AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Hatoyama K.’

Is that duck just lame or is it dead?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 5, 2011

後悔先に立たず
– A Japanese proverb meaning that no matter how much one regrets an event after it is concluded, one can’t undo something that occurred because of one’s negligence or tardiness

IT NOW seems that soon-to-be former Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s attempt of political jujitsu on his co-founder of the Democratic Party of Japan will result in his spectacularly clumsy pratfall, as noise is leaking out from Democratic Party sphincters that he will resign no later than August (if we can take his word this time). It’s tempting to say that will be the perfect capstone to the career of the classic dullwit who thought he was clever, but some will disagree. One of them is Nishimura Shingo, an MP with the Sunrise Japan party, who has also passed through the LDP and the DPJ entrails:

“Kan Naoto’s finishing moves are superb. He’s an inept prime minister, but no fool. He would have been perfectly suited as an activist for the Comintern or any Communist organization.”

Another reason it wouldn’t apply is because Mr. Kan didn’t dream up that cockamamie scheme by himself. He’s not capable of it, but the roughly dozen people who did put it together knew it would appeal to him. That back story might give us a glimpse of a possible post-Kan administration. It’s not a pretty sight, but we’ll get to that shortly.

*****
Hatoyama Kunio told a journalist he thought the no-confidence motion had no chance of passing until his brother Yukio called him on 30 May. After that conversation, he began to think it just might be possible. He met former Health Minister and former LDP member Masuzoe Yoichi of the New Renaissance Party the next day and laid out the plot. Ozawa Ichiro and his allies would form a new party, but public opinion would be “very allergic” to any political group involving Mr. Ozawa. They wouldn’t be strong enough to establish a prime minister on their own, so they would team up with the LDP to support a new Prime Minister Masuzoe.

Mr. Masuzoe liked the sound of that.

Meanwhile, on the night of 1 June, People’s New Party chief Kamei Shizuka phoned Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio:

Kamei: “Is it your intention to self destruct? Do it (tell him to resign) if you have to grab the prime minister by the neck.

Edano: “I’m thinking of telling him.”

Perhaps bored with completing the assembly of his shiny new political toy, however, Hatoyama Yukio kept hope alive that he could talk Mr. Kan into stepping down. Later that night 10 people met at the Kantei and hatched a plot to leverage that hope to their benefit. The draft of the document to which Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Kan agreed the next day was hammered out under the direction of Sengoku Yoshito and Edano Yukio, the former and current chief cabinet secretaries. Both men were attorneys before entering politics, which explains why the memorandum and Mr. Kan’s insistence on following it to the letter had the stench of the barrister about it.

Naoto explaining on the 3rd how he put one over on his pal Yukio

Several wheels were spinning in different directions simultaneously. The primary objective was to kill the no confidence motion and stay in power — any other solution hastens the day they return to the opposition benches. They decided to heave Mr. Ozawa and his allies from the party if 40-50 of his DPJ allies crossed the line and voted for the motion. That would allow them to retain their lower house majority and get rid of the Great Destroyer at last. DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya wanted to X him out before the vote, but Koshi’ishi Azuma, head of the party’s delegation in the upper house, said in effect, over my dead body. (Personal loyalty can sometimes be thicker than ideology. A teachers’ union veteran, Mr. Koshi’ishi’s philosophy of the left is closer to that of Messrs. Kan, Sengoku, and Edano, but he’s developed close ties with Mr. Ozawa in their efforts to make the DPJ a serious political party.)

The group planned to eject the rebels even if the no-confidence motion passed. That would cause the loss of their lower house majority, but they had something clever planned for that one, too. Option C was reportedly a time-limited coalition government with the LDP and New Komeito. The Sengoku Reconstruction and Recovery Cabinet — steady, steady — would also work for entry into the TPP and the return of multiple-seat election districts that the LDP and New Komeito seek.

In short, the government would be directed by a man who is every bit as odious as Kan Naoto, but more dangerous because of his intelligence and capabilities. Bringing back the old electoral system would be a step in the direction of bringing back the bad old politics of the past. It would greatly expedite recovery and reconstruction, but at a price higher than the outlay in yen.

Worse yet, it’s still possible. And Mr. Sengoku is the man the opposition absolutely positively could not work with six months ago.

The primary objective, however, was to dupe Mr. Hatoyama and keep Mr. Kan around for awhile without having to resort to a drastic political realignment. The final wording of the memorandum was worked out between Hirano Hirofumi, Mr. Hatoyama’s chief cabinet secretary, and Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi, who selflessly found the time to spare from his duties of protecting the nation from foreign attack.

Mr. Hirano and Mr. Okada were present during the Hatoyama-Kan meeting. Here’s how the conversation is said to have gone:

Hatoyama: Will you resign when the basic recovery bill is passed and the outlook is established for the second supplementary budget?

Kan: Yes. I agree.

Hatoyama: In that case, please sign here.

Kan: We’re members of the same party, so please trust me. I’m not that attached to the position of prime minister.

*****
After the meeting, Mr. Hatoyama reported on the conversaton to Ozawa Ichiro:

Ozawa: How far did you press him?

Hatoyama: I’ll talk about that at the (party) meeting.

Following the vote that rejected the motion, Mr. Hatoyama spoke with some allies as they waited for an elevator in the Diet office building:

“We still can’t let down our guard. If he doesn’t keep his promise, we’ll have to convene a meeting of (our) Diet members with 150 — no — 250 people.”

*****
Wrote freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken:

“Immediately after the DPJ was created, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio bluntly told me that Mr. Kan could not be trusted. Several times after that, he grumbled that he had been deceived by Mr. Kan. Was he fooled by Prime Minister Kan Naoto again?”

Is the Emperor Shinto?

*****
Mr. Kan appeared for Question Time in the Diet on Friday. Ono Jiro of Your Party came straight to the point:

Ono: When you held your discussion with former Prime Minister Hatoyama, did the commitment to resign arise?

Kan: I, somehow, under this condition…uh…the idea that I made some promise, if you’re talking about the idea that I made that promise, there was absolutely no promise like that at all.

That was his story, and he stuck to it:

“I said it in the sense of the stage when the outlook for heading in the direction of creating a new society, that direction…Our party has many exceptional people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Then I will pass the responsibility on to them, and hope they do their best.”

And:

“In my conversation with former Prime Minister Hatoyama, there was no sort of promise other than what was written on that document with the items of agreement…the agreement with Mr. Hatoyama was as written on that document. I think it best if I refrain from saying anything beyond that.”

One can visualize Sengoku and Edano, attorneys at law, advising him to clam up on any question beyond the language of the memo.

The news media loved what happened next. Here’s Hatoyama Yukio:

“That’s a lie. The prime minister and I discussed the conditions for resignation.”

Over to you, Naoto:

(shouting) “What’s he saying! That’s not written on the paper!”

Former MP Yokohama Mayor Nakata Hiroshi summed up the exchange:

“When I heard the story about a resignation after the outlook for recovery was set, I thought the Ozawa-Hatoyama side and the Kan side purposely made it vague to prevent a DPJ split. Now I see they’re just trading charges and counter-charges over who said what. This was not a political decision by adults. It’s something even lower than children’s squabbling.”

A Hatoyama associate, probably Mr. Hirano again, told the media:

“In the conversation with the prime minister, the idea that he would hand over authority to the younger generation didn’t come up at all. He added that later.”

Speaking of Hirano Hirofumi, he got a call from Koshi’ishi Azuma berating him for not pinning Mr. Kan down more precisely.

*****
Matsuda Kota of Your Party, the head of a private sector company himself, had this to write about Hatoyama Yukio:

“If Mr. Hatoyama were the head of a private sector company, that company would collapse in an instant. (There would also be a shareholders lawsuit). If he were just a salaryman, he would be immediately fired as an employee incapable of doing his job. That a person such as he was the leader of a country gives me chills down my spine. That the memo had the recovery listed only as the third point clearly shows what they were thinking. The most important thing for them was maintaining their government. Japan cannot be entrusted to that sort of government.”

Many in the DPJ soon realized the quick fix only made matters worse. Party Vice-President Ishii Hajime spoke an officers’ meeting on the night of 2 June:

“The Kan Cabinet is now a lame duck administration, and the focus is on when they will quit. We should resolve to make arrangements with the opposition to have the Cabinet quit with the passage of the legislation for the special bond issue, the second supplementary budget, and the basic recovery law.”

After the meeting, he told the news media:

“I want to go to the Kantei with Koshi’ishi Azuma on the 3rd and tell the prime minister that the road left open to him is an honorable withdrawal.”

Too late for the part about honor, but with Kan Naoto the soap has to be very soft.

Then again, Mr. Kan was making matters much worse for himself. On the night of the 2nd, he was asked about extending the Diet session. Just a week ago, he wanted to finish early to save himself. Now he wanted to prolong it to save himself:

“If we were to respond to the opinion of the people that they want us to be able to debate necessary issues in the Diet at any time, then in fact we would have a year-round diet, until some point in December.”

It helps to know that it’s against the rules to submit more than one no-confidence motion in one Diet session.

Some people couldn’t understand all the brouhaha. Here’s Kan ally and Justice Minister Eda Satsuki:

“This was a high-level discussion between two politicians, so they didn’t decide every last detail.”

Yes, the Minister of Justice of a nation thinks it’s copacetic for written agreements to be vague and open to different interpretations.

Financial Services Minister Yosano Kaoru was more philosophical:

“It’s natural that a politician would strive to remain in his position.”

Fukushima Mizuho, head of the Social Democrats, said what a leftist lawyer would be expected to say:

“I thought (the memorandum) was a declaration to stay in office. There’s no difference between his afternoon statement and his evening statement…Isn’t Mr. Hatoyama misunderstanding what happened?”

Edano Yukio is another bird of that feather, but he has to be more diplomatic because he’s also the chief cabinet secretary:

“I don’t think either of them is intentionally saying something different than the facts of the matter. The gap in awareness is regrettable. We must work to ensure there is no political turmoil.”

Once again, someone in the DPJ sees the horse galloping into the next county and decides it would be best to close the barn door. Speaking of turmoil, here’s LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu on the 3rd:

“We will cooperate to pass a basic law of recovery. Other than that, cooperation is impossible.”

And New Komeito Secretary General Inoue Yoshihisa that same morning answering a question about upper house censure:

“That is of course one method that will be fully considered at the appropriate time.”

An upper house censure is non-binding, but upper house President Nishioka Takeo would be happy to see Mr. Kan evaporate. Refusing to call the house into session or to allow the prime minister entry are binding in their own way.

The prime minister’s problems extended to well within his own party. Reported Toyama Kiyohiko of New Komeito:

“DPJ Diet members I know told me that Mr. Kan promised to resign in a month or two, which is why most of the DPJ members voted against the motion. When he tried to extend it until the resolution of Fukushima and came up with the idea of extending the diet until December, it was a broken promise. He has no support in the party.

“When Prime Minister Kan duped his colleague, he made it very likely a censure motion will pass in the upper house in the near future. If the DPJ can’t bring him down, he’ll be prohibited from entering the upper house chamber. At that point the government will come to a standstill. If he’s kept the Diet in session all year, he cannot extend his political life. Yesterday was the beginning of the end for Prime Minister Kan.”

*****
Upper house member Yamamoto Ichita questioned the prime minister and some of his deputies during Question Time on the 3rd. An aide to another MP took notes. He said the records would have to be checked for the precise wording, but it was close to the actual exchange. Here it is in English:

Yamamoto: Is it fair to say you expressed your intention to step down, to resign at the DJP Diet members’ conference?

Kan: That expression (swindler) is not appropriate….I want it to be understood (about resignation) as being at the stage when I have fulfilled a certain role that I should perform — until I have fulfilled my responsibility and the prospects have been set to a certain extent —

Yamamoto: At your news conference on the night of the 2nd, you said nothing about resigning or stepping down. Did you express your intention to step down or resign?

Kan: None of the people in the media are in a position to say this or that about which expression I used

Yamamoto: That isn’t an answer. You won’t resign until next January, right? You won’t resign until next January?

Kan: It is a fact that the mass media has taken my words at the news conference in different ways, but…

Yamamoto: What you meant by the outlook being established to a certain extent is the end of the cooling at Fukushima, isn’t it? When the media reported your intention to resign, you became a lame duck both at home and abroad. The special legislation for the government bonds and the second supplementary budget will be the work of the next prime minister. It isn’t possible for you to dispose of these pending matters. Please set a deadline.

Kan: I said exactly what I said.

Yamamoto: You have no intention of resigning, right? If you can’t say you are stepping down, that’s fraudulent.

Mr. Yamamoto switched to Vice Minister for Internal Affairs and Communication Watanabe Shu:

Yamamoto: Why did you resign?

Watanabe: The prime minister announced his intention to resign. I listened to his speech at the DPJ Diet members’ meeting, and since the prime minister was thinking of resigning, I saw no need to vote for the no confidence motion. I thought the prime minister would resign when the outlook for recovery were set.

Yamamoto: The prime minister has not said he would resign or step down.

Then to Hidaka Takeshi, parliamentary environment secretary:

Yamamoto: Mr. Hidaka, did you envision that situation when you switched your vote to nay? Or did you think that he would step down soon?

Hidaka: I submitted my resignation for the sake of stronger leadership. The prime minister said in public he would resign. I voted no because I sensed his resolve (to help) the damaged area.

Yamamoto: When you heard the intent to resign, did you think he would resign imminently?

Hidaka: I didn’t know how long it would be, but I sensed his resolve.

Back to the prime minister:

Yamamoto: You haven’t said you intend to resign or step down, but what is a rough date for you to leave?

Kan: Outlook is a commonly used word. It’s common sense that the word means there would be a certain interval.

Yamamoto: You’re not answering at all. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama thinks you’ll step down by the end of June. Is he lying?

Kan: I, in my own words…

Yamamoto: That’s the same as saying Mr. Hatoyama is mistaken, is lying, or misunderstood. Who is correct, Mr. Hatoyama or Mr. Okada?

Kan: Both Mr. Hirano and Mr. Okada were at the meeting with Mr. Hatoyama. Mr. Okada is expressing his awareness from that viewpoint. My agreement with Mr. Hatoyama is as written in the document.

Yamamoto: Mr. Hatoyama is saying that if you claim your promise to him was a lie, your only course is to resign. What do you think?

Kan: in regard to the current question, my awareness is the same as Mr. Okada’s.

Yamamoto: So you’re saying that Mr. Hatoyama is mistaken. You won’t even admit that you said you’d step down. Can a prime minister who’s told the world he’ll quit properly conduct foreign policy?…It’s not possible for the government and the opposition to cooperate under a Kan administration.

*****
It didn’t take a weathervane for Edano Yukio to figure out which way the wind was blowing. When asked again about a Kan resignation, he said “It won’t be that long.“ Fukushima Mizuho thought that was a critical development. Others echoed her sentiments when another Cabinet member, Matsumoto Ryu, the Minister for the Environment and Disaster Management said: “In my mind it is by the end of June. The outlook for recovery should be quickly established.”

*****
Abiru Rui is assigned to cover the Kantei for the Sankei Shimbun. Mr. Kan dislikes him so much he refuses to call on him at news conferences, and the feeling is mutual. Even discounting that, however, the reporter likely expressed the thoughts of many, if not most people:

“It’s difficult to describe just how stupid and loopy Mr. Hatoyama is. The prime minister twisted him around his finger when he pretended he would resign soon, and used that to extend the life of his Cabinet. Prime Minister Kan betrayed both the compatriots of his own party and the people of the country. His shabby behavior is at a level that does not withstand scrutiny.

“He told the people around him that he wanted to leave his name in history, and that’s exactly what will happen. The ignobility of his character is at such an unprecedented, isolated extreme, it will not be extinguished from the people’s memory even if they try. I cannot understand the emotions of people who would support this humanoid picture of cheap, cowardly meanness. I don’t even want to.”

Also expressing the thoughts of many was an anonymous first term DPJ member of the lower house speaking to a reporter:

“I have a feeling that the end of the DPJ has only just begun.”

Afterwords:

* The Asahi English edition recommends that the prime minister “exit gracefully”. They apparently chose their Deep Space correspondent to write the editorial.

* My father used to say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Had it not been for his shameless behavior as DPJ party head and prime minister, Mr. Hatoyama would have qualified for induction into the Hall of Shame long ago.

During his term as prime minister, which seems about 500 years ago now, I wrote that he was the first junior high school girl to serve as Japan’s prime minister. (Kan Naoto is the first junior high school boy.) An acquaintance of former U.S. President Warren Harding once observed that if Harding had been a girl, he would always have been “in the family way”. I suspect that would equally apply to Hatoyama Yukio.

* Were you surprised to read that Matsumoto Ryu was the Minister for Disaster Management? Most of Japan would be, too. Mr. Matsumoto is one of the DPJ’s Socialist Party refugees. Because his father made a mint in the construction industry, he’s also one of the wealthiest men in the Diet. (Yes, the Limousine Left swanks about in the streets of Japan, too.) He’s such a chowderhead they had to bring back Sengoku Yoshito and give him the de facto job while allowing Mr. Matsumoto to sit by the window. Appointing him to the position was a party favor, in both senses of the phrase, but even they weren’t about to let him do any real work.

Such capable stewards of the nation’s affairs, the DPJ.

* When Yokokume Katsuhito quit the DPJ last week, he said the party no longer had a reason to exist because it had fulfilled its historical mission. By that he meant breaking the LDP stranglehold on power. They’ve also accomplished one more signal achievement. Ozawa Ichiro might be fading from the scene at last. Mr. Ozawa had a party with his younger Diet allies on the night the no-confidence motion failed at a karaoke bar to commiserate. He was in reasonably good spirits, and tried to buck them up by telling them they had accomplished quite a bit even though they lost. No one got down and partied, however. Those present told reporters that no one picked up a microphone and sang.

The Nikkei Shimbun added a telling detail. Some of the MPs came late to the party and some left early, but Mr. Ozawa stayed to the end. Were the Destroyer of Worlds still both respected and feared for his power, no one would have been late to come or early to go.

* Surely the long-suffering Japanese people wish they could live under a political system like the one in Great Britain or the United States. It is curious that Americans are so quick to issue dire warnings about the Japanese economy, while it takes a foreign newspaper to point out the tsunami-sized destruction at home they’re too frightened too look at.

*****
Another worthless politician, another worthless piece of paper

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Goodbye hello

Posted by ampontan on Friday, June 3, 2011

大山鳴動して鼠一匹
– The great mountain rumbles and brings forth a mouse (Japanese proverb)

Kan Naoto's impersonation of Foster Brooks

ON THURSDAY 2 June, the opposition no-confidence motion was voted down in the lower house of the Diet at about 3:30 p.m., even though just before lunch it seemed as if it would be carried. Here’s what people had to say about the day’s events.

Before the vote

Prime Minister Kan Naoto spoke with a group of DPJ and LDP Diet members in the Kantei on the night of 1 June:

“I and others of the baby boomer generation will withdraw. We want you to create a new Diet.”

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, when asked about the possibility he would leave the DPJ:

“Rather, I think we must renew the Democratic Party. It was not my intention to create this sort of Democratic Party.”

Nishioka Takeo, president of the upper house and DPJ veteran who backed the no-confidence motion:

“I think this opportunity today will be a turning point for overcoming the national crisis.”

Former chief cabinet secretary and current deputy chief cabinet secretary Sengoku Yoshito on Ozawa Ichiro, one of the two primary leaders of the rebellion:

“We will not be able to maintain the parliamentary cabinet system with people of that sort, who are out of control.”

Former DPJ president and defense minister Maehara Seiji on the no-confidence motion:

“This is not for the greater good.”

Aisawa Ichiro of the LDP:

“We submitted this motion in the belief that it was the best choice for the state and the people. This will be an important day from the perspective of thinking about the future of Japan and its politics.”

Prof. Kobayashi Yoshiaki of Keio University:

“In view of conditions in the Tohoku region and the Supreme Court decision (on the unconstitutionality of the difference in district sizes), I do not understand why politicians can make the judgment that it is appropriate to dissolve the Diet and hold a general election.”

Miyazaki Gov. Murai Yoshihiro on the motion:

“I hope they avoid it, because it would pointlessly create a political vacuum…there’s a shortage of people in the coastal area, and we can’t even issue a verification of damage. Making us create a new registry of voters would be inhumane…

On Prime Minister Kan’s threat to call an election:

“An election is physically impossible. I’m astonished that even though he’s been to the area and seen the damage for himself, he would say that without taking (the situation) into consideration.”

Before addressing the DPJ Diet members’ meeting at noon, Mr. Hatoyama met with Mr. Kan and talked him into resigning at an unspecified date —- something he was unable to do the previous day. Here’s the full text of the memorandum to which they agreed, as released by the news media:

* To not destroy the DPJ
* To not allow the return to an LDP government
* To have a sense of responsibility for rebuilding the earthquake-damaged area and saving the victims.
1. Establish a basic law for recovery
2. Establish the prospects for formulating the second supplementary budget

Most people think they listed their priorities in the order of importance to them. Everyone noticed right away that the document contains nothing about a resignation.

The two men then addressed the DPJ meeting at around noon, and Mr. Hatoyama announced he was changing his vote. That’s when everyone knew it was all over but the shouting — of which there was quite a bit during the later Diet debate.

Matsuda Kota, Your Party upper house member and the founder of Tully’s Coffee Japan, when he heard the news:

“Prime Minister Kan brought up three points at the DPJ Diet members’ meeting: (1) Expend every effort for rebuilding and recovery (2) Not split the DPJ (3) Not hand over the government to the LDP. Those are not objectives, those are one person’s wishes. Other than (1), none of them make any difference to the people.”

Kumagai Yutaka, LDP upper house member:

“There’s already no prospect (for recovery). That’s why we’re demanding he step down.”

The no-confidence motion was defeated by a vote of 293-152. Seventy DPJ MPs showed up for a meeting with Ozawa Ichiro the night before in an apparent expression of intent to vote for it, but only two did. They were former Agriculture Minister Matsuki Kenko, an Ozawa supporter, and 29-year-old Yokokume Katsuhito. The party intends to kick both of them out, though Mr. Yokokume already quit the party in disgust last week.

A total of 33 MPs weren’t present for the vote, 17 of whom were from the DPJ, including Ozawa Ichiro and Tanaka Makiko, Kakuei’s daughter and former Foreign Minister in the first Koizumi Cabinet. There is some sentiment for booting them out too, but a decision on that has been postponed.

After the vote

Prime Minister Kan:

“Well, that was good.”

LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu:

“He made absolutely no reference to when the prospect for recovery would be established. This is nothing but a farce.”

Toyama Kiyohiko of New Komeito, whose party voted for the motion:

“Rather than declare he would resign, Prime Minister Kan declared he would stay in office. There’s a problem with the news media reporting.”

Kumagai Yutaka:

“The mass media is showing captions on TV calling it a declaration of resignation, but what is the basis for that?”

Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi:

“The prime minister didn’t specify when he would resign. Unless a deadline is reached, the incentive will be for him to be to prolong it. We can’t have that sort of irresponsible politics.”

On the last-minute change of mind by Mr. Hatoyama and his former Internal Affairs Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro, who the day before said he was ready to vote for the motion and leave the party:

“They just created a disturbance to bring down Prime Minister Kan. Their motives were impure.”

When he saw which way the vote would go, Mr. Ozawa told his supporters they were free to vote as they wished:

“We’ve gotten something out of him (Kan Naoto) that we’ve never been able to get before, so it’s probably best to leave (the resignation) up to him.”

Mr. Hatoyama was asked several times when Mr. Kan promised to step down, as some people thought they were just blowing smoke.

“He won’t be staying until the secondary budget is passed, it’s when the prospects are there for the early formulation of the budget. That will happen in mid-June.”

And:

“I reached an agreement with the Prime Minister to step down when the prospects are established for formulating the second supplementary budget. I don’t think it’s that far off. Summer is too long.”

And:

“The content of the second supplementary budget will be decided by about the end of June. In other words, the outlook for its passage will have been established.”

That’s not what DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya said, however:

“Former Prime Minister Hatoyama’s statement about the passage of a second supplementary budget and a basic law for recovery are not conditions for the resignation.”

That’s not what Financial Services Minister Yosano Kaoru said either:

“(Prime Minister Kan) did not use the word “resign”. It’s not as if he reached an agreement with the opposition parties to resign.”

The Asahi Shimbun was confused:

“The prime minister has already said several times that he expects to formulate the second supplementary budget sometime around August, and then submit it to the Diet. He’s also said that he thinks the problems at Fukushima will be resolved by next January at the latest.

Seko Hiroshige, LDP upper house member:

“He’ll resign when there’s an outlook for a response to the earthquake and the nuclear disaster? I think he’ll stay put with the excuse that there’s no outlook in sight.”

Kakizawa Mito, Your Party MP:

“Here’s the reason I can’t trust the Kan Cabinet. No matter how often he says something, he doesn’t do it. Even though he understands, and he’s been warned that a situation will grow serious without a change of approach, he can’t do anything to prevent it. Then, when it happens, he gets angry. That pattern keeps repeating itself. It’s really futile. The damaged region will continue to suffer if a change is not made.”

Maehara Seiji:

“I have extremely mixed feelings about this. Just because the motion was defeated doesn’t mean we’ve settled anything. There’s no change in the problem of the legislation for the special government bonds and other issues. We’re really going to have to rack our brains.”

People outside the political world also had some choice words:

Kurogane Hiroshi, manga artist:

“They talk about the great mountain rumbling and producing a mouse, but this didn’t even produce a mouse. What was this slapstick of the past few days all about? The people have a sense of powerlessness and exhaustion over the DPJ’s lack of ability to conduct the affairs of government. Though they’ve been spiritually beaten, the people who suffered in the disaster have suffered even further by being shown this farce.

“Prime Minister Kan said he would resign, without specifying when he would resign. The people won’t have any expectations for a lame duck prime minister to begin with, and it’s not possible for him to manage Diet affairs. It would have been better to make a change at the top. Mr. Hatoyama, who lent his power to Prime Minister Kan…Mr. Ozawa, who misread the situation…and the LDP, who couldn’t corner that DPJ. If politics of this sort continue, the people will suffer a real misfortune.”

Rengo Chairman Koga Nobuaki, the largest support group for the DPJ:

“The DPJ has not developed into a ruling party of government….Just because the no-confidence motion wasn’t adopted doesn’t mean anyone should raise their hands and shout hallelujah, or say they’re relieved. Unity is not that simple a matter.”

On the motion:

“The act of submitting a no-confidence motion itself at this time means they’re completely divorced from the sense of the people. I am angry at the lack of (good) politics in this situation, and deeply regret it.”

Back to Matsuda Kota:

“I’ve never been as disappointed in Japan’s politicians as I am today. All those Diet members who said they’d support the motion until just a few hours beforehand — how impressive of them to calmly mount the podium and cast their nay votes! More for the party than for the country, more for their faction than for their party, and more for themselves than for their faction.

“Were they afraid of losing their seats in a general election? Were they afraid of being disciplined by the party? Just who was it who shouted that Japan would never recover unless Prime Minister Kan stepped down. If it’s so easy for you to stick your finger up and wait to see which way the wind is blowing, don’t put on airs and tell other people what you think. Don’t make any comments for the TV or mass media. Don’t say anything that would confuse the people.

“This was really pathetic.”

The Metrosexual Faction of the DPJ

At a post-vote news conference, reporters asked Mr. Haraguchi why he changed his mind in less than 24 hours:

“Going along with an opposition no-confidence motion is the path of evil.”

They also asked him whether he would be a candidate to replace Kan Naoto when the latter stepped down:

“I don’t know whether I have the qualifications, but if I’m asked, I won’t run away.”

Freelance journalist Nitta Tamaki:

“Just what sort of a man is Hatoyama Yukio? He couldn’t do anything when he was prime minister, he talks smooth, and he’s the DPJ’s posturing millionaire.”

On what almost happened instead:

“His brother Kunio can’t figure out Yukio. A few days ago, he asked Masuzoe Yoichi to join them in a new party.”

Mr. Kan at a news conference at 9:00 p.m., on when he would resign. Emphasis mine:

“We must be headed toward recovery and reconstruction, and have the second supplementary budget for 2011 for reconstruction. I said (I would resign) when there are prospects for moving in the direction of building a new society.”

Finally, one of the two DPJ rebels, Yokokume Katsuhito, who left the party last week. He’s wise beyond his years:

“I am extremely appreciative and thankful for the help I received from everyone in the DPJ. But beyond that, I daresay the DPJ has already completed its historical role, and the meaning for its existence has been lost.”

Afterwords:

Even Richard Nixon resigned when it was time to go. Kan Naoto is incapable of even that.

Politicians who think they can contribute to “building a new society” have demonstrated by that statement their unfitness for public office.

Some in the DPJ were pleased at their victory and the large vote margin. That is akin to expressing marvel at one’s particularly large and well-formed bowel movement.

Some still think it’s possible the Hatoyama Brothers will create a new party using their money, Ozawa Ichiro’s retail political skills, and Masuzoe Yoichi, former LDP Health Minister, as prime minister.

*****
“I can stay until it’s time to go.”

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Stayin’ alive

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, May 21, 2011

One of the themes of the play was that the country itself is much too good for politics, especially when politicians seek to govern it by serving their own selfish ends.
– Andrew Ferguson on the David Mamet play, November

It would require more than one person to count the reasons most of Japan wishes Prime Minister Kan would curl up into a ball and roll under the couch. Ten fingers on two hands are just not enough. A consensus has rapidly developed, however, that the prime minister’s most serious offense has been to ignore his party’s slogan of putting people’s lives first by putting his Cabinet’s life first instead.

It would also require more than ten fingers to count the specific examples of that behavior, but the most recent and the most egregious is Mr. Kan’s decision to end the current Diet session on 22 June without addressing the second supplementary budget for the reconstruction of the Tohoku area and the relief of those displaced by the earthquake/tsunami. He now thinks it will be August before his government can get around to it. Everyone else thinks that he knows the longer the Diet is in session, the more quickly he’ll fulfill his manifest destiny of becoming a footnote to history.

And yes, consensus is the right word. One of the prime minister’s most prominent defenders, the Asahi Shimbun, stuck this headline above an article that appeared on page 4 of their print edition on 17 May:

PM hints at postponement of second supplementary budget; will adjourn the session to outrun the Diet

Then there was the Jiji news agency this week:

Adjourning the Diet session, even to the extent of postponing the disposition of important matters, also has the objective of nipping in the bud factors that create instability for the government, such as the Dump Kan movement.

And the funky downmarket ZakZak:

To stifle the simmering Dump Kan movement in Nagata-cho, Prime Minister Kan Naoto postponed the submission of the second supplementary budget for Tohoku earthquake relief until August, and plans to adjourn the current session early on 22 June.

During Question Time in the Diet, LDP MP Shiozaki Yasuhisa, the chief cabinet secretary in the first Abe cabinet, asked:

“Do you think the first supplementary budget is sufficient?”

The prime minister answered:

“The local governments in the affected area will submit reconstruction budgets in July or August. It is necessary to incorporate local opinion (in the budget). Next, I envision a large supplementary budget for reconstruction. I want to think of the Diet’s approach, keeping in mind that local discussion is necessary. We must be careful not to be too hasty with the major enterprise of reconstruction.”

Mr. Shiozaki followed that up with the charge that ending the Diet session on 22 June was an affront to the affected area, but Mr. Kan only repeated that local discussion was necessary.

Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP has an aide who is perhaps the best blogger in Japan. The aide wonders why local opinion is needed to provide for the living expenses of the people in the shelters, who now will have to stay there through the summer. He also remarked that the prime minister’s interest in ‘the major enterprise of reconstruction’ sounds more like a developer than someone concerned with the people still living in shelters. Finally, he speculated that Mr. Kan is holding the people in the shelters hostage to buy time for a tax increase.

The prime minister’s attitude was the tipping point for LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu. He said the primary opposition party will submit a no-confidence motion if the government doesn’t submit a second supplementary budget during this Diet session.

Incidentally, the early adjournment of the Diet will also prevent the passage of legislation enabling the government to issue the debt instruments for this year’s budget, assuming they can get the bills through the upper house.

Speaking of the upper house, the chamber’s president Nishioka Takeo reached his tipping point long ago. We’ve already seen that Mr. Nishioka called for Kan Naoto’s resignation, an unprecedented step for a man in his position, not to mention a man with the same party affiliation. He said:

“When I look at his response to the Tohoku earthquake, I wonder what Prime Minister Kan is thinking. It is not a question of whether I like him or dislike him. Now, I am unable to see any sign at all that he knows what he must say or do as a prime minister.”

Mr. Nishioka wrote an op-ed for the Yomiuri Shimbun that again calls on Mr. Kan to resign, and offers six reasons why he should do so. It serves as a representative expression for the national dissatisfaction with Mr. Kan’s conduct of affairs, so here’s a quick and dirty translation of some excerpts.

*****
“Prime Minister Kan, you should resign immediately. There are many people who agree with my opinion: the people who suffered in the Tohoku earthquake, the people who had to be evacuated due to the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, many citizens, all the opposition parties, and even Diet members of the ruling party. In addition, the chief executives and assembly members of local governments both distrust you and are uneasy about you.

“There’s a reason there have been few overt calls for your resignation. When serious problems arise that are beyond the scope of the administration of national government, and events proceed from there, it is generally agreed that replacing the person with the ultimate responsibility would be an extraordinary step. But after the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March, you have continued to abdicate your duties as prime minister. That is what is extraordinary.

“In fact, you abdicated your responsibilities during the incident with the Chinese fishing boat in the Senkakus last year. From that we can see you have no awareness of the prime minister’s duties for the conduct of the national business.

“There is a Japanese expression that serves as a counterargument to the anger I feel toward you: Don’t change horses in a swift current. I agree with those sentiments. That assumes, however, that the horse is valiantly striving in a desperate effort to overcome and move beyond the rapid currents.

“But you have no sense of crisis, no resolve, and no means to deal with the problems. In my judgment, the current dangers are greater than that of changing the horse in a rapid current.”

Here are the six problems he cites:

1. “Why did you not immediately declare a national emergency after 11 March and pass the relevant legislation? Instead, you created a lot of councils and brought confusion to the chain of command.”

He adds that the mobilization of 100,000 Self-Defense Forces without convening the national Security Council, established to deliberate responses to national emergencies in addition to national defense issues, ignored the law.

2. “The nuclear accident is a matter of great international interest. It was a serious error in judgment for you to have refused to ask for help from the American military during the initial stages. As it stands now, there is no prospect for you to finish the job of dealing with the accident.”

3. “The urgent business now is to provide any means of finding places for the people in the shelters to live, including temporary structures and vacant public housing or rental units, as well as setting up a system for their medical care. It’s not for you to say that you’ll put it off until early August.”

4. “Cleaning up the unimaginable wreckage is a greater task than anticipated, but the rainy season will soon complicate matters. With that as a deadline, your government should already have developed the blueprints for a new national land plan, an urban plan, a forestry and fisheries plan, a plan for rebuilding MSBEs and microenterprises, and a new educational environment.”

5. “You should have swallowed hard and given everyone in the country accurate and truthful information. I suspect both Tokyo Electric and you knew that a meltdown had occurred, which was to be expected.”

6. “Your political method is to put everything off until later. You have offered no deadlines for dealing with most of the issues I cited above. You hastily came out with a new schedule when criticism mounted, but it lacks a budgetary basis.”

“If these problems are beyond the capabilities of your government, you should depart immediately. At this rate, it is no longer possible to explain your behavior by regarding it as the means for your government to continue. Rather, is it not the manner of someone who would ‘clean his own wounds with the blood of other people’? Our country is facing an enormous amount of problems both in foreign affairs, and in domestic affairs, such as pensions. I do not think you have the ability to deal with them.

“In view of my long political experience I am heartbroken over my responsibility in having created the Kan administration.”

(End translation)

*****
This article appeared in the 19 May edition of the Yomiuri — on Page 6 in the international news section. Some people are wondering why the Yomiuri chose to put it there, instead of in the national news section. Itagaki Eiken, a somewhat eccentric commentator who once covered the Kantei for the Mainichi Shimbun, thinks that the Americans are still meddling in Japanese domestic politics. He writes that the Yomiuri’s placement of the article suggests they have caught on to the wish of the American government that Mr. Kan be replaced.

Of course that’s childish conspiracy mongering and couldn’t possibly have any basis in the real world. Why, just this Tuesday, playwright Hirata Oriza was in Seoul to deliver a speech at the request of the Japanese embassy. Mr. Hirata is employed at the Chief Cabinet Secretariat and was Hatoyama Yukio’s primary speechwriter when the latter was prime minister.

The embassy wanted him to downplay Korean fears of radiation and help boost tourism. The South Koreans had to deal with some problems of their own as the result of global hysteria. Buyers in The Netherlands, for example, demanded that three exporting agricultural companies in Gyeongsangbuk Province conduct tests of three types of mushrooms to verify they weren’t contaminated by radiation. Those companies exported mushrooms to 17 countries in 2010 and earned $US 9.4 million. The ‘shrooms were expected to pass with flying colors, but it required an unnecessary expenditure of time and money. Other mushroom exporters from Gyeonggi Province had to deal with similar demands from the Dutch and the Germans. Why?

Because they were “close to Japan”.

The South Koreans criticized the Japanese government for releasing water contaminated by radiation into the sea without any advance notice. (The Japanese Foreign Ministry gave three hours notice to foreign embassies at a news briefing, but the ambassadors from South Korea and Russia were unable to attend.) Mr. Hirata explained that the release was made “at the strong request of the US government”.

Oh.

When reporters asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio to confirm the story, he replied that he didn’t know exactly what Mr. Hirata said. He would have to talk to Mr. Hirata first and find out. Translated into normal speech from the cant of the flybait class, that means, “Couldn’t Hirata keep his mouth shut? How the hell do we spin our way out of this one?”

*****
Speaking of Hatoyama Yukio, the media’s curiosity was piqued when he returned a day early this week from a climate change conference in Finland. Mr. Hatoyama has let it be known that he’s quite unhappy indeed with the behavior of his successor. He’s said that he can no longer have a conversation with Mr. Kan, and that the DPJ is no longer the party that he bought and paid for with his mother’s money he created.

Mr. Hatoyama may no longer have much sway in his own party, but he still has plenty of money. He and his brother, who is almost as fabulously well-to-do, are said to have held a meeting at a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo late last month for younger Diet members allied with Ozawa Ichiro. The latter group thought Mr. Hatoyama invited them to discuss strategies for dealing with the prime minister, but shortly after the affair began, it was hey, how about that! My brother Kunio just happened to be here in the same restaurant! In the room next door! What a coincidence!

Factoring in the consideration that Hatoyama Kunio left the LDP and is now a free political agent — yeah, I forgot too — a columnist for Gendai Business Online wonders if the Brothers Hatoyama are itching to start a new party. They certainly can afford it. This is more than a case of bullshit walking and money talking. Every politician knows that the brothers have enough money to start a school for training bullshit to walk, talk, and chew gum at the same time if it struck their fancy. If any of the younger DPJ members were tossed out of the party because they voted aye for a no confidence motion…

A few weeks ago, someone writing in The Economist become indignant that Mr. Hatoyama, a colossus as a failed prime minister, would cooperate with Ozawa Ichiro in a Dump Kan movement. That’s not how the columnist for Gendai Business saw it. He considered it an act of repentance for betraying the people’s hopes in voting for a change of government.

And speaking of Mr. Ozawa, the latest rumor has him allowing Mr. Kan to attend the G8 summit later this month as a hanamichi, literally a flowered path. That’s a show business term for an elevated walkway from the stage to the rear of the theater through the audience, but it’s often used as a metaphor to represent a sop to adorn the end of someone’s political career. The Dump Kan moves supposedly begin in earnest when the prime minister returns from the summit.

Let’s hope he doesn’t fall on his face in the petunias. During a lunch at last year’s summit, he suggested inviting the Chinese next time. The other leaders feigned deafness, but their ears will be wide open this time when they ask him to explain just what the deuce his government’s being doing at Fukushima for the past three months.

They’re going to wonder why he permitted work to continue that led to the creation of large amounts of contaminated water, even though he knew the fuel rods might have melted. They’ll also wonder why he concealed the initial radiation contamination data. After all, as he boasted immediately after the problems at Fukushima emerged, he knows more about nuclear power than other politicians.

Those members of the Anglosphere commentariat who assured their readers that Mr. Kan and the DPJ government were a significant upgrade in accountability and competence from previous LDP governments are now pretending they don’t smell their own flatulence. That is unlikely to work for the prime minister in Deauville next week. It certainly hasn’t worked for the commentators. One of them described the Murayama administration’s response to the Hanshin earthquake in 1995 as hapless. Yet that government, led by a Socialist no less, was able to pass 16 separate bills in the Diet dealing with local reconstruction within 40 days of the event. In the same amount of time, Mr. Kan’s government had passed none.

*****
What did the bien-pensants of the West see in Mr. Kan that the Japanese themselves missed? One media outlet polled the nation’s governors late last month on their opinion of his post-earthquake performance in office. One of the 47 governors failed to respond. Of the remaining 46, 25 rated his performance as “poor”.

After last month’s local elections, the assemblies of the 23 wards in Tokyo have begun new sessions, many with considerably fewer DPJ members than before. No fools they, the survivors among the DPJ-affiliated factions in several wards have changed the name of their groups. The name changes had one thing in common — the word minshu was replaced with something else. Minshu-to is the name of the Democratic Party of Japan in Japanese. The first to do so was the group in Minato Ward, whose members explained they wanted to make a distinction between themselves and the DPJ in the national government.

When you think it can’t get worse, that’s when you can be sure it already has. For the politicos, Mr. Kan has become a punching bag, but for some in the media, he has become waraigusa – literally laughing grass, or a laughingstock. My local newspaper usually runs political cartoons in black and white. Recently, however, it featured one in color, which allowed them to portray Prime Minister Kan with a prominent red nose.

No, it wasn’t because it’s hay fever season.

Meanwhile, the 28 April edition of the weekly Shukan Bunshun ran a strange picture of Mr. Kan sitting in the Diet. He looks as if he might be biting one of his fingernails, but it also appears as if he’s making an unpleasant expression as he’s sniffing them.

The text beneath the photo reminds readers of an old Japanese saying that exhorts people to boil in water the dirt under the fingernails of the people they wish to emulate and drink it. The author wonders what would happen if people drank such a concoction from those they didn’t want to emulate. Would they become like the man in the photograph, he asks?

*****
With his survival on the line, Prime Minister Kan has allowed that he might consider rethinking his positions. For example, he said he would be willing to discuss new configurations for the power companies.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji, however, says that idea has been floating around for awhile. Mr. Eda’s career started in the predecessor of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and he remembers that it was discussed as long as 25 years ago. In fact, he thought something might come of the suggestion about a decade ago, but senior members of the ministry killed it. They told their subordinates it was a reform aimed at their lives, and that they had to protect their own lives themselves.

Both the Hatoyama and Kan governments are notorious for having truckled under to the bureaucracy within weeks of taking office. No one who’s been paying attention is sanguine about the likelihood of a meaningful reform of the power companies during the Kan administration.

Mr. Kan also said he would consider adding JPY one trillion to the supplementary budget for the relief efforts before adjourning the Diet.

That tipped the balance for LDP MP Nakagawa Hidenao. The time for “thinking about it” is over, he said. Now it’s time to do something about it.

Who knows? Perhaps the prime minister will do something about it, if he can keep his government afloat long enough. First things first.

Afterwords:

The government on 18 May agreed on legislation to reform the national civil service system. It will include the right of public employees to conclude agreements, such as those for salary levels in management-labor negotiations. Public opposition to the right of public employees to strike was so strong, however, they did not include it in the bill.

Many Americans would be very envious of Japan, if they only knew.

*****
When it was revealed in 2004 that Mr. Kan had problems with unpaid contributions to the national pension fund, he resigned as DPJ party head and, as a publicity stunt, shaved his head, dressed as a mendicant priest, and made a traditional pilgrimage to 88 temples in Shikoku.

Perhaps he should listen to Uttara-kuru and try the mendicant priest shtick again. That’s the 25th chapter of the Lotus Sutra they’re chanting:

“Further, if a person who is about to be harmed calls out the name of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva, the knives and staves of the attackers will break into pieces and he will be saved.”

It would be the answer to Kan Naoto’s prayers.

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Fireworks

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 12, 2010

SUMMER IS THE SEASON for fireworks, but there’s a real possibility the mad festival of Japanese politics could explode in a shower of light, fire, and dead flowers as early as this week.

The fuse has already been lit by an unpopular administration, a nebbish prime minister, and a Cabinet whose principal member is so unattractive one wonders how he ever convinced voters in his district to elect him in the first place. If the fuse doesn’t fizzle, the Big Bang could produce (a) A revived coalition between the Democratic Party and the Social Democrats, (b) A grand coalition with the Liberal Democrats, or Ozawa Ichiro (c-1) Either splitting to form a new party or (c-2) Being dumped by the DPJ, which would mean the end of the ruling party as we know it. Let’s see what’s burning under all those smoke signals.

Coalition with the Social Democrats

Unless they provide evidence that they’ve suddenly discovered how to negotiate with the opposition, the Kan Cabinet will have difficultly passing the enabling legislation for next year’s budget through the upper house, where the party does not have a majority. (The budget itself does not require upper house approval to go into effect.) One solution would be to form an ad hoc coalition in the upper house. Another would be to reconstitute the coalition with the Social Democrats that fell apart earlier this year when the Hatoyama administration backtracked on its pledge to have the Americans move the Futenma airbase out of Okinawa. Such a coalition would provide a two-thirds majority in the lower house, negating the need for upper house approval of any legislation.

Some in the DPJ are enthusiastic about the idea. Said Matsuno Yorihisa, the former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Hatoyama Cabinet and the editor of the prime minister’s e-mail magazine:

“We should hold discussions with the Social Democratic Party again and form a parliamentary coalition…regardless of the circumstances, we should create a framework in which we can exercise a two-thirds majority to pass legislation.”

More than a few in the ruling party don’t like the idea at all, however. The price of such a coalition, as discussed by Mr. Kan and SDP head Fukushima Mizuho last Monday, would be to break the agreement with the Americans about Futenma, reduce the Japanese financial contribution to the American military presence, and forget about the new idea floated by the Kan Cabinet to turn Japan into a weapons exporter. On her way out the door after the meeting, Ms. Fukushima said: 私がぶち切れなくてすむようによろしくお願いします.

Translation is not algebra, and there are many ways to approach any passage. For example, the concept of profanity is not the same in the two languages, and the concept of profanity itself has become degraded over the past few years in the Anglosphere. I prefer the high road, but it’s difficult to resist the temptation to translate the above sentence as, “Please make sure you don’t piss me off this time.”

She was joking, but that still wound up pissing off a lot of other people. Said Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi:

“It’s a reversion to the terminal period of a government. They’ve flip-flopped so much they’ve gone into a Dutch roll.”

Considering the context, he also came as close as any Japanese politician I’ve heard to saying, “WTF are they doing?” and added:

“There has been absolutely no self-reflection based on what happened to the collapsed Hatoyama government, in which the dog’s tail wagged the head. They just want to extend the life of this government.”

LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru said:

“This would destroy the Japan-United States relationship. What will be lost will be more than what is gained by a two-thirds majority.”

Meanwhile, senior LDP member Nakagawa Hidenao wrote on his blog, “It’s time to bring down the Cabinet.”

While there’s no Constitutional or legal problem with using a supermajority in the lower house to override an upper house rejection, some politicians think it runs counter to the spirit of the Japanese democratic system. Here’s what one MP had to say:

“This (maneuver) has been abused so much, the regular repassage of legislation using the two-thirds majority for bills in the lower house represents nothing more than the expiration of the “sell-by date” for the Diet itself, the denial of deliberative democracy, and, more than anything else, the desecration of the Japanese bicameral system of parliamentary democracy. The true path to resolving this situation is to dissolve the Diet as quickly as possible, hold a general election, and call for a vote of confidence from the sovereign will of the people.”

Oh, wait…that was SDP member Abe Tomoko speaking about the Aso administration on 19 June 2009.

Let’s try this one:

“This is the first time we’ve had such an anomalous situation in half a century, since 1957, and I can only say that it is extremely regrettable from the standpoint of parliamentary democracy. It’s clear to everyone that the only way to overcome this situation and create new hope is to dissolve the lower house and hold a general election.”

Oy, did it again! That was Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito in 12 December 2008, when he was an opposition member criticizing the Aso administration.

This time for sure!

“Isn’t it logical that the first thing that should be done is to dissolve the lower house and have a vote of confidence from the people to determine whether the lower house delegates represent the national will?”

Oh, boy. That’s what Prime Minister Kan Naoto said when he was in the opposition speaking out against the Fukuda administration’s use of the supermajority on 13 May 2008.

Grand coalition with the Liberal Democrats

FNN is reporting that DPJ executives asked Watanabe Tsuneo, the chairman of the Yomiuri Shimbun group, to act as a go-between in talks with the LDP to form one big happy political family a grand coalition. Mr. Watanabe served the same role three years ago during negotiations between then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo and then-DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro. They worked out a deal, but the other DPJ senior members balked and Mr. Ozawa briefly walked.

The Yomiuri chairman met with former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio on the 7th and with LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu on the 8th. He’s also reportedly met with Sengoku Yoshito.

Writing about the action behind the scenes on his blog, Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji charged that the actors were trying to arrange a structure with older conservative elements and veterans in the background while pushing younger and fresher faces up front. He said, “It’s an artifice for double-crossing the people”.

He thinks such a coalition would ultimately benefit his party, because it would create a battle between “big government on a bureaucracy-led, high-tax course with pork, against forces favoring small government on a private sector-led, growth course with the regions playing the main role.”

He also suggested that people should pay attention to the statements of LDP leadership, as one senior party member said they would have to listen to DPJ proposals for a grand coalition if Mr. Kan came to them “on bended knee”.

It’s time to read between the lines. First Ishiba Shigeru, chairman of the party’s Policy Research Council:

“Reorganizing the coalition without an election is a perversion. If the DPJ cuts loose the Ozawa group, it is not out of the question that the LDP could work with them, but they’ll have to clearly state why they want to work together…if there is a coalition, they’ll have to completely change last year’s manifesto, so unless there is an immediate election and the confidence of the people, the government will not have any legitimacy.”

Bended knee, eh? Here’s Mr. Tanigaki:

“At present I am extremely negative (about the possibility). It is not easy to unify a party to create a grand coalition. Does Mr. Kan have that base and those skills?…Their approval rate is in the 20% range. It’s not possible to form a coalition with that sort of government….and there’s no reason to form a coalition with any party in which Mr. Ozawa is a member.”

Mr. Ishihara again:

“How are we supposed to get together with a party that can’t even clean itself? We can’t join hands with them just to increase their popularity.”

And Koike Yuriko, the chair of the party’s General Council, on the 10th:

“Isn’t the DPJ itself already a coalition of the left and right wings? We know how that grand coalition is working out for them. At this point the LDP should not casually engage in talks about a grand coalition.”

Former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro doesn’t like the idea at all. He met informally on the 8th with some former LDP and New Komeito officials and spoke against the coalition because it would only benefit the DPJ.

New Komeito head Yamaguchi Tatsuo is thumbs down too:

“Creating a framework of the two largest parties will result in an extreme amount of authority. We must have a clear sense of the side effects. It must not be like the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (of 1940, in which political parties dissolved themselves into a larger entity with the military and bureaucrats)….A grand coalition is not the only path. It is fully possible to form a consensus by creating the opportunity for the ruling party and the opposition to hold discussions…The DPJ as the ruling party of government should take the responsibility to lead those discussions.”

My sentiments exactly. But Watanabe Yoshimi eschewed the high road:

“I want to tell them, enough already–this isn’t a children’s game. If they’re going to turn politics into a game of playing house, it will only result in the people’s distrust of politics.”

It’s a little late for that now, I’m afraid.

That brings us to the prime minister himself. The media asked him about the possibility of a grand coalition, and he answered:

“I have nothing to say.”

Does that mean you’re not thinking about it?

“I have nothing to say.”

So what else is new?

Ozawa Ichiro

It’s not surprising that the bad penny of Japanese politics, now just a regular old DPJ MP, but formerly the head and/or secretary-general of enough parties to form a grand coalition with himself, is the gorilla in the middle of the room that everyone sees. The problem is that no one knows how much he weighs any more.

Another former LDP prime minister, Mori Yoshiro, said he wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to a grand coalition, but added this non sequitur:

“It’s just weird that the DPJ thinks it has to go that far to protect Ozawa Ichiro. Isn’t it just a ploy to extend Mr. Ozawa’s political career?”

That may be precisely the opposite of what’s happening. Today is election day for the prefectural assembly in Ibaragi. The DPJ has performed miserably in local elections since their poor performance in the July upper house ballot, including the elections for the open Hokkaido 5th district seat, the mayor of Fukuoka City, the governor of Wakayama, and the Matsudo City Council. Earlier this week, Mr. Ozawa told some younger acolytes:

“The local (party organizations) will be spewing fire if there is a (DPJ) defeat in the Ibaragi prefectural assembly election. (The Kan administration) will not survive in the party.”

Mr. Ozawa has already predicted the DPJ will collapse from the sub-national level. The DPJ is supporting 24 candidates, and their bottom line for success is at least 10 winners.

He’s also hinting broadly that he’ll leave the party and form a new one. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s made that threat, nor would it be the first time he’s left a party and formed a new one. Freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken, who seems to have a source in the Ozawa camp, wrote earlier this week that Mr. Ozawa’s mind is made up and that he and Hatoyama Yukio are already working together. A split, he wrote, might come as early as the 17th. Mr. Itagaki says that Mr. Ozawa told affiliates from the old Tanaka faction in the LDP and friendly prefectural politicians to be in Tokyo that day. He also noted that Mr. Ozawa won more than 200 votes in the DPJ presidential election in early September.

The story could be true—after all, if he wants the money from the government subsidy for political parties any time soon, he’s going to have to make his move this month. The story could also be disinformation.

Mr. Ozawa reportedly met at a sushi bar with Hatoyama Yukio on the 8th, in the company of younger brother and former LDP Justice Minister Hatoyama Kunio and former LDP Health Minister Masuzoe Yoichi. Mr. Masuzoe was considered prime ministerial material a couple of years ago, and left the LDP to form his own group, called the New Renaissance Party. The only people he could get to join, however, were former Ozawa Ichiro allies whose political philosophy would not seem to be in alignment with his. He is seen as an ambitious man, and everyone remembers that Hosokawa Morihiro was also the head of a small party when he became the prime minister in a 1993 coalition government run by Ozawa Ichiro behind the scenes.

Someone present at the sushi bar whispered to a reporter that everyone agreed to cooperate because Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Ozawa are being cut adrift from the DPJ by the Kan administration and the party’s leftist elements as a means to buoy their popularity.

Perhaps hedging his bets, Mr. Masuzoe also met with Prime Minister Kan at the latter’s request the next day. Doesn’t hurt to listen, does it?

Watanabe Yoshimi said he’d have turned down a request by Mr. Kan for a meeting, and observed that Mr. Masuzoe apparently thinks either a coalition to extend the life of the Kan Cabinet or a coalition with Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Hatoyama would be fine. He added:

“I’m not like Mr. Masuzoe, who doesn’t have a guiding philosophy.”

Then again, Mr. Ozawa might get drummed out of the DPJ before he gets a chance to walk. Leaders of the DPJ will convene a lower house ethics panel this week to hold a vote on whether to summon him to testify over allegations that he helped the group managing his political funds to lie on their official reports. (It’s difficult keeping up with all his alleged financial irregularities.)

Mr. Ozawa doesn’t want to testify, and his supporters say it’s an insult. The DPJ is hinting that they might kick him out if he doesn’t show up.

Let’s leave the last word to Watanabe Yoshimi:

“If the DPJ takes a shellacking in the Ibaragi prefectural council elections, Armageddon will start within the party. It would be best for Japan if they broke up quickly.”

UPDATE: The DPJ won only six seats in the Ibaragi election, one-fourth of the number they backed. Four of the winners were incumbents; two DPJ-backed incumbents lost. In four electoral districts, there was a direct face-off between the DPJ-backed candidate and the LDP-backed candidate, with no others in the race. The DPJ lost all four.

*******
What’s going to happen? I’m not going to make any guesses. Trying to predict the course of Japanese politics is Mission: Impossible.

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Chip off the old block

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 10, 2010

ONE OF THE MOST compelling debaters in the Diet during Question Time was former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro of the Liberal Democratic Party. He was deft, confident, had a wicked instinct for the jugular, and slipped in the knife with a gleam in his eye. He seemed to enjoy himself as equally as he frustrated and angered his opponents when they were simultaneously skewered and made sport of.

Former Labor Minister Murakami Masanori—also of the LDP—once disparaged Mr. Koizumi’s technique as “yakuza-style kirisute gomen”. The latter expression refers to the privilege samurai once had of being allowed to stick social inferiors with a sword for the failure to speak or behave with a proper reverence to their betters.

Koizumi Shinjiro

Mr. Koizumi is now retired from active politics, and his Kanagawa seat has been assumed by his 29-year-old son Shinjiro, whose campaign was one of the few bright spots for the LDP in last year’s lower house election. Genes and upbringing are no guarantee that the next generation will inherit any political skills—witness the Hatoyama brothers—but indications so far suggest that Koizumi the Younger is his father’s son. He’s remarkably self-assured for someone his age in that position, shares his father’s political philosophy, and he also attacks with a grin. The contrast with the Hatoyama brothers is all the more stark because all three are fourth-generation Diet members.

The former prime minister’s signal achievement was the privatization of Japan Post, and securing a huge popular mandate in the Diet to accomplish that. Those who keep up with Japanese politics already know the Democratic Party government is turning back the clock to renationalize the post office, bank, and life insurance business under the direction of Financial Services Minister Kamei Shizuka. Then-Prime Minister Koizumi tossed Mr. Kamei out of the LDP for his opposition to privatization in 2005. Instead of returning to the fold when Abe Shinzo invited everyone back two years later, Mr. Kamei allied his splinter party, the People’s New Party, with the DPJ for the chance to roll back the reforms.

Thus the stage was set for an entertaining political performance when Koizumi Shinjiro formally went head-to-head for half an hour with the 73-year-old Mr. Kamei in Question Time last week in the Diet’s Financial Affairs Committee.

Mr. Koizumi started off with some pointed policy questions—with a smile on his face—and Mr. Kamei chose to play rope-a-dope. That didn’t last long.

A recent poll by the Sankei Shimbun and FNN found the public’s rate of support for Mr. Kamei’s People’s New Party nationwide to be less than 1%. Said Mr. Koizumi:

It’s odd that the DPJ would be twisted around the little finger of a party with a support rate of 0%. The people gave 300 seats in last year’s general election to the DPJ, not the PNP. More than 50% of the people are opposed to changing Japan Post. The minister is traveling backwards.

Like father, like son. He also managed to slip in this comment:

The people don’t support the People’s New Party.

Touché. The crotchety Mr. Kamei—who has all the subtlety and patience of Yosemite Sam—grew agitated and his voice became rough. One could almost see a thought balloon forming over his head containing the word “whippersnapper”.

Public opinion poll results always fluctuate. We don’t need politicians who act by following poll numbers.

He couldn’t resist a dig of his own:

Nothing good will come from going back to what your father did.

Sounds a bit like an old geezer of a farmer waving a shovel in the air after a crow gobbled up all the seeds he just planted, doesn’t he?

Mr. Kamei had calmed down by the time an après-questioning news conference was held:

He’s good at getting under a person’s skin. He got it from his father…But it was like a street corner speech. There was no content.

The Asahi Shimbun filed a brief report of the exchange on their Japanese-language website, and their approach was both fascinating and educational. They are Japan’s newspaper of the left, similar to the New York Times in the U.S. and the Guardian in Britain, and their approach is often just as transparently twisted as their English-language counterparts.

The Asahi chose to present the story by starting with Mr. Kamei’s rebuttal of the younger Koizumi’s father saying that “nothing good will come” from the privatization. It was also the longest direct quote in the article. They offered only a brief snippet of Mr. Koizumi’s comments at the end, leaving out most of the content.

That should be no surprise—people with that political philosophy will always prefer the public sector to the private sector—but it’s still odd that they chose to put Mr. Kamei in a good light. Ten years ago, when the financial services minister was still an important figure in the LDP, they would have taken every opportunity to dump on him. But he’s on their team now, and besides, Koizumi Jun’ichiro committed the mortal sin for a man of the right. He was both (a) successful and (b) popular.

Unforgivable!

Still, one can’t blame them. They’re surely not anxious to see a Koizumi administration V.2 25 years down the road.

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Aspirations

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 8, 2010

As Fukuzawa Yukichi said regarding an attitude of self-sufficiency and self-respect, a good nation, a good community, and superb people of ability cannot exist unless local governments and individuals support themselves by their own strength.
– Yamada Hiroshi

A CHART in Ito Atsuo’s Political Party Collapse: The 10 lost years of Nagata-Cho outlines the birth and death of political parties in Japan from 1992 to 1998. That chart covers two pages because 22 of those parties no longer exist, and even then I might have miscounted.

After a relatively quiescent decade, the politicos are starting to party hearty once again now that it’s apparent neither of the two major parties which emerged intact from the previous ferment—the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party—will be viable over the long-term as presently constituted.

Left to right: Yamada Hiroshi, Nakamura Tokihiro, Nakada Hiroshi

The news media has focused this week on the new old party soon to be launched by Yosano Kaoru and Hiranuma Takeo, but they’ve been giving short shrift to the imminent birth of another party with the potential to have a more lasting–and more beneficial–impact. Unlike the granddads of the former group, the three amigos driving the latter venture have a shared, positive vision about the direction of the country and a sense of urgency about achieving their aims. Rather than spending their time in Tokyo television studios, they’re touring the country to take their case to the people.

The three are Nakada Hiroshi, Yamada Hiroshi, and Nakamura Tokihiro, all of whom are veterans of the new party movement of the 90s. They were involved with the Japan New Party headed by Hosokawa Morihiro, the country’s first non-LDP prime minister in nearly 40 years. The New Party was an intriguing mix of people that also included Koike Yuriko, now in the Koizumian wing of the LDP, and Maehara Seiji, the former DPJ head who is currently the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. All three served at least one term in the lower house of the Diet. Mr. Nakada and Mr. Yamada, the two Hiroshis, attended The Matsushita Institute of Government and Management.

What sets this trio apart is that all three turned their backs on national politics and continued their careers as chief executives in local government. Mr. Nakada served nearly two terms as the mayor of Yokohama, Mr. Nakamura is still the mayor of Matsuyama, a city of about 515,000 in Ehime, and Mr. Yamada is the chief municipal officer of Suginami Ward in Tokyo, which itself has a population of roughly 540,000.

They’re pitched a tent on a patch of land similar to that of Watanabe Yoshimi and Your Party, but they arrived from a different direction. They all stand for governmental reform and regional devolution, but as a lower house MP since 1996, Mr. Watanabe is working in the context of national politics. In contrast, these three men are trying to build a national base outside the capital to accomplish similar objectives from the bottom up. Says Mr. Nakada:

What is required is a reorganization to change the approach of the country and the regions. The (people in the) regions understand conditions on the ground, and the reorganization won’t happen unless they apply pressure to the central government.

They call their group 日本志民会議, or the Nihon Shimin Kaigi. The second word is their own creation and literally means people with aspirations. A good English translation is impossible because the word is also a homonym for citizen.

Another difference from Your Party is that the trio comes from a non-LDP background, whereas Mr. Watanabe and his father were prominent members of that party. They say their objective is not to confront the DPJ or the LDP, but to form an all-Japan party and create a core group to rescue Japan from its crisis. An interview conducted with Mr. Nakada last year illustrates their sense of mission and urgency. Here’s an excerpt:

I’m very concerned about the country, and I don’t think there’s much time left. The national budgets contain more debt than tax revenue. The principle behind my approach as mayor is that the regions won’t survive if the country crumbles. I’ll conduct a (national) citizens’ movement from the citizens’ perspective. What I want to do is not the question. The country will crumble unless we do everything we can in the time remaining. I want to do anything and everything.

– Won’t you be active in a political party?

There’s no time to rebuild Japan. I’ll do anything. Doing anything includes starting a new party. As a citizen of this country, I’ll keep building on what I’m already involved with. Part of that might include starting a party.

Japan is in a serious phase. Unless we apply fundamental remedies within five years, the country will be eaten up from within and without. I want to devote all my energy to this full-time, and that includes convening citizens’ conferences and the Alliance of Local Government Executives.

As their past association with both Ms. Koike and Mr. Maehara suggests, they also support a strong defense and a pride in country that would be unremarkable outside of Japan or contemporary left wing groupings incapable of distinguishing between nationalism and patriotism. Yamada Hiroshi wrote an article in the March issue of Voice arguing against the DPJ proposal to allow non-Japanese to participate in local elections. As this previous post based on a blog entry by Nakada Hiroshi demonstrates, they also support individualism and self sufficiency.

The record

They’ve yet to generate top-of-the-fold headlines, but some journalists are aware of them. Sakurai Yoshiko profiled them in a feature article for the July 2009 edition of Voice that presented some of their accomplishments in local government.

Yamada Hiroshi seems to have achieved a stunning success in resuscitating Suginami Ward’s finances. When he took office in 1999, the ward was JPY 95 billion in debt (about $US 1.012 billion) and had just JPY 1.9 billion in the bank. Mr. Yamada’s first step was to cut his own salary by 10%, his bonus by 50%, and the ward budget by 15%. As a symbol of his budget-cutting efforts, he eliminated the free manju distributed to senior citizens’ associations. That may seem like a trivial step, but it illustrates a greater problem whose solution seems beyond the capability or willpower of politicians in free market democracies nowadays. Distributing free confections is not why governments are devised, but people have gotten so used to these handouts that the old folks in Suginami initially complained about the loss of their taxpayer-funded sweets.

Under his leadership, the ward has cut its debt in 10 years to JPY 20 billion and has JPY 23 billion in the bank; in other words, they’re solvent again. He’s also managed to reduce the ward’s workforce from 4,700 to 3,700.

In the 2007 Nikkei Shimbun evaluation of local governments nationwide, Suginami Ward had risen to 3rd from 33rd in the category of government reform, and to 12th from 105th in the category of government services.

Mr. Yamada plans to retire the ward’s debt in two years, and they recently passed a measure to create a fund for reducing taxes starting in ten years, with cuts coming every year.

In Matsuyama

Meanwhile, Matsuyama Mayor Nakamura managed to pull off a merger of three cities that won the approval of most residents in the new metropolis. That was no mean feat; the period from April 1999 to April 2006 was dubbed the Heisei no Dai-gappei (平成の大合併) (Great Heisei Era Mergers), during which the number of municipalities in Japan was reduced from 3,232 (670 cities, 1,994 towns, and 568 villages) to 1,820 (779 cities, 844 towns, and 197 villages). The objectives of the consolidation were to promote the decentralization and the downsizing of government, and to deal with the problems of declining tax revenues and reduced central government subsidies caused by the low birthrate.

Not all of these municipal marriages were love matches, and many had to navigate some rough patches. To cite one example, the new city of Matsuyama would have wound up with 80 city council members had all the delegates from the three municipalities kept their jobs. Some cities involved in the mergers did expand the chambers to include all the delegates, which sparked recall efforts by angry citizens. Mr. Nakamura, however, successfully reduced the number of councilmen from 80 to 45—reportedly by persuasion alone.

All politics is local

The triumvirate has conducted most of the spadework for their new party outside of the national spotlight. They first came to the notice of the public around this time last year, when devolution became a major issue in the lower house election campaign. Attention then focused on Miyazaki Governor Higashikokubaru Hideo and Osaka Governor Hashimoto Toru, both outspoken supporters of devolution, but whose reputations and popularity were based on their prior careers in television and a proclivity to say whatever popped into their heads.

These five formed a loose alliance, but the three municipal executives sidestepped a proposal by Mr. Hashimoto to turn the Local Chief Executive Alliance into a national party. It’s likely they were already planning to create their own party and wanted to keep the drama queens at arm’s length. They also declined the Osaka governor’s suggestion to endorse one of the national parties in the lower house election. Said Mr. Nakada, “It might mislead the people.” Added Mr. Nakamura, “We won’t attract supporters if we increase the risk.” There are no hard feelings, however–Mr. Hashimoto sent them a congratulatory message when they held a conference announcing their intention to start a new party:

The time has come to take action in earnest for all the people filled with the aspiration to change the country.

The Yokohama mayor

Nakada Hiroshi has perhaps the highest national profile of the three. He announced on 28 July last year that he would resign his position as Yokohama mayor with seven months remaining in his second term. Some thought he was getting ready to take a second run at the Diet, but he had other plans. His explained that he had finished the important business of his second term, the city would save money by holding a mayoralty election on the same day as the lower house voting, and the new mayor could get a head start on the new budget and personnel decisions:

The mayor’s election costs JPY 1.1 billion in city funds. By holding it at the same time as the national election, we can save JPY one billion. Considering our harsh financial circumstances, that’s extremely important.

In retrospect, he was surely starting to build the foundation for the new party. They formed a working group at the end of October, when Mr. Nakada would still have been in office in Yokohama had he not resigned. Their vision calls for a low-tax, high-vitality country whose foreign relations are based on the keynote of freedom, responsibility, and mutual respect. At that first conference, they said:

The Diet is just terrible. It’s just pulled along by parties that either want to take power or want to maintain power.

And:

Promoting regional devolution is necessary for a country with a narrowing fiscal base.

Mr. Nakada went into more detail:

There are different views on the population totals that should be required for the classification of local government jurisdictions. The problem, however, is not one of population alone. What is improper is that the national government sets the principles for local government rules, including such details as the number of people in local assemblies and the amount of space required for nursery schools. Each community has different cultures and customs.

On proposals for a province/state system, which would create nine to 14 subnational jurisdictions to eventually replace the prefectures:

If each local government were to decide on the construction of its own roads, harbors, and airports, this would be a very inefficient country, and it would lead to the deterioration of international competitiveness. I support the state/province system because decisions on these matters would be more efficient at that level.

The trio announced their plans to form a party at a meeting in Hiroshima on 20 March this year and in Osaka the next day. Without utilizing an organization to mobilize turnout, they drew 250 to the first meeting and, to the second, 750 at hall that seats 500. They hope to create a support group of 10,000 people, and they already claim 4,000. They also plan to run at least 10 candidates in the upper house election this summer. Mr. Yamada, the group’s primary spokesman, said the upper house election was a prime opportunity to demonstrate their ideas. He explained this opportunity couldn’t be overlooked because the next national election isn’t required for another three years.

Last weekend they visited Takamatsu, Kagawa, to drum up support and attracted an audience of 300. Accompanying them was the leader of their support group, Joko Akira, the former head of the Matsushita Institute. Mr. Joko, who has written books discussing the importance of aspirations, said at the Takamatsu meeting:

It’s impossible to have any expectations for today’s politicians. We want to gather 10,000 supporters and create a new party with the help of citizens with aspiration.

From Mr. Yamada:

Both the LDP and the DPJ have reached a dead end. If citizens rise up individually, Japan will change.

Now for the bad news

There are skeletons in every politician’s closet that will cause some to recoil, and these men are no exception. At one time, Messrs. Yamada and Nakada were part of a group that wanted to boost the idea of Hatoyama Kunio for prime minister. It’s not clear what possessed them to back that goofy plan, unless it was access to the Hatoyama family fortune for political funds.

Also, some people suspect Mr. Nakada stepped down as Yokohama mayor to avoid the blowback from the failure of an expo commemorating the 150th anniversary of that city’s opening as a port. The expo attracted less than one-fourth the expected turnout and wound up JPY 2.4 billion in the red. There were problems with leftover tickets, talk of a possible lawsuit, and suggestions that Yokohama public funds were used to paper over the problems.

Mr. Nakada claims the failures were the responsibility of the organizing committee and not the city, which just provided financial support. He is also involved in an unresolved lawsuit by a former lover, a bar hostess, for the payment of consolation money after he ended their relationship. Perhaps that’s the reason Mr. Yamada seems to be acting as the chief spokesman for the group.

Those issues notwithstanding, Japanese politics would be the better for the contribution from these men who combine experience as national legislators with real accomplishments as local government executives, and who understand the importance of working from the bottom up rather than the top down. As Mr. Yamada wrote on his website, theirs would be a party:

…created from the aspirations and wishes of the citizens, not a party like those in the past formed to suit the convenience of the politicians.

In other words, they’re not going anywhere near the political group that Yosano Kaoru and Hiranuma Takeo are now gluing together.

This week the People’s New Party, one of the junior members of the ruling coalition led by Kamei Shizuka, announced they would sponsor professional wrestler Nishimura Osamu for an upper house seat in this summer’s election. Using celebrity candidates as puppets in the upper house is not uncommon in Japan, and it’s a good bet that’s happening in this case too.

If you were a voter interested in responsible government and fed up with the two major national parties, and were presented with the option of voting for Mr. Nishimura or a candidate backed by the new party of aspirations, whose name would you write on the ballot?

Is it even necessary to ask?

Afterwords:

If I may make so bold as to spin a political fantasy, Japan could do a lot worse than a loose coalition between this group working with Your Party, the remaining LDP reformers, and potentially simpatico members of the DPJ, such as the Maehara Seiji group. They already are doing a lot worse now.

Speaking of Your Party, Mr. Nakada held the Kanagawa seat in the Diet that’s now represented by Eda Kenji. Mr. Eda challenged him in his first run for a Diet seat, but lost. He gained the seat after Mr. Nakada left to run for Yokohama mayor.

Mr. Yamada was defeated in his bid for a second term in the Diet by the LDP’s Ishihara Nobuteru. Mr. Ishihara later became the minister for governmental reform in Prime Minister Koizumi’s first Cabinet, and still is viewed as a reformer despite sticking it out with the LDP. Nevertheless, Mr. Yamada is said to be on good terms with Mr. Ishihara and his father Shintaro, the Tokyo governor and the co-author of The Japan That Can Say No.

Mr. Nakada thinks Masuzoe Yoichi, the former Health Minister who tops most opinion polls as the person people would like to see as prime minister, will not form a new party but is rather angling for a leadership position in the LDP.

I’ll get around to the Tachiagare Nihon Party of Messrs. Yosano and Hiranuma as soon as they formally agree on which lies they’ll tell each other to create a vehicle for Mr. Yosano to act as a front man for go-playing buddy Ozawa Ichiro if the latter decides to realign Japanese politics by breaking up the DPJ after a poor showing in the upper house election.

UPDATE:

Prime Minister Hatoyama was asked what he thought about the new party. Here’s what he said:

I think they are people who have worked hard for regional devolution, but we’re running ahead of them. Perhaps there are some similiarities in our thinking, but each politician acts based on his own convictions.

Mr. Hatoyama did not explain why he thought his party, which is incapable of coming up with an internal consensus on devolution, is “running ahead of them”, nor did he specify the similarities in their thinking. I sure don’t see any.

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More bad polling news for the DPJ

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 24, 2010

IF THERE WERE a Japanese version of the Intrade market in the United States for betting on political outcomes, punters would be selling the Hatoyama administration short. Most of the nation’s media has already written them off, and it would verge on the miraculous—not to mention the politically stupid—if the prime minister were to allowed lead his party into the summer upper house election.

The results of a recent poll taken by FNN and the Sankei Shimbun and released on Sunday must have been bitter news for the DPJ. The poll also included several other questions of interest, and it was enlightening to see the answers to some of those questions for a change. Here it is in English.

Q: Do you support the Hatoyama Cabinet?

Yes: 30.5% (down from 42.8% on 6 and 7 February)
No: 53.9% (46.1%)
Don’t know: 15.6% (11.1%)

This collapse in support for this administration has come despite the absence of little in the way of bad news since the last poll, and the imminent passage of the party’s centerpiece legislative proposals at polling time. That support is unlikely to rebound for Mr. Hatoyama’s Cabinet, and the figures will probably continue to slide to the 20% level in the next round of polling. The numbers for the Fukuda and Aso administrations were lower at the six-month point, but both of their approval ratings started out nearly 25 percentage points less than Mr. Hatoyama’s to begin with. Incompetence, broken promises, and political funding scandals is no way to run a government.

Q: Which party do you support?

None: 37.1% (32.3%)
Democratic Party: 25.4% (32.9%)
Liberal Democratic Party: 18.8% (18.2%)
Your Party: 6.9% (3.9%)
New Komeito: 3.6% (4.6%)
Communist Party: 2.7% (2.3%)
Social Democratic Party: 2.0% (1.7%)
People’s New Party (AKA Kamei Family Party): 0.5% (0.9%)

That percentage of independents leaves the field wide open for serious reformers who can state their case. The DPJ isn’t going to get a second chance to make a first impression, and they blew their first chance very badly. They can’t even reach 30% with their two coalition performers combined. They barely make that level with New Komeito added (a possibility people are beginning to talk about), but that still doesn’t bring them close to the none-of-the-above group. Watanabe Yoshimi’s Your Party seems to have established itself in third place.

Q: What do you view as positives for the Hatoyama administration?

Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s personality:

Yes: 46.0% (51.9%)
No: 46.3% (40.5%)
Don’t know: 7.7% (7.6%)

Doesn’t that demonstrate the innate charity of the Japanese? Mr. Hatoyama’s personal ratings are under 50%, but still fairly high for the most unconvincing liar I’ve ever seen in politics, who begged the voters to forgive him for his financial scandals because he was a poor little rich boy reared in a privileged environment, and who comes off as more androgynous than extraterrestrial. It’s not often one sees a man with a quarter of a century in politics who gives speeches that sound like those of a teenaged boy and read like those of a teenaged girl.

The prime minister’s leadership ability:

Yes: 8.9% (12.1%)
No: 84.7% (79.4%)
Don’t know: 6.4% (8.5%)

Well, it’s better than a cat, as the Japanese say.

Results of the government after six months:

Good: 25.5%(-)
Bad: 57.5%(-)
Don’t know: 17.0%(-)

Again, this was with the passage of some of their primary legislation imminent, including the family allowance and free high school tuition.

The response to the issue of the international ban on tuna trade:

Good: 61.3(-)
Bad: 21.9(-)
Don’t know: 16.8(-)

It’s good to see the public supports this stance. That element of the international left which thinks it has the right to tell people what to eat will never give up.

The response to the activities of groups opposed to whaling (i.e., the SS):

Good: 33.6(-)
Bad: 48.1(-)
Don’t know: 18.3(-)

In light of the responses to the previous question, I would like to see a follow-up question for those with a negative view. Was their opinion informed by their opinion of whale eating, or their opinion of Japan taking decisive action that resulted in destroying a boat, in contrast to just maneuvering for votes at an international conference?

The response to the issue involving the American military air base at Futenma:

Good: 10.8% (15.8%)
Bad: 73.2% (69.2%)
Don’t know: 16.0% (15.0%)

Voters hate indecisiveness, particularly when it’s a result of trying to please everyone at once.

Response to the issue of secret treaties with the United States:

Good: 35.3%(-)
Bad: 43.3%(-)
Don’t know: 21.4%(-)

That’s a bit of a surprise to me, though I’m sure it was more of a surprise to the DPJ and points left.

The family allowance bill:

Good: 40.7%
Bad: 52.1%
Don’t know: 7.2%

Some people think the Japanese are social democrats by nature. Guess again.

The bill to eliminate tuition for high schools:

Good: 48.9%(-)
Bad: 42.2%(-)
Don’t know: 8.9%(-)

See what I mean? That’s closer than I would have thought.

Response to the problem of money politics:

Good: 7.5%(-)
Bad: 85.3%(-)
Don’t know: 7.2%(-)

It would be interesting to see who those 7.5% are.

The firing of DPJ Deputy Secretary-General Ubukata Yukio for his criticism of Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro:

Good: 15.0(-)
Bad: 72.3(-)
Don’t know: 12.7(-)

Which of the following conditions do you think improved over the six months of the Hatoyama government?

The Japanese economy:

Yes: 13.1%
No: 48.6
Don’t know: 38.3%

The method of conducting politics:

Yes: 27.7%
No: 48.6%
Don’t know: 38.3%

This is what the DPJ was elected to do. If they have a mandate, this is what it’s for. If they can get only a quarter of the people to answer yes, they’re in trouble.

Japanese-American relations:

Yes: 16.1%
No: 43.8%
Don’t know: 40.1%

The relationship of trust between the people and government:

Yes: 22.1%
No: 56.8%
Don’t know: 21.1%

Q: Which of the following do you think the DPJ Diet members should do next about money politics?

They should call in the prime minister’s mother and other people involved for an explanation and questioning in the Diet:

Yes: 57.6%(-)
No: 36.9%(-)
Don’t know: 5.5%(-)

That’s a lot of people ready to put a woman in her 80s to serious questioning about her political contributions. From what I’ve seen, Mr. Hatoyama’s mother isn’t badly treated by the press. Folks must really be angry about money politics.

Mr. Hatoyama should resign as prime minister:

Yes: 30.1% (26.0%)
No: 60.7% (66.6%)
Don’t know: 9.2% (7.4%)

What difference does it make with the DPJ?

Mr. Ozawa should explain and answer questions in the Diet:

Yes: 89.5% (88.5%)
No: 8.0% (9.8%)
Don’t know: 2.5% (1.7%)

Mr. Ozawa should resign as secretary-general of the DPJ:

Yes: 74.3% (70.3%)
No: 20.1% (23.9%)
Don’t know: 5.6% (5.8%)

Should Diet member Ishikawa Tomohiro, indicted for his role in the political funds scandal involving Ozawa Ichiro, resign from the Diet?

Yes: 64.5% (9.4%)
No: 25.9% (24.1%)
Don’t know: 9.6% (6.5%)

Should Diet member Kobayashi Chiyoko, whose political workers were arrested in a scandal over improper contributions from the Hokkaido Teachers’ Union, resign from the Diet?

Yes: 74.0%(-)
No: 14.4%(-)
Don’t know: 11.6%(-)

This is an odd result in light of the responses to the previous question. Mr. Ishikawa was directly implicated in a magazine article with destroying evidence. In contrast, many people think Ms. Kobayashi didn’t really know what was going on.

That’s not to her credit, but still…Is it because the guilty parties were connected to the teachers’ union?

This series of problems will have an effect on the summer upper house election:

Yes: 92.6%(-)
No: 4.7%(-)
Don’t know: 2.7%(-)

Well, duh!

The North Korean schools should be excluded from the legislation to make high schools tuition free:

Yes: 49.9%
No: 36.3%
Don’t know: 13.8%

Considering the anti-Japanese nature of the education conducted at those schools, those numbers could be much higher.

What best describes your thinking about the move of the Futenma air base?

It should be outside of Japan: 37.5%
It should be off the coast of Camp Schwab in Okinawa in accordance with the original agreement: 21.0%
It’s not necessary to move the base at all: 12.6%
It should be in Japan outside of Okinawa: 12.3%
It should be in Okinawa at a different location: 8.9%
Don’t know: 7.7%

These are interesting numbers all around. The idea of hosting foreign military bases is going to have significant opposition in any country, but the relatively high rating for those who want to keep the original agreement is a bit surprising. Then again, a deal is a deal. Also, almost 56% of the respondents think the base should stay in Japan somewhere. Further, the last I read, Mr. Hatoyama was leaning toward a different location in Okinawa. That’s the least favored option.

If an agreement on the site of the move is not reached by the end of May, in accordance with the prime minister’s promise, should he resign?

Yes: 49.1%
No: 44.8%
Don’t know: 6.1%

That’s a closer margin than I would have thought. Considering that such a large percentage of those surveyed gave the prime minister low ratings for his handling of the situation, this would seem to suggest the issue might not be such a big deal for many people outside Okinawa.

Then again, with the DPJ, what difference does it make?

Who is most suited to be Japan’s prime minister?

No one: 23.1% (23.3%)
Masuzoe Yoichi: 19.0% (14.5%)
Okada Katsuya: 9.9% (6.7%)
Kan Naoto: 8.4% (9.0%)
Hatoyama Yukio: 5.8% (10.1%)
Maehara Seiji: 5.1% (9.8%)
Ishiba Shigeru: 4.9% (5.0%)
Watanabe Yoshimi: 4.3% (3.3%)
Yosano Kaoru: 2.8%(-)
Haraguchi Kazuhiro: 2.3% (4.0%)
Ozawa Ichiro: 1.9% (2.4%)
Ishigaki Sadakazu: 1.5% (1.8%)
Hatoyama Kunio: 0.3% (-)

When the head of the LDP can’t even beat Ozawa Ichiro, and Mr. Masuzoe of the same party tops the list of real people, maybe it’s time to think about a change. But that’s the mudboat party. You’ve heard the song lyrics, Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow? With them, it’s Don’t Stop Thinking about Yesterday.

What would you like to see as the next step by the ruling and opposition parties before the summer upper house election?

A reshuffling of the Hatoyama Cabinet:

Yes: 49.2%
No: 45.2%
Don’t know: 5.6%

What difference does it make?

A new policy review focusing on public corporations:

Yes: 68.5%
No: 24.2%
Don’t know: 7.3%

A continuation of the coalition government with the DPJ, SDPJ, and the PNP:

Yes: 27.5%
No: 62.1%
Don’t know: 10.4%

Message to Ms. Fukushima and Mr. Kamei: They’re just not that into you. And you know what they say about people who aren’t part of the solution.

Strengthening ties between the DPJ and New Komeito:

Yes: 22.2%
No: 68.6%
Don’t know: 9.2%

Why would the voters like a new coalition of expediency when they already dislike the one they have now?

The DPJ winning an absolute majority in the upper house:

Yes: 32.3%
No: 58.5%
Don’t know: 9.2%

The voters don’t like the current coalition, they don’t like the idea of New Komeito in a coalition, and they don’t like the idea of single-party DPJ rule.

I wouldn’t want to have to pay their laundry bill after DPJ headquarters saw these results. Luckily, Hatoyama Yukio can afford it.

The creation of a new party:

Yes: 30.1%
No: 60.6%
Don’t know: 9.3%

This is a curious result. I also would like to see additional questions offering possible reasons for the No answer. Would the highest response be: What difference does it make? Is it that the Japanese have never seen what a well-run, ideologically consistent political party with serious ideas looks like? (New Komeito doesn’t count.)

Replacing the leadership of the LDP:

Yes: 44.5%
No: 45.7%
Don’t know: 9.8%

What difference does it make?

The coming activities of Hatoyama Kunio after leaving the LDP:

Yes: 16.8%
No: 75.7%
Don’t know: 7.5%

The positive response one can get from name recognition alone is fascinating.

Which party do you want to vote for in the proportional representation phase of the summer upper house election?

DPJ: 29.4% (37.0%)
LDP: 24.0% (23.2%)
Don’t know:12.6% (14.2%)
Your Party: 10.0% (4.6%)
Don’t intend to vote: 6.6% (6.7%)
Communist Party: 3.9% (2.8%)
New Komeito: 3.7% (4.9%)
Social Democratic Party: 2.7% (1.8%)
People’s New Party:1.3% (1.0%)

The LDP might as well have an avocado as party president as Mr. Tanigaki, and they didn’t do much of anything in between the time the polls were taken, yet their gap with the DPJ was reduced by nearly two-thirds. They’re just like Paul Newman in the movie: Sometimes nothing is a real cool hand!

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Jockeying for position

Posted by ampontan on Monday, February 22, 2010

I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.
– Will Rogers, American humorist

AMERICANS ON BOTH SIDES of the political aisle still laugh about the Will Rogers quip above, but it’s no laughing matter that the same could be said about Japan’s two major parties. All political parties are to a degree coalitions, but the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party are little more than coalitions of convenience. The only cement that held the former together during their days in opposition was that they were Not The LDP. Do the members have a common political philosophy? While they are generally left of center, it sometimes seems as if their ideas are as diverse as those of a group selected at random from the phone book. For its part, the LDP was created specifically as a coalition of non-leftist parties in 1955. Now it’s a coalition of the Old Guard and non-leftist reformers.

Their inherent structural inefficiencies make it inevitable that both will either disband or turn into rump parties, behave like paramecium and exchange nucleic material, and reassemble as different entities. Falling out of power might have hastened that process for the LDP. Gaining power might have hastened that process for the DPJ.

One of the speakers at a symposium I attended in Tokyo last October went off topic briefly to say that the Nagata-cho politicos were convinced DPJ strongman Ozawa Ichiro would cut the left out of the ruling party, form a new political entity, and govern in the manner of a milder Koizumi Jun’ichiro. Perhaps that’s inevitable, given his checkered history, but those rumors circulate still.

That’s why eyebrows lifted at media reports of a lecture Mr. Ozawa delivered on the 13th at the Ichiro Ozawa Seiji-juku. The Seiji-juku is an institute he says he created to train people for a political career, and other people say he created to train aides for Ozawa Ichiro.

Declared the DPJ secretary-general, with my emphasis added:

Since losing the election, the LDP has fallen apart, or perhaps it had a meltdown. For now, there is no other alternative than for a DPJ government to handle politics while we go through a process of trial and error.

The Japanese are highly attuned to the use of deliberate subtleties, so everyone spotted those two words right away. For now? What’s coming next?

One hint might come from a brief exchange in a panel discussion in the 13 December issue of the Sunday Mainichi. Said journalist/commentator Toshikawa Takao:

Mr. Ozawa conceived the process of centralizing local government budget requests with an eye on the nationwide 2011 local elections. Budgets are implemented by chief executive officers and the local legislatures. Mr. Ozawa wants to bring down all the LDP-affiliated mayors, governors, and assemblymen in those elections. I think his idea is to crush them beyond hope of recovery.

Responded panelist Futatsuki Hirotaka:

I also think his real aim is the nationwide local elections. If (the DPJ) can win those and crush the LDP, it’s also possible that a new “Ozawa Party” could be created…Could it be that a two-party system with alternating governments was just a vehicle for seizing political power?

Hatoyama the younger

Mr. Ozawa is not the only one jockeying for position. In the 27 February issue of Shukan Gendai released last week, ex-DPJ and current LDP member Hatoyama Kunio, the prime minister’s brother, hinted he would leave the LDP and form a new party, perhaps as early as April.

He said he wants to create a third force aligned with Hiranuma Takeo, the Japanese version of a social conservative, and government reform firebrand Watanabe Yoshimi.

He added that relying on the DPJ was pointless because his brother had been “assaulted” by Ozawa Ichiro. (The word he used was 犯された, or okasareta, which can also mean raped. Let’s not go there.)

Mr. Hatoyama also said he would offer his new party as a vehicle for popular former Health Minister Masuzoe Yoichi (photo), who tops some polls as the person Japanese would most like to see as the next prime minister.

I’ve already talked to Mr. Masuzoe several times. The hopes of the people are centered on him. But it’s a fact that he can’t do anything by himself. I could support him.

Mr. Hatoyama knew his announcement would get headlines; the Hatoyama name assures media coverage. But no amount of media coverage can offset his lightness of being as a politician, nor can it convince many Japanese to take him seriously.

The idea that he could bring together Mr. Hiranuma and Mr. Watanabe is fanciful to say the least. The former was tossed from the LDP by former Prime Minister Koizumi for objecting to postal privatization. The latter wants to continue the privatization process.

It’s perhaps uncharitable to say so, but his motivation to form a new political party might stem from fraternal jealousy rather than political conviction. His seems to be an ambition springing from envy at the success of his brother Yukio, both in politics and in getting his mother to cough up a substantial amount of the family fortune to pay for it.

Masuzoe doing fine on his own

Meanwhile, Mr. Masuzoe formed and convened the first meeting of a study group with several LDP members. The stated objective was to examine economic strategy, including international competitiveness and employment measures. The implicit objective, however, was to explore the potential of either gaining control of the LDP or forming a new party of his own. Some of the people involved include:

  • Suga Yoshihide: A former interior minister and something of a reformer, he’s been allied with a wide range of people in the past. He started out in the camp of Kato Koichi, an extreme conciliator on North Korean issues, but finally pitched a tent on the grounds of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, whose hard-line stand against the North Koreans put him at the head of government.
  • Shiozaki Yasuhisa: A former chief cabinet secretary under Abe Shinzo, Mr. Shiozaki has taken a consistently strong stand in favor of bureaucratic reform. He was criticized in his previous position for his inability to serve as a coordinator between the party (LDP) and the Abe administration.
  • Seko Hiroshige: A former aide to Mr. Abe, he fulfills the key role of handling mass media relations.
  • Kawaguchi Yoriko: She was a foreign minister in the Koizumi Cabinet, though it was widely assumed that then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda Yasuo did the real work.

The study group also backs the Koizumian structural reform agenda, including postal privatization. It’s worth noting that Mr. Masuzoe explicitly mentions the former prime minister’s name and policies in his speeches.

About 30 mid-level and younger Diet members attended the group’s first meeting last week. Mr. Masuzoe told them:

The LDP lost because their reforms were insufficient…Merely redistributing the wealth without increasing it will destroy the nation. We should correct the government’s mistakes and lead the nation.

The group espouses seven core principles. One holds that “economic growth is the basis for enhancing social welfare and minimizing income differentials.” The others include accelerating the shift of power from the bureaucracy to the people, and opposition to the DPJ’s plans to renationalize Japan Post.

Hatoyama Kunio was at the meeting and didn’t care at all for that last part:

What does true postal privatization mean? In the end, (the postal services) won’t extend everywhere unless the government provides them.

Other Koizumian reformers attending included the influential Nakagawa Hidenao, Kono Taro, and upper house member Yamamoto Ichita.

Mr. Masuzoe is taking the battle both to the DPJ and to the mudboat wing of the LDP, his own party. He wrote an article in this month’s Gendai Business blasting what he calls Prime Minister Hatoyama’s “Daydream Pacificism”.

In a speech in Utsunomiya on the 20th, he said:

I am preparing to boldly recruit members from the DPJ when that dictatorial party reaches a dead end and collapses…I will do everything I can if Prime Minister Hatoyama or Mr. Ozawa resign, or if an opposition group arises within the party.

Commenting on the senior members of the LDP:

If they’ve got the time to complain about people who would rebuild the party, they should complain about the DPJ instead. Some senior members have no sense of the crisis facing us, and that will doom the party.

On former Agriculture and Defense Minister Ishiba Shigeru’s suggestion to ban factions in the LDP:

Factions aren’t necessary in an opposition party. The old factions aren’t functioning.

Though he invokes the Koizumi name, some suggest Mr. Masuzoe is not quite as Koizumian as he would have us believe. They think he merely senses a shift in the public mood back in that direction (if it ever really drifted that far away to begin with).

Regardless, he clearly is starting to make a move. His advantages include popularity with the public and a demonstrated vote-getting ability–which other politicians always respect. (He held his upper house seat in the 2006 election that swung control of that body to a DPJ-led coalition.)

He also sees the public moving away from the DPJ. Some polls are now showing Mr. Hatoyama’s popularity below the 40% level. At those numbers, red lights start flashing in the inner sanctums of party headquarters. Also, the LDP-backed candidate in the Nagasaki Prefecture gubernatorial election, Nakamura Norimichi, won that race handily on Sunday against the candidate backed by the three ruling coalition parties and several other contenders.

The defeat was all the more remarkable because three prominent DPJ Cabinet members had campaigned for their candidate in Nagasaki, including the popular Maehara Seiji and Haraguchi Kazuhiro. It still wasn’t enough. Yomiuri Shimbun exit polls showed that more than 40% of the voters were influenced by the DPJ financial scandals.

For the time being, Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro cling to power and refuse to admit they’re part of their party’s problem rather than the solution. The latter may break away to form his own group, but he is now so distrusted by both the people and other politicians it’s difficult to see how an Ozawa Party will have a long-term impact.

Now that the DPJ has failed to smartly grasp the reins of power, the other jockeys are looking to move into the openings along the rail.

Afterwords:

Sometimes Ozawa Ichiro does make sense. For example, in this year’s upper house election, he’s gunning for Aoki Mikio, 75, the head of the LDP bloc in that chamber. Mr. Ozawa has declared Mr. Aoki’s Shimane seat to be the party’s priority.

Said Mr. Ozawa:

Mr. Aoki represents the old system. His role is based in that era, and it is over.

Ain’t that the truth. There are more than a few in the LDP reform wing who would agree with him. Mr. Aoki is most definitely not a reformer, and he has personal veto power over who runs as the LDP candidates in the upper house race this year.

But it’s never all good with Ozawa Ichiro. He recruited a 34-year-old local TV announcer, Iwata Hirotaka, to run in the district. Mr. Iwata was on the job until four days ago, when he abruptly resigned.

If Mr. Iwata wins, he will be little more than an Ozawa puppet who votes as instructed out of gratitude for a national spotlight and the generous perquisites of a Diet member. Undoubtedly the party will try to employ his infotainment business background and put him on stage as a pitchman if he wins.

There’s another aspect to the race as well. When Ozawa Ichiro headed the Liberal Party that he later brought into the DPJ, Hatoyama Yukio observed that Ozawa’s primary political motivation was to destroy the LDP after he lost an internal power struggle.

That battle occurred in the old Takeshita Noboru faction. Both Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Aoki are veterans of that faction who backed different horses. The former was on the losing side.

Really, a lot of problems would be solved by instituting a party primary system. One benefit would be the end of party fiefdoms. An Iwata win would help perpetuate them.

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Fraternalism

Posted by ampontan on Monday, February 15, 2010

THE CONCEPT OF YUAI, or fraternalism, is the basis of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s political philosophy. Idealistic and positive, it is admirable and worth emulating in one’s personal life. That so many people object to it is due to Mr. Hatoyama’s intention to apply it to politics, the operation of government, and international relations. There, it would be as impractical as asking, “What would Jesus do?”

Yet for all his apparent seriousness, one aspect of his life suffers from a conspicuous lack of fraternalism—the notoriously touchy relations between Mr. Hatoyama and his younger brother Kunio. Originally members of the Liberal Democratic Party, the brothers left and eventually founded the Democratic Party of Japan, now the ruling party. But Hatoyama the Younger later split the DPJ due to an inability to get along with his brother and moseyed back to the LDP, where he’s had portfolios in the Abe, Fukuda, and Aso Cabinets.

The brothers have even gone through periods in which they didn’t communicate with each other. Though they’ve managed to keep most of their dirty laundry hidden from the public until now, the difficulty between them seems to stem from a classic case of sibling rivalry, complicated by the enormous wealth of their family.

Everyone’s family hamper contains some soiled clothing, but seldom is it exposed on the national political stage, as happened last week. That exposure could well spell the end of the prime minister’s career. A jail term is unlikely, but his credibility, which was in tatters to begin with, now lies in shreds.

The background

Recall that Hatoyama Yukio was forced to come clean about some very dirty looking entries on his political funding reports last year. He had somehow managed to accumulate contributions far in excess of other prominent politicians, including the shady Ozawa Ichiro and former Prime Minister Aso Taro, another man of great wealth and aristocratic background. One salient feature of his political war chest was that an enormous amount of that money came from people who were either dead or chose to remain anonymous.

There was a good reason for the anonymity. As it turned out, the source of that money was very much alive–Hatoyama Yasuko, the 87-year-old family matriarch and heiress to the Bridgestone Tire fortune. Mr. Hatoyama finally acknowledged receiving an average of roughly JPY 15 million (about $164,000) per month in political contributions from his mother in cash for years. The back taxes and penalties alone dating back to 2002 totaled more than JPY 600 million ($6.5 million). Mr. Hatoyama later claimed the donations were loans, but no loan documents exist, and he has never paid any of the money back.

That of course became the source of jokes about his mother’s contributions being the largest allowance in the country. Others compared it to the DPJ proposal to give cash benefits to parents with children.

Hatoyama the Elder has so far managed to use the Wall of Aides to protect himself from the law. The two people responsible for managing the funds took the fall by coming up with the story that they asked his mother for the money without telling their boss. Polls show 76% of the public think that’s a lot of hooey, but it’s not possible to prove otherwise.

The prime minister may have overdone his protestations of innocence, however, when he said in January, “If a different set of facts emerges, I have no qualifications to wear this badge.” In other words, if it comes out that he knew about his mother’s contributions in advance, he would resign from the Diet.

Better than Perry Mason

And that brings us to former LDP Finance Minister Yosano Kaoru’s grilling—really, skewering and barbecuing—of the prime minister in the lower house late last week.

To the prime minister’s face, Mr. Yosano said:

Hatoyama Kunio grumbled about it. ‘My brother would often go to our mother and say that he needed money to give to his younger political followers in the party (kobun, or 子分). He went to pick up the money.’

If that hearsay story’s true, then Yukio’s claim that he didn’t know his mother was funding his political group was a lie.

Mr. Yosano added that the prime minister was:

…(t)he King of the Heisei Tax Dodgers. He has no qualifications to serve as prime minister. It’s unbecoming for a person like that to hold the position of prime minister.

(Heisei is the era name of the current Tenno, or emperor.)

The normally unruffled prime minister became quite ruffled:

That’s a cock-and-bull story. You can even ask my mother…I find it unbelievable that my brother even said that, and I think it’s regrettable.

Back benchers on his side of the aisle called out encouragement, telling him to stay cool.

Until now, Hatoyama Kunio, who already had a reputation for saying unusual things, had kept silent about the affair. He later confirmed that he told the story to Mr. Yosano, as well as the gist of the story, but claimed he never said that his brother had asked for or gone to get the money

My mother said over the phone, ‘Your brother needs a lot of money to train his kobun‘…I don’t know whether my brother told (her) that or his aide told her that.

Hatoyama the Younger also said he would neither comment on nor make judgments of the issue.

At an evening press conference following the Diet questioning, the still-ruffled prime minister said:

That didn’t happen at all. You’ll know if you ask my mother, but that didn’t happen at all. I’ve never thought I needed money to take care of my kobun, and I shouldn’t even have to say that I’ve never thought about it. That’s why it’s a complete cock-and-bull story. My brother…that, his story now, you’ve cut it off in the middle, but hasn’t he said he doesn’t know who said it? Mr. Yosano said that as if I had actually said it, but I never said anything like that at all. It’s not necessary.

The Sankei Shimbun ran a partial transcript of Mr. Yosano’s questioning. It’s more compelling than any television courtroom drama because it’s real.

*****
Yosano: When did you find out about the bogus donations?

Hatoyama: I found out from newspaper reports. It might have been in mid-June last year.

Yosano: Your aide must have been interviewed by the press the day before the article appeared.

Hatoyama: I heard it from my aide after the article appeared.

Yosano: Did you ask your aide why he did it?

Hatoyama: I asked him whether it was the truth.

Yosano: Why did it take you two weeks to hold a press conference to give an explanation?

Hatoyama: I didn’t meet my aide, and I asked my attorney to look into what happened.

Yosano: Most people would have asked their aide why they had done such a thing. Your aide did it to protect you. You kept bringing this money from some place he knew nothing about, and he had no choice but to record it on the political fund report, so he just made up some donors. The crime is in fact yours. In a yakuza movie I saw recently, the henchmen stepped up to protect their boss. The most serious crime in the political funding law is filing a false report. You’re pinning a serious crime on your aide.

Hatoyama: I don’t think you can say it was handled the same way as a yakuza, but my aide committed a serious crime. But the cause of the crime was not that serious. I’m a politician who can’t get any donations, so I made up for it with my own money. I’m convinced that it didn’t come from any shady company.

Yosano: Why are you saying that? You’re the one who brought the money. I want a clear answer why you did it.

Hatoyama: I understand that in the end, the income wasn’t recorded as my money, but in fact it was falsely recorded using fictitious names. It isn’t that we couldn’t write the names because my aide and I received the money from a source whose name we actually couldn’t write.

Yosano: Well, isn’t that a violation of the political fund laws? You used more than JPY 10 million of your own money, which is over the limit. You have to admit that.

Hatoyama: I used my own money as political funds and signed off on it, as my aide said, but of course I understood that he came up with the money in the form of a loan. There was no recognition that we did it knowing in advance that it was an illegal act. There was no intention at all of it being a donation. I think it was of course done in the form of a loan.

Yosano: That’s just an excuse after the fact. During the two weeks after this came to light, you made calls with your two aides to the people who hadn’t donated the money to ask them to say they had. You don’t have any loan documents, do you? The aide who knew you had gone over the contribution limit is taking the fall for the whole thing. You’ve dismissed him, but what’s going to happen with his court costs? Are you going to take care of him for the rest of his life?

Hatoyama: I haven’t seen the aide at least since the newspaper report. People are going around saying that we’ve been working on our story, but I haven’t done that at all. I certainly want that confirmed. I understand the prosecutors made the judgment that hadn’t happened.

Yosano: The reason you weren’t indicted is that prime ministers can’t be indicted. Don’t think you’re in the clear. The prosecutors still retain the right to indict you. There is no guarantee that you’re perfectly innocent. You say there’s no problem with the expenditures, but will the Public Prosecutor’s Office guarantee that?

At that point, Justice Minister Chiba Keiko chimed in:

All the information that came to light in the investigation was used to build the case.

*****
During an interview on television yesterday, Mr. Yosano let it ride:

Kunio got in touch with me, and told me that my questions were fine. He said he can back up my story.

The younger brother’s curious admission

Kunio would rather not talk about his brother’s problems in public, for obvious reasons. He has always refused to answer reporters’ questions about the case—with only one exception.

A journalist for the weekly Sunday Mainichi caught him outside his home one morning in a pensive mood, and passed along the story in the magazine’s 13 December issue. Hatoyama the Younger began with a tale from the two years he spent as an aide to Japan’s postwar political kingpin, Tanaka Kakuei.

“One day he (Tanaka) said to me, ‘I’ve overdone it, but my situation was such that I had to overdo it. That’s how I’ve built my position, but you mustn’t overdo it.’ He added, ‘Overdoing it is different than struggling and working very hard. There’s nothing wrong with that. When you overdo it, all sorts of things will come out later.’”

After seeing Tanaka get caught up in serious financial scandals, being arrested, being forced to step down as prime minister, and fighting in court until his death, Mr. Hatoyama said he came to realize that Tanaka was referring to fund raising when he talked about overdoing it.

It’s odd to say this about myself, but I’ve never had an appetite for power. But my brother’s intent to seize power has been 10,000 times greater than mine. To achieve that, I think he’s worked very hard and put up with a lot. He’s a hard worker to begin with, and he’s really endured.

“But still, he’s overdone it. It seems to me that he’s gone too far to look after his kohai. (後輩, which in this case is synonymous with kobun).

Thus it would seem the younger brother was already saying last December that his older brother’s problem with political contributions was due to a desire to provide for the younger Diet members in his faction.

But why would Hatoyama Kunio talk about it at all?

This might explain it. Here’s what family matriarch Yasuko also said to her younger son Kunio:

You don’t need any (money) because you don’t have any kobun, right?

*****
There’s one more bit of information to consider.

Inoue Kazuko, the older sister of Yukio and Kunio and the director of their political institute called the Yuai Juku, reportedly told the prime minister that under no circumstances was he to create a situation in which their mother was forced to testify in the Diet. By no circumstances, she meant that he should resign before he let that happen.

Unfortunately, the prime minister gave the opposition an excuse to call her in as a witness with his childish, “You can even ask my mother,” response to Mr. Yosano.

The LDP, however, has already said they’d be willing to send a delegation to Mrs. Hatoyama’s residence if a personal appearance would be too much of a strain.

*****
Are there not more than enough dots for everyone to make the connections? It’s sad that the family troubles have become the nation’s business, but people do reap what they sow, do they not?

Sadder still is that serving as the nation’s prime minister is an adolescent who never had to learn the lessons about money the rest of us did.

And how sad will the Democratic Party of Japan be if Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Ozawa retain their positions until this summer’s upper house election?

*****
BONUS # 1

The personal assets of the individual members of the lower house of the Diet were disclosed earlier this month. There are 480 members of the lower house. Here is a partial list of the rankings by personal wealth.

1. Hatoyama Yukio: JPY 1.6368 billion (about $US 182 million)
2. Hatoyama Kunio: JPY 816.17 million

Those figures do not include their stock portfolios. The value of their combined shareholdings exceeded JPY 10 billion at the market price as of the disclosure on 5 February.

Most of their stock is in Bridgestone shares received from their maternal grandfather. The prime minister has 3,500,000 shares, worth JPY 5.232 billion. His younger brother Kunio has 3,570,000 shares, worth JPY 5.66 billion.

In addition, the prime minister has 300,000 shares in other companies, including Toshiba and Mitsui, worth JPY 165 million, while Kunio has 380,000 shares in other companies, including Mitsui Chemicals and Oji Paper, worth about the same amount.

The prime minister also has JPY one billion in bank deposits and real estate worth JPY 391 million. Kunio has JPY 141 million in bank deposits and real estate worth JPY 588 million.

It’s been reported that neither brother can sell their Bridgestone holdings without their mother’s consent.

*****
During his initial policy speech in the Diet, Prime Minister Hatoyama railed against “Wealth (earned) without labor”.

*****
BONUS #2

Mr. Yosano was in ripping fine form last week. After taking in this scene–

–he said:

Mr. Kan was napping during the conference. All he does is nap, and the only time he wakes up is when his cell phone rings.

He’s alluding to a Growth Strategy Policy Council meeting held last 18 December that Kan Naoto also slept through.

Rakuten President Mikitani Hiroshi was summoned to appear at that meeting, and was none too pleased. He talked about it on Twitter.

Tweet

As it turned out, I didn’t have to go. It was a waste of time.

Tweet tweet

The most important man there slept through it.

Tweet tweet tweet

I haven’t been so pissed off in a long time.

Yes, LDP Cabinet members did it all the time too, but that doesn’t make it right, and they weren’t the ones to campaign on a platform of change.

If the work is so grueling, perhaps they should consider other ways to budget their time and how to organize their staffs.

Afterwords:
Note Mr. Hatoyama touching his face in the second photo. American politicians are trained not to do that. Body language experts say it’s a sign the speaker is not telling the truth.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

The warring sandbox period in Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 20, 2009

You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever.
– Larry Anderson

NO SOONER do I compare the behavior of Japanese politicians at the national level to that of the daimyo during the Warring States period than one of those prominent politicos uses a different historical reference that underscores the internal disarray which has turned the ruling Liberal Democratic Party into a Warring Sandbox. It also provides a disturbing glimpse of how some politicians might view their personal role in what everyone else views as a liberal democracy.

Hatoyama Kunio makes a political statement

Hatoyama Kunio makes a political statement

Kicking the sand this time was Hatoyama Kunio, a former Cabinet minister in three different governments. He most recently headed the Internal Affairs ministry in the Aso administration until he resigned over a dispute about the sale of a Japan Post-owned business. He’s also the younger brother of Hatoyama Yukio, the head of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, of which Kunio was a founding member until he split as the result of a fraternal dispute.

Hatoyama the Younger and Aso Taro have been celebrated in the Japanese media for having a close friendship, and it’s easy to see why. The former represents district #6 in Fukuoka Prefecture, and the latter represents district #8 in the same prefecture. They are both well-to-do grandsons of former prime ministers, who themselves were members of the old postwar Liberal Party that merged with other right-of-center parties to become today’s LDP.

But Mr. Hatoyama appears to have some difficulty staying on good terms with the people closest to him. His conflict with his elder brother doesn’t seem to have been completely resolved–witness his recent reference to him as a “momma’s boy”, which, come to think of it, does jibe with the public personality of Hatoyama the Elder. It also might be an expression of chagrin over the amount of family money that some suggest momma has been funneling to Big Brother’s campaign war chest. In any event, however, petty family feuding is never conducive to good government at the best of times, and this is not the best of times.

Now he’s all upset with buddy Taro since his hissy fit and resignation. But Mr. Hatoyama caused some eyebrows to rise even further when he said that Prime Minister Aso was “the Northern Court” and that he was “the Southern Court”.

He’s referring to an ancient dispute over Imperial succession in Japan that led to two separate courts from 1337 to 1392. In brief, the Imperial house split into two lines created by brothers who both served as tenno (emperors). The Kamakura Shogunate cut a deal in which the two lines would alternate members on the Chrysanthemum throne. One tenno of the junior line wanted to keep the succession in his family, however, so he wound up creating the Southern Court. After a few decades of intrigue and military skirmishing, the Muromachi Shogunate brought them back to the original compromise involving the alternation of the two lines, but the Northern Court didn’t keep its promise and the Southern Court died out.

The dispute over the legitimacy of the two lines kept cropping up over the years, as some scholars claimed the Southern court had the bona fides because they maintained possession of the Imperial regalia. That argument continued until the early part of the 20th century, when the Meiji Tenno—himself a descendant of the Northern Court—officially recognized the legitimacy of the Southern Court. Thereafter, history textbooks have treated the Northern Court as the outlier.

But that brings up the question of why a politician who sees himself as a potential prime minister would compare his dispute with Mr. Aso to one more than half a millennium ago involving the Imperial household. Does this not suggest that Mr. Hatoyama’s background of wealth and heritage has created a sense of identity that causes him to believe he’s a member of the political nobility bestowed with the divine right to rule Japan?

And wasn’t the lad being clever when he chose for himself the identity of the Southern Court? Japan’s history books recognize that court as being the legitimate line of succession whose members were deprived of the opportunity to reign. Remember also that the Southern Court was founded by the younger brother, suggesting that Mr. Hatoyama sees himself as the rightful ruler even if Big Brother becomes the next prime minister.

Finally, there’s yet another factor that really brings this down to the sandbox level. Not long ago there was an informal group in the Diet called the Taro-kai (the Taro Association). The membership consisted of MPs from several LDP factions, and the group’s objective was to promote Aso Taro for the job of prime minister. After Fukuda Yasuo abruptly resigned last year, it swung into action and finally achieved its goal.

The chairman of the Taro-kai was Hatoyama Kunio.

Now where’s the mass media when you really need them? One thing they do quite well is to cut people down to size when they get too full of themselves. Yet the media seems content to use the childish bickering as a way to provide entertainment without having to pay fees to show business performers rather than an opportunity to do something useful. Does not their enabling behavior make them a willing accomplice?

***
The quarreling brings to mind a passage from the ironically titled book, Jiminto ha Naze Tsuburenai no ka? (Why doesn’t the LDP Fall Apart?). That consists of the edited transcripts of a series of roundtable political discussions between Murakami Masakuni, a former Labor Minister and head of the LDP delegation in the upper house of the Diet, and current jailbird sentenced to the pen for influence-peddling; Hirano Sadao, a former DPJ upper house member and close associate of Ozawa Ichiro; and Fudesaka Hideyo, a former Communist Party member of the upper house who resigned after an accusation of sexual harassment.

Here’s a quick translation of the relevant part:

Hirano: When I was in the New Frontier Party, we discussed the subject of a possible conservative coalition with some members of the LDP. (Then-party leader) Ozawa Ichiro asked me to meet with Aso Taro and tell him that he (Ozawa) would support him if he left the LDP and formed a new “Aso Taro Party”. Mr. Aso is (former Prime Minister) Yoshida Shigeru’s grandson, and Mr. Ozawa’s father Ozawa Saeki was a very close associate of Yoshida Shigeru. Prime Minister Yoshida entrusted him with some important tasks. It was Yoshida Shigeru who talked me out of joining the Communist Party when I was about to become a member. So knowing that background, that’s why he sent me to talk (to Mr. Aso).

Mr. Aso’s political thinking in those days was just like that of a child. To me it looked as if he didn’t really care about principles, policies, or human relations. I thought it couldn’t be possible that he was related to Yoshida Shigeru.

Fudesaka: Not all second- and third-generation politicians are like that, but when I look at Mr. Aso…I get the impression that he’s playing.

Murakami: He’s (like some) chairman of the Junior Chamber of Commerce. In the end, he’s just the young master who’s never had to deal with any hardships.

Hirano: An Akihabara otaku, eh? He’s the captain of the otaku.

Fudesaka: Hatoyama Kunio is the same type (of person). They don’t seem as if they’re seriously concerned about the country’s direction.

***
In addition to captain of the otaku and head of the Junior Jaycees, a third description of Aso Taro might be the best one of all. After observing Mr. Aso in action years ago, the late former Prime Minister Takeshita Noboru remarked:

“He’s like a man on stilts.”

***
Please don’t get the impression, by the way, that I’m singling out the aged bon-bons of Japan. People of this type can be found in politics the world over, and two who come immediately to mind are Al Gore, who grew up in the Washington D.C. hotel rooms of his Senator father, and Ted Kennedy.

To the credit of the Japanese, at least the LDP mudboaters didn’t throw a tantrum that threw their country into turmoil as Al Gore did when he lost an election in Florida—several times, in fact—after first trying to steal it. Nor did it cause them to go so far off the deep end that they morphed into the political equivalent of a Bible Belt evangelist darkly warning that global warming meant the end of the world was nigh. And just as some of those preachers are revealed as hypocrites when their sexual liaisons come to light, so too does Mr. Gore show his true colors by purchasing offsets for his immense carbon footprint from a company in which he has an ownership stake.

Nor did any of the Japanese politicians–as far as we know—get drunk and drive off a bridge with a staffer/girlfriend in the car, leave her to die trapped underwater, and spend the better part of a day trying to find a fall guy and getting his story straight before calling the police. How lucky for him that his money and family name eliminated the possibility of a jail term for criminally negligent homicide.

***
And lest the DPJ supporters start indulging in schadenfreude over the rapidly imploding LDP, a word of caution is in order that their time will come too.

More than one serious Japanese journalist thinks former DPJ (and Liberal Party, and New Frontier party) boss Ozawa Ichiro’s eventual aim is to use Hatoyama Yukio as a vehicle to take power, break up the DPJ, and realign Japanese politics more in accordance with his own tastes.

Even if that scenario is a flight of fancy or never comes to pass, the LDP’s incipient collapse and shift to the opposition gives it a head start on rearranging itself into more workable groups–something the DPJ is also going to have to do, soon or late, willing or not.

***
But let’s be fair–Hatoyama Kunio does have his movements of lucidity. He’s been recently quoted as saying that it would be hell to leave the LDP and hell to stay in the party.

He should have extended his analogy. It will be hell if the LDP retains power and hell if it doesn’t. But since a trip through Hades is both inevitable and necessary, getting through the flames as quickly as possible means that the first step should be taken as quickly as possible.

Posted in History, Imperial family, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Japan’s political Big Bang, V.2

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 14, 2009

WE’VE ALL HEARD THE EXPRESSION about running around like a chicken with its head cut off. That’s derived from the way in which chickens will thrash around the barnyard in a headless state.

After the reports on the radio I heard yesterday morning about how the pols in the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party were taking their party’s defeat in the Tokyo Metro elections on Sunday, I can imagine what it must have been like to see dinosaurs with their heads cut off.

Some thought a lower house election should be called right away, while others were aghast at the prospect. Former Cabinet member Hatoyama “Little Brother” Kunio was uncharacteristically lucid when he said that holding an election now would be like group suicide. Yamasaki Hiraku (AKA Taku), who’s already pushing a petition from within the party to oust Mr. Aso, observed that dissolving the lower house would be fine if the prime minister intended to leave the LDP a burnt-out wasteland. Mr. Yamasaki purposely chose a phrase the Japanese use to describe the state of their cities after the flyovers of Allied bombers during the war.

About an hour later, NHK interrupted their broadcast to announce that Prime Minister Aso had chosen the group suicide/wasteland option after briefly consulting with leaders in the LDP and the party’s New Komeito coalition partners. He’ll dissolve the Diet later this month and scheduled an election for 30 August.

Some reports claim there was shock over the election results in the LDP camp, but surely they jest. Japanese pollsters can add just as well as those elsewhere, particularly the ones hired by the major parties, so they already had to have put two and two together. Not that anyone needed a pollster to know in advance. Indeed, if they really are shocked, they need to be looking for another job, and as soon as possible, please.

Mr. Aso put on a brave face and said the Tokyo Metro results were unrelated to national issues. He plans to campaign on his government’s financial policies, i.e., a promise to be responsible and raise taxes. (The more responsible position would be to eliminate wide swaths of the Nagata-cho and Kasumigaseki Leviathan while cutting some taxes, but I digress.)

He knows that’s nonsense, of course, because his party’s national polls have to be showing the same numbers as the Tokyo results writ large. Does he think he can prevent the opposition Democratic Party of Japan from obtaining a majority and limit them to replacing the LDP as the largest party in the Diet? A DPJ government in an alliance with their motley crew of potential coalition partners would certainly be a chabangeki, the Japanese term for a farce or burlesque. Perhaps the party poobahs are calculating that a DPJ-led coalition government likely to strew its own path with banana peels would cause a voter revulsion and reversion back to the LDP that much sooner.

Or does he and the rest of the party realize that Nagata-cho needs a political realignment, and it won’t start unless the LDP is in the opposition? The party isn’t capable of resolving its internal conflict between the mudboaters and the reformers while it’s still in power, so they can conduct their headchopping out of public view while the DPJ circus occupies center ring.

Reorganizing around philosophical viewpoints rather than personal associations—if that’s what they intend—will be a lot easier after the smoke clears, the bodies are counted, and the identity of the survivors is known next month.

Quo Vadis?

Political predictions in Japan are pointless, which is why I seldom read or write any, but here’s one anyway: The upcoming lower house election will be Part Two of the Japanese political Big Bang, following an interval of more than a decade after Part One and the short-lived Hosokawa administration. Or from a scatological perspective, it will be the second flush of the toilet. There’s still too much residue in the bowl that needs to be sent to the sewer, and political health demands proper hygiene.

With some luck, it just might happen. For example, former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro is worried about the challenge in his district from ex-tour conductor Tanaka Mieko, who is less than half his age. On the one hand, it was already time for him to go during the 20th century, and I’m of the school that holds we’d get better government by picking names at random from the phone book. Then again, Ms. Tanaka’s voting choices will probably be determined at party headquarters by people who should be shuffling on board the same ferry across the Styx as Mr. Mori.

Here’s something else that shouldn’t be a surprise: DPJ leader Hatoyama Yukio now says a DPJ-led government won’t end the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean for the NATO-backed effort in Afghanistan. That should make some people feel foolish—including some English-language journalists—for taking the party seriously in the fall of 2007 when they tried to leverage Japan’s reputation abroad for petty political advantage at home. There’s a reason the LDP calls on its opponents to pursue policy rather than political crisis, but the Japanese phrase for that is uma no mimi ni nembutsu: Like a sutra in a horse’s ear.

Why should anyone be surprised about their about face when that’s the only dance step they know? Mr. Hatoyama promised to vacate his office to accept responsibility if Ozawa Ichiro resigned as party head, but instead wound up in Mr. Ozawa’s old office less than a week after the resignation. Now that’s a golden parachute! The party also opposed the bill dealing with the Somali pirates, but also said they wouldn’t eliminate it if they formed a government.

And now comes the report that DPJ and three smaller parties will introduce a motion in the upper house to censure Prime Minister Aso, coupled with a no-confidence measure in the lower house. Well, what’s the bleedin’ point, as Basil Fawlty would ask. The man will be gone before autumn. Then again, what’s the bloody point of bothering with serious criticism of the DPJ when they’ve demonstrated the only thing they take seriously is a manufactured political crisis? At least the Koizumi Children—or most of them—behaved like adults.

What to do?

If the LDP had an ounce of wit left in their collective DNA, they’d see the DPJ’s bet and raise it by agreeing with them. They could say yes, we know, but since we’ve already set the election date, we’ll replace Mr. Aso with (Fill in the Name of Plausible Reformer) until the election. That seems to be a longshot now; the members most likely to be interested are heading back to their districts to keep their own necks off the chopping block. Some say one of the men who could lead that effort, Nakagawa Hidenao, is thinking of developing his own platform to position himself and his fellow travelers for an apres-election aligment with Watanabe Yoshimi and other reformers.

Some well-meaning and serious people are urging the citizens to read the political platforms of the parties before deciding how to vote. Now what would be the bleedin’ point of that? It’s obvious even to real children that policy for a DPJ-led government will be an ad hoc affair. Why read their platform when the key point about the DPJ’s behavior regarding the Indian Ocean refueling mission won’t be in it? That might let down the policy wanks, but it isn’t as if there’s anything scientific about “political science”, now is there?

An additional benefit of the upcoming election will be to set the fuse for Part Three of the Japanese political Big Bang, whether it is lit soon or late. Or, to put it another way, there’s so much crap in the system it will take another flush—at least—to get rid of it all.

For the next two months, many in the old and the new media will be making the cyber-welkin ring with unreadable/unwatchable meta-commentary on Japanese politics, but it’s safe to predict they too will miss the bleedin’ point. Flushing away this layer of crap won’t result in a clean toilet bowl: It will just expose the next layer of crap outside the LDP that the older layer has partially obscured until now.

Looks like a job for Ben and Joe the Plumbers!

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Japan’s political kaleidoscope

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, June 4, 2009

NOW THAT THE OPPOSITION Democratic Party of Japan has stuck a feather in former leader Ozawa Ichiro’s cap and called it macaroni instead of calling on Jack to hit the road, events in the world of Japanese politics are accelerating with a potentially historic lower house election just a few months away.

Here are some reflections from Japan’s ever-revolving political kaleidoscope while we wait to see how long it takes the mudboat of the ruling LDP’s zombie wing to dissolve, whether the party dumps Aso Taro and replaces him with Hatoyama Kunio to set up a brother-take-all election, and if the members of the DPJ will ever start acting their age instead of their (Western) shoe size.

Kato and Takenaka: Off with the gloves!

Former LDP Secretary-General Kato Koichi has just published a book critical of the Koizumi administration’s structural reforms. To borrow a term used to describe some members of the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, Mr. Kato would be a “wet” in the LDP. He and the very dry Keio University Prof. Takenaka Heizo, the lead privateer of the Koizumian reforms, went toe-to-toe on a recent TV Asahi program.

Mr. Kato’s first punch:

“The reforms exceeded the limits of the weakened regional areas. Your ideas (were inconsiderate of) society.”

Countered Prof. Takenaka:

“(You’re) the man responsible for “ten lost years” (of sluggish economic growth). It’s odd that you would attack Mr. Koizumi, who ended all that, as if you were some cultural critic.”

Mr. Kato thinks the Koizumi administration’s approach of zero interest rates and what he saw as a focus on corporations, reduced personal assets and income, upsetting the public:

“All of society is now irritated!”

Prof. Takenaka pointed out that his antagonist held several important positions in the 1990s, including LDP secretary-general, after the collapse of the bubble economy.

“(You) failed to deal firmly with the non-performing debt, so we did. It’s a mistake to argue there’s a future in going backwards.”

Expect to see more of these arguments, particularly if the LDP falls apart after going into the opposition, thereby liberating its reform wing.

Going backwards

Speaking of retrograde movement, Finance Minister Yosano Kaoru continued his own backwards march into the future, slapping himself during a meeting of the lower house finance committee for daring to support the complete privatization of the Development Bank of Japan as scheduled:

“I’ve done some soul-searching over the shallowness of my thinking for failing to anticipate the current economic crisis. The DBJ should remain as an important tool of the government.”

Which shows that Mr. Yosano remains an important tool of the Finance Ministry, the Big Swinging Dick of the Japanese bureaucracy. The bureaucracy will do anything to maintain its stranglehold on government policy short of strangling babies in the crib. Prime Ministers Koizumi and Abe made some headway on blasting a path through the mountain, but their two successors let the Sisyphean rock roll back down the hill again.

Not only did the lower house committee agree with Mr. Yosano, they also voted to expand the range of assets the bank can buy. The media report said the bank was scheduled for full privatization in three years, but their website (right sidebar) says about five.

Failing to foresee a once-in-a-century economic crisis is forgivable. What is inexcusable, however, is failing to see that it originated in a meddlesome government’s interference with banking practices, and that partial government ownership of those banks to facilitate further meddling will be a cure worse than the disease.

All politics is local, #1

The news media got interested in the usually uninteresting mayoral election in Saitama City last month because it was the first local poll after Ozawa Ichiro resigned from the DPJ presidency. Politicos wanted to know whether his retreat from center stage to the control booth in the wings would boost the local DPJ candidate.

The local DPJ group supported newcomer Shimizu Hayato (47), who easily defeated the incumbent backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The café commentariat saw this as a win for the new Hatoyama-led LDP, especially as Hatoyama Yukio himself campaigned there.

They’d have a point if people always elected municipal chiefs based on the behavior of national political parties, but other factors confirmed the only coherent point former U.S. House Speaker Thomas O’Neill made in his career: “All politics is local”.

Mr. Shimuzu was a newcomer nearly 20 years younger than his opponent, Aikawa Soichi (66). Mr. Aikawa was seeking a third straight term, or a sixth straight term if you count his time as mayor of Urawa before a municipal merger. Many people were looking for a change.

Some of them were in his own party. While Mr. Aikawa had official party backing, a third candidate in the race was Nakamori Fukuyo, who had been a former LDP lower house member with a proportional representative seat until March. The party didn’t support Mr. Nakamori, but former Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei and former postal privatization rebelette and current Minister of Consumer Affairs Noda Seiko swung by to campaign for him. Intraparty vote-splitting is the royal road to an election loss.

Then again, Mr. Aikawa ran a mudboat campaign of his own. After winning the primary, he played up his LDP ties and had Hatoyama Kunio, the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications (and Yukio’s brother) campaign for him. Mr. Shimizu figured he had the election cinched at that point, because his strategy was to highlight party identification, and he knew he was running against a split opposition.

The LDP nameplate has negative cachet regardless of who’s running where, but it must take a brick wall to fall on some people before they get it. Just last month, Morita Kensaku was elected Governor of Chiba despite his LDP ties because he pretended they didn’t exist. But the law of natural selection is valid for politics too.

All politics is local, #2

When Hatoyama Yukio claims to be the champion of regional devolution, that has to mean it’s an idea whose time has come at last in Japan. Since his selection as DPJ head, he has proclaimed:

“What I want to do most after I become prime minister is to change the country into one of regional sovereignty.”

He also lifted a line from former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro:

“Leave to the regions what the regions can do.”

(Substitute “private sector” for “regions” and you have the Koizumi mantra. Combine the two and you’re cooking with gas.)

People knew this was a good idea a long time ago. From Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859):

“Municipal institutions are for liberty what primary schools are for science; they place it within reach of the people.”

But how does that translate into practical policy? And just how serious is Mr. Hatoyama? Here he is answering a reporter’s question:

Question:

“The DPJ claims in its party platform that it will reduce personnel costs for the central government’s civil service by 20%. But establishing regional authority and transferring that authority to local governments will require that (same) amount of personnel, and the national civil servants will probably become local civil servants. So, as for the reduction of personnel costs for local civil service…”

Answer:

“I probably haven’t given any answer. I understand of course that (required) personnel are part of the central government’s public employees. I also think that with the emergence of regional sovereignty, the people working in the regional areas will be necessary. Therefore, I hope that many of the central government’s civil servants employees will become local civil servants and do that work.

“But, it’s natural that when local sovereignty emerges, it will be quite difficult to entrust a large amount of authority and funding resources to such places as small villages. That will have to be decided by the people in the regions, but it is inevitable, you know, that authority, if you devolve a great deal of authority, then municipalities will discuss mergers spontaneously on their own. That is a forward looking discussion. That’s not because they don’t have enough money; they’ll discuss it to perform their work.

“Of course the municipalities that exist will discuss mergers to become ‘basic local governments’. And if that happens, you see, they’ll be able to decrease the total number of public employees. That’s what I think. The national government’s role will decline. Therefore, we will be able to drastically cut the number of national civil servants. On the other hand, there will be an increase in the number of national civil servants becoming local civil servants. But it’s entirely possible that the total of local civil servants will decrease rather than increase.”

I read that three times and agree with Mr. Hatoyama. He probably hasn’t given any answer.

(Mr. Hatoyama’s use of “basic local government” here is confusing; municipalities already are the basic local government unit in Japan, even if they are technically classified as villages.)

To be fair to the nominal DPJ chief, the party policy wanks still haven’t been able to clear their ideas with Ozawa Ichiro, whom many suspect is still pulling the strings behind the scenes. The New Boss publicly supports the LDP state/province system of devolution and sub-national rearrangement, but heaven forbid that an opposition party would officially agree with one of the golden planks in the ruling party platform. The Old Boss favors a different plan, fortunately. The DPJ’s decision, whenever they get around to it, will provide some hints on the identity of The Real Boss.

Meanwhile, last November Prime Minister Aso said:

“Our ultimate objective is a state/province system based on regional sovereignty in which national government offices are transferred to the regions.”

Whether he means it or not–and many in his party do–at least it has the advantage of being short, clear, and to the point.

Answer the phone, Yukio!

Constitutional reform in Japan means more than rewriting Article 9, the so-called peace clause. Some want to remove any obstacles to the innocent use of Shinto rituals in government-related activities, while others want to shift to a unicameral legislature. But since the Japanese have never amended the Constitution, they’re still working out how to go about it.

Both houses of the Diet have a Deliberative Council on the Constitution, but it lacks internal regulations on the number of members and its procedures due to opposition party foot dragging, including the DPJ.

Notable for his silence is new DPJ President Hatoyama Yukio, though he was once so hot for constitutional reform he published his own ideas on the subject in 2005 called A Proposal for A New Constitution (PHP). Given his interest in the issue, the LDP thought his election might signal a change in DPJ policy.

They should know better than to take a politician at his word. He isn’t returning their calls. Both the LDP and junior partner New Komeito have repeatedly asked the opposition to help to formulate regulations, and even submitted a proposal for their consideration. No answer.

Some LDP members are now irritated enough to consider passing their own regulations in the second half of the current Diet session while the party still has a supermajority in the lower house and can override a rejection from the DPJ-controlled upper house.

After pointedly mentioning Mr. Hatoyama’s interest in the issue, LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chair Oshima Tadamori said:

“We really want to reach a settlement (on these regulations) during this session because (the issue involves) the sovereignty of the people. Of course we should determine procedures for Constitutional amendments.”

Replied senior DPJ poobah Okada Katsuya at a press conference:

“This should be thoroughly discussed first. I’ve talked to Naoshima Masayuki (chair of the party’s Policy Research Council, member of the Hatoyama group, and the Chief Cabinet Secretary in the shadow cabinet), and I want to use the council first. It’s not something I should talk about over my head.”

Above his pay grade, eh?

The DPJ can’t use their own committee for constitutional research because they’ve left the chairmanship vacant since the upper house election in 2007.

The reason the party is covering its ears and pretending it can’t hear is because the plethora of tails wagging the dog is making too much noise. With the DPJ so close to taking power, that means there’ll be a whole lot of shaking going on. They’re still holding hands with the pacifist/green/anti-free market–nuclear power—automobile—common sense Social Democrats, who are just fine with the Constitution the way it is except for the positive references to the emperor.

More or less within the party is the notorious Japan Teacher’s Union (see right sidebar), which backs the DPJ in the same way that teachers’ unions everywhere back political parties on the left. In the past, they’ve been caught squeezing members to donate to the political campaigns of DPJ Acting President Koshi’ishi Azuma in Yamanashi and harassed a Hiroshima school principal to suicide. They think competitive tests are bad for education and singing the national anthem is bad for any reason at all.

While serving as Foreign Minister in 2005, the LDP’s largest faction leader Machimura Nobutaka claimed the reason the government did not want Japanese schools to focus more intensively on the country’s behavior in the early part of the 20th century was that too many JTU members were Marxist-Leninists. An excuse? Maybe, but he has a point.

Another favorite JTU technique is to mail razor blades to the people that displease them. Mr. Hatoyama apparently prefers to buy his at the store for the time being.

Kasumigaseki reform

Executives of the self-proclaimed reform kings DPJ and the anti-reform People’s New Party agreed to coordinate policy proposals in their respective platforms in the upcoming lower house election, particularly for postal privatization. In other words, they promise to stand athwart the course of reform and yell Stop! The two parties also called on the SPD to join them for some coordination-a-trois, and confirmed they would work together during the election.

One wonders how many words Hatoyama Yukio can use to avoid answering a question about this contradiction while folding back his forked tongue at the same time.

Ishihara Nobuteru speaks

LDP official Ishihara Nobuteru spoke truth to power regarding the DPJ and Ozawa Ichiro during a recent television interview:

“If he were a member of the LDP, he would have resigned his Diet seat…Mr. Ozawa did not resign his Diet seat, he resigned the party presidency and became acting president without reflecting on his errors and without an explanation. This reveals the nature of the Democratic Party of Japan today.”

In your heart, you know he’s right.

A Kan junket?

DPJ Acting President and former leader Kan Naoto will be jetting to England for a four-day stay starting on the 6th. He says he wants to observe how the country’s Cabinet operates because both Great Britain and Japan have a parliamentary cabinet system.

Mr. Kan has been sitting in the Diet since 1980 and was in the Cabinet as Health and Welfare Minister in 1996. And he needs to go to England for four days to see how Cabinets and Parliaments work?

They say London is nice this time of year.

More fad Diets

The Asahi Shimbun enjoyed running an article describing how the LDP is trying to work out its preference among various internal plans to downsize the lower house of the Diet—ranging from cuts of 50-180 seats—while pacifying junior coalition partner New Komeito. If they cut only proportional representation districts, New Komeito would lose 23 of its 31 MPs. That party, widely seen as the political arm of the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, provides the campaign foot soldiers for the LDP in the same way the unions back the DPJ.

A recent meeting of a parliamentarian’s group formed to slash 180 of the seats and bring the total to 300 drew LDP Election Strategy Council Chair Koga Makoto, the keeper of the Koizumian flame Nakagawa Hidenao, and Sato Yukari and some other Koizumi children (figurative, not literal).

They discussed three plans:

  1. 300 winner-take-all districts
  2. 200 winner-take-all districts and 100 proportional representation districts
  3. A 50-50 split.

But the Asahi, the print wing of Japan’s leftist media voice, didn’t mention that the DPJ, their horse in the race, faces the same problem. Party boss Hatoyama Yukio wants to shed 80 seats, but the survival of the DPJ’s small party allies depends on proportional representation too.

Just an oversight, I guess.

Padding the bill

Governments at the prefectural level are mad as hell about the money they’re forced to fork over to maintain the local agencies of central government ministries, and they’re not going to take it anymore. (See this post for plenty of details.) Every year the national government just hands them a bill and tells them to pay up. The local governors demanded the bills be itemized, and the government finally complied. Now it probably wishes it hadn’t.

Saga Prefecture discovered that personnel costs, including pensions and the operating costs for agency buildings and employee dormitories, accounted for 10% of their financial liability to the central government. In addition to being seriously displeased at the discovery, they claimed the standards for determining payment were vague and demanded further disclosure.

This is a critical issue for some prefectures. Saga Governor Furukawa Yasushi has warned the prefectural government will be bankrupt by 2011 unless present conditions change.

In fact, prefectural governments are being billed for the mutual aid association liabilities of national civil servants for their retirement benefits and annuity reserves. The national government’s justification was that the local regions are the ones to benefit from the work of the national bureaucracy, so they should be the ones to pay.

The governors didn’t buy that for a second. Wondered noted devolutionist Gov. Higashikokubaru Hideo of Miyazaki:

I’m having a hard time understanding why these benefits are included in the bill.

But here’s some good news for those who think you can’t fight the central government and win: Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Kaneko Kazuyoshi said the government will probably not bill local governments this year for those retirement benefits.

Here I go again: devolution could be a reform whose time has come.

Chips off the old block

The DPJ successfully created a new wrinkle in the political numbers game by claiming they will nail into their election platform a plank denying official party support to new candidates with family members who’ve served in the Diet in the past three generations. They insist this has something to do with “reform”.

What it really has to do with is making the retiring Koizumi Jun’ichiro look bad for trying to pass his Kanagawa Diet seat off to his number two son. Former Justice Minister Usui Hideo planned on handing over the family business to his son in Chiba this year, too.

Some LDP members realized the media would froth it up to make them look even worse, so they called for the institution of a similar rule. But local party officials in Mr. Koizumi’s district objected because they had settled on Jun’s boy last November, and there isn’t enough time to find a new candidate. So the party said they would apply a hereditary seat restriction rule for the election after next. They also said they wouldn’t back the two lads as independents and have them sign up for the party after the election. That would be cheating.

Aha, shouted the DPJ, you’re not reformers after all! Asahi TV helped whip up the media froth with some predictable tut-tutting and cluck-clucking on their morning roundtable discussion program.

Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?

If the DPJ were serious about real reform that served the people, they would knock off the political otaku games and spend more of their time involved with the real affairs of government.

If they thought inherited seats were such a bad idea, they could apply the rule to everyone TODAY instead of making it a grandfather clause. But that would erase from the rolls the party’s standard bearer, Hatoyama Yukio, whose patriarchal line of Diet members stretches back to great-grandfather Kazuo. He started the family business during the Meiji period.

You know–the 19th century.

It would also have disqualified in his time Koizumi Jun’ichiro, who managed to accomplish or initiate more reforms in his five years as prime minister than are dreamt of in the DPJ philosophy.

Instead of running numbers in a numbers game and pandering to those who think politics is a spectator sport for the public rather than the means for the public to directly participate in self-rule, the DPJ policy wanks—as well as the LDP mudboaters—should give the power to the people and let them decide who is best qualified to serve in a district through a primary system. If the well-connected kids win, so be it.

You know–make yourselves accountable to the voters. Respect the popular will. Behave like bona fide reformers instead of the mandarins you really are.

Maybe someone will explain it to Kan Naoto during his London junket.

Afterwords:

I just ran across this in The Guardian, Britain’s premier newspaper of the Left:

Political reform can no longer be put aside as an abstract idea, of appeal to dreamers but not to voters who face the harder realities of life. The public is calling furiously for a better system. People want an honest parliament. They want leaders who are prepared to act. They loathe the old system, and many of the people who are part of it.

The subject is the British political crisis, but that same tune works with Japanese lyrics as well.

That’s a story well worth following, but it’s curious that people are overlooking the several intertwined stories in Japan, which in many ways are even more compelling.

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The shame of the shameless DPJ

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 24, 2009

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
– Mark 8:36

CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGIST Ruth Benedict famously described Japan as having a culture of shame and the United States as having a culture of guilt. She elaborated on the latter description by asserting that guilt inculcates standards of absolute morality, which America had but Japan didn’t.

Her viewpoint on the differences between the two countries quickly became both influential and controversial. Some discredit it for being “deeply flawed”, “politely arrogant”, and “anthropology at a distance”. Psychoanalyst Doi Takeo, the author of the equally influential Anatomy of Dependence (Amae no Kozo), criticized the concept for deliberately implying the superiority of the American value system to that of the Japanese.

Regardless of the validity of Benedict’s thesis, events in the 1990s demonstrated that notions of guilt and morality were obsolete in American political culture. The American President during most of that decade was publicly and credibly accused of rape; reports suggested that he might well have been a serial rapist. As a state governor, he committed the most puerile and tawdry acts of sexual harassment on state employees and used the state police as his personal procurers. While President, he toyed with an intern and a cigar in his office while keeping an overseas visitor on government business waiting in the Rose Garden.

Yet 66% of the American public thought the mass media should not follow up the rape accusation. The public was insufficiently aroused to demand his conviction when impeached. (No sniggering until you finish the sentence!) Needless to say, the Democrats, the President’s own party, thought none of this disqualified him to continue serving in the nation’s highest office.

Now, 10 years later, their namesake, the Democratic Party of Japan, seems to have placed a bet that the sense of shame in Japanese culture has become equally extinct.

L - R: Pinocchio, Geppetto

L - R: Pinocchio, Geppetto

On 10 May Ozawa Ichiro finally took it upon himself to resign his position of party president after his chief aide had been arrested six weeks earlier for accepting a total of $US 3 million since 1995 in illegal campaign contributions from a dummy organization established by a construction company. Had Mr. Ozawa a sense of guilt, morality, shame, or even held himself to the standards to which his party holds other politicians, he would have resigned immediately after his aide’s arrest.

Some in the political class now cling to the legal presumption of innocence until guilt is proven. But like Caesar’s wife, politicians should be above suspicion; their position and their dependence on the public trust demands that they conform to a standard higher than that for a high school dropout caught using a crowbar to jimmy open a vending machine for spare change. That would be the case even if the DPJ had not tried to sell itself as cleaner than thou.

Some insist that Mr. Ozawa should have relinquished his Diet seat in addition to his position in the party, and a few people speculated that he might eventually do just that. But he did not. In fact, his official statement on the DPJ website does not refer to the fund raising scandal at all:

In order to strengthen party unity with a view to ensuring victory in the forthcoming general election and realising a change of government, I have decided to sacrifice myself and tender my resignation as President of the Democratic Party of Japan.

Translation: The only reason I quit was to keep the party from breaking up and to make sure it takes power in the next election.

Well, if that’s the story he wants to stick to, he’s the one who’s going to need a prescription to get to sleep every night. But a political party with integrity and character would insist—at a minimum—that he have the decency to keep his public profile subterranean for the rest of his political career. What did the DPJ do?

They bestowed on him the honor of appointment to an executive position called “acting president”. That’s the same title held by Kan Naoto, one of the party’s founders and a past party president himself.

They also put him in charge of the upcoming election campaign. All five senior party officials appeared on stage together after their appointment looking for all the world as if happy days were here again. In other words, they thought their tainted political meat was still fit to serve to the voters as long as they covered it in enough sauce to mask the stench.

By doing so, they validated the apprehensions of party detractors and supporters alike by behaving precisely as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party might have done 30 years ago during the reign of Mr. Ozawa’s mentor, Tanaka Kakuei. The party has now forfeited any claim to political probity, relative or otherwise.

Some are concerned that the disgraced party president has become a Svengali in his own right who will continue to wield the real power in the DPJ while new president Hatoyama Yukio performs his role in front of the cameras as their public face. Just who, one wonders, is the “acting” president, and who is the real president?

Mr. Ozawa still has not fulfilled his basic obligation of explaining how he used all that money. Who could blame anyone for drawing the conclusion that public disclosure would result in more unpleasant encounters with The Law? Because the party changed only the label without changing the contents of the container, nothing at all has changed.

The LDP response

That made it even easier for the members of the ruling party, the Liberal Democrats, to take their own turn on stage as moralists. Said Prime Minister Aso Taro:

If we’re talking about the citizens’ mindset, their feelings would be that since Ozawa has become the acting president, the questions they most want to ask (Party President Hatoyama Yukio) are about the money connection with Mr. Ozawa. There might be a sense of a disconnect between the popular will and what the DPJ is saying. (Public opinion polls show that) most people think their explanation has been inadequate….

Mr. Aso swung at a fat pitch and nearly whiffed–not surprising for a man with a batting average below the Mendoza Line. But former party Secretary-General Kato Koichi connected more solidly. Mr. Kato was rumored to be examining the possibility of forming a new, small party last autumn with himself at the head. The idea would be to form a coalition with a stronger DPJ after the next lower house election and become a credible candidate for prime minister in a broad coalition government.

That option doesn’t seem to be in play any more. During a television broadcast last week, Mr. Kato said:

“When the people saw the photograph of Mr. Ozawa shaking hands with the new party president, Hatoyama Yukio, I suspect they thought, ‘They’re the same as the LDP’. (It means) the DPJ is no longer able to win an outright majority in the next lower house election…A movement transcending parties might now arise.”

In other words, he foresees the possibility of a post-election political realignment and the creation of a real reform bloc that does not include either Mr. Hatoyama or Mr. Ozawa.

Perhaps the unkindest cut of all was delivered by Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Hatoyama Kunio, Yukio’s younger brother. The atmosphere might be chilly at the next get-together of the Hatoyama clan:

“It’s apparent to everyone that (Yukio is) Ozawa Ichiro’s puppet. I’ve always thought of forming a fraternal alliance with him, but an alliance is impossible unless he dumps Ozawa.”

Hatoyama the Younger helped form the DPJ in 1996 with Yukio, but later left to rejoin the LDP. Here’s what he had to say about his handiwork:

“I’m the one who gave the Democratic Party its name. Yet, it’s regrettable that what they’ve done is the most undemocratic thing. I didn’t want my brother to get involved with those procedures (that allowed only the party’s diet members to vote for party president)”.

Politicians never pass up the chance to bash the opposition, but seldom does a man call his brother a willing dupe in public, member of the political opposition or not.

The late American humorist Fred Allen once observed, “You can take all the sincerity in Hollywood, place it in the navel of a fruit fly, and still have room enough for three caraway seeds and a producer’s heart.”

The same could equally apply to all the sincerity in politics, and the reason the DPJ chose to praise Caesar’s wife rather than bury her is as we’ve noted before: They’re afraid he’ll take his 50 supporters in the Diet, flounce out of the party, and find someone else to go to the ball with. That has been the chief activity of Mr. Ozawa’s career, after all. The DPJ is also well aware of its electoral impotence with anyone else at the helm, so why muck around with principle and honor when the chance to take power is still up for grabs?

What comes next?

The ultimate verdict will be rendered by the electorate, and if recent polls are any indication, the DPJ might get away with it. The party itself got an eight-point jump in polling after placing Mr. Hatoyama in the shop window. Before Mr. Ozawa resigned, voters favored Aso Taro by more than 10 percentage points in a head-to-head comparison. Now a similar advantage is enjoyed by Mr. Hatoyama.

Yet the same polls show that more than 70% of the respondents found Ozawa Ichiro’s explanation for resigning unacceptable. As always, we’ll have to stay tuned to see whether the polls hold firm, this is just a temporary bounce or a transient phenomenon, or if the DPJ discovers yet another way to fumble its opportunities.

Despite the naked opportunism and alley cat scruples, some good might come of an eventual DPJ victory and formation of a government. It could lead to the eventual creation of a legitimate two-party system in Japan. If the party behaves in power anything like they did in opposition, the voters would soon realize that incompetence and venality transcend party affiliation and start drawing conclusions. The inevitable early crumbling of a DPJ-led government might accelerate the political realignment the country desperately needs. And finally, it would provide people like me with what the American military calls a “target rich environment”.

But even with the accrual of all these benefits, the bad would still outweigh the good. When people such as these win, everyone loses in the end. It would show just what the Japanese are prepared to put up with from their politicians. And finally, it would reveal their contemporary attitude toward shame.

The word for shame in Japanese is haji, and the word for shameless is hajishirazu; literally, not knowing shame. A victory in the lower house election with Ozawa Ichiro pulling the DPJ strings without bothering to stand behind the curtain hiding him from the audience’s view would lay to rest for good Ruth Benedict’s notion of Japan as having a culture of shame.

That’s because it would be hajishirazu its own self.

Afterwords:
C. Douglas Lummis had this to say about Ruth Benedict:

Militarist Japan was for her simply “Japan” – Japan as it had always been, and as it would continue to be unless changed from the outside.

Ruth Benedict, who died more than 60 years ago, worked from second- and third-hand sources. But isn’t it odd that Mr. Lummis’s observation could just as well be applied to contemporary Western mass media and some maladjusted foreigners, despite the accessibility of international air travel and the libraries of information available with just a few keystrokes?

UPDATE:
The U.K. is now undergoing the mother of all political/financial scandals in which, very briefly put, MPs of all parties are being exposed for diverting public funds and the benefits derived from their position to their personal gain.

The Archbishop of Canterbury makes an excellent point here about the limitations inherent in regulating the behavior of politicians:

The question “What can I get away with without technically breaching the regulations?” is not a good basis for any professional behaviour that has real integrity…

…if the culture is such that regulation takes the place of virtue, we shouldn’t be too surprised if public figures show signs of the virus and take refuge in the “no rules were broken” tactic.

Daniel Hannan of England, a member of the European Parliament, approves. He says the concept:

…is the basis of Protestantism, of liberalism, of the British conception of freedom. It is the foundation of modern Conservatism too. As Keith Joseph used to say, when you give people responsibility, you make them responsible. And, although Dr Williams quite properly refrains from saying so, it is the strongest possible argument against Gordon Brown’s plan to subject MPs to an external quango.

I’m neither British nor a Protestant (though I will cop to being a broadly non-denominational, classic liberal), but I wholeheartedly agree.

That’s why I think some well-intentioned laws, such the Japanese law funding political parties (defined as having five Diet members) from the Treasury to prevent a corrupting reliance on corporate donations, are ultimately self-defeating. (Not to mention an infringement of the rights of those people who choose not to contribute to political parties at all.)

That’s also why I think such innovations as the lay judge system, which began functioning last week amidst controversy and some public opposition, are excellent ideas. As the man said, when you give people responsibility, you make them responsible. True reform of the Japanese political system will not be achieved until the people are given as much responsibility as they can handle–and that means downsizing government to the lowest levels possible while enforcing the basic laws governing human behavior.

Regardless of the reasons people give, I suspect the opposition to the lay judge system is based mostly on the absence of a sense of civic responsibility. For some people, it just takes too much time and trouble to assume that responsibility, and it cuts into their social life and TV-watching time to boot.

The attitude I would hold up as a model was that of a former housemate of mine in the United States who was summoned to jury duty. He would be the first to admit that it took a lot of time and trouble. But he has a strong sense of both curiosity and integrity, which meant that he was fascinated by the glimpse his service provided into the legal system and human nature, and that he performed that service in the most conscientious way he could.

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School cell phone bans gaining momentum in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 21, 2008

“I didn’t realize there were so many things in the world I don’t need.
– Socrates, describing his impressions on visiting the marketplace

GROWING NUMBERS of Japanese officials are concluding that one of the things children don’t need is cell phones in their book bags. The trend among local governments is to either slap an outright ban on students bringing cell phones to primary and junior high schools, or to allow only those with severely limited functions.

cell-phones

Osaka Metropolitan District Governor Hashimoto Toru, an attorney and television personality known for his outspoken views on government waste and the malignancy of Kasumigaseki, the catch-all term for the national governmental bureaucracy, is also supporter of back-to-basics education. He’s had some well-publicized run-ins with teachers’ unions in Osaka, starting with his call for a performance-based wage system for teachers. (Speaking of these unions in the U.S. Jonah Goldberg remarked, “No group is more committed to putting ideological blather and self-interest before the public good.” He might as well have been speaking of Japan.)

Gov. Hashimoto’s willingness to take a public stand, no matter how outrageous, means his every word and deed are now automatically national news. Thus, his announcement earlier this month of a general ban on cell phones for the metropolitan district’s primary and junior high schools focused national attention on an issue that had been percolating at the local level. Even in the governor’s jurisdiction, 88% of primary schools and 94% of junior high schools had already banned them. These are not casual decisions–Osaka surveys show that 32% of grade 6 pupils, 68% of grade 9 pupils, and 91% of grade 12 have the devices.

The governor said the high-tech toys are a distraction for students and the prohibition will be conducive to concentrating on studies. He also moved to reassure parents the prefecture will be examining ways to provide a guarantee that their children are actually attending school or to confirm their location. One way to do this would be to allow phones capable only of telephonic communication or with a GPS function.

This drew the attention of Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Hatoyama Kunio. His ministry is responsible for regulating cell phone use in the country. Said Mr. Hatoyama:

“Banishing cell phones from educational institutions is truly correct…While cell phones are convenient, it is an undoubted fact that cell phones have aspects that are dehumanizing. (For one thing), people lose conversational ability.

Other reasons cited for the ban were the increase in bullying and crimes caused by the use of some cell phone sites, and the decline of scholastic achievement resulting from an inability to concentrate exacerbated by too much time spent using cell phones.

Now this week, a national government council on rebuilding education launched during the Abe Administration and reorganized during the Fukuda Administration created a subcommittee to study cell phone use in schools. The council is also recommending a de facto ban that limits devices to talk-only phones with GPS functions

The council emphasizes the role that families and the community must play in regulating cell phone use among the young. They urge that parents use filtering services for their children’s devices. They also suggest that more public phones be installed in train stations and schools to allay parental concerns about communicating with their children. They plan to submit a full policy recommendation in three years.

Finding ways to enable working parents to keep tabs on their kids is the key, of course. If it weren’t for that, cell phones would have no more business being in a classroom than comic books.

A quarter of a century ago, the Japanese public swallowed the line from Japanese educators that the school system needed to become more like that in America. Many Japanese now regret that their schools succeeded in following that model all too well, considering the subsequent deterioration in academic accomplishments and personal discipline in public schools since then. Over the past few years, the movement to reclaim quality education in Japan has been picking up steam. A cell phone ban is another step forward in that movement.

Afterwords: Note that high schools are exempt from Governor Hashimoto’s ban. There’s a reason for that: the Japanese have a clearer awareness than Americans (for example) that compulsory education ends at age 15. The decision to continue their classroom education is optional and in their own hands. Teenagers who want to attend a good college and enter one of the professions must take entrance exams for admission to a good academic high school. As a consequence, the average Japanese high school student has a more proactive approach to his education than his counterpart in the United States. That in turn seems to lead to an earlier formation of a sense of purpose in life. Very broadly speaking, Japanese high school students tend to behave with more self-assurance than those in America.

Of course Americans that age get to operate motor vehicles, work regularly at part-time jobs, and have the chance to enjoy a full schedule of social activities both at school (sponsored dance parties on the premises, for example) and on their own outside of school. I’m not convinced that the head start of a few years in these activities constitutes an advantage in life, however.

Posted in Education, Social trends | Tagged: , , , , , | 13 Comments »