AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Okada K.’

News management

Posted by ampontan on Monday, June 6, 2011

DESPITE media reports, Prime Minister Kan Naoto does not seem to be willing to go gently into that good night. Here are some observations by Hasegawa Yukihiro, a member of the editorial board at the Tokyo Shimbun and author of several books:

“The newspapers are quoting the prime minister as telling Ishii Hajime (Democratic Party vice-president) that he will accomplish the passage of the second supplementary budget and the special measure for government bonds. There is absolutely no prospect for the latter bill to be passed by August. In other words, he’s saying that he wants to stay on past August. Why then is everyone saying that he expressed the intention to resign by August?”

Indeed, DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya is still singing last week’s song that the Kan-Hatoyama memorandum included nothing about a resignation.

Mr. Hasegawa answers his own question:

“If you carefully read the news reports, the only people saying that Prime Minister Kan will step down by the end of August are people other than Prime Minister Kan. These statements are designed to generate a flow in that direction. He himself says he will stay long enough to pass the special legislation for the government bonds, and that’s not going to happen by August. The mass media too is clearly plotting to abandon Mr. Kan and bring in their next Mr. X.”

One lone, brave voice is crying out in the wilderness, however — that of Torigoe Shuntaro, a former journalist for the Mainichi Shimbun and now a commentator for Asahi TV:

“There’s a concentrated barrage of Kan bashing in the media and on Twitter, and it’s open season for abusing Mr. Kan. Criticizing Mr. Kan seems to be the latest fashion in Japan. Everyone is fighting to be at the vanguard of fashion, and no one wants to miss the bus. But both the earthquake and the nuclear disaster were unanticipated. The people who have actually gone to the site to see have said it many times. This won’t be so easy to accomplish.”

People familiar with Mr. Torigoe could have scripted his text in advance, but he does have a point. Just as in the United States, the Japanese news media assumes it has a role in picking winners and losers. Mr. Torigoe has played the same game for a long time himself. He’s whining now only because the game’s momentum is with the other team and time is running out.

The behavior of American politicians and news media if that country had a parliamentary system of government with the option to dissolve the legislature and hold general elections before the end of a fixed term is not a scenario I care to contemplate.

Afterwords:
Everyone — and I do mean everyone — has lambasted governments past and present and Tokyo Electric for defending themselves by saying the severity of the earthquake and tsunami was “unanticipated” (soteigai). How curious that Mr. Torigoe, of all people, would use the exact same word for the exact same purpose.

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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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Who’s calling whose bluff?

Posted by ampontan on Monday, May 30, 2011

A FEW DAYS ago, I wrote that the passage of a no-confidence motion in the lower house of the Diet would require the dissolution of the body and a new general election. That wasn’t entirely accurate, because Article 69 of the Constitution specifies that the Cabinet has to resign en masse unless the prime minister calls an election within 10 days. On that choice could hinge the course of Japanese politics — and post-earthquake society — for the foreseeable future.

No-confidence motions have passed four times under the current Constitution, the last in 1993 for the Miyazawa Cabinet. Each of the rebuked prime ministers has chosen to dissolve the lower house and hold an election. The political media thinks there’s a real possibility this one could pass too, even though it would require a rebellion by an estimated 80 of the 308 members of the ruling party in the lower house. That’s why Prime Minister Kan Naoto is reportedly threatening DPJ MPs that he too will choose an election rather than go quietly into that good night.

The word “threat” is an unusual one to use for a prime minister’s dealings with the nominal allies of his own party, but it’s a bon mot here. A senior member of the opposition LDP told one newspaper their internal polling shows they’d pick up from 100 to 150 seats in an election. That would be a bloodletting on a scale similar to the previous lower house election (and the 2010 American Congressional elections). The lower figure alone would be enough to give the LDP the most seats in the chamber.

Whether or not those numbers are accurate, the polls and polling results for the DPJ have been dismal for some time. Some local members are running for office by running away from their party ID. Therefore, a DPJ member voting for a no-confidence motion might be voting himself out of a job, particularly the first termers who arrived in the 2009 landslide.

That’s why Ozawa Ichiro, now working to bring down the prime minister of his own party, is telling those delegates — many of whom owe their seats to his expenditures of time and money on their behalf — that it’s still not physically possible to hold an election in the earthquake/tsunami damaged Tohoku region. Therefore, he says, Mr. Kan is bluffing; resignation is his only real choice. (There are also reports the DPJ leadership is quietly canvassing local governments in the Tohoku region to see if they can conduct an election.)

That’s also why LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu told reporters he wasn’t in favor of holding a lower house election, even though his party and New Komeito would be the ones to introduce the no-confidence motion. He’s purposely flashing his cards to the DPJ MPs to signal that their seats are safe with him.

Because this is a parliamentary system and party disloyalty is a hanging offence, both Mr. Kan and party Secretary-General Okada Katsuya have promised to lay their vengeance upon their fellows who vote for the motion, or even play hooky on the day of the vote. (Let’s put aside for now how the party would deal with, say, 70 rebellious members voting for a failed motion. How will they throw them out and survive?)

The prospect of being a party-less Diet member appeals to no one; they’d have to find their own cash spigot instead of feeding at the party trough. That would explain the rumors of the Hatoyama Brothers forming a new party. If money indeed walks, they have enough between them to shoe in golden slippers any pol who wants to walk to a new home.

Who’s next?

But who would replace the prime minister after he was relegated to the ashkan of history? Freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken thinks he has an idea.

Mr. Itagaki once covered the Kantei for the Mainichi Shimbun, so he knows his way around Nagata-cho. He’s also become a semi-shill for Ozawa Ichiro and has a taste for conspiracy theories involving David Rockefeller, so a salt shaker needs to be kept handy when reading his columns.

This time, he’s focused on former Defense Minister Maehara Seiji, who would have been a logical candidate anyway had he not resigned earlier this year, ostensibly over accepting political contributions from a Korean national born and living in Japan. Mr. Itagaki also thinks the Americans have made it known to Tokyo they want to see Mr. Maehara come on the September state visit instead of Mr. Kan. (The former takes a harder line against China and is not averse to amending part of the Constitution’s Peace Clause.)

Before Maehara can become prime minister, however, Mr. Itagaki says he will have to dispose of some political baggage. He cites other examples from the past: Sato Eisaku passed on his geisha mistress to political ally and widower Kanemaru Shin (later known for keeping the LPD’s stash of gold bullion in a safe at home). Nakasone Yasuhiro relinquished his mistress, the proprietress of a nightclub, to a trusted aide.

Outside women do not seem to be Mr. Maehara’s problem. Also, as this previous post notes, the campaign contributions from the zainichi woman were not significant, she was a family friend, and if she uses a Japanese name, aides wouldn’t have known her ethnic background. Many people suspected at the time this was merely a face-saving offering to allow him to resign without more damaging information being revealed. Mr. Itagaki echoes the stories that appeared in weekly magazines about campaign money from gangsters and ties to North Korea. He adds that one story is so explosive it could cause collateral damage to Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko and Reform Minister Ren Ho, but concludes it’s not too late for Mr. Maehara to tidy up his affairs.

New Komeito Party Head Yamaguchi Natsuo says this is the week the players start calling bluffs and putting their cards on the table. We’ll soon find out who’s holding the aces and how likely it is that nothing can be a real cool hand.

Afterwords:

Yesterday the voters of Mito in Ibaraki elected Takahashi Yasushi mayor. Mr. Takahashi is an independent backed by the LDP. The election was supposed to be held last month, but many city functions are shut down until 30 June to deal with the earthquake damage. Mito managed to hold an election, but the problems in the Tohoku area are more daunting.

My previous post on Maehara Seiji is dated 9 March, two days before the Tohoku quake. Even then, Yamaguchi Natsuo was saying the Kan Cabinet was in “an endless state of collapse”, and Tanigaki Sadakazu was mulling a no-confidence vote. The disaster is the only reason they still have Kan Naoto to kick around some more.

Over the weekend, I ran across a website for an organization overseas purporting to present foreign affairs analysis. (I forget the name.) They claimed that one of the reasons Mr. Kan was in trouble with Japanese voters was a political contribution from a zainichi man he met for a round of golf.

This is bologna made from the worst quality tripe. The prime minister acknowledged the contributions, said he didn’t know the man was Korean (possibly true), and the slight ripple created by the story had smoothed over within days.

In short, they’re peddling air-based preconceived notions about Japan and Japanese society as professional analysis.

Science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon once said that 95% of everything is crap. That’s still a pessimistic exaggeration, but not in regard to the pronouncements about Japan from journalists/academics/think tanks.

*****
Who’s going to draw the bad card?

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Gold among the dross

Posted by ampontan on Friday, May 27, 2011

AT LAST we’ve discovered there was someone responsible for dealing with the accident at the Fukushima power plant who knew what he was doing and did it — site manager Yoshida Masao. It’s a shame the same can’t be said of the people in nominal control of the situation in Tokyo.

To quickly review: The government’s official record states that Prime Minister Kan Naoto instructed that seawater be inserted into Fukushima’s Reactor #1 for cooling at 6:00 p.m. on 12 March.

Kan aide Hosano Goshi now says that’s not what really happened. He claims that METI chief Kaieda Banri told the people at Fukushima to make preparations to insert seawater.

The record also states that Tokyo Electric began adding seawater at 7:04 p.m., but the utility says it suspended operations 20 minutes later when they found out a debate was underway in the Kantei over whether that could cause recriticality. The record first stated that Nuclear Safety Commission Chairman Madarame Haruki said it was possible. When that became a point of contention, however, Mr. Madarame successfully demanded the record be changed to reflect that he said “the possibility wasn’t zero”.

Finally, the record states that Prime Minister Kan gave the order after 8:00 p.m. to insert the seawater.

Now Mr. Yoshida has come forward to say that he took it upon himself to ignore the decision made in consultation with Tokyo Electric headquarters to stop the insertion. Instead, he used his judgment to follow the manual of emergency procedures and continued without interruption.

In other words, everything in the records compiled by the government and Tokyo Electric is now suspect. While the government amended Mr. Madarame’s statement, they changed nothing else. Does that mean the government would have us believe Prime Minister Kan gave an order to do something that had already started an hour earlier on instructions he issued two hours earlier?

Incidentally, Mr. Hosono claimed the Kantei had trouble communicating with the people on-site, but now we find communication was no trouble for Tokyo Electric. The decision to stop the seawater insertion that Mr. Yoshida ignored was made using a videoconferencing setup between Tokyo and Fukushima.

The revelation that the procedure was not stopped as originally reported has displeased the government. Said Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio:

“Unless Tokyo Electric has an accurate understanding of what actually happened and reports that, the people will be suspicious….the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency will have to ask detailed questions about how that mistake occurred.”

Substitute “the Kan Cabinet” for Tokyo Electric in that statement and it would work just as well, but Mr. Edano will never cop to that. In fact, he also said this:

“We have not at all hidden or sparingly released the information held by the leadership at the Kantei.”

The only explanation for this song and dance is that Mr. Edano must think he’s in vaudeville. We know they thought the fuel started melting the day of the incident, but the prime minister has lied about it — badly — for more than two months.

Speaking of the new, open style of truthfulness in government promoted by Kan Naoto, DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya yesterday took it upon himself to explain why Mr. Kan has stopped giving the brief informal burasagari news conferences that have been standard practice for prime ministers since Koizumi Jun’ichiro. Mr. Okada had to make the exuses because Mr. Kan’s too high hat for that sort of thing. Here’s what he said:

“They weren’t very productive. The people always doubted whether they really had any value.”

Other than a generic political party convention, an organized street demonstration, or a cocktail party for the swells, is it possible to find a group of people gathered at the same place at the same time more unaware of how stupid they look and sound than the current DPJ/government leadership?

Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric is mulling disciplinary measures for Mr. Yoshida because he failed to accurately report his actions. That would be another TEPCO mistake. Their judgment based on their observations of the government was political, in the broad sense, while Mr. Yoshida’s was practical.

He deserves a medal instead.

It’s easy to understand the TEPCO position, however. The only time truth has had any currency with the past two DPJ governments is when it can be counterfeited to make them look good.

Afterwords:

The account I read didn’t mention his name, but apparently one upper house MP from the opposition LDP slammed the government and Tokyo Electric for stopping the procedure with seawater. Now he’s talking out of the other side of his mouth and criticizing the utility for continuing the insertion. One wag said he should do everyone a favor and throw himself into the moat at the Imperial Palace.

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Wabbit season! Duck season! Kan season!

Posted by ampontan on Monday, April 18, 2011

The Kan DPJ has three principles when someone asks who will take responsibility for the election defeats: We will not apologize, we will not accept responsibility, and we will assume a defiant attitude. No one’s going to accept responsibility.
– A politician described as a “veteran Diet member”, speaking to a reporter off the record

IN ADDITION to determining the chief executives of local governments and the composition of prefectural and municipal assemblies, the first round of sub-national elections held throughout the country a week ago last Sunday ended the moratorium on political warfare that began with the Tohoku earthquake on 11 March. Hunting season on Prime Minister Kan Naoto and his Cabinet has resumed. Unlike the wascally wabbits and the ducks, however, the prey painted the targets on themselves.

The Democratic Party of Japan was desperate to bag some big game of its own in the balloting. The party has always had weak organizations at the local level, and they viewed the election as a means to strengthen their presence. The national party had hoped to win an outright majority in last summer’s upper house election, eliminating the need for coalition partners, but they lost seats instead. They’ve been smacked around in local elections since then, and were humiliated in the Nagoya/Aichi elections of February, an area where they traditionally do well. Had it not been for the political ceasefire called after the earthquake, Mr. Kan would already have been a dead duck rather than a lame one.

Prime Minister Kan in camouflage clothing at Ishinomaki

The prime minister tried to play his part. He demonstrated his familiarity with the concept of Western-style photo ops by paying a third visit to the distressed region on Election Day, and the news media cooperated by treating his trip as if it were an important story. Few of them reported that he spent all of 10 minutes at a shelter in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, and talked to two of the 15 people staying there. His inspiring message? Gambatte kudasai, please do your best. One resident later offered a rhetorical question to a reporter: Is that all he can say? Mr. Kan spent the rest of his time on the ground meeting with local pols, making a quick trip to survey the fishing port, and giving an impromptu radio broadcast. One wonders how many people bothered to tune in.

He might as well have sent a decoy instead. Japan has 47 prefectures, corresponding to states or provinces, and 41 held elections for their local assemblies. The DPJ failed to become the majority party in any of them. The Asahi Shimbun reported that the percentage of victory for party-backed candidates in the prefectural assembly elections was 60% for the DPJ and 90% for the opposition Liberal Democratic Party. LDP- and DPJ-backed candidates went head-to-head in three gubernatorial elections, and the DPJ lost all three.

In short, the people have given the DPJ government in general, and the Kan government in particular, a second vote of no confidence. The Mainichi Shimbun noted that the results were not only a reflection of Mr. Kan’s unpopularity. They were also, the newspaper said, a reflection of the party’s general weakness as a political group, their inadequacy at conducting the day-to-day business of retail politics, and their inability to coordinate candidates.

Here’s one example: The party wanted to find 21 candidates for the Nara prefectural assembly to run under the party banner (rather than the other options of “recommendation” or “support”). They canvassed several districts for interest, but got no takers. Said the local party chairman, “The confusion in the Diet has spread and created a sense of disappointment in the party itself.” Some of the people who agreed to run as official DPJ candidates later changed their minds and withdrew. The party wound up backing 15 candidates in all. It was the first try for public office for six of them, and five of them lost.

The Nishinippon Shimbun wrote that the election shows the voters are continuing to desert the established parties, particularly the DPJ, and shift to local parties. They called it another step towards devolution and the kind of tax reform that isn’t a euphemism for a tax increase. While they have a point, the local parties did not perform as well as they had hoped, as we shall see.

Tokyo

None of the gubernatorial candidates in the Tokyo Metro District election ran with the official backing of the DPJ or LDP at the national level, though the local LDP and New Komeito backed 78-year-old incumbent Ishihara Shintaro, and the local DPJ supported businessman Watanabe Miki.

That the ruling party of national government was unable to recruit a candidate for the most visible sub-national office in the country is evidence of their problems. They tried to convince Ren Ho to leave her upper house seat to run, but she demurred. The polls did not look good for her even before Mr. Ishihara changed his mind and decided to seek another term. Besides, having to take real executive responsibility instead of serving as one of more than 700 legislators and Cabinet window dressing would be too much like real work.

Mr. Ishihara was reelected to a fourth term with 43.40% of the vote in a multi-candidate field. Mr. Watanabe finished a poor third with 16.81%. In between was former Miyazaki governor and show business personality Higashikokubaru Hideo, who ran without party support, official or unofficial, and received 28.06% of the vote.

A more detailed look at the results reveals some fascinating information. Mr. Higashikokubaru finished first among voters in their 20s, with 42.2%. He was less popular among voters aged 40 and older, however. He also appealed to the independent bloc—they gave 34.8% of their votes to Mr. Ishihara, but 32.1% to Mr. Higashikokubaru. (That’s more bad news for the DPJ—independents account for roughly half of all voters, and the DPJ-backed candidate received an even lower percentage of the independent votes than he did overall.)

Most people attribute Mr. Ishihara’s victory to the support of local LDP voters and the perception that he would be the most capable person to take charge in the event of a Tohoku-like crisis.

Mie

A more painful result for the DPJ, and the one that might cost Secretary-General Okada Katsuya his job, was the gubernatorial election in Mie. It was the first time in 16 years this election had been directly contested by both the ruling and opposition parties in national government. In addition, the DPJ does well in Mie—the party holds four of the prefecture’s five seats in the lower house of the Diet, and two in the upper house. The officially endorsed or recommended DPJ candidate had won five straight prefecture-wide elections since 2000, including the last election for governor. Finally, it is also Mr. Okada’s home prefecture.

The two primary candidates were Suzuki Eikei, an ex-bureaucrat in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and Matsuda Naohisa, the former mayor of Tsu. Mr. Suzuki was recommended by the LDP and Your Party and supported by New Komeito. Mr. Matsuda was recommended by the DPJ.

The national opposition parties devoted particular attention to this election. Abe Shinzo and Aso Taro, two former LDP prime ministers, stumped for Mr. Suzuki, as did Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi.

Mr. Suzuki won.

Osaka

If anyone in Japanese politics today can be said to roll their own, it would be Osaka Prefecture Gov. Hashimoto Toru. No one, including the governor himself, can anticipate what he’ll say or do next, but that doesn’t bother the people of Osaka. They still give him 70%+ support in polls in the last year of his first term.

Gov. Hashimoto and his party came this close

His eccentric orbit notwithstanding, he has always piloted his spacecraft in the galaxy of regionalism. His consistent position has been that local governments should have more authority and the national government less. Over the course of his first term, he developed what he calls the Osaka-to Concept. By that he means reorganizing the prefectural government into a structure administratively similar to that of Tokyo’s. The Tokyo Metro District government has the primary responsibility for the municipal administration of the core 23 wards of the “city” of Tokyo, but the city of Osaka and its 24 wards are now governed independently of Osaka Prefecture. The governor’s idea is to incorporate the governance of that city and the city of Sakai with that of the prefecture, and to give Osaka’s wards more authority than those of Tokyo’s 23 wards.

Mr. Hashimoto created the Osaka Ishin no Kai, a de facto political party, to achieve that goal. His group backed candidates in the elections for the Osaka Prefecture Assembly and the assemblies of the city of Osaka and Sakai. The latter is a substantial city in its own right, with a population of 840,000.

The results of the election were mixed. Mr. Hashimoto’s party won 57 of 109 seats in Osaka Prefecture—the first outright majority in that chamber by any political party since the end of the war. They also won 33 of 86 seats in the city of Osaka (having backed 44 candidates) and 13 of 52 seats in Sakai, to become the largest party in both chambers.

But because the party failed to win an outright majority in the two cities, Mr. Hashimoto declared the election to have been a failure. He said he would go back to the drawing board for his Osaka-to Concept, even though the day before the election he declared that a majority wouldn’t be necessary if he received cooperation from other delegates.

A few days later, he announced that he and his group will hold discussions with the other parties in the two cities to reach a consensus by September. If an agreement is impossible, he will resign in November, four months before his term is scheduled to end, and run in a double election in December when the city of Osaka selects its mayor. That is an imitation of the successful strategy employed by Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi in February. Speaking of Nagoya and Aichi…

Aichi

Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi and Aichi Governor Omura Hideaki continued the alliance that won them election in February on a program to cut local taxes by 10%. Their objective was to capture an outright majority for their political groups in the Aichi prefectural assembly.

They did pick up seats, but not as many as they wanted, and not a majority. Their total went from one to 18 members in a 103-seat chamber, and 45 if the candidates they recommended are included. The LDP lost its outright majority, but they are still the largest party with 49 seats.

Most observers think the earthquake/tsunami dimmed the appeal of their tax-cutting program. Mr. Kawamura attributed the defeat to “the mistaken theory that a tax increase was unavoidable”, but he stuck to his guns at a post-election news conference: “In difficult times, you have to stimulate the economy with a tax cut.”

Mr. Omura thought the general mood of self-restraint resulted in a subdued campaign. The turnout was disappointing after the interest generated by the triple elections two months ago. Just 42.01% of the voters went to the polls. 1.09 percentage points down from the previous election, and the lowest percentage ever.

Shizuoka

Located next door to Aichi, Shizuoka was another battleground for the fight between the Tax Reduction Japan of Kawamura Takashi in Nagoya and the established parties. The former mayor of Shizuoka City stepped down after 16 years in office, clearing the field for new candidates. The LDP recommended Tanabe Nobuhiro, while Unno Toru, who lost the same election four years ago by 1,303 votes, ran under the Tax Reduction Japan banner. Mr. Tanabe also received the endorsement of several influential local DPJ politicians.

Thus the two largest national parties created an ad hoc, de facto alliance of forces to take on the insurgents. Both Maehara Seiji, who recently resigned as defense minister in the DPJ government, and LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru campaigned in Shizuoka for Mr. Tanabe. He cannily used the post-earthquake mood and the year-long political turmoil in Nagoya to good effect against an opponent with greater name recognition. His speeches always presented this choice: “The election during this crisis is (the choice of) selecting either a stable city government or a city government in turmoil.” He stressed unity and contrasted that with the combative attitude of his tax-cutting neighbors. He made a point to always appear on stage with politicians from both the LDP and DPJ, and declare in his speeches: “Now is the time for us to become one. Men, women, people in their 20s, people in their 80s, the DPJ, the LDP…I have plenty of colleagues”

In contrast, Mr. Unno’s campaign slogan was “true government reform begins with tax reduction.”

Mr. Tanabe won the election with 45% of the vote. Mr. Unno received 42%, and a third candidate received the rest.

Meanwhile, the DPJ suffered large losses in the prefectural assembly, and the LDP won an outright majority.

The earth quakes in Nagata-cho

The many people who would like to see Mr. Kan gone were dismayed immediately after the earthquake/tsunami because they thought the disaster might prolong his occupancy in the Kantei by up to a year. Wrote former journalist, author, and commentator Shioda Maruo:

“Though (the earthquake) was a bitter event that left many people saddened, one person gained from it—Prime Minister Kan Naoto. The Kan administration had lost all support and become a mudboat that seemed to be on the verge of sinking at any moment. The emergency left the opposition, which was about to corner the government, no choice but to call a cease fire. Prime Minister Kan himself must have thought he had been saved. When I look at him, behaving as if his mudboat has been made seaworthy again, it makes my blood boil.”

Caution: Kan at Work

A less-than-inspirational figure under normal circumstances, Mr. Kan staggered rather than rose to the occasion. He nearly broke down at a news conference and did not hold another for three weeks. He finally showed up on the day after a national newspaper called him the hikikomori prime minister. (Hikikomori is the word used to describe those young people who hole up in a bedroom of their parents’ homes rather than conduct normal lives.) His behavior left the impression that uppermost in his mind was converting the disaster to political capital, thereby extending his term.

In addition, his administration made the conscious decision to shut out the bureaucracy from decision-making to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake. While the political class does need to put the Kasumigaseki bureaucrats in their place, they could also utilize the machinery of government and the expertise of its operators in this situation. Mr. Kan chose instead to show everyone that the DPJ government could do it themselves. Less than competent under normal circumstances, they again staggered rather than rose to the occasion and showed everyone that they can’t.

Mr. Kan is often criticized for his tendency to do whatever pops into his head at the moment. That tendency became manifest again when he made an out-of-the-blue telephone call to LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu with the demand that the latter immediately agree to join a coalition government. He hadn’t bothered to discuss the possibility with anyone in his party or government beforehand, and insisted that Mr. Tanigaki decide without talking it over with his own party. When the LDP chief asked him for time to take the proposal to his colleagues, the prime minister said he took that as a refusal and would describe it that way to the news media—which he did. (Are the reasons people dislike Mr. Kan becoming clearer?)

Another frequent criticism of Mr. Kan and his Cabinet is for their seeming preference to form new committees and hold meetings without actually doing anything. A recent Asahi TV program presented a large chart showing they had created 10 new organizations (that I could count) for dealing with the disaster. Who could blame the announcers for speculating on the amount of wasted and duplicated effort? And as if on cue, the prime minister’s semi-regular e-mail message arrived as I was writing this post. The title is, “Launch of the Reconstruction Design Council”. The council held its first meeting yesterday.

Apres-election

Once people realized that the one-two combination of earthquake and tsunami had staggered the country, but not put it on the mat, the DPJ shellacking in the local elections crystallized dissatisfaction with the prime minister, both among his own party and the opposition.

Tokyo Gov. Ishihara Shintaro said what a lot of people were thinking:

“The DPJ was thrashed in both gubernatorial and assembly elections. Will the policies of a government that has lost the trust of the people serve the people?”

About the election results, he said:

“What else could you expect? They’re a group of immature people to start with. It’s inconceivable that they never convened a meeting of the administrative vice-ministers. They talk about saving electricity, but why haven’t they issued a cabinet order?

Mr. Kan might find it easy to dismiss this as an opposition attack, but he will not find it so easy to dismiss the attacks from within his own party.

Here’s DPJ member Ishihara Yosaburo, who represents Fukushima District #1 in the lower house:

“Prime Minister Kan Naoto said he understood (Fukushima) would be a long-term issue and he would deal with it in that manner, but this threatens the lives of the people of Fukushima and Japan. If he thinks this is a long-term issue, I hope he resigns immediately and is replaced by a new regime that can resolve the situation more quickly.”

Haraguchi Kazuhiro, a member of the Hatoyama Cabinet, said the following on the government’s response to Fukushima at a news conference sponsored by the Free Press Association of Japan:

“What should be done to prevent the release of highly concentrated radiation into the sea? If they are incapable of making that decision, the entire Cabinet should resign.”

Tarutoko Shinji, who has run for the DPJ presidency, left no doubt about his intentions despite the circumlocutory language:

“I have an extremely strong feeling that (this government) will not benefit the people in these circumstances.”

The revolt is close to the boiling point. Speaking to party members about the elections, DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya admitted that the leadership’s lack of ability was an acceptable subject for criticism and apologized. Someone shouted from the floor:

“How long are you going to sit there?” (i.e. stay in your current position)

Okada: “Who spoke just now? Raise your hand and say that.”

No one did just then, but that didn’t last long.

Mr. Kan refuses to step down from a job he’s coveted his entire adult life, which has finally led to bipartisan cooperation. Executives from the two major parties are discussing ways to yank him down. JNN reported that senior members of the DPJ and LDP met to devise a strategy for dumping him.

One meeting was attended by Mr. Kan’s predecessor Hatoyama Yukio, Mr. Hatoyama’s chief cabinet secretary Hirano Hirofumi, current LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru, and former LDP Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei. The LDP is planning to submit a no-confidence motion in the lower house and a censure motion in the upper house, and it is becoming increasingly likely that some in the DPJ will vote for them. The meeting was to determine the timing of the submissions. Mr. Hatoyama thinks it’s too early, but Mr. Hirano said the limits of cooperation have been reached.

Ozawa Ichiro ally Yamaoka Kenji, one of the DPJ party vice-presidents, met with New Komeito Secretary-General Inoue Yoshihisa to discuss avenues of cooperation for removing Mr. Kan and governing post-Kan. Others attending included Hatoyama associate Nakayama Yoshikatsu and former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko. Mr. Yamaoka said the situation demanded the creation of a new coalition. Ms. Tanaka, still as blunt as her father after all these years, simply said, “This administration is really bad.”

That brings up the destroyer-of-worlds Ozawa Ichiro, who ostensibly controls the largest single bloc in the party. Not only does he agree that something must be done, he now seems ready to do something about it himself.

Last September Mr. Kan defeated Mr. Ozawa in an election for the post of party president and tried to use that as a wedge to drive him from the party. Now the shoe is on the proverbial other foot. Speaking with uncharacteristic urgency on an Internet TV program, Mr. Ozawa criticized the government’s response to Fukushima:

“We have no idea who (within the government) is responsible, nor what it is they’re supposed to do. This makes less sense than when everything was left to the bureaucrats.”

Speaking to 20 younger Diet members at a party at his home, he said:

“I won’t be forming a (new) party. We are the real DPJ. They are the ones who changed, so shouldn’t they be the ones to leave?”

Depending on the report, Mr. Ozawa is either mulling the possibility of calling for a recall vote within the party or supporting a no-confidence motion in the lower house. The media thinks there are roughly 90 people in Ozawa’s group in the lower house, and 80 DPJ votes are needed to pass that motion. Some wonder if the threat of a no-confidence motion is one way to force Mr. Kan to step down. Mr. Ozawa himself noted that the motion’s passage would require a new lower house election, and there are no suitable places to vote in some parts of the Tohoku region after the destruction.

A further complication is that Sengoku Yoshito is reported to be working behind the scenes in the DPJ to unseat the prime minister and replace him with Okada Katsuya, just as party members are calling for Mr. Okada’s head to pay for the election results. Though Mr. Sengoku served as Kan Naoto’s chief cabinet secretary until an upper house censure forced him to resign, he seems to share everyone else’s low opinion of Mr. Kan’s competence. Indeed, some theorized the reason the prime minister kept his phone call to the LDP chief a secret is that he didn’t want Mr. Sengoku to know.

Popular will

After the DPJ became the largest party in the upper house in the 2007 elections, they tried to force the LDP government to dissolve the lower house and call for new elections. They had a logical reason: The results for the upper house were the most recent expression of popular will.

Once in government, however, that logic has slipped the collective DPJ mind. Though they lost seats in the upper house last year and have performed poorly in local elections since then, culminating in the balloting on the 10th, they aren’t interested in the most recent expression of popular will now. Said Okada Katsuya at a post-election news conference:

“They were local elections. If someone calls for resignations because of them, it would be a mistake.”

He tried to put lipstick on the pig at a meeting of party committee chairmen:

“Even though a defeat is a defeat, we should create standards for counting official recognition and recommendations.”

In other words, the results wouldn’t look so bad if the successful campaigns of non-DPJ pols the party recommended were added to their victory total. That excuse quickly evaporated; one commentator noted: “Changing the method of calculating victories doesn’t change the fact that this was a defeat.”

Asked at a news conference about the possibility that the election performance would cause the prime minister to step down, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio answered:

“The prime minister was given his duties based on the rule of democracy. The true path is the have the Cabinet exert every effort to fulfill those duties.”

Doesn’t that first sentence make you wish dunking stools could be brought back as a means to discipline the political class?

The agenda

Since Kan Naoto’s continued presence is detrimental to his party and the DPJ government, and he is the primary obstacle to discussions about legislation and policy between the ruling and opposition parties, people wonder why he’s staying put.

Here’s one possibility: The leftist elements of the DPJ realize this will be their last chance in government for the foreseeable future and want to make hay before the downpour. Last Wednesday, the DPJ’s project team to examine the establishment of a human rights commission held its first meeting with former Education Minister (and labor union activist) Kawabata Tatsuo as chairman. The Canadian experience with commissions of this sort indicates they are vermin magnets more likely to infringe human rights than to uphold them, but the rest of the world gave up on trying to understand the logic of the left long ago.

Mr. Kawabata and the DPJ want to establish a similar commission affiliated with the Cabinet Office. His team intends to reach a consensus within the party by early May and submit legislation to the current session of the Diet. That will be difficult; some proposals circulating in the party have included giving the commission the authority to search premises and seize documents without a court order. Some in the DPJ don’t care for the whole idea to begin with, and they’re well aware of the potential abuses of the right to free speech.

Explained Mr. Kawabata:

“We can’t put this off for a moment. We achieved a change in government, so I want to take this major step.”

Last month, Sengoku Yoshito told a meeting:

“It is an obligation of the DPJ government to establish this.”

By obligation, he means the establishment of a commission was hidden in the small print of the 2009 party manifesto, though even the DPJ knows that or similar planks in the platform weren’t the reason the electorate voted for them. It’s unlikely that most of the electorate were even aware of them.

One would think the Kan Cabinet has more pressing matters at hand to deal with, but that’s not how the thought process works in his wing of the party.

Speaking of Mr. Kawabata, by the way, more than JPY one million in political funds from his office were once found to have been paid to cabaret clubs for undisclosed reasons. He said it was all legal and didn’t want to discuss it. He also didn’t want to discuss irregularities with his office expenses similar to those that caused problems for later-stage LDP Cabinet ministers.

How lucky for Japan to have a clean party in government for a change!

Up next

And speaking of luck, last week’s events suggest the Kan Cabinet will be lucky to make it through the current Diet session, much less the rest of the year. That will call into question the DPJ government’s continued existence absent a lower house election. But then, a lower house election would highlight what might be a terminal illness.

They’ve never been particularly coherent, but their behavior is increasingly erratic. Discussing the DPJ’s electile dysfunction at a news conference last week, Okada Katsuya seemed oddly detached:

“Because we’re the ruling party, I wanted us to be more aggressive.”

This is the man with direct responsibility for the party’s election campaigns speaking.

The DPJ has been having trouble finding people willing to run as party candidates in elections, and they were incapable of fielding an official candidate in the Tokyo Metro District governor’s election. Now they’ve decided not to run an official candidate for the lower house by-election in Aichi’s District #6 to replace Ishida Yoshihiro, who resigned to run for mayor of Nagoya. (He lost.) Candidacy declarations were made on the 12th for the election to be held on the 24th, coinciding with the second round of sub-national elections. Five people declared, including people from the LDP and Tax Reduction Japan. None were from the DPJ.

It is telling that party executives said they decided not to run a candidate because of persistent criticism of the government and their recent dismal electoral performance.

In other words, the ruling party of government is not defending a seat it holds in a prefecture that is traditionally one of their strongholds because they know people don’t like them.

Commented Ishihara Nobuteru:

“That’s extremely unusual. It’s a by-election to replace a DPJ MP who ran for mayor. I thought the DPJ would be the first to decide on a candidate to defend their seat.”

Japan’s Democratic Party was incapable of winning national elections until they allowed Ozawa Ichiro to join and teach them. He’s no longer willing to serve as tutor, however–earlier this year, the DPJ suspended Mr. Ozawa from party activities because of his legal difficulties. Their clumsy bungling once in office put them behind the electoral eight ball even with Mr. Ozawa on side, but now he’s outside the tent pissing in, to use former US President Lyndon Johnson’s phrase. Maybe there’s something to the karma idea after all.

The real question is not how long the Kan Cabinet survives, but how long the Democratic Party of Japan survives in its present form.

******
Which one of these characters reminds you of Kan Naoto?

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The revolution in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, March 3, 2011

In short, the central power had taken to playing the part of an indefatigable mentor and keeping the nation in quasi-paternal tutelage.
– Alexis de Tocqueville on France’s pre-revolutionary Bourbon governments

Today we are in the midst of a cultural U-turn away from a Hamiltonian meritocratic-elitist, centralized-power society to a more Jeffersonian Main Street focus, with state and local governments as the primary powerbrokers.
– Salena Zito

This is a citizens’ revolution
– Kawamura Takashi

THE REVOLUTION that’s been smoldering for years at the grassroots level in Japan like a smoky mound of autumn leaves has finally blossomed into flame. Ever decorous, the Japanese are not heaving crates of tea into Tokyo Bay, nor have they stormed the Imperial Palace or the Diet Building. This civil war is being conducted with civility.

Yet after the votes were counted the so-called Triple Election held last month in the city of Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture, they were just as surely carrying the heads of the politicos on stakes through the streets as if they had used the French National Razor to detach and dump them in straw-lined baskets.

The editorialists of the Asahi Shimbun wrote that they were surprised by the results, but if they’re serious, it suggests a level of obtuseness remarkable even for an out-of-touch establishment. In every national election since 2005, the voters of this country have spelled out their preferences so clearly only a political illiterate could fail to have read the writing on the wall. Koizumi Jun’ichiro used the votes of local Liberal Democratic Party members to storm into office in 2001 on pledges of privatization, reform, and ending the collusion between the bureaucracy and his own party. He began with public approval ratings in the 80s and ended five years and five months later at 70%, one year after winning a two-thirds supermajority in the lower house in a 2005 election called specifically for a verdict on his plan to privatize Japan Post. After the LDP reverted to its wicked old ways, the voters finally took a flyer on the opposition Democratic Party and their promises of a bright new political order. But it was only a matter of weeks before the DPJ exposed themselves as sheep in wolves’ clothing, and now it’s their turn to be torched.

It’s easy to see why national politics causes Japanese observers to be distressed and the inexpert foreign journalists to be dismissive–when they bother to pay attention. The political class has been neutered in domestic affairs by a bureaucracy that actively competes for power, and in foreign affairs by the United States, which still treats the country as its fiefdom three generations after the end of the war. This arrested development is compounded by a Westminster system of government not conducive to developing executive abilities. The result is that governance is nominally in the hands of people whose only expertise is waging an ever-shifting and amorphous battle for political advantage through plots hatched in the private rooms of expensive traditional Japanese restaurants

The difference at the subnational level, however, is as stark as the contrast between the mud and the clouds, as the expression has it, and it’s no longer hidden. Here’s an excerpt from a roundtable discussion published last month by Gendai Business Online. Three of the participants were former Finance Ministry official and now professor/journalist Takahashi Yoichi, professor/blogger Ikeda Nobuo, and newspaper editor Hasegawa Yukihiro.

*****
Takahashi: In an election now, parties other than the DPJ and LDP, such as Your Party, for example, would take votes. But that will be difficult unless they crush the big parties in some way.

Hasegawa: I want to point out one mechanism for smashing them: The revolt at the local level. (What’s happening in) Nagoya, Akune, or Osaka is at bottom the same. The frustration felt by the average citizen, the frustration at the public sector—that’s become a (form of) energy, and the impulse to destroy the current system is the backdrop to it.

Ikeda: The things being done by Nagoya Mayor Kawamura (Takashi) are rather disjointed, but I strongly sense the frustration at the regional level and the people’s expectations for them. That even someone like Hashimoto Toru (the governor of the Osaka Metro District), a strange person who has become so prominent, can be so enthusiastically supported, shows just how fed up the people are with the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy.

It’s become very difficult for one government to govern 130 million people. There are 300 million people in the United States, and while the federal government has a certain amount of authority, local governments have a lot of power. We’ve reached the limit for (the ability of) Kasumigaseki to completely rule 130 million people, as in Japan. To use what Mr. Hashimoto said as an example, it’s the Big Business Disease. It’s gotten so big that the mechanism is no longer mobile.

Ikeda: From the perspective of a person in the Kansai region, the center of culture is the Kansai. They probably wonder why Kasumigaseki has to have a say in everything. With that power, it would be interesting if they were to do something like declare their independence.

*****
That discussion appeared days before the elections in Nagoya and Aichi, after which the more perceptive editorialists at the Mainichi Shimbun wrote: You could feel the earth move.

The election

The rumpled, folksy, and ambitious Kawamura Takashi resigned after five terms in the lower house of the Diet to become a candidate in the Nagoya mayoralty election of 2009. Mr. Kawamura was primed to channel the intense dissatisfaction with local government that has been building for years, predating the Tea Party movement in the United States. In addition to the universal arrogance and avoidance of accountability by the politicians, it was fueled by oversized legislatures, slush fund scandals, and research fund expense accounts spent on personal entertainment rather than the study of issues. Within the past decade the public has forced local legislators throughout the country to provide receipts for the use of their research fund allowances, and everyone saw how quickly and drastically expenditures declined—often by as much as 70%-80% compared to years when no receipts were required.

Kawamura Takashi on election night

Mr. Kawamura ran on a platform that he dubbed a citizen revolution. He won with a record number of votes in Nagoya elections by promising a permanent 10% reduction in local taxes and the formation of volunteer citizens’ groups with elected members, called neighborhood councils. These groups would have a say in determining the allocation of city funds in their districts. To this he later added halving the annual city council salaries of JPY 16 million (roughly $US 195,000)—a substantial amount individually as well as in the aggregate, considering that Nagoya, a city of 2.26 million, has 75 city council members. In contrast, the slightly larger city of Chicago has 50 aldermen, and the similar-sized city of Houston has to make do with 14 (soon to be 16). The mayor made a point of stating that politicians should be the first to suffer in bad economic times. He also went first—cutting his own salary to JPY eight million from more than 27.5 million.

The events that played out in Nagoya for more than a year contain enough drama for a film script, though the movie is a familiar one throughout Japan. The city council was not about to line up behind the new mayor’s program, but passed the tax cut only after a newly formed citizens’ group threatened a petition drive to recall them. When the group lost its focus a few months later, the council rescinded the permanent tax cut and limited it to one year. Mr. Kawamura reintroduced legislation to make the reduction permanent, but the council rejected it by a vote of 73-1, claiming they had already discussed the issue enough.

That’s when the cold war turned hot. The mayor launched a petition campaign to recall the city council against almost impossible odds—the signatures of one-third of Nagoya’s voters were required in one month—but defied expectations by succeeding after more unanticipated drama. When the recall election was officially announced, he resigned and declared his candidacy for reelection, in effect taking his case directly to the voters. Both elections were to be held on the same day as the regularly scheduled election for the governor of Aichi Prefecture, where Nagoya is located.

Employing savvy political instincts, Mr. Kawamura convinced the most popular local politician of the opposition LDP, Omura Hideaki, to resign his lower house Diet seat and run for governor. Mr. Omura was a former Agriculture Ministry bureaucrat who rose quickly in the party ranks after turning to politics, earning an appointment as deputy minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare. His campaign was based on another idea that is gathering momentum in Japan. That is a form of devolution and regionalism that involves the reorganization of territorial political units at the subnational level into larger entities with more authority. A large body of opinion nationwide favors the provision of greater power to the regions through the restructuring of the prefectural system into a province/state system. Mr. Omura calls his idea the Chukyo-to Concept, which would create a larger entity unifying Nagoya and Aichi with the neighboring prefectures of Mie and Gifu.

It’s important to know that both Nagoya and Aichi are a stronghold of the ruling Democratic Party. The area is the home of Toyota, and labor unions have a strong political influence. Aichi has 15 directly-elected seats in the Diet, and the DPJ won them all in their 2009 landslide. Mr. Omura lost his single-district seat in that election, but was returned to the Diet through proportional representation.

Both major parties recognized the Kawamura/Omura campaign as an existential threat. The DPJ was the more desperate of the two; their standard bearers have been pummeled in local elections throughout the country for the past year, and they were desperate for a victory before local elections are held throughout the country in April. The new allies ran on a program of tax reduction, while the DPJ at the national level is trying to convince people that a significant tax increase and record high budgets will be the salvation of the country.

Omura Hideaki on election night

Meanwhile, the LDP asked Mr. Omura to leave the party when he declared his candidacy and ran an officially sanctioned party candidate against him. The DPJ liked their chances in the governor’s race because their organization in Aichi, based on the Toyota unions, is the second largest local prefectural organization in the country after Tokyo. They also expected the two LDP candidates to split the vote.

The DPJ backed Ishida Shigehiro for Nagoya mayor, and he also received the official endorsement of the ruling party’s coalition partners, the People’s New Party, and their former coalition partners, the Social Democrats. He also had the unofficial support of the LDP.

The results of the Triple Election were obvious an hour after the polls closed, all the more remarkable because votes in Japan are counted by hand. Kawamura Takashi was reelected mayor with 73% of the vote in a field of four. He received three times as many votes as the runner-up. Exit polls showed he was the choice of 78% of DPJ supporters, compared to 21.1% for the official DPJ candidate. He also received votes from 78.9% of the independents, significant in a country where the most reliable poll suggests more than half of the electorate are non-aligned.

Omura Hideaki took a skoche under 50% of the vote for governor in field of five, but his was the second-highest total ever in absolute numbers. The DPJ was correct in assuming that the two LDP candidates would split the party’s vote, but that made the results even more difficult to digest—the official LDP candidate finished second, while the DPJ candidate finished third. In fact, exit polls showed that 46.1% of the LDP supporters backed their party’s designated candidate compared to 42.8% for the apostate Mr. Omura. In contrast, 53.9% of the DPJ supporters crossed party lines to vote for him, while only 27.7% stayed with the ticket. New Komeito, which is still informally allied with the LDP at the national level, backed Mr. Omura.

Finally, in a straight up or down vote, 71% of the voters chose to support the mayor and recall the city council. Nagoya is what is known as a specially designated city, which means it has authority similar to that of a prefecture. It was the first time the electorate of a specially designated city recalled their city council. The new election will be held on March 13, and already Mayor Kawamura has formed a local party to back his own slate of candidates.

The dismal swamp of local politics

Aikawa Toshihide, a journalist who specializes in local government, explains in Diamond Online why serious reform is required to resuscitate what is all too often government in name only at the subnational level:

“In Japan, the system of centralized authority in which the national government (the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy) butts into everything and controls all the money has long been the norm. It has therefore become customary for the chief municipal officers, employees, and legislators of local governments to conduct their work while looking in the direction of the national government (the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy), and not the people. Local government exists in form only, and the conduct of governmental affairs under national guidance is unchallenged. The tripartite structure of the executives, employees, and legislators has left the people behind.”

The executives and the legislatures of local governments are elected separately, unlike the parliamentary system used at the national level. Thus the ideal is for the two branches to operate in a system of checks and balances, such as the national government in the United States. In practice, however, Mr. Aikawa notes that the result more often is collusion between the two branches.

That’s illustrated by an Asahi Shimbun questionnaire survey conducted this January of 1,797 prefectural and municipal legislatures. The response rate was 100%. They found that in the four years from January 2007 to the present, 50% of the legislatures neither amended nor rejected a bill submitted by the executive. Further, 91% of the legislatures submitted no legislation of their own. Finally, 84% of the legislatures do not reveal the votes of individual legislators on bills. One-third of the legislatures fell into what the newspaper called the three noes category—they answered no to all three questions.

During the period surveyed, the executives submitted on average 414 bills to legislatures, and 82% of the legislatures either rejected or amended three or fewer of the bills.

Former Diet member and Yokohama Mayor Nakada Hiroshi speaks from experience:

“Most people probably look at the Diet and get the impression that discussion gets nowhere. When local chief municipal officers and legislatures have competing agendas, the stalemate in the assembly is 10 times worse. Conditions are now such that our only chance to pursue reform is for the executives to charge head first into the legislatures, as Mr. Kawamura has done.”

While Mr. Nakada does believe the system of checks and balances is important, he thinks the problem of the legislatures is greater than being unable to see the forest for the trees:

“It’s as if they’re talking about the shape of the knots and criticizing the way branches are cut.”

Yokohama has 92 city council members, the most of any Japanese city, and Mr. Nakada thinks that number could be slashed to 10. He also thinks that to conduct city business, there should be an increase in staff, a larger budget for research expenses, and a shift to the Westminster system for local governments of a certain size. Most municipal assemblies in Japan convene only four months out of the year.

Nagoya, meanwhile, has 75 city council delegates from 16 municipal election districts with from two to seven delegates representing each district. Winning elections requires a political organization and party support, so there are few independents. Many of the council members have emerged from labor unions or political families, while some were former aides to Diet MPs, a practice not uncommon in Japan. The key to remaining in office is party loyalty.

That explains a very low pre-Kawamura voting rate for elections in Nagoya and Aichi–usually near 40%. The turnout for the 2005 mayoralty election was 27.5%, while that for City Council in 2009, when Mr. Kawamura was at the top of the ticket, was still less than 40%. Post-Kawamura, the turnout for all those elections has been greater than 50%.

The Kawamura philosophy

Into this stagnant backwater stepped Kawamura Takashi, promising at first a tax cut and greater citizen control over budget expenditures, and then upping the ante to halving the salaries and eliminating the pensions of City Council members. He is no more an opportunist than any other professional politician, because his political objectives do have a philosophical foundation. He thinks people should be engaged in politics with a volunteer spirit, and he does not hide his disdain for the professionals who turn it into a life-long occupation:

“Legislators and government officials are public servants. I want to stress that as the starting point for politics.”

As for the remuneration received by the political class:

“Taxpayers really have to struggle. It is truly unacceptable for the people who live off of taxes to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle.”

As the Tea Partiers in the United States look to their national history for inspiration, Mr. Kawamura intends to revive an even older idea in Japan:

“I want to have a citizens’ revolution of the type created by Oda Nobunaga, who enabled the everyday person to engage in commerce through the policy of rakuichi rakuza.”

The latter term is usually translated as “free markets and open guilds”. It refers to the 16th century policy of eliminating market taxes and the monopolistic privileges of trade associations. That policy was implemented by regional warlords, or daimyo, to concentrate authority in castle towns and attract merchants and craftsmen to increase wealth and production.

The first recorded instance of the elimination of market taxes occurred in 1549 in what is now Shiga Prefecture. The first example of eliminating trade association monopolies, which had a greater impact, occurred in 1576 in what is now Fukui Prefecture. These measures were most closely associated with Oda Nobunaga, but they were continued and extended nationwide by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his successors. There were inconsistencies in application, as with any human endeavor, but the result was the creation of a market economy centered on castle towns rather than noble houses and religious establishments due to the granting of patronage.

Mr. Kawamura also wants to cut the municipal corporate tax to attract people and companies to Nagoya. He explained his reasoning in an interview in the 4 June 2010 edition of the weekly Shukan Asahi:

“Tax cuts are necessary because reform alone means that the leftover money is just redistributed within the government. Cutting taxes is the only way to make government more efficient. Lower taxes means that the budget will have to be cut, and that includes privatization of public services.”

He points out that city council members work only 80 days a year, and claims the tax revenue loss will amount to only 1.4% of the total budget. For this work, they receive a nominal salary of JPY 16 million, though others say the total is closer to JPY 35 million when all the benefits are added. Political parties also give each member five million more.

One City Council member claims that her take-home pay amounts to only JPY 390,000 a month after the deductions for income tax and contributions to three separate pensions. Legislators in other local governments have similar complaints, though none as extreme as hers (and she doesn’t explain why a third pension specifically for legislators is required). She complains that the salary Mr. Kawamura has in mind would be better suited for legislatures that meet in the evening, as in some European cities. Now there’s an idea!

On the ground

The disgruntled in the political class sometimes complain about voters that fail to grasp issues in the way they should be understood, but it would difficult to make that claim in Nagoya/Aichi. That battle was engaged for more than a year, so it should be obvious from the election results that the people want what Mr. Kawamura is offering. As support for the first Democratic Party government plummeted nationwide, falling from 70% to less than 20% in eight months–and faster and lower than that for the successor government of Kan Naoto–the mayor’s approval rating stood at 63.6% after six months in office and 61% after a year.

One reason is his demonstrated mastery of retail politics. In addition to cutting his own salary to the level he wants the council members to receive, the mayor gave up his official automobile and leases a minicar for JPY 14,700 a month. When traveling outside the city, he books a regular or reserved ticket on trains. He’s also more accessible than most Japanese politicians, showing up unannounced to civic events. After he attended a traditional festival last year and circulated among the crowd, one of the organizers marveled that it was the first time one of the mayors showed up in the 15 years he had been involved with the event.

He’s also found more ways to save money besides tax and salary cuts and the elimination of the JPY 42.2 million pension for council members. Slush funds are endemic at the subnational level of Japanese government, and the usual practice is for companies doing business with local government to submit phony bills. A percentage of the money used to pay those bills is funneled back to the government, and recent exposes have uncovered the use of those funds by civil servants for all sorts of fun and games, including drinking parties and softball team uniforms. The investigation into the Nagoya slush funds had been closed, but Mayor Kawamura reopened it in August 2009 and dug up JPY 39 million more.

After City Council backtracked and converted the permanent tax cut into a one-year only measure, Mr. Kawamura resubmitted legislation for the permanent cut the following month:

“Limiting it to one year is not a tax reduction, it’s a benefit payment…Many people say that tax reduction is “Kawamura Populism”, but that isn’t so. It is tax reduction that is politics.”

City Council Chairman Yokoi Toshiaki retorted that the city had floated JPY 45 billion in bonds to cover the revenue shortfall, and that council members’ were already the lowest of the nation’s five largest cities. The council rejected the bill 73-1.

At that point the combatants stopped taking prisoners. The mayor’s response was to create a political group called Tax Reduction Japan. They began to circulate petitions to recall City Council in August. It was surely no coincidence that the same month, the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito council members concluded it would be a good idea to reduce their own salaries to JPY 13.93 million from 16.33 million.

Few thought the petition drive would succeed. The law required 366,124 valid signatures to be collected in one month. The legal definition of a signature for a petition in Japan includes a voter’s full name, address, date of birth, and seal. The list of signatures is disclosed to the public, which might cause some voters who support specific delegates to refrain from signing. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications reports that 59 petitions have been filed to recall legislatures, which resulted in 33 referendums and 28 actual recalls. No recall election had ever been held in cities with more than 200,000 voters.

Declared an LDP member of the Nagoya City Council:

“They can’t possibly collect that many signatures. The local media is saying the same thing. They’ll just self-destruct.”

Had he read the poll numbers, he might have held his tongue. When the drive started, the mayor was supported by 83% of DPJ backers and 67% of independents.

Morokuma Shushin, the leader of the DPJ caucus in the Nagoya City Council asked the party to revoke its endorsement of the mayor:

“We’ve put up with one thing after another, but the mayor’s anti-party act was the last straw.”

The mayor fired back:

“What anti-party act? The DPJ’s council caucus was the one responsible for the anti-party act. I’ve been working to achieve the campaign promises that the party endorsed, but they joined with the LDP and New Komeito to oppose them. This is an impossible situation, so recall is the only option.”

Okamoto Yoshihiro, the leader of the LDP caucus, stepped up the rhetoric:

“I’ve consistently called for cooperation, but that’s not longer possible in this situation. The mayor’s methods are violent, and I’m concerned.”

Down and dirty

His concern was not misplaced. The petition drive ignited a fire among the city’s voters, and the group submitted 465,000 signatures early in October, well more than the amount required. The establishment was so concerned, in fact, they tried to prevent the election from happening. It took the Election Commission six weeks to review all the signatures, and they threw out more than 100,000 because they maintained the strict rules for collectors weren’t followed. Those rules require that signatures be collected by either an official representative of a group or a person named a delegate by a representative. Of the signatures submitted, roughly 110,000 did not have the name of a designated delegate as the collector, which meant they had to have been collected by a representative. The Election Commission decided it wasn’t possible for one person to successfully fish for that many signatures. They declared the signatures invalid, which meant that the petition no longer had the amount required.

Supporters of the recall immediately called foul and questioned the commission’s impartiality. Nagoya has 16 separate district commissions, one for each election district, and one commission overseeing the entire city. The City Council approves all the members, and the commission for the city has four members. Three of them are former City Council delegates, one each from the DPJ, the LDP, and New Komeito. (The fourth is a retired school principal who isn’t a politician.) They receive a salary of roughly JPY 35,000 a month and are required to attend a biweekly meeting.

The people who circulated the petitions insisted it was indeed possible for one person to collect that many signatures, as they set up stations at sites with heavy pedestrian traffic and often received more than 2,000 a day. Staffers in the Election Commission office itself told the media those signatures wouldn’t have been ruled invalid in the past, and the school principal, the only non-politician among the commissioners, agreed. The other three commissioners, led by the chairman—the New Komeito veteran—initially held firm. They even floated the possibility of asking each of the signers to identify the person who collected their signature—a time-consuming process that would permit other disqualification techniques–but after an appeal was filed, the signatures were ruled valid on 15 December.

Meanwhile, in mid-September the governor of Aichi announced he would not be a candidate for reelection. On 6 December Mr. Omura told a news conference he would resign his Diet seat and run on the Kawamura platform. Two days later, the LDP asked him to leave the party. The recall election was formally declared on 17 December. On 21 January Mr. Kawamura delivered his coup de théâtre by resigning with more than two years left in his term and declaring he would be a candidate to replace himself, thus setting up the Triple Election to be a popular referendum on his policies.

Nationalizing the election

Nagoya and Aichi became the political equivalent of California during the Gold Rush. The two major national parties dispatched their heaviest hitters to campaign for their own candidates against the Kawamura-Omura team. DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, a native of neighboring Mie, visited frequently, though his presence had the opposite of the effect intended. Commented a DPJ MP from Aichi:

“More than half of Mr. Kawamura’s supporters are DPJ supporters. Every time Mr. Okada criticized Kawamura, they moved farther from the DPJ. The national party issued an order forbidding people from supporting him and kept party MPs from attending a function for him on the 24th. Not only that, but at the national level, Prime Minister Kan is calling for a tax increase. We can’t wage a campaign that way.”

The DPJ also sent three Cabinet ministers, to little effect: the photogenic Ren Ho, Justice Minister and former upper house president Eda Satsuki, and then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito. The appearance of Mr. Sengoku, however, was a typical error in party judgment. First, he is the symbol of the government’s mishandling of the incident in the Senkaku Islands with China. Second, it came as no surprise that a man of the left whose behavior was an insult to parliamentary courtesy every time he opened his mouth in the Diet would be the one to compare Mr. Kawamura to Adolph Hitler. Godwin’s Law is just as applicable in Japan as it is elsewhere, however. The public failed to see how a direct appeal to the people by resigning and running again and getting more votes than the other candidates made Mr. Kawamura Hitlerian.

Dropping by from the opposition LDP was party head Tanigaki Sadakazu, MP Kono Taro, a high-profile member who is the Minister of Reform in the party’s Shadow Cabinet, and former Koizumi ally Katayama Satsuki.

The Osaka Ishin no Kai campaign in Nagoya

The election also attracted allies to the cause. The shoot-from-the-lip and wildly popular enfant terrible Hashimoto Toru, governor of the Osaka Metro District, led a group of 100 people to Nagoya to campaign for Mr. Kawamura. Mr. Hashimoto, perhaps the most visible politician outside of Tokyo supporting regionalism, was returning a favor. The Nagoya mayor visited Osaka in April to campaign for Hashimoto backers in the Metro District’s legislative election.

The blowback

The DPJ was appalled by the result. Internal Affairs Minister Katayama Yoshihiro was the point man leading the party’s attack squad:

“To resign as mayor and run again in the subsequent election just to create interest is perverse.”

And:

“The idea of forming a ruling party that agrees with everything the executive submits is different from the system envisaged (with checks and balances). There are undeniable concerns it could lead to dictatorial politics.”

He had plenty of ideas about what he would have done instead:

“Mr. Kawamura climbed out of the ring, joined the spectators, and criticized the people in the ring. If it were me, I would have persuaded the City Council instead of working for its recall”

And:

“If I were the head of a local government, I would do everything in my power to reform government to direct the savings into reducing the enormous debt that local governments carry. Reducing taxes in spite of this debt is dubious from the perspective of long-term fiscal operations.”

He also suggested in a roundabout way that the popular movement was really a contagious disease.

The chairman of the DPJ’s Election Campaign Committee, Ishii Hajime, took a different tack:

“It was an election in one area, and rather than a battle between parties was something that occurred in Nagoya, a unique place. The result is not a decisive blow…it was a bit like a typhoon that’s hard to understand…it was a wonderful performance in the Kawamura Theater.”

The new DPJ Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio tried to a leaf from the failed Obama playbook:

“We haven’t sufficiently communicated to the public what we’ve done since the Hatoyama administration.”

He refused further comment on the matter.

The losers in the race were just as bitter. After seeing the results, Yokoi Toshiaki said he would accept the people’s verdict, but refused to say any more: “I am no longer a council member.” He had worked in the campaign asking people not to sign the recall petition. Mr. Yokoi left with this parting shot:

“Can we call it democracy when a mayor has the authority to make final decisions?”

The losing DPJ mayoralty candidate, Ishida Yoshihiro, cried at his post election news conference and claimed he had been made to play the heel for the city council.

Others with less directly at stake had a clearer picture of what had happened. Here’s Shimoji Mikio, the secretary-general of the People’s New Party, part of the ruling national coalition:

“This result is more serious than simply being defeated in an election. We share the harsh recognition that it is a rejection of the coalition government of the DPJ and the PNP, and that we should rework our strategy.”

Even more to the point was Osaka Mayor Hiramatsu Kunio:

“It calls into question the raison d’être of the existing political parties.”

Your Party

Of more interest than the sour grapes of the DPJ and the LDP deadheads, however, is the approach of Your Party. These reformers would seem to be soulmates of Mr. Kawamura and Mr. Omura, as their platform is based on cutting government expenditures and devolution. The party was formed and is led by the outspoken LDP renegade Watanabe Yoshimi and the cool and cerebral Eda Kenji. Mr. Watanabe was initially interested in forming an alliance with Osaka Gov. Hashimoto in 2009. Mr. Eda, however, counseled against it. The governor is unpredictable, follows his own agenda, and does not fit the image of sober responsibility the party wants to present.

Mr. Watanabe actively supported the Nagoya recall, however, and visited several times to help collect signatures in the petition drive. He dropped broad hints that if the recall were successful, his party would run candidates in the City Council election allied with Mr. Kawamura. He also made it clear that he hoped they would support the Your Party candidate for Aichi governor, Yakushiji Michiyo. Ms. Yakushiji ran on a platform of cutting the governor’s and delegates’ salaries by 30%, bonuses by 50%, and personnel expenses by 20%, and the party leader visited Aichi seven times to campaign for her. She did not, however, support the call for a tax reduction.

Once Mr. Kawamura recruited Mr. Omura of the LDP to run for governor, however, Your Party has been less enthusiastic. Mr. Eda had always kept his distance; he thought it was irresponsible to call for a tax cut while ignoring the city’s debt and its reliance on subsidies from the national government to meet its budget. After the election, Mr. Watanabe said he thought the Kawamura-Omura alliance would be short-lived, as they came from different political backgrounds.

Kawahara the man

What of the man who pulled off what the media immediately dubbed a hat trick? He’s a natural politician with a knack for connecting directly with the people. Mr. Kawahara campaigned in Nagoya on a bicycle wearing the cap of the local Chunichi Dragons baseball team to cover his perpetually unkempt hair. City officials say he’s appeared at public events three times as often as his predecessors. He understands instinctively the advice former Alabama Gov. George Wallace gave Jesse Jackson when the latter ran for president in 1988: “You’ve got to keep the grass down where the goats can get at it.”

Before turning to politics, Mr. Kawamura worked in the family business, a small enterprise dealing with used paper. He has attributed his ideas about public finance to the experience gained in a business sector where price competition is fierce.

He’s also a regionalist who makes a point of using the Nagoya dialect in public interviews, though that’s not what he calls it. He asked the quasi-public national broadcaster NHK to replace the word “dialect” with the word “language” when referring to Japan’s many regional linguistic variations. “It’s discrimination against the regions and a mistake to call a region’s language a dialect. The language of Tokyo is not the standard language (標準語), it is the language of common use(共通語). They should call it the Nagoya language instead of the Nagoya dialect.”

He cites his approach as the reason for his success:

“People have at a minimum understood that I’m working from a citizens’ perspective. The awareness of the citizens is steadily changing. I think it’s important in itself that they’ve become more interested in municipal government.”

The mayor has been a reformer from the start of his career, winning election to the Diet as a member of Hosokawa Morihiro’s New Party. Mr. Hosokawa later became prime minister in the early 90s at the head of an eight party coalition that was the first non-LDP government since 1955. After the New Party folded, Mr. Kawamura finally came to ground in the DPJ. His popularity transcends party, however, as he easily kept his seat in the 2005 Koizumi LDP landslide. He’s always had designs on the executive branch, becoming something of a joke in DPJ circles by his attempts to run for party president. He tried to become a candidate in three separate DPJ elections, but couldn’t round up the minimum of 20 members needed for a formal recommendation.

He says he’s still interested in becoming prime minister, though the Asahi Shimbun is openly skeptical of that claim—he’d have to resign again and run for the Diet—but it might be for the best that he’ll probably never get the job. In an international context, his views on other issues would overshadow his vision for domestic affairs. For example, he was a member of a committee to verify the facts of the comfort woman issue and the Nanjing massacre. He “tends to deny”, as it some have it, the responsibility of the Japanese government.

His name appeared on the full page ad in the 14 June 2007 edition of the Washington Post protesting the US lower house resolution about the comfort women and demanded its withdrawal. In 2006, as a member of the opposition, he submitted a formal request to the government to reinvestigate and verify the “so-called Nanjing Massacre”. He asked the government to rectify its views about the grounds for the assertion in school textbooks that Japanese troops killed citizens and prisoners. His position is diametrically opposed to the sleep-on-a-bed-of-nails types in the left wing of his party.

In answer to a question in the Nagoya City Council on 15 September 2009, he said “It (Nanjing) occurred during the general conduct of hostilities. I have a sense that a mistaken impression was conveyed (by the government). The government must properly verify and correct that impression for the sake of Japanese-Sino friendship.” His stand was all the more remarkable because Nagoya and Nanjing have a formal sister city relationship that almost ruptured because of his views.

He is opposes voting rights for permanent residents and supports amending Article 9 of the Constitution, the so-called Peace Clause. Yet unlike most people in that philosophical camp, he was opposed to the adoption of the law for the national anthem and flag in the late 90s.

The future

When asked by the media what happens next, Mr. Kawamura said: “The operation for the Normandy Landing starts now.” His Tax Reduction Japan group hopes to run about 40 candidates for the 75 seats at stake in the City Council election. He also plans to campaign for them, which bothers some people who think it’s improper behavior for an elected official to play politics on the public’s time. One has to admit that sense of indignation is a refreshing contrast to the American attitude, to cite one example. Few complain when the President gasses up Air Force One and flies around the country to stump for his favored candidates in local elections.

***
Mr. Omura wanted to step right up and start cutting taxes, but Mr. Kawamura says the timing of the City Council election and the start of a new fiscal year will prevent real action until 2012. The Aichi governor now agrees, saying that the earliest his administration will be able to get that measure through the prefectural council is December, with the reduction to take effect in 2012.

***
The Nagoya mayor might have to spend more time promoting his idea of local committees with elected citizen volunteers to review tax expenditures. So far, only 8.7% of the electorate has voted in these elections, leading one observer to suggest that the program is suffering from incomplete combustion. Others point to the greater citizen interest in the recent elections, and think the past year has been the first step in a process that will flower over the long term as more people realize just how much political power they have.

There are signs that’s already happening. The city recently held a seminar for potential City Council candidates to explain the election procedures, and 150 people showed up to listen. Four years ago, 98 attended.

***
Mr. Kawamura wants to create alliances with other like-minded chief execs of the type he’s already formed with Osaka Gov. Hashimoto. The latter was so excited by Mr. Kawahara’s victory that he immediately proposed a 30% cut in the salaries of Osaka Metro District legislators. Some local opponents who still don’t understand the concept of popular will derided this as an imitative performance. One Metro District delegate from New Komeito said he wanted to oppose the measure but couldn’t because of the upcoming election in April.

The mayor also told the Asahi Shimbun he was looking for suitable candidates to support for governor in neighboring Mie Prefecture and a by-election for the lower house Diet seat in Aichi district #6.

Nationwide

This was already a national movement before the Nagoya/Aichi elections. Five municipal executive officers in Saitama Prefecture, including the mayor of Saitama City, have formed a group called Saitama Kaientai also calling for devolution and smaller government. A group of city council members in Matsuyama created the Matsuyama Ishin no Kai. The leader says they’ll hold off on formally making it a political party until they see what happens with legislation at the national level designed to facilitate greater local autonomy. The Kyoto Party was formed in that Metro District last August on the principles of shrinking the legislature and the delegates’ benefits, and reducing bond issues by 10% a year to eliminate them entirely in 10 years. They’re upset that the Kyoto City Council unanimously rejected a bill on 31 January to eliminate some seats. The Chiiki Seito Iwate is taking devolution a step further, asking that Iwate Prefecture cede authority to individual municipalities.

The Japanese public nationwide does appreciate the potential abuses of local parties. A Yomiuri Shimbun poll taken at the end of January found that 53% of the respondents were opposed to parties created by local executives, with 31% in favor. However, 64% of the respondents also said that local legislatures did not reflect the will of the people, and 57% said they were not functioning as a check on the executive branch.

In Tokyo, the DPJ-led national government last week proposed eliminating the JPY 6,000 yen per diem allowance for special officers of both houses of the diet when it is in session, such as the vice-president of both chambers. Their idea has been approved by the other parties. This is seen as a concession to the results of the Nagoya/Aichi election and to the nationwide local elections next month.

That will be much too little, much too late for the Kan administration, however. The DPJ party organization of Aichi adopted a resolution asking Mr. Kan to get lost. Everyone in the country knows DPJ party affiliation will be the fast track to oblivion in those elections if Mr. Kan is still in office. They’re already having problems finding people willing to run as DPJ candidates. Party Secretary-General Okada Katsuya was recently rejected by the man he wooed to run for governor of Mie—Mr. Okada’s home prefecture, which shares a border with Aichi.

Unpleasant omens

The Triple Election’s revelation that lower taxes, devolution, and smaller government are a winning formula in Japan has also generated some ominous developments.

Lower house MP and Former Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Haraguchi Kazuhiro convened a new policy group in the Diet dedicated to more regional autonomy and ties with local chief executives. He filed the papers to create a group called the Nihon Ishin no Kai, intending it to become a political organization of local government chief executives and legislators modeled after Mr. Hashimoto’s group in Osaka. He also blatantly ripped off their name, which in turn was a deliberate imitation of the Meiji Ishin (known in English as the Meiji restoration), a period in Japanese history that connotes national rebirth and renewal. At the same time, Mr. Haraguchi created the Saga Ishin no Kai for his home prefecture. He told reporters: “The central government’s doctrine of fiscal supremacy must not be permitted to place the onus of deficits on the regions.”

Nothing good will come of this

This is ominous because nobody thinks Mr. Haraguchi is clever enough to have come up with the idea on his own. He is seen as a cat’s paw for the Shiva of Japanese politics, Ozawa Ichiro, the destroyer of worlds who will not go gently into that good night. One of Mr. Ozawa’s journalistic mouthpieces, Itagaki Eiken, is now conveying the threat that Mr. Ozawa might convince his allies to vote for a no-confidence motion against Kan Naoto within the next month or so. The passage of such a motion would require a new lower house election. The Ozawa strategy seems to be to co-opt the popular movement in Japan by reinventing himself as a tax-cutting proponent of small government and ride that pony to control of the government. He is well known for his Japanese-language pun that the advantage of campaign promises is that they can be replastered.

The Japanese are taking this threat seriously, even though Mr. Ozawa personally voted to pass the DPJ budget this week. (Sixteen legislators associated with him were absent for the roll call, however.) Mr. Haraguchi is a metrosexual of the type he’s always preferred to use as a front man (cf. Hosokawa Morihiro and Hatoyama Yukio) to offset his own charmless personality and unpopularity with the public.

The most unsettling omen, however, may be that Kawamura Takashi took Mr. Omura to Tokyo to pay a courtesy call on Mr. Ozawa the day after the Nagoya/Aichi election. It has since emerged that Ozawa ally and lower house MP Matsuki Shizuhiro was a frequent visitor to Nagoya during the campaign to help Mr. Kawamura with strategy. An Ozawa-Kawamura alliance is not what the people of Nagoya voted for—indeed, more than half of the public wants Mr. Ozawa out of the Diet altogether. If Mr. Kawamura or Mr. Hashimoto of Osaka were to openly join hands with Ozawa Ichiro, it would seriously dent their popularity. (The Nagoya mayor is already pushing it–his political group has endorsed 10 candidates in the Tokyo municipal elections, all of whom are associated with Mr. Ozawa.) Further, the only guaranteed accomplishment of a government in which Mr. Ozawa has a prominent role would be another year of political turmoil followed by an ugly demise. Rule without the consent of the governed is not a winning proposition in Japan either.

It’s also starting to look as if an alliance with Ozawa Ichiro isn’t a winning proposition even in his local power base. In the election for mayor last month in Rikuzentakata, Iwate—Mr. Ozawa’s home prefecture—the candidate backed by Mr. Ozawa lost, though Mr. Ozawa personally campaigned for him

A revolution whose time has come

The current leaders of this revolution may reveal themselves to be flawed vessels, but the people will no longer allow their voice to be ignored. Theirs is a genuinely spontaneous and popular movement driven by years of anger and disgust at the politicians’ performance and a growing understanding that elections have consequences. If the electorate is betrayed by one champion, they have already shown they will discard him and find another. The voters ditched the LDP when they turned their back on reform, and they’ve done the same with the DPJ when they found out that party wasn’t what it claimed to be. What they demand now is real governmental reform, devolution, and lower taxes, and they are no longer in the mood to settle for less.

There is no clearer proof than the election last month in Akune, Kagoshima. We’ve seen before that circumstances in Akune were remarkably similar to those in Nagoya. Upset that administrative expenses ate up most of the city’s budget, Mayor Takehara Shin’ichi wanted to put City Council on a per diem allowance and reduce other public expenditures. The people backed him through two elections, until he unwisely chose ignore the council and act as a dictator. He created so much turmoil they finally recalled him and voted him out of office by a narrow margin. Had he followed Mr. Kawamura’s strategy of simultaneous elections, however, he might still be in office today. Mr. Takehara’s backers finally succeeded in bringing council recall to a vote last month, and the voters chose to throw out them out too. The referendum on recall passed with 55% approval, four percentage points higher than the margin by which Mr. Takehara was defeated. He and his supporters plan to run nine candidates in the new election next month for 16 seats. One reason the recall succeeded is that the new mayor restored the council members’ salaries and took them off the per diem allowance initiated by former Mayor Takehara.

*****
Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come, and the idea whose time has arrived in Japan is the revolt against the elitist political class in government and the bureaucracy, and the support of decentralization and smaller government. In all of those elections, the voters were lectured for months about the reasons they shouldn’t support the insurgents, but the voters chose to ignore the advice.

We live in an age of revolution. Two leaders have been toppled in the Middle East, a third is about to go, and none of the rest sleep soundly at night. Americans have been marching in the streets for nearly a year, and they continue to do so after the pivotal election of November. There is even talk of a jasmine revolution in China, which has so upset leaders in that country that they’ve forbidden foreign journalists to cover demonstrations in Shanghai and Beijing that haven’t happened yet.

What emerges from any of those revolutions is unlikely to be better than what they had before they started. Democracy in the Middle East will mean the choice of governments that are no one’s definition of liberal. The stark ethnocentric nationalism of the Chinese ensures that country will not be a positive force in international relations regardless of the leadership, perhaps for decades. And there is nothing at all liberal about the illiberal ugliness of the American “liberals”, as we’ve seen from their behavior in Congress last year and at the state level in Wisconsin and Indiana right now. The American left will never change.

In Japan, however, the electorate has now taken matters out of the politicians’ hands and set the parameters for debate. Theirs is now the national political agenda. They are beginning to realize that they have the handle and the politicians have the blade. When their revolution comes to fruition, it is likely to be the most successful, and the most peaceful, of our age.

Afterwords

* The Asahi Shimbun ran an English-language article worth reading about the possibility that the inevitable earthquake of a political realignment might occur before the cherries finish blooming. Though it is informative, it still requires several grains of salt to digest. The Asahi is a newspaper of the left, so holding up conservative boogeymen for their readers is one element in their narrative. It remains to be seen how many MPs will willingly follow the toxic Ozawa Ichiro or the fossilized Kamei Shizuka, either from the LDP or the DPJ. Your Party might have made a wise choice in keeping their distance from Mr. Kawamura, and they would stand to benefit from the public’s revulsion with an Ozawa New Party.

(Update: A few hours after writing the above I read Itagaki Eiken’s latest blog post, and perhaps the Asahi wasn’t exaggerating after all. He’s threatening a government of Ozawa Ichiro, Kamei Shizuka, and Hiranuma Takeo, with the support of Ishihara Shintaro. That’s not conservative, that’s Pleistoscene. He also says that Mr. Haraguchi is a “jewel” to be shown the ropes and saved for later. Jayzus whippin’ goldfishes! Uglier still, all but Mr. Ishihara are Diet members, so they might be able to arrange it without a general election. That would be an old coot coup d’etat within the Diet, and it just might bring people out on the streets.)

* Lower house member Sato Yuko, once an aide to Kawamura Takashi before she ran for and won a Diet seat, told the DPJ on the 3rd she will leave the party to join the mayor’s local group. She gave several reasons for her decision, one of them being Prime Minister Kan’s lack of leadership. Unfortunately, she also cited the DPJ’s suspension of Ozawa Ichiro’s party privileges.

* One has to wonder about the IQ and job qualifications of some people in the news media. The vernacular Nishinippon Shimbun thought the voters in Akune who chose to recall the City Council were “confused”. One of the headline writers among the boys and girls who play newspaper at the Japan Times topped off the Kyodo feed on the Akune election with the declaration that the voters were “wishy-washy”. It should be obvious even to those of less than median intelligence and an attention span longer than the average TV commercial that the voters in the city know what they want and aren’t afraid to express it.

* Last month, 65 local governments told the Kan administration they will not financially contribute to the national government’s child allowance scheme. That’s an expensive and ill-advised bit of pork whose liability the DPJ wants to partially shift to local governments because the country can’t afford it. In other words, the regions are no longer lying down for the central government.

* Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio became the first member of the Kan government to hold an open news conference whose participation was not limited to the kisha club reporters. This is being hailed as the beginning of the end of the kisha club system, a back-scratching affair in which the government was allowed to partially control the news flow by allowing some media outlets a partial monopoly. While that was a positive step, it also comes about 30 years too late—no one in the Internet age thinks limiting the flow of news to the professional journalists’ guild will result in significantly greater openness. There has always been a de facto samizdat press in Japanese weekly magazines, and no one in the Anglosphere pretends any longer that the supposedly mainstream media is either open or evenhanded.

*****
This is the Year of the Rabbit in the Oriental zodiac, but it will be the Year of Political Fireworks in Japan. Nobody does fireworks better than the Japanese.

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Things they said

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 6, 2010

HERE’S A SAMPLE of what the politicos in Japan have been talking about—and writing about—for the past week.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji:

“Your Party submitted to the Diet on 10 November a resolution calling for the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

“Since then, however, no one in the Democratic Party, the Liberal-Democratic Party, or the other parties has paid any attention to it, and Japan’s mass media hasn’t discussed it. The resolution died when the Diet recessed this week.

“The Chinese embassy seems to have been engaged in some strong lobbying. It so happens that a certain weekly magazine is running an article this week about DPJ Diet members enjoying a round of golf with the Chinese ambassador (at the latter’s expense).

“The Nobel awards ceremony will be held in Oslo on 10 December. The world’s attention on this issue will continue to intensify, but Japan shows no interest in even covering it. This issue could become a litmus test for questioning the commitment to human rights of each political party, each faction, the media, and therefore, the Japanese people.

We’ve already seen the color on the litmus paper, Mr. Eda. Sengoku Yoshito talks about Japanese vassalage as if it were a fait accompli, and the fey accomplices of the mass media emasculate themselves for the chance to squat in the jump seat next to power and prevent the simple folk from finding out what the Chinese are really up to.

*****
Former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro still has it:

“Not everything was bad about the Senkakus incident. We found out that the ‘Japan-U.S.-China equilateral triangle’ theory that the DPJ brought up after they took control of government is a load of nonsense.”

That’s an excerpt from a recent speech in Yokohama. A photo taken during the speech shows his hairstyle is almost back to normal. And give the man credit for accepting who he is. He never seemed to care that he was getting gray—unlike Aso Taro, Kan Naoto, Sengoku Yoshito, Yosano Kaoru, and probably Hatoyama Yukio.

Some men have it. Some men never will.

*****
The Democratic Party thought eliminating income tax deductions for children and replacing them with direct government stipends was one of the key planks of their election platform last year. They claimed they could easily find the money to pay for it, which everyone knew was bollocks, but the media was so anxious for a change of government they looked the other way.

The party offered several excuses to justify the policy, all of which were either outright fabrications or collectivist drivel. (‘Society as a whole has to be responsible for rearing children’ was one of them.) Since it became the law of the land earlier this year, some parents are actually receiving less than they did under the old system. But then the policy was never about what was best for the children, but rather what was the best way to bribe the people into swallowing statism.

When they could no longer sustain the fiction that the money was there for the finding, the national government decided to dragoon local governments and private companies into paying for their fantasy. Society as a whole has to be responsible for rearing children, right? Last week, Hosokawa Ritsuo, Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare, met with Kanagawa Gov. Matsuzawa Shigefumi, who is the representative of a group of sub-national governmental executives in the Tokyo region. Said Mr. Hosokawa:

“Please understand that the nation’s finances are tight.”

Replied Mr. Matsuzawa:

“If the government continues placing a (financial) burden for the child allowance payment on the regions, a revolt will occur in the regions….The regions are not the slaves of the national government.”

By now, it would have occurred to anyone who wasn’t a politician who considered it his solemn duty to spend other people’s money that if the nation’s finances are that tight, they should stop spending money they don’t have, cut taxes and services, and allow income-earning parents to use their own resources to raise their own children as they see fit instead of pushing the fiction that society is everybody’s nanny.

*****
Kan Naoto’s term as prime minister reached the six-month mark this past week, and in a speech in Chiba on the 4th, he said:

“It’s been a lively six months, and we’ve made quite a bit of progress in different areas. But we’ve lacked the ability to communicate what we’re making progress on now, and the preparations we’re making for future progress. I want to actively communicate to the people what I think.”

Just because Barack Obama uses the same excuse doesn’t make it any less empty. Both the American and the Japanese public got the message. Communication is the least of your problems.

Incidentally, Mr. Kan cited as one of his administration’s major successes Vietnam’s award of a contract to Japan to build a nuclear power plant.

*****
One Japanese pundit recycled an old Ishihara Shintaro quote about Aso Taro this week:

“The Prime Minister earned the people’s contempt. Contempt is the most frightening thing.”

He was updating it for application to the current prime minister.

*****
The DPJ has been trying to find another coalition partner to either give it a majority in the upper house, which it lacks, or to give it a two-thirds majority in the lower house, which would render the lack of an upper house majority moot. They haven’t had much luck so far—who likes hanging out with losers?

One possibility fueling media gossip is a grand coalition with the LDP. Ishiba Shigeru, chair of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, was asked about that during a TV interview on the 4th. He answered:

“In the DPJ, the policies of Prime Minister Kan Naoto and former Party President Ozawa Ichiro are 180 degrees apart. There is no cohesion to their foreign policy or fiscal policy. I am absolutely opposed to a grand coalition that would amplify that confusion.”

The DPJ government started out last year with a three-party coalition that included the Social Democrats. They split when Hatoyama Yukio backed off his promise to remove the Futenma air base from Okinawa.

Current DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya wants to woo the SDPJ back into a ménage à trois. While admitting that the two parties still had their differences, he said:

“We confirmed several times with the Social Democratic Party that last year’s three-party agreement was valid. I believe there is a strong relationship of trust.”

Said SDPJ head Fukushima Mizuho during a TV interview:

“There have been no talks about returning to the coalition.”

She added that there ain’t gonna be any talks as long as the DPJ sticks to the policy of keeping the base in Okinawa.

What few people remember is that little more than a year ago, it was Mr. Okada’s assignment to negotiate the terms of the SDPJ’s participation in the coalition with Ms. Fukushima. He found her tactics so obnoxious he stormed out of the room and refused to continue.

Ms. Fukushima got what she wanted by calling Ozawa Ichiro’s number.

*****
Another pundit recycled a different quote, this time from former DPJ head Ozawa Ichiro on the reasons he tried to cut a deal with then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo for a grand coalition three years ago:

“The DPJ is a young party and there are doubts it has the ability to take responsibility for government.”

First, the good news: The other DPJ elders hated the idea. Now the better news: There’s no longer any doubt about their lack of capabilities.

While we’re on the topic of coalition governments, Peter Hitchens of Britain reminds us why they are a perversion of the democratic process. A coalition government consisting of two ostensibly incompatible parties now rules that country, and former prime minister Sir John Major recently endorsed the arrangement. He hoped they could “prolong cooperation beyond this Parliament”, which could lead to a realignment of British politics.

Sir John also explained the intrinsic grooviness of coalition governments from a politician’s perspective:

“Two parties are more likely to enjoy a tolerant electorate for policies that are painful.”

Wrote Mr. Hitchens:

“Or, in other words, that a coalition can ram through unpopular policies (Mr Major is an expert on those) more easily than one-party governments.

“This is, of course, even more the case when the third party actually agrees with the Coalition about almost everything, and is still trying to work out how to pretend to be the Opposition, when it doesn’t really want to oppose.

“What a perfect outcome for the political class – two liberal parties in permanent power…(a)nd an Opposition that doesn’t oppose. A pity about the rest of us.”

*****
Now that Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito’s day in the sun seems about to go into eclipse, the meta-commentary is starting to emerge in a crepuscule with the nellies. Too bad the chattering class got it backwards—everyone would have been better off had they started chattering when he assumed his current portfolio, rather than now.

The public’s hopes were raised this week when Mr. Sengoku suggested he might give up the position of cabinet secretary and focus on the Justice Ministry, but he bummed everyone out again by walking it back later in the day.

Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party—remember them?–tried to smooth things over:

“He’s a lawyer, and well-known for turning black into white. Well, they say that sometimes there is truth in a joke, but he was just joking.”

You know what they say on the Internet: ROTFLMAO.

Banno Junji, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, reflected on the philosophical journey of his old friend:

“Sengoku chose the pink-colored path (i.e., he’s a pinko). He saw there was no future in the mass struggle. Some have since turned to the right, but he looked for the pink, thinking that holding firm was the masculine thing to do.”

Not just anyone can discern the connection between pinkiness and masculinity. One has to be a professor at an elite university to develop vision of that sort.

More to the point was the observation of LDP Diet member Gotoda Masazumi:

“Mr. Sengoku has no humility. People who have criticized authority become insincere about authority once they attain a position of authority.”

Didn’t Mr. Kamei say he was insincere even before he was in a position of authority?

What could Mr. Gotoda have been talking about? Telling opposition MPs during Question Time to “clean out your ears and pay close attention”, or chiding reporters during news conferences for their “base conjectures”, using vocabulary that seldom appears in ordinary discourse–that sort of thing.

More surprising than the attitude itself is his apparent belief he could gain anything by it.

*****
The upper house censured both Mr. Sengoku and Mabuchi Sumio, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and transport. That does not require their resignation, as a lower house vote of no confidence would, but it does mean the aides have been sent out to collect the cardboard boxes for hauling their papers. Some have called on them to resign, but the rough-and-ready rougeistes are going to tough it out for now. The party bigwigs backed them up. Koshi’ishi Azuma, for example, said, “It isn’t necessary”.

The DPJ approach to censure resolutions has evolved over the past two years. When they seized control of the upper house after the 2007 election, they insisted the LDP government had to follow their instructions because the vote represented the most recent expression of the will of the people. The upper house also censured then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo in 2008 and demanded his resignation. The big boss man of the party in those days was Ozawa Ichiro. Here’s a constitutional interpretation he delivered ex cathedra on 9 June 2008:

“A censure is the same as a motion of no confidence in the Cabinet. It’s just that systemically, a motion of no confidence is recognized only in the lower house. If the proposal should pass, it will be no different than if there had been a vote of no confidence in the Cabinet (because of the most recent expression of popular will).”

Two days later, after the proposal passed, Mr. Ozawa said:

“There is no alternative to seeking the judgment of the people through a lower house election to resolve the issue once and for all…The composition of the upper house physically expresses the most recently expressed will of the people. If they (the LDP) think popular sentiment is on their side, they should dissolve the Diet and hold a general election. If the LDP can win, that would be fine. But they seem to be afraid of an election. This is the ruling party of government? They have to have a little more confidence.”

Cut-and-paste works for me.

*****
Actions speak louder than words, they say, and the DPJ took action this week by creating new publicity posters to festoon public places throughout the nation at yearend. At the request of their supporters, the party removed the face of Prime Minister Kan from the posters. (In terms people on the pink path would understand, he’s become a non-person.) The party chose not to use any photographs at all, which is another act that speaks louder than words. The poster has only the slogan “Putting the lives of the people first” in red lettering on a white background, with the party name at the bottom.

Maybe it’s possible to choose the pink path and be masculine after all. It takes real moxie to continue to use a slogan that people stopped taking seriously long ago.

But maybe that’s another example of what Mr. Kamei thinks is a joke.

*****
It’s the song, not the singer:

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Government in absentia

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More than a problem with intelligence or skills, the incompetence of the “Incompetent Gang of Four” (Kan, Sengoku, Maehara, Okada) is apparent in their overconfidence and inability to see beyond their own self-protection. They are unable to solve any problems because of an irrefutable absence of the ability to negotiate or to learn. In the worst case, they are unable even to recognize the problem. As shown by an attitude and statements that suggest the ones in the wrong are a stupid public that won’t support the Cabinet, and the Liberal Democratic Party who challenges them to debate in the Diet, failure is always treated as an external problem. The “Incompetent Gang of Four” is always right.
– Miyajima Satoshi

EVERYONE KNOWS the current Japanese government is in trouble, but it’s even worse than you knew: They’re operating as if they’ve been infected by the same Stuxnet worm that attacked the Iran nuclear program from the inside out. The world’s first weaponized computer virus took control of the centrifuges and damaged them without destroying them, while concealing what it was doing from the engineers at the control panel. As this report says: “In other words, the worm was designed to allow the Iranian program to continue but never succeed, and never to know why.”

Is there a better way to explain the behavior of the Kan Cabinet?

Outside Tokyo

A city council election was held in Matsudo, Chiba, on 21 November. The Democratic Party endorsed 11 candidates in that election, including four incumbents, and nine of them lost. One of the incumbents didn’t receive enough votes to have the cash deposit for his candidacy returned. Your Party backed two new candidates, and their aggregate vote total exceeded that of the four DPJ incumbents by more than 1,000.

Reporters for the regional edition of the Mainichi Shimbun interviewed the defeated candidates. Said one:

“We called voters to campaign for their support and votes, and as soon they heard it was the DPJ they hung up on us.”

He said he didn’t realize the central government could have that much of an impact on elections. (He should have paid closer attention to the American election returns earlier this month.) He added that people would yell at him in public when he tried to give street corner speeches:

“If that’s how you’re going to act, the DPJ can’t be entrusted with the national government.”

Moaned another one of the losers:

“One long-time party supporter asked me to leave when I visited him. ‘Go home’, he said, ‘I’m not letting the DPJ in.’”

All the DPJ candidates reported that voters dismissed them at their public campaign appearances and expressed anger at being “betrayed by Prime Minister Kan”.

Every picture tells a story (Sankei Shimbun photo)

In fact, this might have been the first election anywhere in which the losers agreed with the voters. Another incumbent, the party secretary-general in Chiba’s seventh district, said the candidates had daily “mini-meetings” during the campaign, and they often asked themselves, “Just what are they doing (in Tokyo)? It wasn’t just the gaffes—it also was the Senkakus and the Okinawa base.”

They tried to distance themselves from the national party by telling the voters they too wanted the government to get serious, but as one of the defeated candidates explained, “In the end, we had to carry the burden of the party name.”

The Mainichi thought one of the reasons for the outcome was the increase of independent voters due to the influx of new residents resulting from the urbanization of the area. Voters everywhere are more frequently identifying themselves as political independents, and that trend is particularly strong in Japan. The gaggle of RDD public opinion surveys find that those who claim no party affiliation make up more than 40% of the electorate, while the Jiji news agency poll, which is generated by face-to-face interviews, shows the default figure of independents to be more than 50%.

As for what the Matsudo election portends for the DPJ, Ubukata Yukio, the DPJ Diet representative from Chiba’s sixth district, distributed an e-mail magazine with the title, “We can only apologize to the DPJ candidates”. Mr. Ubukata wrote:

“If we go into the local elections next spring the same way, we’ll have the same results throughout the country.”

Meanwhile, two Chiba City councilmen affiliated with the DPJ left the party the same week.

Inside Tokyo

Nakano Kansei served as the DPJ Secretary-General in 2002. Last week he said:

“A national strategy is not possible without foreign policy and defense, but I doubt the current cabinet is headed in that direction.”

At a dinner with other politicians on the 29th in Tokyo, Ozawa Ichiro was resigned to the government’s failure. He was quoted as shrugging off the Kan Cabinet: “What can you do about it?” (sho ga nai)

He added:

“At this rate, the local parties will revolt, and the DPJ government will collapse from the bottom up.”

They thought someone would fall for it?

The quasi-public television and radio network NHK broadcasts important Diet proceedings live. On the 10th, they began coverage of Question Time in the lower house budget committee at 11 a.m. The committee session had begun 30 minutes earlier, but the broadcast was delayed because the DPJ government had not granted NHK permission. A political reporter for a national newspaper told one of the weekly magazines that the committee proceedings were supposed to have started at 10:00 a.m., but the opposition Liberal Democratic Party objected to NHK when they saw there would be no broadcast. The start was delayed 30 minutes.

The reason NHK didn’t turn on the cameras? “The DPJ told NHK that the LDP said a broadcast wouldn’t be necessary.”

The committee’s business that day? The first round of opposition party questioning of the government after reports had emerged that a Coast Guard officer had uploaded to You Tube the videos of the Chinese fishing boat ramming in the Senkakus.

Last year, the DPJ campaigned on the promise of a “clean and open government”. Those words have now become a weapon in the hands of every print and broadcast media outlet in the country.

Speaking of the video

The Kan Cabinet claimed that the national interest would be harmed if the videos were released to the public.

Last week, the upper house budget committee finally received a 44-minute video from the government, which it distributed to all the opposition parties. The LDP gave a copy to the national media.

If the national interest has been harmed, no one seems to be aware of it.

Sleepy and tipsy

Gendai Business Online ran an article describing the government’s initial response to the appearance of the videos on You Tube. Lower house DPJ MP Kawauchi Hiroshi heard that the videos had been uploaded from a reporter on the night of 4 November. He immediately called the Kantei (the Japanese version of the White House) to confirm the facts with Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and the measures they would take to deal with the situation.

“It was just before midnight when I called the Kantei to get in contact with Mr. Sengoku. An aide answered the phone and said, ‘I cannot connect you with the Chief Secretary.’ When I asked why I couldn’t talk to him in this emergency, he replied, ‘The Chief Cabinet Secretary has already retired for the night. I will inform him of the matter tomorrow morning.’ I was stunned.”

The Gendai article notes that Mr. Sengoku is the point man in the Kan Cabinet for gathering important information. When he is sleeping and not to be disturbed due to extreme fatigue—something that is happening with greater frequency—not only is there no crisis management, the Kantei itself ceases to function.

Prime Minister Kan Naoto has been complaining that he lacks information because Mr. Sengoku is monopolizing the flow, but when the video went up on the Net, he was out drinking with another DPJ Diet member. Saito Tsuyoshi explained:

“Mr. Kan invited me out for some drinks to celebrate my appointment as Acting Diet Affairs Committee Chair. We arrived at a traditional Japanese restaurant in Akasaka after 9:00 p.m. and had dinner. One of Mr. Kan’s aides was also with us, but there was no indication whatsoever of any report that the videos had been released.”

They left after 11:00 p.m., when word on the Net was spreading and the mass media was beginning to move. At that point many ordinary citizens knew more about what had happened than Prime Minister Kan.

Mr. Kan learned about the videos after midnight and characteristically lost his temper. He turned on the TV and started shouting, “Where? What channel is it on?” When he was told it was on the Net and not on television, he was frantic. “How do you watch You Tube? What do you do?”

Mr. Sengoku, by now awake, was more interested in who released the videos. He first suspected the culprits were either the Coast Guard or the Naha prosecutors.

They started discussing the possibilities. Mr. Kan’s aides suggested Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji, a Sengoku ally. Mr. Sengoku brought up the name of Haraguchi Kazuhiro, a Cabinet minister in the Hatoyama government and an Ozawa Ichiro stalking horse who has been critical of the government’s handling of the incident.

In other words, the highest-ranking officials in the DPJ government suspected the videos were released by other high-ranking officials in the DPJ government.

Foreign affairs, part #2

DPJ Diet member and former Environmental Minister Ozawa Sakihito, the head of a study group of party members, arranged a meeting with Chinese ambassador Chen Yong-hua. He and his group thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss the Senkakus and the North Korean shelling of South Korea. They invited all 412 of the DPJ Diet members to attend.

22 showed up.

Shooting blanks

Boldly going where no LDP government has gone before, some ministers in the Hatoyama Cabinet took immediate action to demonstrate that a governmental New Age had arrived in Japan after forming a government in September 2009. Then-Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Maehara Seiji started firing right away, and one of his targets was the suspension of construction work on the Yamba Dam in Gunma. He was anxious to show that the days of unnecessary pork barrel construction projects were over.

Unfortunately, Mr. Maehara had not studied the issue in depth before making his decision. The dam in question was controversial in the truest sense of the word. Many people opposed the project, launched decades ago to provide more water to the Tokyo region, but many also thought there was a need for it, particularly the public sector at the sub-national level. The due diligence required to make a sound decision was neglected in favor of a publicity splash.

Earlier this month, Mr. Maehara’s successor Mabuchi Sumio quietly lifted the suspension on work on the dam.

Ibuki Bunmei was right: Like grade school boys with pistols…

Boors

A ceremony was held on the 29th marking the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Diet. Attending were the Emperor and Empress, and their second son Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko (the parents of the future Emperor).

After an initial ceremony, the Prince and Princess stood up to wait for the arrival of the Emperor and Empress. One MP, identified only as a “veteran DPJ Diet member”, couldn’t restrain himself and yelled out:

“Hurry up and sit down. Can’t you see we can’t sit down either?”

The incident was related by Your Party upper house member Sakurauchi Fumiki on his blog, who also said the comment “was beyond imagining”.

The Sankei Shimbun interviewed the member in question without mentioning his name. He allowed that he “might have” said it and complained again that no one could sit down.

Like grade school boys with pistols who have to go to the bathroom…

Other people’s money

Last week, the Diet passed yet another stimulus package, this one worth $US 61 billion. One would have thought the nation’s sewers were clogged from all the stimulus money that’s already been flushed down the toilet.

The news reports were vague about how the money would be spent, saying only that the funds would be allocated to help support local governments. It’s true that several prefectural governments are struggling to keep their heads above the rising tide of red ink. Could the stimulus actually have been a public sector bailout?

Here’s a hint: One of the party’s biggest organizational supporters is the labor union for local government public employees.

The bureaucrats too

Recall that Koga Shigeaki, a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry and a critic of DPJ civil service reforms, was asked last month to testify in the Diet. Mr. Sengoku opposed his appearance and added a gangsterish threat:

“It could adversely affect his future.”

Mr. Koga had been tasked to visit local companies around the country, discuss their interaction with the Ministry, and to file a report. The title of the final three pages of his report was Personal Comments, and they were sharply critical of METI conduct.

The opposition in the Diet asked to see a copy of the report. METI obliged, but removed the three pages with Mr. Koga’s criticism before sending it over. When they were called on it, the ministry explained:

“’Personal Comments’ are the individual impressions of the person himself, and are not part of a survey report for the Diet members.”

And the prosecutors

Livid over the YouTube release of the Coast Guard’s Senkakus videos, Sengoku Yoshito ordered a full court press of an investigation that mobilized up to 80 members of the prosecutors’ office. “This is a grave situation,” he thundered, and made it known that he wanted to nail the leaker’s hide to the wall.

The prosecutors decided not to arrest him.

In their 5 December issue, the weekly Sunday Mainichi wonders if the prosecutors wanted to extract some revenge from Mr. Sengoku for shifting on them the responsibility for the decision to release the Chinese fishing boat captain without a trial.

A source familiar with the investigation said it was likely the probe would continue, and that the leaker might eventually be fined for violating the National Civil Service Law.

Rather than get upset, Mr. Sengoku should be relieved that the government will be spared the entire country demanding to know why the Chinese skipper went scot-free while the Japanese Coast Guard navigator had to face trial.

Political onanism

Here’s DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya speaking in Tokyo recently, as quoted by the Mainichi Shimbun:

“We won’t be the ruling party forever, but if we can (stay in office), I think about eight years (would be appropriate).”

In other words, he thinks the Diet should not be dissolved during the remaining three years of the term, the DPJ will win the subsequent election, and the new term would also last the full four years.

One Japanese blogger wondered if the country could survive that long under uninterrupted DPJ rule.

Mr. Okada may not have been joking. Prime Minister Kan invited his predecessor, Hatoyama Yukio, out to dinner at a Tokyo Chinese restaurant on the 27th, and the two met for about 90 minutes. Mr. Kan told him:

“I won’t quit even if the Cabinet support rate falls to 1%.”

Last week, Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito was formally censured by the upper house. That is legally non-binding, but it has an impact nevertheless—Fukuda Yasuo lasted only two months after being censured, and Aso Taro three.

Mr. Sengoku was asked on the 29th if he would resign. He answered:

“Absolutely not. I’m completely committed to my duties now…I’ve gained the confidence of the lower house. (i.e., the no-confidence motion didn’t pass the DPJ-dominated chamber.) There has to be a legal disposition regarding the issue of whether there is confidence or censure (i.e., the censure is not legally binding).”

Yes, Japanese attorneys can be every bit as assertively obnoxious as their brother lawyers in the West.

MLIT Minister Mabuchi Sumio was also censured by the upper house, and he won’t resign either. As he explained,

“Reform is my assignment.”

L’etat, c’est moi” in Japanese is 国家は私である, in case you’re wondering.

Meanwhile, Shinhodo 2001 released its latest public opinion poll on Monday.

Here are some of the results for the answers to the question of what the Kan Cabinet should do next:

Dissolve the lower house and hold a general election: 47.4%
The Cabinet should resign en masse and allow a new government to take over: 14.2%

Thus, more than 61% of the respondents think the Incompetent Gang of Four should be gone. They disagree only on the manner of departure.

Also:

Do not support the Cabinet: 72.6%
Support the Cabinet: 21.0%

The Cabinet’s ability for crisis management is high: 2.2%
Normal: 22.0%
Low: 74.0%
Don’t know: 6.4%

What party do you intend to vote for in the next election?

DPJ: 13.6%
LDP: 29%

Mr. Sengoku thinks it’s all the media’s fault. At a news conference on the 30th:

“We’ve implemented different policy reforms, but the mass media never writes anything positive about us.”

How quickly he’s forgotten.

For several weeks, the circumstances of Mr. Kan’s support rating resembled the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote after running off the edge of a cliff and furiously windmilling in midair before plummeting to the canyon floor. Many voters bought the argument that there had been too much turnover in the Prime Minister’s office, so the government was buoyed by negative support rather than positive support. The new poll results show that what some are calling the Own Goal Cabinet has performed so abysmally, even that argument can no longer keep them airborne.

In just six months, they’ve managed to alienate most of the electorate, most of the party members at the sub-national level, and former party executives at the national level. Incompetence on that scale isn’t a fluke—you have to work at it.

How do they expect to deal with the public, the opposition in the Diet, and overseas governments now that they are essentially a squatter government? Your guess is as good as mine.

It doesn’t require any guesswork to understand why they’re so desperate to hang on, however. Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku are men of the left who’d dreamed of taking power for 40 years before their chance finally came. They are well aware that once they leave, a second chance to put any of their philosophy in practice is unlikely to come for some time. Admitting failure isn’t part of their worldview.

Japan is now a country with a government in absentia.

******
Great trumpet solo:

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A comedy tonite!

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 23, 2010

GOOD EVENING, ladies and gentlemen, thank you, thank you, oh, it’s so nice to be back in town and see you all again! We’re thrilled that you could make it because we’ve got a really big show lined up for you this evening.

Our special attraction tonight is that zany comedy troupe, the stars of stump, TV screen, and the Internet, those kings and queens of hectic hey-hey who’ve been adding to their Guinness record of 563 straight pratfalls without a net, that weird and wacky gang from Nagata-cho, I’m pleased as punch to present…the Democratic Party of Japan!

Now let’s hear it for our first guest, the current Deputy Secretary-General, Tochigi’s own, Edano Yukio!

“I didn’t realize that the ruling party would be so busy. We talked carelessly about political leadership, and now we’re in trouble. What I want more than anything else is the time to leisurely think about and discuss matters.”

Interlocutor: What about the suggestion by some that you institute income restrictions to limit the amount of the government child allowance paid to parents with higher incomes?

“To say that we should apply income restrictions because our support is falling is a kind of populism.”

Folks, listen, we’re just getting warmed up! Would you believe this DPJ party member’s story about Okada Katsuya, DPJ Secretary-General?:

“Mr. Okada asked Ozawa Ichiro to attend an ethics panel, but he didn’t meet him. When someone asked him why he didn’t meet him and discuss the matter with him in person, he said, ‘I called his office several times, but he never came to the phone.’”

Shout from the audience: Who was that lady I saw you with last night?

Interlocutor: That was no lady—that was Ren Ho!

Veteran DPJ Diet member:

“Her reputation in the party is terrible, even though they’re boosting her as the queen of the policy reviews. She tailors her statements to whoever seems to have the most power at the time, whether it’s Kan or Ozawa. Some people think she behaves like a high-class geisha.”

Younger MP:

“I don’t know whether it’s out of habit or what, but during drinking parties with the other MPs, she often (physically) touches us, on the back and elsewhere. She’s very good at that sort of thing, but she also can be a frightening middle-aged lady (おばさん). When some freshman MPs didn’t attend the policy reviews, she called them up and yelled, ‘Why aren’t you here?’”

Ladies and gentlemen, you remember the late and great Rodney Dangerfield, the man who never got any respect. Well, our next guest makes Rodney seem like the picture of probity and gravitas! It’s Old Smiley himself, Kan The Man Naoto!

(Hisses)

Nay, nay, I kid you not!

You remember Mr. Kan had to beg the Chinese to have those hallway sofa summits with Chinese President Hu Jintao because they wouldn’t agree to hold a formal meeting? Instead of sitting down, looking him in the eye, and talking with him man to man, he read Mr. Hu a memo!

Shout from the audience: Who’s on first?

Interlocutor: No, Hu’s on the couch!

No, seriously, he gets no respect! A source in the prime minister’s office told a weekly magazine about his response to some polling data:

“What? We’re doing the policy reviews, but our polls aren’t going up? Something’s wrong here!”

Hey, he gets so little respect, I’m tellin’ ya, it’s almost as if it were a conspiracy! (Straightens tie, twists neck.) A member of the current Cabinet told the weekly Shukan Gendai:

“He’s completely lost his capacity to govern. He was quite confident that the Russian President would not visit the Northern Territories, but he did. He blew up: ‘What’s this? I had information that he wouldn’t come.’ He got the information from Mr. Sengoku.”

Audience heckler:

“During the prime minister’s days as a leader of student activists, he was known as a ‘Fourth Row Man’. If you’re in the fourth row of a demonstration, you won’t get arrested when you run into the riot police…Now he tries to hide behind Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, the man they call The Shadow Prime Minister.”

(The ushers lead LDP lower house member Hamada Kazuyuki from the hall.)

Interlocutor: And he gets even less respect when he goes overseas. When he spoke at the UN General Assembly in late September, three-fourths of the audience in attendance walked out when he took the podium!

Here’s a Jiji report about part of his speech:

“Prime Minister Kan gave an address to the UN general assembly on the development of small island states. Referring to his support of sustainable development for small island states confronting the threat of natural disaster and climate change, he declared, ‘We want to continue to be powerful supporters.’

“The Prime Minister emphasized his awareness of the urgent challenge faced by the international community for small island states overcoming their vulnerability. He described the support Japan would offer, and used as an example the help given to Haiti after its devastating earthquake in January. He also said that Japan would be providing support for disaster prevention, training personnel, and providing infrastructure.

“He said that rising sea levels threatened the existence of these states, and declared his intention to provide support for developing countries, including the small island states.”

Blogged an aide to LDP lower house member Nakagawa Hidenao:

“Mr. Prime Minister, the small islands you should protect first are the Senkakus!”

Now folks, it’s time for the Senkakus Shtick, which is destined to go down in the annals of comedy history–way, way down–to rank alongside the equally rank Futenma Follies of Hatoyama Yukio!

The government was ready to face the Chinese challenge. Said Sengoku Yoshito:

We’re going to have to confront this problem with China sometime. Japan lacks a sense of crisis, so this will be a good test case.

Interlocutor: And by Jingo it was! Just look at this report from the Asahi!

Katsuya Okada, secretary-general of the ruling DPJ, said, “The response by the Koizumi government led China to believe that ‘Japan’s position as a nation ruled by law is only for show.'”

Those within the prime minister’s office were concerned that immediately deporting Zhan would have led to domestic criticism that the government was “weak-kneed.”

An aide to Kan said such a decision “might have sent a message to China that even if a problem occurred near the Senkaku Islands, that would be the extent of Japan’s response.”

Interlocutor: Not only were they weak at the knees, they were weak at the hips!

Hold it, hold it, I know what you’re thinking! It’s true that Mr. Kan tried to warm up the audience with his famous Goofy impersonation. Before going to the U.S. on the 22nd of September, he asked his staff if the Chinese sea captain couldn’t be quickly released. Then he asked if it were possible to take some extralegal measures. You know, like the kind Koizumi took! But then he took charge! Here’s what he told Sengoku Yoshito:

“Take care of this while I’m in New York!”

And here’s what Sengoku Yoshito told Justice Minister Yanagida Minoru:

“You take care of this. (よろしく!)”

Interlocutor: And boy, did they!

Hey folks, I gotta tell ya, these are warm, loving, caring people, just wonderful human beings, but you won’t catch them talking about all the charity gigs they do. Take the Chinese fishing boat captain. His mother died on the day he was arrested. Now, you’ll never hear anyone in the Cabinet come right out and say it, but they did leak to the media the Chinese government request that they release the captain for humanitarian reasons.

It’s Chinese custom to hold memorial services for the deceased 19 days, 29 days, and 39 days after their death. The Chinese signaled the Kantei that it would mean a great deal to the nation and the family if they sent the captain home in time for the 19th day memorial service on 27 September. They also said it would be another great gesture if he could be there for the PRC National Day on 1 October. So respectful of Chinese patriotic feelings! But we wouldn’t have known about their civilized and compassionate response if Toshikawa Takao of Gendai Online hadn’t written about it.

Do you know how self-effacing they are? They didn’t want to steal the limelight for themselves, so they gave the prosecutors all the credit for the decision to release the Chinese captain! Isn’t that touching?

Wait, wait, that’s not all. There won’t be a dry eye in the house when you hear this. There are now reports from China that the captain’s mother wasn’t dead after all! Can’t you imagine how the skipper felt when he came home and discovered that she was still alive? That must have been a special reunion!

Everybody’s tryin’ to get into the act!
– Jimmy Durante

“I must say I think Prime Minister Kan has dealt with this (Senkakus) issue — it’s a difficult issue — in a very statesmanlike fashion. It, I think, shows a vision and an appreciation of how important it is for a peaceful diplomatic process to be conducted on issues like this.”
– Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs

And now ladies and gentlemen, here’s the star of the show, that bouncy and blustering blend of evasions, tough talk, and feigned politeness, the master of wit and repartee, that wascally wabbit himself, the one, the only, Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito!

Interlocutor: People are complaining about all the misstatements and gaffes coming out of the Cabinet, but he’s got their backs:

“The (opposition) asks us a lot of detailed questions that they didn’t tell us in advance, and it’s hard to answer them accurately. If a minister is asked about something outside the range of their (responsibility), they haven’t prepared all the data, and it isn’t in their heads.”

Interlocutor: Well, what part of their body is it in, then? Ha ha ha!

The poll numbers for the Cabinet are falling through the floor, but he’s been the Rock of Gibraltar for his fellow cutups. Just this week, he said:

“In the not too distant future, the people will praise the policies, acts, and results of the Kan Cabinet.”

And never a thought for himself, that man—he’s always on the job. Reporters asked him earlier this month whether he would visit Okinawa to see the Futenma air base for himself. Wouldn’t a few days in the tropics be great this time of year, even on a business trip? It would do him a world of good. But he can’t tear himself away from his desk:

“If you (in the media) didn’t bring up the problem of crisis management, I could go anytime, but I can’t move because I have to be in the 23 wards of Tokyo 24 hours a day.”

Don’t let that gruff exterior fool you folks, he’s really a paragon of courtesy. He’s got the greatest respect and deference for our Chinese neighbors. And he shows that regard by using highly honorific language when he speaks speak of them. Don’t you remember how politely he referred to them in September, even though he was very disappointed in their behavior?

“I don’t know about 20 years ago, but it was my understanding that (China) had changed quite a bit—the judiciary had become independent and the relationship between government and the judicial system had become more modern. But they haven’t changed much at all.” (あまりお変わりになっていなかった)

Or how hopeful he was of positive developments after the government returned the 14 crew members to China along with their ship. Notice the respect he pays to the average Chinese fisherman:

(14人と船がお帰りになれば、違った状況が開けてくるのではないか)
“If the 14 sailors and their ship return (to China), that will likely create a different set of circumstances.”

It must be that Socialist background and his sense of solidarity with working men and women everywhere! He did it again when he confirmed that a Chinese survey ship was near the Japanese Shirakaba gas fields in the East China Sea:

(周辺にいらっしゃることは確認している。)
“(We’ve) confirmed (the ship) is in the area.”

Interlocutor: That’s more respect than Kan Naoto gets!

There’s more! Not only does he hold the Chinese in high esteem, but with true Japanese humility he elevates others by lowering himself and the members of his group. Here’s what he said about the political neutrality of civil servants:

“The Self-Defense Forces are also an instrument of violence, as well as a type of military organization. Therefore, based on our prewar experience, their political neutrality in particular must be ensured.”

He quickly caught himself and changed that to “an organization of power”, but boy, did that start a motherbruiser of a pie fight in the cheap seats! Even some of his detractors, including blogger Ikeda Nobuo, rushed to his defense by suggesting that he was paraphrasing the sociologist and political economist Max Weber, who held that the state should have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

Others objected that Vladimir Lenin had a taste for the phrase too, not to mention a taste for violence. Old Ilyich used approximations of it several times, including, “The state is an organ or instrument of violence exercised by one class against another …”

But just as Mr. Sengoku was there to defend Kan Naoto when the going got tough, the tough prime minister got going and stood up for the chief cabinet secretary:

“He read communist party-type books in the past. He told me himself that the phrase ‘instrument of violence’ appeared in them. That’s not what he really believes. I recognize that he made a mistake in his choice of words.”

Interlocutor: So it was Lenin and not Weber after all!

But really, trust me, he’s a serious guy with the people’s best interests at heart. This February, when he was still the minister for national strategy, he talked about the goals of his party:

“Our objective is to create a government that the civil servants and the people will be thankful for. The basic concepts are ‘disclosure’ and ‘explanation’.”

Ladies and gentleman, we all know it’s impossible to follow an act like that, but if anyone can, it’s the recently reshuffled Minister of Justice, the Clown Prince of Comedy, Yanagida Minoru entertaining an audience in Hiroshima on the 14th! Heeeeere’s Minnie!

“All I did was remember two answers that have gotten me through Diet testimony: ‘I will refrain from commenting on specific cases,’ and ‘We are dealing with the matter appropriately based on law and evidence.'”

Interlocutor: I say, didn’t he run that joke into the ground? Opposition pols checked the Diet records and came up with six examples of the first and 14 examples of the second in his testimony.

Naw, he’s more than a one-hit wonder. He told another joke to the same Hiroshima crowd that was too hip for the room. It went over the heads of everyone in the media:

“I haven’t been involved with legal matters even once over the past 20 years.”

For an encore, the government brought back the old Alphonse and Gaston routine. Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku said they wouldn’t fire him. People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka said the gags had been the staple of the LDP baggy pants ministers of national comedy back when Henny Youngman was picking flies out of his soup! Then Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku changed their minds. But the Justice Minister said he would stay–to implement his agenda!

And then he changed his mind and quit the next day!

His loyal fan club following still has a crush on him, though. An executive with the Hiroshima branch of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Union—he got where he is today because of union support—said:

“Because I know Mr. Yanigida, I think that was just his way of making a joke, though it wasn’t a good thing to say.”

But the DPJ topped that punch line. Sengoku Yoshito announced he would hold a double Cabinet portfolio and take over the job as Justice Minister for the time being!

Well, that about wraps up our show for tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we do hope you enjoyed yourselves. Thanks for being such a wonderful audience! We’d like to take you home with us! And good night Mrs. Karabashi, wherever you are!

No laughing matter

Most journalists make reasonable allowances for the fact a man is a politician, but there are some like me who don’t. While the condition may be mysterious, and the cause not singular, to me mad is mad. It has several times struck me, in meeting directly with “power,” that if I heard a man speaking like this, while riding on a trolley, I would assume he was an outpatient.
– David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen

It’s only taken a few short months for the audience to head for the exits at the DPJ revue yet again, and that’s got everyone in show business worried. A JNN poll over the weekend in the Tokyo area found that support for the DPJ was down to 18.4%. Meanwhile, support for the LDP, the Tar Baby of Japanese politics (Tar Baby jes’ sit there and don’t say nothin’) has climbed to 30.0%. Those are roughly identical to the relative numbers in 2006 just before Abe Shinzo decided to let the postal rebels back into the LDP.

Support for the Kan Cabinet was at 26.6% and disapproval at 66.2%. A Sankei-Fuji poll taken at the same time had the numbers at 21.8% and 59.8% respectively. 84.6% are not impressed with Mr. Kan’s leadership. One reason Mr. Yanagida had to walk the plank was the concern that the opposition would pass a censure motion in the upper house. 63.2% now think it would be appropriate to submit a similar motion for Sengoku Yoshito.

Last week, Ozawa Ichiro met with his allies who are first term lower house members to warn them that Prime Minister Kan might dissolve the lower house and call an election out of desperation. He thinks the election could come as early as February.

His statement was carried by several news outlets, but only the Asahi reported that Mr. Ozawa said he was troubled by the political climate. He thinks there’s been a breakdown of party politics and sees similarities with the situation in prewar Japan.

But Mr. Ozawa has always been more drama queen than comedian. The state of the Japanese demos cannot at all be compared to the prewar days, and the military has no political influence to speak of. State Shinto and Imperial Japan no longer exist.

It’s not a failure of party politics—it’s a failure of the politicians. More specifically, it’s a failure of the entire political class and a demonstration of the Peter Principle, which holds that the members of a hierarchy rise to the level of their incompetence. Publilius Syrus, who was something of an improvisational comic himself, observed in the 1st century BC, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

Likewise, it takes no skill or competence for opposition backbenchers to stand in front of a microphone and run themselves up while running the government down when the country is at peace with itself. Now that they’ve served in the front benches of the Diet, however, it’s clear that most of the people in the Hatoyama and Kan cabinets aren’t qualified to sit in the national legislature, much less be in government. The Japanese are facing the same crisis of government that people in the West are dealing with, but in their own context. The country’s citizens have discovered that anyone can serve in the Diet when the sea is calm. Subsequent elections are likely to demonstrate the consequences of that discovery, though with Japan’s proportional representational system, the ringleaders in each party will be placed atop the PR lists and sneak back into the Diet through the back door anyway.

Another problem is that the people might not be given a chance to vote anytime soon. There’s talk of a grand coalition between the DPJ (sans the Ozawa element), the LDP, and New Komeito. Yosano Kaoru, a former Cabinet member in LDP governments and the co-leader of the Sunrise Party, met with Prime Minister Kan last week, and the media speculated that a coalition was the topic of conversation. It didn’t help that Mr. Yosano had to play the wiseguy and say it was just a friendly visit.

Former DPJ Cabinet minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro, a cast member of the Ozawa Ichiro puppet show, also hinted at the possibility when he told the weekly Shukan Post in an interview appearing in the current issue that “many” people “probably” favor a grand coalition. That’s not what the polls say—one released last week found only about 10% of the respondents supporting that option. Another trial balloon being floated was the formation of a grand coalition for three years, after which time the current Diet term would expire and a joint upper/lower house election could be held.

That would be the ultimate in political failure. The successful functioning of such a coalition would require negotiations between the parties to get anything accomplished. (About the only thing they would accomplish is an increase in the consumption tax to have the people pay for their fiscal failures.) Negotiations are a process they already could be conducting in the Diet if they weren’t more interested in slipping whoopee cushions under each others’ chairs. If the opposition in the upper house voted down the enabling legislation required for the budget early next spring, the DPJ would have to call for a new election anyway.

A grand coalition really would smack of prewar politics, particularly the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, a government organization that subsumed the bureaucracy, the parties, and the military. A grand coalition—one of the drawbacks of the parliamentary system of government—would be antithetical to the core principles of democracy: The voters couldn’t throw the bums out.

It would be a marriage of convenience to allow failures at governnment to sit at a big table and cut deals on ways to prolong their failure. Serious critics of the government, primarily Your Party and the Communist Party (which is serious in behavior if not in philosophy) would be relegated to the sidelines to squawk. The voters would still be wondering who to vote out when the next election came in three years.

Politics, Charles DeGaulle thought, is too important to be left to the politicians. When the politicians in a Third World country become dysfunctional, the military—the only organization in those places to understand discipline, service, and the pursuit of excellence—barges in to overturn the table and crack some heads. That won’t happen in Japan; while the politicians here play in the Comedy Central sandbox, the professional civil servants of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy will keep the machinery functioning until the political class reaches adulthood.

But that takes us back to the original problem of whether Japan is to be an administrative state run by bureaucrats or if the government is to be managed by political leadership. The solution will require more ability and diligence than that demonstrated by the likes of Edano Yukio and his DPJ comrades, who’ve spent years in the Diet carelessly talking the talk without bothering to learn how to walk the walk.

For the time being, the inmates are running the asylum, and they might yet find a way to lock out the medical staff and swallow the key. That situation calls for the skills of the Frontier Psychiatrist. Here’s a video that might capture the spirit of today’s politics in Japan better than the analogy of a vaudeville revue. Expulsion is the only answer!

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Posted in China, Government, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Deathwatch

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 13, 2010

THE JIJI news agency polls might be the most accurate in Japan (as we’ve seen in this post). The other major media polls use random direct dialing to collate opinion, but Jiji relies on personal interviews. One problem with RDD in Japan is that it misses the younger demographic that owns cell phones but not wired telephones.

Poll watchers are seldom allowed immediate access to the monthly Jiji results because the actual polling is conducted by an affiliated market survey company. The numbers from their 5-8 November poll have been made public, however, and both the Kan Cabinet and the Democratic Party as a whole probably wish they hadn’t. The Cabinet’s approval rating has fallen to 27%, below the critical 30% line. That means it’s time to send the mourning clothes to the cleaners. That figure represents a 11.4 percentage-point drop from the previous month, while the Cabinet’s disapproval rating climbed by 12.6 percentage points to 51.8%.

Further, the poll found that the Liberal-Democratic Party has regained a slim lead in party preference, gaining 16.5% to the DPJ’s 16.2%. That’s not so much a vote of confidence for the LDP as it a clear vote of no confidence in the DPJ. It’s the first time the LDP has topped the Jiji poll since the lower house election of September 2009 (though it did in the later stages of the Hatoyama administration in a Kyodo poll.)

To see how little confidence the public has in the Kan government, one need only look at the reasons given by those who support them. Here’s the top three in order:

There’s no one else suitable: 12.2%
I trust the prime minister: 6.2%
It would be the same no matter who the prime minister is: 5.1%

One of the primary reasons cited for the non-support of the Cabinet is Mr. Kan’s lack of leadership. In June, 6.3% of thumbs pointed down for that reason; now it’s risen to 28.7%.

What would the public prefer? Here are the numbers, also in order:

A post-political realignment government that does not consist of the current framework: 20.8%
A DPJ-led coalition: 17.2%
An LDP-led coalition: 16.2%
A grand coalition with the DPJ and the LDP: 10.1%

In contrast to other polls, the Jiji survey has New Komeito, affiliated with the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, as the third most popular party, with support in the low single digits. Your Party usually winds up third in the RDD polls, but in the Jiji poll it’s a close fourth.

Again, as is consistent with previous Jiji polls, independents constitute more than half of the electorate. Currently the number is 57.4%.

*****
Don’t look for Mr. Kan to reverse those numbers in a significant way; he doesn’t have the political skills. His lack of leadership soon became apparent after he took office. His reputation, such as it is, depended on the sharp critical tongue he flashed in Diet debates as a member of the opposition. In short, his only talent is for carping from the sidelines.

He might prolong the inevitable and gain a brief uptick by replacing Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito. Mr. Sengoku is the sort of man the anachronistic American weekly news magazines might once have referred to as acerbic. Another way to put it is that he’s a nasty piece of work with the instincts of the gangster lawyer he once was.

Because he is seen as the man really in charge of the government, the media aims their fire at him rather than at Mr. Kan. The weekly Shukan Shincho just concluded a three-part series alleging yakuza ties. Mr. Sengoku filed a lawsuit after the first part appeared, but the magazine was undeterred and continued with the other installments. Japanese weeklies lose more of those suits than conventionally responsible journalists would, but they also wind up being vindicated in quite a few as well.

Thus, in little more than a year, the DPJ has managed to paint itself into a corner as if they were the political equivalent of a cartoon or vaudevillian buffoons. Replacing the prime minister yet again without a lower house election will further damage their credibility; that would be too much like the old LDP. It was only because they weren’t the LDP that people voted for them to begin with.

They’d also have a hard time finding a credible replacement. One possibility would be Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, on the theory that his turn is next, but Mr. Okada is not an inspiring figure either. (Also, whether from overwork or stress, he sometimes looks physically unwell. People sincerely worry whether he has the constitution for the job.)

If they follow the old LDP practice of finding a replacement at the opposite end of the party to give the impression of a new leaf having been turned, one logical candidate would be Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji. He’s already served as party president, though the DPJ left doesn’t care for him. Factor in a lack of gravitas, and it’s unlikely he would find any long-term political traction. (His language as foreign minister has been rather undiplomatic. For example, he called the Chinese response to Japanese actions “hysterical”. While that’s an excellent description of Chinese behavior, it’s a poor choice of words for international diplomacy.)

He might be better off trying a few years down the road as a member of a different party in a coalition government. He has friends in the new Spirit of Japan Party, which couldn’t get off the ground in the July election. One reason was that none of the members are now in the Diet, so they were never invited to televised debates.

If the party wanted to Do The Right Thing, it would dissolve the lower house and call for a new election. That, however, might mean the loss of at least a third of their MPs, and it could touch off a political realignment that would lose them even more.

Whatever they choose to do, they aren’t getting out of that corner without smearing themselves in paint. Let’s hope they keep the mess to a minimum.

UPDATE:

A Kyodo RDD poll conducted on the 12th and 13th found that 88.4% of the respondents think the government should release the Coast Guard videos, while 7.8% think they should not, and 3.8% don’t know.

As to whether the videos should be considered a state secret, 81.1% think they should not, while 13.2% think they are. The don’t knows/didn’t answers accounted for 5.7%. That means there are a few people who are fine with releasing state secrets!

*****

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Are you inexperienced?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 10, 2010

BIG NUMBERS from the most recent Yomiuri Shimbun poll:

82%: Disapprove of the Kan Cabinet’s handling of the entire Senkakus affair with China
83%: Think the government should make available to the public all of the video of the Chinese fishing boat ramming the Japanese Coast Guard ships
91%: Are uneasy about the Democratic Party government’s policies for diplomacy and security.
79%: Think the Kan Cabinet is not responding appropriately to economic conditions
84%: Think the DPJ is not responding appropriately to Ozawa Ichiro’s political funding scandals.

Meanwhile, a narrative has emerged in some quarters of the Anglosphere media that the problems of Japan’s Democratic Party governments are due to their inexperience.

Consider the following items and see if you agree.

*****
One of the few real successes of the DPJ since taking power—or perhaps the only one—has been the highly publicized budget reviews in which they scan the bureaucracy for wasteful spending. Theirs was not the first such review. Kono Taro led one during the last LDP administration, but those of the DPJ have been more visible. Because everyone knew it was critical to limit governmental expenditures, and because people had given up on the idea that the LDP would accomplish anything, the first was very well received.

Though a serious effort was welcome and long overdue, it produced more atmospherics than results. The DPJ review team couldn’t come close to shaking loose the amount of money they claimed was possible before the election. That was not conducive to enhancing the credibility of the DPJ—they promised they would be able to pay for some of their new programs with the money they discovered. They also played the old pea and shell game, in which some of the funds cut from one ministry’s budget reappeared under the heading of a different ministry’s budget a few months later. Finally, there was a tendency to turn the proceedings into a pointless public bashing of bureaucrats. If they wanted to cut the money, they could have just cut it without the hectoring.

The DPJ started its third review on 27 October under the direction of Ren Ho, a former model and television presenter now serving as the Minister of State for Government Revitalization. Here’s what she said at the opening ceremony, as quoted on the English-language side of the DPJ website:

“I would like us to make every effort to make deep inroads into the special accounts system itself. First of we will make all information open to the public. We will find out what goes on within special accounts, and whether there is any waste or wasteful use of tax monies. It may be that collusion between politicians, bureaucrats and business lies behind the special accounts system. I would like us to discuss this matter also, and to engage in debate on behalf of the people, that will return control to the hands of the people.”

She is being assisted by DPJ Diet members Edano Yukio and Nagatsuma Akira. Mr. Edano spent a few months as DPJ Secretary-General, but was replaced after the July election debacle. Mr. Nagatsuma was the Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister in the Hatoyama Cabinet, but was replaced when Kan Naoto became prime minister. (Some think he was elbowed out by Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito.) The website article says that both men “(called) on panel members to continue to work on behalf of the people and to restore public confidence in the political process.”

So, Ren Ho says they “will make all information open to the public”, they will “engage in debate on behalf of the people”, and “return control to the hands of the people”. Messrs. Edano and Nagatsuma talk about restoring public confidence in the political process.

Yet this is the same party in power who refused to “make all information open to the public” by keeping the Coast Guard videos of the events in the Senkakus away from the public eye. Their opinion of their fellow countrymen is such that they thought the videos would arouse anti-Chinese sentiment and inflame “nationalism”.

That’s not all.

The party’s first budgetary review examined the budget formulated by the Aso Cabinet when the LDP controlled the government.

But the current budget was compiled and passed by the Democratic Party, when Kan Naoto—whom some in the Anglosphere press think is a “budget hawk”—was the Deputy Prime Minister and then Finance Minister. It is the most expensive budget in Japanese history, and nearly half of it is financed by debt.

Therefore, V.3 of the budgetary review is the DPJ getting all green eyeshade about expenditures they’re responsible for in the first place.

If there is “waste or wasteful use of tax monies” in the current budget, they’re the ones who put it there. They should have already done this inside the government last year, when the budget was being formulated.

How’s that for “restoring public confidence in the political process”?

UPDATE FOR THIS SECTION:

The following is a translation of the first few sentences that appeared in an article on page 2 of the Nishinippon Shimbun.

Before the second half of the budgetary review begins on the 15th, the Government Revitalization Council cited about 200 enterprises for which the recommended reforms were watered down (literally, deboned), including those that were issued notifications calling for amelioration.

This is seen as an indication that the results of the budgetary review did not penetrate the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. Critics noted that the Council has no legal standing, and that the government’s instability has become apparent to the bureaucrats.

One member of the review panel visited the headquarters of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on the 9th and voiced his dissatisfaction: “They still lack the awareness that they are an enterprise using the citizens’ taxes.”

The newspaper has a small chart listing four enterprises that were supposed to be eliminated or improved, but which are still operating under different names, or have not made any of the requested improvements.
(End update)

*****
Pressure by the public and the opposition parties, as well as a well-timed election defeat, resigned the Kan administration to showing some of the Coast Guard video taken in the Senkakus during the incident in September. They had selected Diet members watch a 6-minute, 50-second DVD edited down from about 10 hours’ worth of film on 1 November.

Reports from those who saw the DVD suggest the possibility that the choice of the scenes was informed by a wish to make the government look good rather than show the legislators what really happened. That may have been one of the reasons 44 minutes of the videos were smuggled onto You Tube before the week was out.

This Monday, on 8 November, the government called in about 20 opposition members of the Budget Committees and other MPs for another viewing of video from the incident. This was one week to the day after the first showing and three days after the much longer video was posted on the Internet. Surely everyone in Japanese government has seen them by now. So, what did the government present?

The same 6 minute + video they showed the week before.

Said LDP member Koizumi Shinjiro, the son of the former prime minister:

“This is a joke that isn’t even funny. The DPJ claims they are clean and open, but it’s a cover-up that is completely the opposite of their claims.

How’s that for “restoring public confidence in the political process”?

*****
DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya was asked at a news conference on Monday about the party’s plummeting poll numbers. He answered:

“That was due to the impact of Russian President Medvedev’s visit to the Northern Territories, the problem in the Senkakus, and the relationship with China.”

That’s certainly true, and he could have left it at that. But he didn’t.

Mr. Okada then chose to reference the visits of former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro to the Yasukuni shrine:

“It is important not to resort to (steps to gain) temporary popularity. We absolutely must not provide buoyancy for the administration by arousing nationalism among some of the people.”

Mr. Koizumi served as prime minister for five years and five months, one of the longest terms in postwar Japan. When he entered office his approval ratings were north of 80%, and when he left they were at 70%. If I remember correctly (and feel free to correct me if I don’t) at no point during his time in office did they fall lower than about 45%. (Those are still electable numbers for a political party in Japan.)

He took office in April 2001, and he paid his first Yasukuni visit in August that year while still riding that initial wave of popularity. He visited every year thereafter, regardless of his polls. Indeed, he also visited on 15 August 2007, a year after he left office, but people had stopped paying attention by then.

His crowning achievement is perhaps his push to privatize Japan’s postal system, which includes banking and insurance services. He submitted a bill to the lower house of the Diet and made the case for it. He compromised as necessary to secure its passage. After the bill was defeated in the upper house, he laid his all his political capital, his career, and his party’s control of the government on the line by dissolving the lower house and calling for an election specifically on that issue.

Fancy that—he clearly stated his position and the reasons for it, used the political process to achieve it, and when rebuffed asked the people to decide.

How’s that for eliminating “wasteful tax monies” and “restoring public confidence in the political process”?

The LDP’s victory was the second-largest in postwar Japanese history. Who was his opponent as the president of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan?

Okada Katsuya.

Whose party has worked to undo that much-needed privatization reform, gained at such effort and risk?

The Democratic Party of Japan.

Mr. Koizumi’s popularity was independent of his Yasukuni visits, and his further visit to the shrine after leaving office suggests that a desire to juice his poll numbers was not his motive.

Beyond that, it is worth noting the contempt in which Mr. Okada holds his countrymen. What he disparages as nationalism is what would be thought of as ordinary patriotism in most countries of the world. Indeed, when compared to its neighborhood of China, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea, Japan is the least nationalistic country in northeast Asia.

Mr. Okada has the reputation of being a decent fellow despite his choice of a career in politics, and so far I’ve been inclined to agree. But that remark makes me wonder if he’s really just a petulant spitballer with a grudge and a self-righteous sense of superiority to offset his shortcomings.

The Anglosphere media is attributing the DPJ’s epic failures to inexperience in government?

Bologna.

The failures are a result of a trinity consisting of a political philosophy empirically demonstrated to be unworkable, a lack of common sense, and—let’s be frank–the failure to develop fully formed adult personalities. (Then again, those three could be separate aspects of a larger whole.) All adults sometimes fail at what they try to do, but these have not been the failures of adults.

It is as LDP pol Ibuki Bunmei observed of DPJ behavior after they took control of the upper house in 2007—they’re like grade school boys with a loaded pistol.

Every one of Mr. Koizumi’s steps in the entire postal privatization process is beyond the capabilities of the DPJ. Try to imagine Hatoyama Yukio, Kan Naoto, Sengoku Yoshito, or Okada Katsuya doing anything similar.

Now try to imagine them even thinking of doing anything similar.

Why would the overseas media think this is inexperience? One ever-present possibility is that they’re just drive-bys relying on second-hand information from unreliable sources. Another possibility is that they’re fellow political travelers of the DPJ and feel the urge to promote their agenda/make excuses for them.

Either way, one is as useless as the other.

Afterwords:

When scouting around on the web for information about Mr. Koizumi’s poll numbers, I ran across an April 2002 article in the Japan Times. Here’s the headline the journos manqué chose:

“Koizumi Fever a Flash in the Pan”

Well, what else can you expect? Their go-to pundit was Morita Minoru.

**
“Nationalism” as a word has become as debased in modern politics and journalism as the terms “fascist” (which is finally being reclaimed as a description for a certain strain of left-wing statism) and “right wing”. Patriotism ≠ nationalism. With the the degradation of the term nationalism, it’s time to rehabilitate the more apt “chauvinism”.

Is chauvinism a problem in Japan?

One of the political parties participating in the July upper house election could be described as having a chauvinist cast—the Sunrise Party, co-led by Hiranuma Takeo and supported by Tokyo Metro Gov. Ishihara Shintaro. How many seats did they win?

Zero.

For a further look at nationalism in Japan, try this previous post.

As for the Guiding Lights of the DPJ, I’ll leave that to the late Rev. Solomon Burke:

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No touch

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 27, 2010

I say a pressure drop, oh pressure
Oh yeah pressure gonna drop on you
I say when it drops, oh you gonna feel it
Know that you were doing wrong.
– Pressure Drop, Toots and the Maytals (Frederick Hibbert)

THERE IS a class of expressions in the Japanese language known as wasei eigo, or English made in Japan. While the expressions consist entirely of English words, none of them are used by native speakers of English.

Sengoku Yoshito: I know nothingk...

One example is the expression “no touch”, which means “I’m not involved at all”. For example, years ago, when I was an English teacher, some parents would tell me they never checked to see if the children did their homework or kept up with their studies. (They considered that to be the teacher’s responsibility.) They spoke entirely in Japanese, but inserted the wasei eigo, “no touch”, to describe their approach.

As astonishing as it may seem, the government of Japan is claiming that their involvement with the decision to release Zhan Qixiong, the captain of the Chinese fishing vessel arrested by the Coast Guard near the Senkaku islets, is “no touch”.

Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji were in New York to attend the UN blabfest, so Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito was responsible for handling affairs in Tokyo. (More than a few people in Japan think he’s running the show even when the prime minister is in town.) He held a news conference on the evening of the 24th after it was announced the Chinese captain would be released. He said:

After the prosecutor’s decision, I received word from the Ministry of Justice that the Naha prosecutors would announce the release this afternoon at a news conference. It was a report that (the detained captain) would be released as a result of the prosecutors’ investigation…I understand the comprehensive judgment of the prosecutors.

He then added a phrase for which he and his party are being skinned alive–by all the opposition parties (with the exception of the Social Democrats), some members of his own party, including former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, and the news media. He said:

The decision was the prosecutor’s alone. I acknowledge that.

Those last three words are the killer. The expression he used in Japanese has the tinge of legalese, which makes it that much worse. The Cabinet’s insistence that they were not involved, and their explanation for it, has stupefied the political class and those who cover it.

One Japanese commentator summed up what seems to be the prevailing sentiment:

You’d have to be a sucker to believe that.

Yet the rest of the government is backing him up. Prime Minister Kan insists that’s exactly what happened. Said Justice Minister Yanagida Minoru:

It is not true that I exercised authority as Justice Minister based on Article 14 of the Public Prosecutor’s Office Act.

Even Foreign Minister Maehara, known to favor a more robust approach to defense and foreign policy, went along with it, though he talks as if he’s trying to avoid the splatter. In New York on the 24th, he said:

The prosecutor disposed of the case in accordance with Japanese law. It’s not for me to say anything about that decision.

(This makes sense if you believe the rumors that Mr. Sengoku promised him he was next in line to be prime minister.)

Sources within the government are leaking a different story, however. Some say it was Mr. Sengoku who directed the effort to find a resolution and called it the “Sengoku Initiative”. Others say that Mr. Sengoku hinted to a few Cabinet members after the Cabinet meeting on the morning of the 24th that the captain would be released later that day. He also held a meeting with Mr. Yanagida at the Kantei before the prosecutor’s announcement.

It gets even worse. Here’s the Naha prosecutor giving his explanation at a news conference:

We could not determine that the act of the captain was planned. (The release) was made in consideration of the effect (of the matter) on the Japanese people and the future of Sino-Japanese relations.

Commenting on the statement later that evening, Mr. Sengoku said:

Based on the comprehensive judgment of the prosecutors, my thoughts on the release (of the detained captain) and the disposition of the case were that this was possible.

...nothingk...

The problem is the prosecutor’s second sentence and Mr. Sengoku’s “acknowledgement” of it. Before the release, the government said it would handle the matter quietly based on Japanese law. But the prosecutor instead cited the effect on the Japanese people and relations with China as the reason for the sudden release. If legal procedures were to be the basis for the determination, why is the prosecutor saying that international diplomacy was a factor in his decision? People expect that to be the business of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.

The Diet will be called into session on Friday. The opposition LDP has already said they will demand the prosecutor be summoned to testify.

Some members of the DPJ are as stunned as everyone else. Said Yamaguchi Tsuyoshi, formerly of the foreign ministry and the vice chair of the party’s Policy Research Committee (and an Ozawa Ichiro supporter):

The release doesn’t make any sense.

The doubters also include Mr. Kan’s predecessor as prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio:

Some suspicions remain about the release among the public. The government has the responsibility to tell the people the truth, including whether they made any overtures (to the Chinese).

Okada Katsuya, who was foreign minister when the arrest was made earlier this month, but was shifted to the position of party secretary-general after Mr. Kan’s reelection as party president, was pilloried as he defended the process during a discussion on a Sunday TV program. Here’s how some of the dialogue went:

Okada:
It was the prosecutor’s decision to release the captain. Those who have the misunderstanding that it was done by the government are completely mistaken. President Tanigaki Sadakazu of the LDP said he (the captain) should have been sent home earlier, but would that really have been a good idea? Should we have twisted the law and returned the captain (in the middle of the process)? Japan has done absolutely nothing wrong. Of course it is not necessary to pay reparations or make an apology.

Eda Kenji, Your Party secretary-general:
(The government) said that the release (was made) by the prosecutor for political considerations without making a disposition. This is a suicidal act. You said that the government did not intervene, but verification of that is required. This is an actual crime, and not merely a problem of unlawful entry.

Ishihara Nobuteru, LDP secretary-general:
This is just casuistry. This began with the DPJ’s tone deaf diplomacy. The party was conducting a presidential election (at the time of the incident). You were the foreign minister. This primitive diplomacy made the matter worse.

Okada:
For the government to intervene and create the impression that the (handling) of the captain was divorced from legal procedures would harm the national interest.

Ishihara:
Diplomatic and political strength are exactly the way to handle this. It was a mistake for Mr. Sengoku to say that he “acknowledges” the prosecutor’s political judgment and release.

Eda:
This was absolutely impossible with the judgment of the prosecutor alone. This is an issue in which the moral position is 100% in Japan’s favor, but after a Chinese victory of 100 to 0 there must be sincere remorse on your part. It is a fact that you have created the impression that the Senkakus are a territorial issue.

True or false?

The government has gotten itself in a rare political mess. They have demonstrated extraordinary incompetence regardless of whether they are lying or telling the truth. If they are lying, as most people think, it comes off as an unwillingness to accept responsibility for an extremely unpopular act with serious international consequences.

The word gutless also comes to mind.

And what if they’re telling the truth? That makes the decision to leave the resolution of the matter to the Okinawan prosecutor an act of sheer stupidity. One Foreign Ministry official called this the most serious diplomatic crisis for Japan of the past 20 years (and that’s probably a conservative estimate). The affair involves an immense neighbor with whom they have extensive economic ties, that admits of no one’s rules other than their own, that has nuclear weapons and military forces 10 times the size of the Japanese, and which is both petulant and very unhappy.

And the government allowed it to be resolved by a minor public official in a provincial city. No touch.

If they are telling the truth, the idea was probably a dull spark from Mr. Sengoku, a University of Tokyo-educated attorney in a country that doesn’t care much for legal hair-splitting. (There’s a reason for the Japanese expression herikutsu, or “fart logic”.)

At the minimum, it is a severe political miscalculation. Schoolteachers used to make their pupils stay after school and write “I will not dip Sally’s pigtails in the inkwell” on the blackboard 100 times. In this case, the government should be forced to examine newspaper articles from the world’s press and see if they can find any story that begins with the sentence, “Today, Naha prosecutors released the captain of a Chinese trawler…”

The Chinese pressure drop

If they thought releasing the captain would resolve the situation and buy them goodwill from the Chinese…really, one can only shake one’s head.

From the Jiji news agency:

The Global Times, affiliated with the People’s Daily, the organ of the Chinese Communist Party, said in an editorial on the 25th that while the Japanese released the captain, “An early return to the status quo ante will not be possible.”

“The Kan administration is inaccurate in its judgment of conditions in Asia, and they lack the discernment to protect the mutual benefits of China and Japan…To the current Japanese government, which has so little experience in governing a nation, we should drive home the point that China is not a country that can be opposed so carelessly.”

In other words, the Chinese are going to take their time about lifting some of their sanctions and they’ll continue to rub the Japanese face in it in the meantime.

From the Mainichi Shimbun:

In addition to stopping rare earth shipments, China halted the shipment of construction materials and semiconductors to Japan on the 26th. Government and trading companies are scrambling to discover the details.

Sources say that customs at the port of Xiamen performed a complete inspection of all freight bound for Japan and stopped shipment of construction materials. The local JETRO office reported it was the first time a shipment to Japan had been subject to a full inspection.

Diplomatic sources familiar with China said:

Did they really only verbally ask for an apology and compensation, or did they hit Japan with even stronger demands? This has to be looked at carefully. It is very possible that China will delay lifting their measures even with the announcement of Japan’s rejection.

The Asahi quotes another Global Times article:

Japan’s claims are the logic of an outright criminal, and are ridiculous. It is not possible that the Chinese government will accept them.

They add:

Chinese sources say the Foreign Ministry got the paper to run the articles to apply pressure to Japan.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Foreign Ministry sources think the Chinese believe if they apply relentless diplomatic pressure, the Kan government will lose its nerve and concede even more. They didn’t expect Japan to apologize or pay reparations. But if Japan, which denies there is a territorial issue, responds to a demand to discuss an apology or reparations, they will be a de facto admission there is a territorial issue. That alone would be a benefit.

Eda Kenji puts it all together:

People who do not know the fundamentals of the state and the ABCs of politics are in charge of the government. I can only say that this sudden release of the ship’s captain shows the Democratic Party is fundamentally lacking in the education that all policy makers should strive to attain, that the judicial system is independent of (matters of) territory or sovereignty, and, by extension, diplomacy.

During a recent news conference after the BOJ’s market intervention, Mr. Sengoku was asked if the government’s line of defense was 82 yen, and he said yes. In the worst-case scenario, that statement would result in the intervention going right down the drain. He doesn’t even realize there’s a problem with that.

Even I didn’t think they were this bad. The problem is not limited to their bureaucracy-led politics. The problem is with mistaken politics, with the conduct of politics as if they were children playing house. Their response was even worse than the childish Chinese challenges. If we do not press to have the Diet dissolved immediately and a general election held, and the DPJ government is not replaced, this country is finished.

Japan’s most serious foreign policy crisis in at least a generation is being handled by the people least capable of doing so.

UPDATE: On his Japanese-language blog, Kibashiri Masamizu cites reports that Mr. Sengoku didn’t even want to arrest the Chinese trawler captain to begin with, but had to be talked into it by Mr. Okada and Mr. Maehara. Mr. Kibashiri also wonders about Prime Minister Kan’s seeming abdication of any leadership role, putting him in the “no touch” group as well. He summarizes it this way: Japan has not had a prime minister during the month of September.

Also:

Regardless of any diplomatic determination, the government’s decision to release the Chinese suspect without a formal disposition was indeed above the law. In short, it was a supra-legal measure. The timing makes it unavoidable that it will be seen overseas as the capitulation of the Japanese government to Chinese government pressure.

More details on the decision from the Asahi in English, including this, presumably from a Foreign Ministry official:

“It’s a farce to say prosecutors made the decision,” a senior ministry official said. “(The government) is irresponsible.”

The article claims that the Naha prosecutors wanted to indict, but were overruled. It also mentions an “agitated” Kan Naoto, which I’ll have more on later.

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Collapsed

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, April 21, 2010

THE HATOYAMA ADMINISTRATION is now dead in the water. Oh, the prime minister will still bob in to news conferences like a rubber duck in a straw hat for a few more weeks, and his party will still grind some bologna through the Diet. Who knows–he might even pull a rabbit out of his hat and come up with a solution for the new location of the Futenma air base that won’t cause anyone to gnash his teeth. Then again, it’s not as if he has anything up his sleeve.

The only question is when he’s going to pack up and move out of the Kantei. Political punters are placing their bets at the window marked “End of May”, so the parlor game of Who’s Next has already begun.

Mo, owari da ne...

The news agency Jiji conducted a poll from 9-12 April showing that the rate of support for the Hatoyama Cabinet has pancaked to 23.7%, a 7.2 percentage-point plunge since the previous survey. Meanwhile, the percentage of respondents who said they didn’t support the cabinet jumped eight percentage points to 56.5%. A different poll from NNN conducted from the 9th to the 11th had the support rate at 28.6%.

When Japanese Cabinets have those numbers the night shift nurses in the political ward start the death watch—especially with an election looming.

Those polls aren’t outliers. The Asahi Shimbun ran a survey on the 17th and 18th that found his support at 25% and non-support at 61%. The reason most frequently cited by the Asahi respondents for pointing their thumbs south was the lack of ability to get things done, at 57%. In reference to Mr. Hatoyama, 53% said he did not meet expectations, and 31% said they never expected anything to begin with. Only 1% thought he exceeded expectations, and 13% said things turned out to be about what they thought. Those who said the party itself didn’t meet expectations totaled 51%.

No one likes the junior coalition partners very much, either—they could manage only 1% worth of positive feedback between them. Koizumi Shinjiro recently needled Kamei Shizuka for leading the People’s New Party that people don’t support, and the Asahi survey bears that out: They’re skunked at 0%.

Finally, the Shinhodo 2000 poll has the rates of Cabinet support/non-support at 28.6%/62.4%.

It didn’t take long for the public to catch on that Mr. Hatoyama and his party as presently constituted lack the temperament, judgment, and capacity to conduct the affairs of government. The news media usually points to the dirty money and the Futenma air base issue they went out of their way to step in, but it’s evident to even the casual observer that if anyone in a leadership position knows what they’re doing, they’re disguising it rather well.

Party supporters for years claimed that the DPJ was a haven for serious policy wanks who had all sorts of creative solutions for the country’s problems. Well, we’ve seen the old uncreative solution of throwing other people’s money around to buy off voting blocs for the past six months, so if they actually have devised any creative solutions, now would be the time to flash their wankery.

Say what you will about Tokyo Gov. Ishihara Shintaro—and I’d probably agree—but he is a keen observer. Here’s what he said about the younger members of the DPJ in the 15 April issue of the weekly Shukan Bunshun:

Watching the younger DPJ politicians on television, they all look like bureaucrats, despite being politicians. Their talk is filled with nothing but detailed arguments, but I have no sense at all of the spirit of what they want to do with the nation. Are those politics capable of moving the country?

Perhaps the most tasteful challenge to the government has come from the Citizens’ Council to Build a New Japan, a group that seems to be affiliated with Sentaku, an organization consisting of current and former politicians at the sub-national level working for reform from the bottom up.

Last week the council issued a “Declaration on the Issue of Political Reform in the Age of Political Choice”, and thoughtfully sent Mr. Hatoyama a copy. It contained this passage about his government:

One cannot fail to notice that the people have begun to doubt the prime minister’s leadership ability…there is a (political) climate that views the statements and debate of politicians as political leadership…While the aspect of the three primary figures of cabinet minister, vice-minister, and parliamentary secretary being involved with every issue in every ministry might appear to be “political leadership”, it is really “politician leadership”…The expression “political leadership” has taken on a life of its own, but your concept of political leadership, its content, and your use of it are extremely vague.

They politely reassure the prime minister that they understand a new government will be confronted by problems it did not anticipate. They therefore urge the government to amend its political platform and explain the reasons for the change to the voters.

To wit: Why not postpone your plans for family stipends from the government—to pick one of a dozen out of the hat blindfolded—and formulate a rational budget until you find the money to pay for your schemes without going deeper in debt?

Breakdown in classroom discipline

Kamei Shizuka, the head of junior coalition partner People’s New Party, has now made it perfectly clear his party will never support a measure to allow permanent resident non-citizens the right to participate in local elections, which is backed by leading members of the DPJ.

The Social Democratic Party of Japan, the other junior coalition partner, also has the vapors. They’ve already threatened to walk unless the government moves the Futenma air base out of the country, so that sound you hear is their grunting as they bend over to lace their designer sports shoes. Futenma is the issue they’ve chosen as their national identity, and since the party’s single-digit membership in the Diet consists of the usual champagne socialists nursing a grudge, walking out is the one thing they can be counted on to do.

Now they’re carping about other parts of the government’s agenda and its methods for adopting them. The DPJ wants to pass bills on political and Diet reform sometime in May, and they’ve threatened to use their lower house majority to push them through. Not so fast, says the SDPJ, as reported in the Mainichi. “These bills should not be forced through when the support rate for the Cabinet is plummeting.”

In one of the party’s occasional periods of lucidity from their normal disassociative fugue, party Secretary-General Shigeno Masuyasa waxed philosophical at a news conference:

The Diet is the seat for debate, so it is basic that complete and thorough deliberations be conducted.

The collapse has also spread within the ruling party itself. Rather than speaking with one voice and holding their tongues when they disagree, the Cabinet members are quarreling with each other in public.

Last week the government announced plans for new expressway tolls that met with immediate and widespread opposition. The DPJ election platform promised to remove expressway tolls entirely, so naturally once they took charge of government they created a new toll system that makes expressways more expensive than they already are.

DPJ member Kawauchi Hiroshi, the chair of the lower house’s Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Committee, spoke out publicly against the new highway tolls last week. It’s rare for a lower house committee chair to oppose a measure from the government of which he is a part—mostly because in the past the bureaucrats wrote the measures—but he says it contradicts the party’s political platform, dadgum it, and he won’t back down.

The Pollyanna prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio commented:

They’re calling it a collapse of classroom discipline, but I think it’s healthy to have debate.

The man sounds as if he’s been eating too much sun for breakfast.

Dietary habits notwithstanding, Mr. Hatoyama’s goose is cooked, and it’s only a question of when, not if, the dish is served. Rumor has it that one of the national dailies conducted an informal poll for the upper house election in July. The DPJ’s goal is to win an outright majority in that house, which would enable it to rule without coalition partners. They need to win 60 seats to achieve that, but the newspaper pegged their total at 45+.

Next man up

While finding someone to fill Mr. Hatoyama’s shoes won’t be difficult—the Japanese take theirs off indoors—the problem is that the party has an embarrassment of a lack of riches for people to step into the job.

The default candidate is deputy prime minister/faux finance minister Kan Naoto, if only because his turn is next. That was the philosophy that governed the LDP’s choices when it ruled for so many years, and since the DPJ is dead set on turning back the political clock, he’s probably the next duck in the row. Mr. Kan might have been an interesting choice 15 years ago, but the times have moved on, and he hasn’t. Besides, what nation wants to be led by a man who chooses to wear a diaper on his head?

Pro-DPJ/anti-Ozawa Ichiro journalist Ito Atsuo thinks he will be the man if Mr. Ozawa retains his influence within the party. Mr. Kan has apparently chosen to cast his lot with Japan’s version of Boss Tweed, and he’s also starting to behave as if he thinks the brass ring is within his grasp at last. He’s recently stopped talking off the record to reporters, who have begun calling him The Hands-Off Minister (nobanashi daijin) behind his back.

A Japanese-language report this weekend had Mr. Kan making arrangements to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery during a visit to Washington to attend the G20 summit of finance ministers and central bank heads. Can you remember the last time a Cabinet member of a foreign government did anything like that? No one else does. It’s clearly intended as a gesture to placate an increasingly impatient American government that wonders if the DPJ is going to come up with someone even loopier to replace the present prime minister.

It’s a tossup, however, as to which is the loopier notion—that Mr. Kan thinks the Americans would take this gesture seriously, or that the Obama Administration actually takes Japan seriously to begin with. It’s not as if they take any of the other traditional American allies seriously.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan recently, the Finance Minister displayed his grasp of Finance Ministry briefing papers.

Bringing about the second Keynesian revolution will enable us to break free of the economic stagnation of the past 20 years. It is important for us to circulate money.

That was the signal to bump up the threat level for the national finances to Code Orange.

The rest of the pack

Sengoku Yoshito is getting attention as a possible replacement, if only because he’s one of the few Cabinet ministers that talks as if he has a lick of sense. He was particularly insistent about the government’s irresponsible budget before he played the good soldier and caved in. Some wonder if he is physically up to the job, however, as his stomach’s been completely removed due to cancer.

Maehara Seiji’s stock rose immediately after the government came to power. He even received praise from Koizumian Takenaka Heizo for his plan to turn Tokyo’s Haneda airport into a 24-hour hub facility. (Mr. Takenaka said the Koizumi administration wanted to do the same thing, but couldn’t overcome the alliance between the bureaucracy and their LDP chums.) Some think the moment has passed him by, some think he seems too boyish and lacks gravitas, while others think Ozawa Ichiro wouldn’t stand for giving the job to someone who refuses to kiss his ring.

Here’s the PNP’s Kamei Shizuka on those two men:

I thought Sengoku and Maehara were politicians capable of more, but they’re not what I expected.

Mr. Kamei is a veteran of the National Police Agency, so he’s used to sizing up men at a glance.

Internal Affairs and Communication Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro is mentioned as a dark horse candidate because he’s become an Ozawa acolyte, and he has that soft look women appreciate in a politician and Mr. Ozawa appreciates in a front man, but he’s also viewed as a lightweight. Particularly whenever he opens his mouth.

Mr. Ito suggests Okada Katsuya could take the job if Ozawa Ichiro has lost influence, but then the journalist has been a long-time Okada supporter. He thinks Mr. Okada is unsuited for the job of foreign minister, but could be just the man to present and explain policy options to the public. The journalist suggests that he’d be a safe choice because he doesn’t come from the party’s yoghurt-weaving left, but also admits that his straight arrow image and refusal to be a backslapper are handicaps.

One final note: Rumors are also flying that Ozawa Ichiro might resign from his position as party secretary-general at the same time Mr. Hatoyama steps down. The party wouldn’t suffer, because he’s already put together the machine for the July election. It would also allow him to say he’s taken responsibility for the political funding scandals and thereby give his party a boost going into the polling.

Afterwords:
Baseball megastar Oh Sadaharu had the same operation as Mr. Sengoku in which his stomach was removed. I was surprised at the time to learn that it was now possible for people to survive such procedures. In fact, it was minimally invasive—the entire surgery is performed through an incision only a few centimeters long.

I asked my family doctor about it, and he was nonchalant. “There are a lot of people,” he said, “walking around without their stomachs.”

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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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