Here’s the first:

We’re going to go into the (local) elections next March with a half-baked executive branch. We must select a person with powerful leadership capable of conducting politics that ‘Puts the peoples’ lives first’.

He later added:

The people’s conclusion in the upper house election was to say no to the Kan administration, but then (the Kan supporters) claim we can’t keep changing prime ministers. But is maintaining the status quo responding to popular will? We should stabilize the political base with a new system and a new face….To resolve the crisis, increasing numbers of people are calling on Ozawa Ichiro.

That last thought leads into the second reason:

The (leader) must be a man who can work with the opposition to create a stable government. If the budget negotiations come to a standstill with the Diet in gridlock, it is possible the lower house will be dissolved and a general election held next spring…Mr. Ozawa would be the suitable party leader to pass the 2011 budget and related legislation in the gridlocked Diet.

Stagnation is a word the Japanese often use to describe contemporary political conditions. After entropy had its way with the LDP, the people finally turned to the DPJ. But the electorate’s worst fears were realized once the DPJ formed a government—they were not ready for prime time, and as presently constituted, never will be. At least the LDP prime ministers during their endgame were marginally competent—the two DPJ prime ministers have been a post-adolescent spacehead and a man for whom hangover is the default state of sobriety.

The LDP hasn’t learned its lesson, and as a group, probably never will. As one freelance journalist commented, they’re like horse manure floating down the stream (i.e., going with the flow and naturally breaking up).

The reason people will vote for Ozawa Ichiro, other than the universal factor of sucking up to power, is because they think he’s a man on a white horse who will end the stagnation—by sheer force of will, if necessary—and get things done. You know, make the trains run on time. How can the demoralized resist? He’s the only person with a chance to lead a government capable of putting together the votes to ensure that important legislation, however that is defined, passes. He’s also the only person with the cojones not to care what other people think.

Some might find ad hoc coalitions for each issue appealing, while others will find a grand national coalition more to their taste. Even Kan Naoto has referred to it indirectly. On the 16th, he compared the current situation to the gridlock between the two major parties in the 1930s:

I wonder if we will be able to provide functioning politics by trying to trip each other up. This demands party politics that transcends ruling and opposition parties.

During an interview in a recent issue of the weekly Shukan Gendai, first term DPJ MP Okuno Soichiro thought a “national salvation cabinet” would be the solution.

We’ve already seen the rumor of a potential national salvation cabinet put together by Mr. Ozawa during his summer vacation.

The danger here is the same danger with all broad coalition governments: The voters can’t throw the bums out. The bums are so dysfunctional they create alliances of convenience to facilitate their own interests, rather than the interests of the nation at large or of its people. Few politicians anywhere are capable of making that distinction under the best of circumstances, and a grand coalition means they will ignore that distinction altogether.

The people have very clearly told the politicians–repeatedly–what they don’t want them to do. But here, as elsewhere, the politicians are too dense or too self-interested to listen, and some of them are so befuddled they’re willing to walk into a cage and hand Ozawa Ichiro the key.

What happens?

This is a time-limited party that will vanish in 2010.
– Hatoyama Yukio on the DPJ during a 30 August 1996 news conference

If Kan Naoto wins

The past is prelude. The suffocation intensifies with the downside risk that he, Mr. Sengoku, and Mr. Edano slip in some social democrat ugliness before they join the LDP in breaking up as they float down the stream. He kept on Justice Minister Chiba Keiko despite her election loss, and she favors creating a Japanese version of Canada’s execrable Human Rights Commission. And the dependency on the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy will grow worse.

If Ozawa Ichiro wins

Lordy lord.

An Ozawa victory gives the mass media a gold-plated “Go directly to hog heaven” card. It will turn a “free, for all” democracy into a free-for-all. There will be a national political fistfight both egged on and refereed by the mass media.

Because one possible benefit of an Ozawa administration would be an effort to tame the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy, the faceless elites will do everything in their considerable power to bring Mr. Ozawa down. After former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro displeased the Finance Ministry, for example, a severe credit crunch just happened to emerge by some quirk of coincidence. It’s dreadful to imagine what they might try to pull off now.

Will he be indicted? The 16 August edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun offers the consensus of opinion of the reporters covering the Tokyo prosecutors. They think he’ll skate.

But if Mr. Ozawa becomes prime minister, that issue will be moot. Here’s Article 75 of the Japanese Constitution:

The Ministers of State shall not, during their tenure of office, be subject to legal action without the consent of the Prime Minister. However, the right to take that action is not impaired hereby.

A Prime Minister Ozawa is not likely to consent to his own prosecution. Hey, it’s worth a shot. Jacques Chirac seems to have gotten away with it.

The opposition (and some in the DPJ) will demand that he testify in front of the Diet to explain how his political funds management committee could buy real estate with suitcases full of cash. Mr. Ozawa understands that the opposition will not allow Diet business to proceed until he appears as a witness. He’s gone through multiple grillings with prosecutors, so at least he’s had the time to get his story down.

That’s unless there’s a grand coalition, in which case they’re all in it together and won’t care if the Communists and Social Democrats are uncooperative.

Here’s a safe bet: There will be record low support ratings from the public. Mr. Ozawa understands that, too. One of his supporters said that even 0% was fine. He suggested the media puts too much weight on the polls, and the numbers will rise once an Ozawa Cabinet starts producing results.

There is another possibility—that he will break precedent and not serve as prime minister during his term as DPJ president. He might be able to skip out on Diet testimony that way, and anyone he selects as prime minister will surely not consent to his prosecution.

Most politicians accumulate power to implement policy, but Ozawa Ichiro is the reverse. He implements policy to accumulate power, and most any policy is fine by him. He’s fond of using a play on words in Japanese to say that campaign pledges are convenient because they can be easily replastered.

What policies would he support? Let’s take the word of Haraguchi Kazuhiro in an interview in the 4 September Shukan Gendai:

We should sincerely reflect on our failure to uphold the manifesto. There is a move to amend the manifesto in view of the upper house election results, but for us the manifesto itself is structural reform, so that is not what we should do…If there is to be a change of government, we should reexamine the Cabinet decision to set a ceiling on expenditures at JPY 71 trillion and Japanese treasury floatations of JPY 44 trillion in the 2011 budget.

The interviewer noted that the Kan Cabinet is also having second thoughts about those budgetary limits.

The centerpiece policies in that original platform included the child allowance, subsidies to individual farmers, and free expressways, not all of which were fully implemented, but all of which are unnecessary drains on the public treasury.

There was one tax break in the manifesto—eliminating the gasoline surtax. Mr. Ozawa himself ordered Prime Minister Hatoyama to forget about that one last December.

In other words, if you think the economy is bad now, wait until you see an Ozawa administration. The Finance Ministry might not stop them, either. Picking up the pieces and gluing them back together when it’s over gives them more power down the road.

That manifesto also called for the reversion of Japan Post to state control rather than continue with privatization.

Here’s Haraguchi Kazuhiro again:

There are many reformers in the LDP we can work with…They’re the ones who think the people’s rights should be guaranteed in Japan Post.

He later explained to reporters that by reformers, he meant the people who ran against privatization in 2005.

Since the announcement of his candidacy, Mr. Ozawa has already visited the head of the national postmasters’ association. Who do you think those men will be pressing their local DPJ Diet members to vote for?

While secretary-general, Mr. Ozawa also arranged matters so that budgetary requests from sub-national governments came directly to his office rather than to Diet members or the bureaucracy.

Thus, an Ozawa administration will be characterized by money politics with no transparency and blatant schemes to buy off voters, overseen by a man who demands such discipline that he has long been known in political circles as a fassho yaro, or fascist bastard.

And don’t forget he’s going to cock a snoot at the Americans every chance he gets. He’ll even find ways to create a few chances on his own.

If anything good comes of it, Komori Yoshihisa of the Sankei Shimbun describes what it will be:

If he becomes prime minister, it will touch off a large political realignment. The DPJ would very likely split. That would enable the serious politicians of the DPJ and those of the LDP to come together to form a new force….We can expect most Japanese to be fiercely opposed. The Cabinet support rate will fall through the floor. An administration of that type cannot possibly last long. But during that short period, Prime Minister Ozawa will awaken the people’s awareness of proper government.

Sight is quarterly magazine dealing mostly with political topics, with about half of each issue focusing on one topic. Here’s the headline on the cover of the Spring issue:

Thank you, Ozawa Ichiro, we are now going to graduate.

Not quite yet, alas. But they will.

As the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci observed, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

What we’re seeing now is the inevitable morbid symptoms. The old will die and the new will be born.

Afterwords:

The English-language media got a free reach-around when Mr. Ozawa held forth on Americans and the British among other topics of interest during a political seminar earlier this week. He was reported as saying that Americans were unicellular (i.e., simple-minded) and weak in the head, though he was pleasantly surprised they elected Barack Obama.

To be accurate, what he said was that the Americans had unicellular “aspects” (or tendencies, depending on how it is translated). Not exactly sweetness and light, but not a blanket condemnation either. Such much for unicellular translations.

Unicellular is also a good word to describe their coverage. Most seemed to think it was a gaffe for some reason, or perhaps they desperately wished it were so. There are about a half-dozen skyrocketing story lines in Japanese politics right now, but that was the one that got them all excited.

It would have been a gaffe if he slipped and said something he didn’t mean to say. I suspect he said what he meant and doesn’t care what Americans think. He might have even said it on purpose.

Mr. Ozawa lives with the knowledge that he’s under the media microscope in Japan 24/7. That focus has intensified since his resignation as secretary-general in May, and has gone into hyperdrive since the upper house election.

He made the statement during a political seminar at which everyone with a press credential was present, including the Japanese version of the Pocatello Idaho Weekly Shopping Gazette. He knew it would be his most closely watched political speech of the year (so far) because people thought he might announce his political intentions. (He didn’t.)

It would have been a gaffe if it hurt him politically.

Do I really need to finish that thought? It wasn’t even mentioned at first in the Japanese sources. It was reported here only after the overseas media noticed, and only because they noticed. The story is already dead in Japan.

One of the more hysterical Australian newspapers thought this might swing the DPJ election to Kan Naoto.

Aren’t they precious?

There’s an old proverb common to China, Korea, and Japan about the frog at the bottom of the well who thinks he knows the world. Mr. Ozawa does bear a resemblance to a frog, and that is a deep well he’s croaking in, but as a long-time American resident of Japan who has witnessed the behavior here of his countrymen for more than quarter-century, I also see where he’s coming from. So do many East Asians, from the northeast to the southeast, but that will fly over the media’s head too.

Meanwhile, the current American president thinks, among other things, that the Showa Tenno (Hirohito) signed the Japanese document of surrender at the end of World War II on board the battleship Missouri, that the Americans liberated Auschwitz, that the Austrians speak some language called “Austrian”, that people in Japan bow and shake hands at the same time, and that his own name is derived from Swahili, even though it is derived from Arabic. But the American mass media has swept all those under the rug. They’re suck-ups to power too, and their swoon is particularly delirious whenever the Democrats find someone who can pass for an alpha male.

There are lots of frogs at the bottom of lots of wells, all over the world.

I’m not a Christian, but Matthew 7:1 works fine for me here.

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The bounce and the bounced

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Men should be either treated generously or destroyed, because they take revenge for slight injuries – for heavy ones they cannot.
– Niccolo Machiavelli

AFTER 420 PEOPLE in Tokyo elected Kan Naoto to replace Hatoyama Yukio as prime minister, polls showed a rebound in support for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Reports in the English-language news media used some colorful language to describe this shift in public sentiment. One said there was a “leap” in the rate of support, and another said it had “spurted”. Those aren’t words one usually associates with the people involved, particularly the second.

But there’s already an excellent descriptive term in common use in English to describe such a rebound in support, a political phenomenon that regularly occurs in all democracies. They could have called it a “bounce”.

Kan Naoto on tour

In the United States, for example, there are always stories after the two major parties hold their summer conventions during an election year to examine how much of a bounce they receive in the polls, and how quickly and to what extent that bounce dissipates. The media also uses it in such instances as, “President Obama received no bounce from the passage of his health care legislation.”

In Japan, the polls always bounce when a new prime minister is named in these circumstances. This time, the Kyodo (RDD) poll had the support numbers for the DPJ rising from about 21% to 36.1%, roughly 15 points. Meanwhile, the Fuji-Sankei RDD poll pegged the bounce at 30.6%, and Mainichi’s RDD poll showed it at 28%.

While we can’t compare the rate of support for the new Cabinet because it hasn’t been officially installed yet, we can look at the bounce the last two replacement prime ministers received in identical circumstances. Here are the figures from the Jiji poll when Fukuda Yasuo replaced Abe Shinzo in 2007:

Abe Shinzo in September: 25.5%
Fukuda Yasuo in October: 44.1%

And here are the numbers when Aso Taro replaced Fukuda Yasuo a year later:

Fukuda Yasuo in September: 15.6%
Aso Taro in October: 38.6%

Compared to the Fukuda and Aso bounces, the DPJ bounce seems to have been an unremarkable squirt rather than a spurt.

Indeed, what should concern the DPJ is that the Kan bounce will turn out to be just like the other two. Had the journos spent more time reading the financial pages of their own publications—I know, I know—they would be aware of a well-known Wall Street term that fits the circumstances perfectly: the “dead cat bounce”.

That expression originates from the idea that “even a dead cat will bounce if it falls from a great height”. Here’s the definition from one website:

Securities that are prone to a dead cat bounce share a few common characteristics. First, the securities are not held in high esteem, based on past performance. Second, there are no indicators that the securities in question are capable of attaining and sustaining a higher value in the current market. Last, there are no indicators that sustained growth would be achieved if some major economic shift occurred in the market.

Sound familiar?

We’ve already seen two dead cat bounces within the past three years. The most recent Asahi poll found 38% of the respondents supporting the continuation of a DPJ-based government, but an equal number disagreeing. That suggests the possibility of a third dead cat, perhaps before the end of the year.

It took a few months for those other cats to hit the pavement a second time, however. It is to Mr. Kan’s advantage that the upper house election will be held next month, before gravity begins to take effect.

*****
Speaking of dead cats, Kan Naoto might wind up being one dead cat politically after his Cabinet selections over the weekend.

Some commentators, including me, thought that selecting Mr. Kan as Mr. Hatoyama’s replacement was a sign that Ozawa Ichiro still controlled the party. But not only did the new prime minister suggest that Mr. Ozawa get lost for a while, he also selected Ozawa enemies to fill posts in a Cabinet reshuffle. (This is one of the things people mean when they talk about the DPJ’s structural incompatibilities.)

Everyone realized that Mr. Kan would have to demonstrate he was not an Ozawa puppet if he wanted his government to have any credibility at all, but selecting Edano Yukio as DPJ secretary-general to replace Mr. Ozawa, Sengoku Yoshito as chief cabinet secretary, and to a lesser extent, Ren Ho as governmental reform minister / consumer affairs minister is equivalent to the prime minister sticking his middle finger in the Boss Man’s face on live television. All three are anti-Ozawans, and the Edano-Ozawa animosity is particularly venemous.

Here’s Mr. Edano’s position as stated before his appointment:

Drive Ozawa Ichiro out of the DPJ!

And:

Mr. Ozawa is undemocratic. He does not recognize anyone who doesn’t listen to him.

The Japanese proverb kega no komyo is used to describe a misfortune (literally, an injury) that eventually has an unexpected benefit. It’s possible that Mr. Kan has created that situation in reverse. He’s winning plaudits for distancing himself from Mr. Ozawa now, but he could pay for it dearly down the road. He doesn’t seem to be the type of pol to be aware of the Machiavellian maxim at the top of the post, but Mr. Ozawa probably understands it instinctively. The latter is the kind of guy who brings a squad armed with submachine guns to a knife fight, while Mr. Kan is no one’s idea of a political street fighter.

Former U.S. President Lyndon Johnson once counseled that it was best to have the late FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover as an ally because he’d “rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.”

Mr. Kan has now ensured he has the man with the most toxic political urine in Japan inside the tent pissing in.

Here are some of the disadvantages of the new prime minister’s approach.

1. See you in September, baby

Mr. Kan was selected to fill out the remainder of Hatoyama Yukio’s term, which ends in September. Word from the Ozawa camp is that they’re already preparing for a rumble.

Mr. Ozawa sent a video message to a party meeting in his home prefecture of Iwate held on the evening of the 4th. Here’s part of what he said:

We can achieve real reform by stabilizing the government with a victory in the upper house election. At that time, I myself will do everything to lead the charge.

Some think that means he’s considering another run for party president in September. In fact, word is now leaking out, mostly from former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko, that he briefly considered running against Mr. Kan, but decided there wasn’t enough time to mount a campaign.

2. Sayonara, baby

Even his enemies in the party have put up with Mr. Ozawa for two reasons. First, he showed them how to win, which was beyond their political capabilities before he got there. They are not the smoothest of political operatives. Second, he’s put them on permanent notice that he’s always ready to walk. More than a few people think he’s always planned on walking someday anyway.

Recall that he worked out a deal with then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo to create a grand coalition government, a deal the other party elders led by Messrs. Hatoyama and Kan rejected. When they failed to kiss his ring, Mr. Ozawa abruptly quit as party head and made an unmistakable threat to split and take his supporters with him. The elders knew that if he left, their chance to take power left with him. He was back in the catbird seat a few days later.

Japanese commentators generally assume that he controls roughly 150 of the party’s 423 Diet members. That total might rise in the July election. Some think he can’t count on all of them to walk out the door with him, in part because people dislike his iron-fisted leadership methods. They may be right, but that would present practical problems for the ones who choose another political planet to orbit.

Mr. Ozawa knows how to run campaigns and raise money. No one in the DPJ knew before he showed up—they were just the beneficiaries of the default anti-LDP votes. The same applies to many of the current Diet members whose fannies are sitting in the plush seats of Nagata-cho because of him. How would they fare in a re-election bid without his support, election skills, and money-raising abilities?

3. A different breed of cat

Mr. Ozawa has been through similar situations several times before with several parties and reemerged each time. A cat with nine lives lands on his feet instead of bouncing off the sidewalk, and even though he’s 68, he might have a few of those lives left. He certainly knows the layout of this particular alley.

4. Back to square one

People have noticed the new Cabinet looks very much like the pre-Ozawa DPJ, led by the hapless Hatoyama and the irascible Kan, which could never gain serious traction with the voters. It had the reputation as a left-of-center coffee house debating society for squishes. Are they capable of standing on their own? Some think they spot the outlines of a battle between the Old DPJ and the Ozawa Liberal Party-wing taking shape.

The problem will be exacerbated by appointing Mr. Edano to serve as party secretary-general. His job will be to create party unity and run the national election campaign, and he’s never had any experience of that type before. How does he develop party unity when fingers already have started pointing after the Hatoyama debacle? How does he foster party unity among the more moderate elements such as himself and co-group leader Maehara Seiji, the hard-line left wingers who joined the party because they couldn’t win running as socialists, and those in the pockets of the labor unions? How does he create unity with Ozawa Ichiro disinclined to help him, though he is sure to be Johnny-on-the-spot for those loyal to him.

Add to that the dissatisfaction already expressed by Mr. Kan’s own faction for being passed over for important Cabinet posts. (Mr. Edano, Mr. Sengoku, and several other appointees are from the Edano/Maehara group.) The spoils are supposed to go to the victor, but the victor’s supporters didn’t get many.

Depending on circumstances, this election could well determine whether the DPJ survives as a party, and the campaign is now under the nominal supervision of people whose track record at this level contains more stumbles than successes.

In any event, the Old DPJ bloc in the party will have to lie in the bed they made. A lot of Mr. Kan’s support, particularly that from the Edano-Maehara group, came with the condition that he distance himself from Ozawa-style politics and the man himself. They got what they wanted. Now we’ll see if they know what to do with it.

Something to watch for

It was assumed that the upper house election would be called for July 11. One reason for circling that date is that prosecutors will make another decision on Ozawa Ichiro’s prosecution in mid-July. Will Mr. Kan choose to hold the election later in the month and hope the prosecutors bear good tidings?

A Kanusian quote-a-rama

From page 73 of the expanded edition of Daijin (Minister), which Kan Naoto published last December:

The problem (with the LDP era) was that the next prime minister was selected from the same party that had been responsible for the misgovernment…Fundamentally, when the ruling party selects its next prime minister, he should dissolve the lower house at that point and ask the people in a general election whom the prime minister should be. That didn’t happen, however, partly due to the weakness of the opposition parties.

Some prime ministers and presidents are tested by economic or security crises. A good test for Mr. Kan is how he would handle a question asking him about that passage from his book.

Health Minister Yanagisawa Hakuo was forced out of office during the Abe Shinzo administration for calling women “baby-making machines”. Mr. Kan was one of those who called for his head, but he’s also talked about the low birthrate:

The economy is good in Aichi and Tokyo. They say productivity is high, but in one sector, they’re competing for last place. They are the lowest in productivity for having children.

When called on it, he resorted to quoting the dictionary definition of “production”.

On the Marines in Okinawa:

After we form a government, we’ll have them leave right away.

When the Isahaya Bay project, in which part of the bay was closed off for dikes and landfill, became an issue after fishermen complained of red tides and a poor fishing environment, he stormed:

Under whose authority was this done?

He was a cabinet minister when the government approved the project.

He’s had a sex scandal of his own. Here’s how he handled it:

We spent the night together, but there was no male-female relationship. I bear no responsibility for explaining this.

On 5 June, the Ryukyu Shimpo, a regional Okinawa newspaper, rounded up some quotes of interest to their readership:

1996:
He agreed with Hatoyama Yukio that security was possible without American forces stationed permanently in Japan.

August 2001:

The absence of Marines in Okinawa wouldn’t cause great harm to Japan’s security.

July 2003:

Rather than moving (the Futenma-based marines) inside the country, it should be easier to think of moving them somewhere in the US, such as Hawaii.

July 2001:
On the Status of Forces Agreement

Rather than improving its implementation, mustn’t we reevaluate (i.e., change) the agreement itself?

November 2003:

The vertical structure of Kasumigaseki (the bureaucracy) is horrendous. We promise to appoint a minister responsible for all aspects of the Okinawa problem at the Cabinet level.

This weekend, on the consumption tax:

I hope to indicate a direction with the new cabinet and party executives, including the manner of expression.

By expression, he means the name they give it. As our last post on Mr. Kan explained, he was interested in renaming the national tax burden the “share” or “allotment”.

Here are some more English-language quotes rounded up by Jillian Melchior of Contentions, the blog for Commentary magazine, mostly about what Japanese foreign policy might be under Mr. Kan. Alas, my fellow self-absorbed Americans still don’t get it:

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had played to populism, running his campaign partially on promises to reduce American presence in Japan.

How shall I put this?

America, it isn’t always about you. I know you like to think of yourself as the center of the universe, but most people in the rest of the world manage to live their lives without thinking about you much at all.

Had Mr. Hatoyama said absolutely nothing about the American presence in Japan during the campaign, the election result would have been identical, with the possible exception of a few seats in Okinawa.

Have you forgotten Tip O’Neill? All politics is local. Last year’s election in Japan was as local as they get.

Kan the irascible

The new prime minister’s nickname in Japanese is Ira-Kan for his notoriously short temper, and that slides nicely into English as the irascible Kan.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji has developed a personal relationship with Mr. Kan, visiting him at his home to discuss politics. He wrote on his website about one such debate:

When I argued that reform was absolutely impossible for a party that relied on public employee labor unions (i.e., the DPJ), he pounded the table with his fist so hard he smashed a teacup and bloodied his hand.

Mr. Eda says that Mr. Kan has asked him several times to work with the DPJ, but he’s refused for this particular reason. He added, “As long as Your Party is the antithesis of the 90s political reorganization, we’ll never work with a party with the philosophy of the DPJ.”

Mr. Kan has kept a low profile recently, anticipating that he would replace Hatoyama Yukio, and he’s been holding only two pressers a week. Now he’s going to have to go to two a day. Said one reporter: “It hasn’t been conveyed because he’s had so little exposure in news coverage lately, but he still sometimes looks like he’s going to explode in anger, demanding of reporters, ‘Who said such a thing’. He reportedly banged a table and shouted at some bureaucrats over the search for the secret U.S.-Japan treaty.”

Kan the republican

A post by Miyazaki Masahiro floated around the Japanese-language Internet over the weekend claiming that Kan Naoto refuses to sing the national anthem. This naturally got people upset, some more than others.

I spent some time looking for confirmation, and the only thing I could come up with was his–and the DPJ’s—opposition to the 1999 bill making the Hinomaru the national flag and Kimi ga Yo the national anthem. He proposed an amendment that kept the clause about the flag but removed Kimi ga Yo as the anthem. The DPJ and other parties of the left voted for it. They lost.

Those who can read Japanese can see some of the debate on this page, as well as the people who voted for and against it. Hatoyama Yukio spoke in the Diet in favor of Mr. Kan’s amendment against designating Kimi ga Yo as the national anthem. He justified his opposition by citing the association it has in some people’s minds with the glorification of the Imperial household during the war.

It really is time to end this charade.

The DPJ knows as well as anyone else—and better than I—that the lyrics to the song originated as a poem more than a millennium ago, and that kimi (you) referred not to the Tenno (emperor) but to one’s lover. It came to have Imperial associations later.

They know as well as anyone else the difference between shrine Shinto and the state Shinto of the war years, the reasons for the difference, and the reasons for the eventual abuse of state Shinto. They know as well as anyone else that this period in Japanese history is an exception rather than the rule.

Here’s my conclusion: Kan Naoto and the rest of the DPJ are republicans in the way the British use the term. In other words, they’re opposed to the existence of the Imperial household itself. They would still be republicans had World War II never happened. The republican position can be controversial in Britain, and it is even more so in Japan. The Japanese republicans realize they wouldn’t stand a chance with public opinion unless they played off war guilt.

There are many rational, intelligent people in Japan who can and do make the case for maintaining the Imperial traditions as the symbol of the nation. Yet they are no more interested in marching back into the Korean Peninsula than a British monarchist would be in re-colonizing India.

When the new Cabinet officially takes office, they will go to the Imperial Palace in formal dress and receive a proclamation from the Tenno. They will not swear an oath of allegiance, as is done in Britain. There, at the start of every Parliament, all the MPs take the oath: “I [name] swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”

This site shows a photo of the late Tony Banks crossing his fingers while taking the oath, which caused a bit of a ruckus. In 1998, 15 dukes, three of them from the royal family, refused to take the oath. One MP added the words “and all who sail on her” after the words Queen Elizabeth. (A funny line, isn’t it?) The British monarchists and republicans may not care for each other’s views, but everyone still soldiers on without the nation collapsing.

It’s time for Mr. Hatoyama, Mr. Kan, and others to quit griping about the song, knock off the lame excuse about the war—which gets lamer with each passing year—and just admit that they’re republicans. The “forever guilty” pose is as tiresome as it is unattractive and false.

Mr. Edano and Mr. Maehara also voted for the Kan amendment, incidentally. Whether they did so out of party loyalty, or whether they too are republicans, is not possible to know.

And, to steal a line from Detective Columbo, I almost forgot: When opposing the 1999 bill for the national flag and anthem, Mr. Hatoyama complained that only 13 hours of debate were allowed. That’s more than twice the amount of time he allowed for debate in the lower house on the Japan Post re-privatization bill last month.

Afterwords:

The photo shows Mr. Kan in 2004 making the 88-temple pilgrimage in Shikoku to atone for his failure to pay his share into the general pension fund, for which he was bounced as party leader during his first time around. Note the shaved head.

Another Cabinet minister to be bounced will be Agriculture Minister Akamatsu Hirotaka for his mishandling of the foot and mouth epidemic in Miyazaki. It isn’t just the politicos who are prone to that malady. A total of 130,000 cows and pigs will be slaughtered in that small, mostly rural prefecture, with a loss of roughly JPY 35 billion (about $US 380.3 million). It’s a major story in Japan that’s caused yet more trouble for the DPJ government, but political free-for-alls in the city get more TV time than dead animals in the country, even when the economic impact is severe.

Memo to the DPJ: I know your English-language website isn’t a priority, but don’t you think that keeping the old “You have made history!” banner is inappropriate under the circumstances? Isn’t it time you updated the site to include a national apology?

Finally, the Iconic Photos website with the picture of the MP crossing his fingers during the oath in Parliament has nothing to do with Japan, but I enjoy following the site’s posts.

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Posted in Government, History, Imperial family, International relations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Frivolous suit

Posted by ampontan on Monday, April 12, 2010

HOW MANY PEOPLE IN JAPAN know that the Yomiuri Shimbun, the country’s largest newspaper, is currently the defendant in a South Korean lawsuit? That story has been flying so well below the media radar here it might as well be a stealth story. I stumbled across the information by accident just last week, as well as the news that the judges of the Seoul Central District Court had the good sense to throw the case out. That’s not going to be the end of it, however. For some folks on the Korean Peninsula with idle minds and idle lives, there’s never going to be an end to it. The plaintiffs, a group whose name translates as the Citizens’ Political Alliance, plan to appeal.

Here’s what happened: The Yomiuri ran a report in its 15 July 2008 edition on discussions held between South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo during their summit meeting. Mr. Fukuda gave the president advance word that the Ministry of Education would include a reference in its guidelines for junior high school teachers that Takeshima, the islets in the Sea of Japan that South Korea refers to as Dokdo, was considered Japanese territory.

The newspaper quoted Mr. Lee as telling the prime minister, “That would cause problems now. I’d rather you wait.”

Some South Koreans consider this an impeachable offense.

The citizens’ group claimed that President Lee said no such thing and asked the Yomiuri for a retraction. Yomiuri blew them off and insisted their report was factual.

The group then asked the Blue House to take action against Yomiuri, but the president’s office passed on any move beyond denying the story. Finally, they filed a lawsuit against the newspaper, likely figuring they were in a win-win situation. If the court ruled in their favor, they would make the Japanese look bad. If the court ruled against them, they would make President Lee look bad.

The plaintiffs stated their case as follows:

The President couldn’t possibly have said anything like what was in the report. Our view is that Yomiuri intended to turn Dokdo into a disputed territory.

The group consists of 1,866 people, all of whom were party to the suit. They claimed the article was an infringement of the territorial rights of the South Korean people and their right to pursue happiness. They also charged that it wounded their personal pride and self-esteem.

It looks like somebody’s been studying the conduct of grievance politics in the United States.

The testimony is worth noting. The Yomiuri insisted they had several sources to confirm the story, but refused to name them. They also presented an article that appeared in the Asahi Shimbun that carried similar information. The Asahi, the Japanese newspaper of the left, is more likely to defend the Korean than the Japanese position in disputes such as these. (The Yomiuri, in contrast, has a right-of-center orientation.)

Two more frivolous suits

The Korean President’s office and the Japanese Foreign Ministry both denied the content of the Yomiuri report. Discretion really is the better part of valor, isn’t it?

No fools they, the judges ruled the plaintiffs lacked the standing to claim either defamation or damages and dismissed the case. They merely noted the presidential denials, and said that if anyone had been harmed by the report, it was him. The court also stated that upholding the suit could severely limit the role and function of public speech.

The citizens’ group immediately appealed the verdict. They plan to sue both the president and the newspaper this time and demand that the records of the meeting be made public.

What no one seems to be discussing is why a case brought by a group of South Koreans in a South Korean court against a newspaper published in Japan wasn’t summarily dismissed before testimony was taken.

In fact, if President Lee actually did say that to Prime Minister Fukuda—a reasonable assumption—it would speak well of his temperament, common sense, and historical awareness.

After all, there are excellent reasons to suspect that the South Korean government signed a secret deal with the Japanese government 45 years ago to agree to disagree on the sovereignty issue. The two countries are said to have agreed that both would recognize that the other claimed the islets as their own territory, that neither side would object when the other made a counterargument, and that it was a problem to be resolved in the future.

According to Korean sources, former President Chun Doo-hwan burned the only copy of it when he discovered its existence.

Here’s a report on the court’s ruling from the Korea Times in English, and here’s one from the Joongang Daily in Japanese. Those who read Japanese should be forewarned—you might get dizzy trying to follow the journalist as he twists the straightforward thread of the narrative into the shape of a pretzel.

Posted in International relations, Mass media, South Korea | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Filling the vacuum in Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, January 10, 2009

You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.

There are still people in my party who believe in consensus politics. I regard them as Quislings, as traitors… I mean it.

– Margaret Thatcher

NATURE ABHORS A VACUUM, they say, and politicians, despite their most unnatural behavior, are an excellent example. Whether creating two plans where none are needed, expelling vast quantities of hot air out of both sides of their mouth simultaneously, or building bridges and highways to nowhere, no professional class is quicker to promote a vacuity as the best way to fill a vacuum.

That’s why it is curious that a virtual vacuum has existed in Japan since the icebreaker of Japanese politics, Koizumi Jun’ichiro, relinquished the post of prime minister in 2006. And it’s downright mystifying that no one in Nagata-cho has seen fit to follow the map he drew of the royal road to popular acclaim and political success. Do you want to win friends and influence the Japanese electorate? Champion privatization, devolution, and sound economic policies while spurning the hacks in your own party and the meddling bureaucrats. The key element in the package was his credibility while presenting a positive vision of the future and railing against the failures of the past. That paid off in stratospheric public approval ratings and the second-highest majority in the Diet’s lower house during the postwar period.

Mr. Congeniality

Mr. Congeniality

Political success usually spawns a swarm of eager imitators, but the politicos in both the ruling coalition and the opposition seem intent on ignoring the obvious lessons and becoming unpopular and unsuccessful instead.

The post-Koizumi parade

It’s apparent now in retrospect that his immediate successor, Abe Shinzo, gave it the old college try, but failed in his effort to combine reform with party unity by pleasing the LDP insects that Mr. Koizumi squashed to the delight of the public. Mr. Abe started his first day on the job with an approval rating of 70%. That predictably plummeted to 40% as soon as he readmitted to the party the hacks Mr. Koizumi threw out for their opposition to reform and privatization.

A year later, the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy nailed shut the coffin lid on his administration by staging a de facto coup. When Mr. Abe proceeded with plans to privatize the Social Insurance Agency, the bureaucrats unleashed a preemptive strike by revealing years of back office mismanagement and blundering that left millions of pension accounts unidentifiable. In Japan, the bureaucracy often acts as a government-within-a-government with a more finely tuned sense of defending its own turf than defending the national interest.

Mr. Abe was succeeded by Fukuda Yasuo, who tended the government farm by watering down reform and letting the bureaucratic foxes back in the henhouse, particularly those from the Ministry of Finance—the ministry housing the most vicious cutthroats with the sharpest knives. Fresh off an election in which they seized control of the upper house of the Diet, the opposition chose to attack by engaging in a series of political back-alley brawls rather than demonstrate the soundness of their policies or their administrative competence. Though they failed to convince the electorate they were a reliable alternative, they did expose Mr. Fukuda as a ditherer incapable of managing a government or rallying the party to deal with the political threats. (One suspects Mr. Koizumi would have relished those battles and emerged the victor.)

After Prime Minister Fukuda was encouraged to throw in the spoon (which the Japanese throw instead of a towel), the party turned its back on Koizumian reform for good by turning to former Foreign Minister and bon vivant Aso Taro, who had long sought the job. Mr. Aso was never a bureaucratic reformer to begin with, opposing the privatization of the Postal Ministry behind the scenes. He ceded fiscal policy to Finance Ministry stalwart Yosano Kaoru, which has produced a hyper-Keynesian budget proposal based on concepts that failed miserably in the lost decade of the 1990s. LDP coalition partners New Komeito prevailed upon the government to include an unpopular stimulus rebate–modeled after the two failed American stimulus rebates offered by the most recent President Bush.

Today, the LDP old guard finds itself sailing in a mudboat on a falling tide. Higashi Junji, second in command of New Komeito, was blunt about the prospects of the Aso administration during a television interview:

“To view opinion polls and the way the public views the ruling party in baseball terms, it is as if we are in the bottom of the ninth with two out and the score 3-0. Coming from behind is of critical importance.”

Being in opposition means we’re opposed

Mr. Vitality

Mr. Vitality

In any other parliamentary democracy, this would be a golden opportunity for the opposition to slide over into the driver’s seat. But the hallmark of the Democrat Party of Japan is to never miss a chance to miss a chance. They long ago squandered the opening presented by their historic 2007 victory in the upper house. The Japanese public soon realized it was a waste of time to view the DPJ as a reliable alternative, much less look for them to deliver the reforms they want. Fewer than four months after the party seized control of the upper house, DPJ leader Ozawa Ichiro turned drama queen by quitting and then resuming party leadership within the space of three days over the issue of forming a grand coalition with the LDP. In fact, he hinted that he would bolt the party altogether, take his ball, and go play somewhere else.

While it’s true the party has finally taken a lead over the LDP in opinion polls, it isn’t because of well-crafted policies or deft political maneuvering. Despite all their splashing around, they’ve just been treading water while the LDP sank and passed them on the way down. A private DPJ poll taken last September reportedly showed that unaffiliated opposition candidates were running 10 percentage points better in some districts than the candidates the DPJ officially backed.

Reform DPJ-style

The DPJ claims they will do a better job of controlling the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. Rather than demonstrate their readiness to take the civil servants head on, however, they’ve formed an alliance with ex-LDP diehards who oppose postal privatization. They implicitly promise to reconstitute an obsolete ministry whose funds from parallel savings accounts and insurance policies financed the construction industry pork on which the Iron Triangle of the LDP, big business, and the bureaucracy fattened themselves for decades.

Abe Shinzo deserves credit for the courage to pursue the privatization of the Social Insurance Agency and paying for it with his job. In contrast, Ozawa Ichiro promised to keep it alive by merging it with another agency. Not only does he fail to match his words with deeds, he fails to match his words with other words. Cleaning up the Augean stables of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy seems to mean sweeping out the offices after a government agency moves to a different corner of Tokyo and changes its name.

In fact, Mr. Ozawa is doing an excellent imitation of a 1970s LDP machine pol, but then again, that’s how he got his start in politics. When the LDP tried to reform the agricultural sector by eliminating subsidies to small farmers—a traditional pillar of party support—Mr. Ozawa promised to restore them.

How’ s this for a retro approach? During a recent interview on the Nikoniko Video website in Akihabara, Tokyo, he said:

“Japan’s lifetime employment system is one (type of) safety net. I hope to communicate to the world this Japanese approach to capitalism using that system as the underlying premise.”

This is the political equivalent of declaring bell-bottoms, love beads, and Nehru jackets back in style. People pointed out for decades that the lifetime employment system and salaries based on seniority rather than accomplishment hindered the modernization of the private sector. Now that Japan’s corporations have finally wised up, Mr. Ozawa wants to reform them by making a U-turn.

Sick and tired

Typifying the problem with the DPJ and its boss was the latter’s response to Aso Taro’s New Year message on the 4th. Mr. Aso told the nation that his administration would stress anshin (peace of mind) and katsuryoku (vitality).

Mr. Ozawa appeared before the cameras to rebut the prime minister, but was unable to muster even a hint of a positive vibration. His all-too-typical sour response could be summarized as, “They’re bad and we’re not.”

More shocking, however, was his appearance. Everyone knows that he isn’t a healthy man, but his complexion was particularly sallow and the bags under his eyes were deep enough for a week-long business trip. He was tired and irritable, and his mouth was frozen in the shape of an inverted U. If that was how he looked after the yearend holidays, how will he fare in the year ahead?

To be blunt: Mr. Ozawa and his party’s leadership are sailing on a mudboat of their own. The closer he has come to power, the more he has come to resemble the anti-reformers of the post-Koizumi LDP–profoundly reactionary in the truest sense of the term.

The prime minister and the leader of the opposition are two tired old men surrounded by more tired old men with tired ideas a half-century out of date. The most likely successor today to Aso Taro in the LDP would be Yosano Kaoru—a cancer survivor. And no one in Japan would be surprised if Ozawa Ichiro were to drop dead of a heart attack tomorrow. It is as if the Japanese are being presented with a choice between Yuri Andropov or Konstantin Chernenko.

But taking the first steps into this vacuum are two members of the reform wing of the LDP with credentials, accomplishments, and a coherent, positive message. One is Nakagawa Hidenao, who could be called Mr. Inside for his intention to work within the party, for the time being at least. The other is Watanabe Yoshimi, who is on the verge of becoming Mr. Outside for starting off the New Year with a political bang by threatening to bolt the party unless Prime Minister Aso does what everyone knows he’s never going to do.

Nakagawa Hidenao and the Rising Tide

Mr. Inside

Mr. Inside

Nakagawa Hidenao is very clear about his policy positions. In 2006, he published a book called Ageshio no Jidai (The Rising Tide Era), in which he argues that his policies would boost Japan’s GDP to 1,000 trillion yen while reducing taxes. Last year, he published Kanryo Kokka no Hokai (The Collapse of the Bureaucratic State), in which he calls for the breakup of the Japanese bureaucracy, which he terms a “stealth complex”.

He is a proponent of small government whose “rising tide” platform has five major planks: Ending deflation, reducing government assets, cutting government expenditures, implementing systemic reform, and then–and only then–increasing taxes

The LDP zombies tried to slam the door on the Koizumi reforms by shutting Mr. Nakagawa and his allies out of the Fukuda Cabinet reshuffle on 1 August last year. But rather than stymie the reformers in the party, it seems to have given them a greater sense of urgency.

Some estimate that the LDP reform wing in both houses of the Diet numbers about 100, including the Koizumi Children. This group finds the current leadership and its policies appalling, and they’ve drawn the obvious conclusion that ignoring electoral districts in the urban areas that reflect recent demographic changes will result in the loss of their majority. Said one of these MPs off the record:

“If you look at the last election on postal privatization, even a fool would understand that…Placing all your trust in the people and then calling for a consumption tax increase before an election is not the sane thing to do.”

He added that his group considered the reshuffle a coup d’etat by the reactionaries.

“Some MPs will look at Noda Seiko and Mori Kosuke (opponents of postal privatization thrown out of the party by Mr. Fukuda and allowed to return by Mr. Abe) in the Cabinet and decide they would rather break away to form a new urban party than fight an election under the LDP banner.”

They might have some company in the wilderness. Another postal privatization opponent and political fossil Kamei Shizuka, who formed the Peoples’ New Party rather than return to the LDP, claimed last summer that some DPJ members have a yen for reform even stronger than Mr. Koizumi and his impractical ideas. (The phrase he used in Japanese was “empty desktop theories”.)

Mr. Nakagawa began to significantly raise his profile in the second half of December. Since then, he has shifted from simple criticism of the Aso administration to promoting his own ideas. He’s even developed a slogan: A 21st century New Deal. (Ironic, as his philosophy is 180 degrees away from that of FDR.) He’s become more forthright about the possibility of a pre-election political realignment. He spoke to reporters on 17 December about the Aso program for tax reform, including a boost in the consumption tax:

“I get the feeling they’re just talking about a tax increase without showing us (how to achieve) sustained economic growth. I am extremely disappointed, and I think this is extremely unreliable.”

His condition for raising taxes:

“There is no longer a clear risk of deflation and stable prices can be anticipated.”

On a TV Asahi program on the 21st, he referred to the possibility that the party would remove its support for him:

“Withholding official recognition for discussing the (presentation of a policy position) in the future is not something a political party would do. It would be best for a political party like that to die.”

Nevertheless, during a speech in Oita on the same day he said he would work within the party:

“A new party formed from a grand coalition that puts together numbers for the sake of survival would not gain the understanding of the people. I will present my vision for Japan 30 years in the future within the LDP, and after that act in accordance with my mission.”

He described his vision:

“The Koizumi reforms for revitalizing the market were unavoidable. The policy of Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ is to return to an excessively large government, and some in the ruling party (have) the same (ideas). We will conduct a policy of revitalizing regional areas to act as a third power center beyond the government and the market.”

On the morning of 4 January, Nakagawa spoke at a meeting in Hiroshima and expressed his desire to create a concentrated center for political realignment:

“We should stand together firmly on this great wave that we will create together, raise our new standard, and link that to political restructuring….The rearrangement of a new alliance will break the current political stalemate, and we must proceed to the next stage of structural reform under a new standard.”

He cited four specific areas on which he will concentrate: the environment, information and communications, long-term health care, and education.

He returned to Prime Minister Aso’s measures for the economy and quality of life, including a consumption tax increase, as the point for the next election:

“Tax increases should come after an economic recovery and after bold governmental reform. Now is not the time to talk about a tax increase. With negative economic growth forecast, talk of a tax increase could sink the economy to the rock bottom of a double-dip recession.”

When asked whether a lower house election campaign should focus on recovery or reform:

“I’ve always maintained that we should completely eliminate waste through governmental reforms. I think our priority should be to campaign on economic recovery.”

He went even further on 5 January, the first day of the regular session of the Diet, stating:

“Change must transcend the ruling and the opposition parties.”

Encountering opposition

A previous post described Mr. Nakagawa’s formation of a policy group to discuss social policies, and reports that people from the Machimura faction, particularly Abe Shinzo, joined specifically to prevent it from becoming a Nakagawa vehicle.

Mr. Outside

Mr. Outside

More than 100 people signed up for membership in this policy group, but only 32 attended the first meeting at the end of the year. That created a buzz in some quarters that his support within the party was less than imagined.

On the other hand, the meeting was held at roughly the same time that Watanabe Yoshimi was holding a press conference explaining his electrifying vote against the ruling party in the Diet, and that was the hotter ticket in town. Even close ally Koike Yuriko didn’t show up. But as we just noted, not everyone who signed up was on board to begin with. It’s also common for Japanese political groups to send scouts to meetings of this sort specifically to observe what goes on and report back to the tribal chief.

There is no question that Mr. Nakagawa is causing concern among the party leadership and the Machimura faction, the LDP’s largest. The latter group held a leadership conference on 24 December and neglected to invite him, even though he is a member. Participants at the meeting said that former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro was adamant about preventing younger party members from being led astray. This was particularly telling coming from Mr. Mori, as the two men were close at one time.

The real sign that the LDP wants to head him off at the pass, however, is the recent report surfacing in the press of a former Nakagawa aide asking the Nagoya Stock Exchange to list a company that the exchange thought didn’t qualify. Those in charge of the exchange assumed the request originated with Nakagawa, though he later fired the aide for making the request without his authorization. The president of the company in question was also arrested for breaking the corporate tax law. The Asahi Shimbun in particular is interested to see if it turns out the company financially contributed to Mr. Nakagawa. This week’s edition of the Shukan Shincho also has a story on an alleged connection between Nakagawa and the company president.

Golly, what a coincidence the story is coming out now!

But here’s the most important aspect of all: The LDP is able to effectively function in the Diet only because it has a lower house supermajority delivered by Prime Minister Koizumi in 2005. If 17 ruling party members were to revolt, the government would be unable to pass its legislation against the wishes of the opposition in the upper house, and would have little choice but to hold an election that it can’t win.

Thirty-two people were serious enough to show up for the first meeting of Mr. Nakagawa’s group. That’s almost double the number required right there. And that doesn’t begin to take into consideration the trouble that Mr. Outside, Watanabe Yoshimi, seems very anxious to stir up.

But we’ll get to him next time!

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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.

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