AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Yamaoka K.’

Ichigen koji (122)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 28, 2012

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

I want you to visualize the face of Haraguchi Kazuhiro (Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications in the Hatoyama administration). His face looks as if it were drawn with a crayon, and it’s not possible to trust it at all. It’s the face of a person everyone would warn you about if he lived in the same neighborhood.

Base people have base faces. Villains have the faces of villains. Yamaoka Kenji (Ozawa Ichiro’s closest political associate) has the face of a con man. From Koshi’ishi Azuma to Sengoku Yoshito and Kan Naoto, the people in the Democratic Party look perfectly suited for those prisoner’s uniforms with the horizontal stripes.

– Tekina Osamu, non-fiction author and philosopher

*****
The following short video has a clip recalling that Hatoyama Yukio said he would retire from politics after the next election, and then abruptly changed his mind. After the scenes with Mr. Hatoyama, it contains two quotes by Haraguchi Kazuhiro. The first is:

It’s heart-rending for us to vote aye on a motion of no-confidence from the opposition, but it is the best way now to prevent 100 years of regret.

The second is from a day later:

To begin with, casting a vote for a motion of no-confidence from the opposition is heresy, and that way no longer exists.

A man I knew well, now deceased, was one of those who encouraged Mr. Haraguchi to pursue a political career. Had he been buried instead of cremated, I’m sure he’d be spinning in his grave.

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Which way to the helm room?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 21, 2011

For (schools) at train stations for studying abroad, it’s Nova. For speeches at train stations, it’s Noda.
– A common political joke about the Japanese prime minister that Mr. Noda uses to promote himself

APPALING crisis management ability has been one of the most frequent charges against Japan’s Democratic Party government since they took office in 2009. The Kan Cabinet’s pharisaic foozling of both the Senkakus Incident and the Tohoku/Fukushima triple disaster in particular are object lessons for the political class that will almost certainly go unheeded.

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko doesn’t seem to have been paying attention.

An outdoor space heater generates hot air at a Japanese train station

At 10:00 a.m. on Monday the 19th, the Korean Central Broadcasting Station in Pyeongyang gave notice there would be a “special broadcast” on both television and radio at noon that day. The same notice was repeated at 10:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., though KCBS did not specify the content of the broadcast.

That caused the Japanese news media to sit up and take notice. NHK issued a report after 11:00 a.m. announcing that a special broadcast from North Korea was forthcoming. (Tokyo and Pyeongyang are in the same time zone.) While not speculating on the content, NHK also noted that advance notice of two hours was given in 1994 on the death of Kim Il-sung, and one-hour notice was provided in 2000 of the broadcast announcing the summit meeting between the two Korean heads of state.

Just before midnight Sunday night, the North Koreans conducted a test-firing of two short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan. Something was most definitely up.

NHK was ready. By chance, I turned on the television at about 12:03 p.m. that day (I looked at the clock first), and NHK was already rebroadcasting the video of the North Korean television announcement. It was obvious from the Korean announcer’s black clothes what had happened.

Despite the warning, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko was not quite ready to deal with the situation. He was in a car on his way to give a speech at the JR Shinbashi train station in Tokyo.

Even though it was clear that something important had happened in North Korea, Mr. Noda got in his official vehicle just before the broadcast began for a sidewalk speech he had scheduled for 12:15 p.m.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu said the prime minister gave instructions before he left to inform him of the broadcast content. An aide contacted him at 12:03 p.m. while he was en route to the station. Even then, Mr. Fujimura had to call again at 12:05 p.m. to ask him to return. He got back at 12:09 p.m. and convened a meeting of the Japanese version of the National Security Council at 1:00 p.m.

Absent from the meeting was Yamaoka Kenji, the upper house-censured chairman of the National Public Safety Commission and the minister responsible for handling the North Korean abductee issue. He was out of town on “business related to the Diet”, and didn’t make it back in time. This is becoming something of a habit for the DPJ NPSC chairs. One of his predecessors in the Kan Cabinet, Okazaki Tomiko, lasted just four months on the job because she didn’t bother to show up for work after the North Koreans shelled a South Korean island last year. (Ms. Okazaki is best known for having participated in an anti-Japanese demonstration in Seoul as a Diet member.)

Said LDP Vice President Oshima Tadamori:

That (the prime minister) left to give a speech while knowing there would be an important announcement is a truly regrettable (act) for a leader. Mr. Yamaoka’s (absence) is also a grave matter.

Added New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo:

I doubt they were prepared for any change in the situation.

For its part, the DPJ was full of its usual fatuous self-congratulation. Boasted Acting Secretary-General Tarutoko Shinji:

We responded faster than any other nation.

Mr. Noda himself seemed to sense that he had blundered, and ignored questions from the news media about the criticism. An unidentified government official told Kyodo:

It is a fact that they did not gather information on the premise that something serious could have happened.

And what about the content of the sidewalk speech that Mr. Noda thought took precedence over important breaking news from North Korea about 12 hours after two missile tests? He was going to explain in public the necessity for a consumption tax increase and tying it to social welfare programs. After the end of the extraordinary Diet session, he had told aides, “I want to create situations in which I can directly promote the policies to the people.”

At least we now know where the prime minister’s priorities lie.

Mr. Noda’s singular claim to public recognition before becoming a Cabinet member was his practice of giving speeches at the Funabashi, Chiba, train station in his district every morning for 24 years. He ended the speeches when he became “finance minister” last year. Perhaps he was looking forward to this one: it was to be his first outdoor speech since becoming prime minister.

It was unsurprising that neither the lighter-than-air Hatoyama Yukio nor the less-than-sober Kan Naoto were capable of handling their duties without walking face first into a wall. Noda Yoshihiko, however, is the son of a member of the Ground Self-Defense Forces No. 1 Airborne Brigade, consisting of elite paratroopers. If any politico should understand the importance of being at one’s duty station in a potential emergency — especially when there is advance notice — it is Mr. Noda.

When Hillary Rodham Clinton ran against Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primary, she claimed she would be the more reliable choice if the president received an emergency 3:00 a.m. phone call. Meanwhile, the DPJ prime minister can’t be bothered to watch a noon television broadcast when he knows it’s coming.

Some Western observers give a pass to the DPJ because they are novices at this head-of-government business. While that assessment is nominally true, it is also fundamentally incorrect.

This is what they are.

*****
Afterwords:

* Nova was the largest private English school company in Japan until it went broke in 2007.

* Somebody needs to tell the crew in Tokyo that Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman.

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Posted in Government, North Korea | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Colorization

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 16, 2011

Politicians these days are the kind of people that make me want to bang my forehead against the desk.
– Roger L. Simon, novelist, screenwriter, and blogger

HERE’S a quick sketch penciled on a leaf from a notepad:

Last week, the upper house of the Diet, effectively controlled by the opposition parties, censured two members of the Noda Cabinet: Defense Minister Ichikawa Yasuo and Consumers Affairs Minister Yamaoka Kenji. Mr. Ichikawa took the hit because a deputy compared Japanese and American policies regarding the Marine air base at Futenma on Okinawa to rape. The defense minister also admitted that he didn’t know the details of a 1995 incident in which three U.S. soldiers raped an Okinawan schoolgirl. He voluntarily reduced his salary in atonement.

Mr. Yamaoka was rebuked because he accepted donations from a health food company accused of running a pyramid scheme. He later returned the donations.

While upper house censures are non-binding, the opposition is unlikely to attend any sessions if the two men remain in office. New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo has already said as much.

The response of the English-language media is typified by this sentence in Bloomberg:

The censures, which came on the Diet’s last session of the year, threaten to undercut Noda’s efforts to focus on reviving an economy damaged by the March earthquake and nuclear disaster and burdened by the world’s largest debt.

Sengoku Yoshito, the first chief cabinet secretary in the Kan government, was livid. He said:

Employing this same strategy every year is tantamount to claiming there has been an infringement on supreme authority, and besmirches party politics.

He added:

A system that allows the upper house, which can’t be dissolved, to inflict heavy blows on the Cabinet, is extremely peculiar. Politics will come to a standstill if it becomes normal for the opposition to declare that they won’t attend Diet deliberations (after a censure).

A reasonable person who reads this account with only this information might well assume that the LDP and the other opposition scum were playing politics and blocking the essential work of a nation facing the crisis of a disaster recovery while hobbled by an extreme overhang of debt.

Now here’s a painting with oils on a large canvas to provide a more accurate depiction:

* In 1995, two Marines and a Navy enlisted man rented a van and kidnapped a 12-year-old Japanese girl. They beat her, duct-taped her eyes and mouth shut, tied her hands, and took turns raping in her in the back of the van. The swabbie says he only pretended to do the deed because he was afraid of one of the grunts.

The existing Status-of-Forces-Agreement allowed the Americans to refuse to turn over the three men until they were indicted by a Japanese court. The Japanese, and particularly the Okinawans, were enraged, and with good reason: rapacious American servicemen are not uncommon in the Ryukyus, and the U.S. always protected their own by dragging out the legal process.

The land area of the Okinawan islands totals 877 square miles, on which is based 70% of the American military presence in Japan. American military installations occupy slightly more than 10% of all Okinawan territory. They include one Air Force base, one Navy aviation facility, and two Marine aviation facilities. In comparison, Rhode Island–the smallest of the 50 American states–has nearly twice the land area of Okinawa at 1,545 square miles.

The Americans again took their time before handing over the three men, which resulted in the largest anti-American demonstrations since the security treaty was signed in 1960. The incident was the impetus for the Hashimoto administration and subsequent Japanese governments to negotiate for more than a decade the move of the Futenma base to a different part of the island, with the Japanese picking up most of the tab. Hatoyama Yukio’s hollow unkept promise to move the base either outside the country or outside the prefecture was the final FUBAR that brought down one of the most short-lived Cabinets in Japanese history.

Then-Rear Admiral Richard C. Macke was appalled at the stupidity of the three men, who finally did serve Japanese jail time. For the same price as the van rental, he observed, they could have bought a prostitute instead. That earned him a forced discharge from the service and the removal of two of his four stars, which lightened his monthly retirement check by $US 1,500.

After his release from prison, one of the three rapists complained that he was forced to perform “slave labor” assembling electronics products. That sort of rent-seeking by that sort of person isn’t a winning strategy in this part of the world, and so he was ignored by all except the usual Adullamites with an anti-Nipponism outlook.

Ichikawa Yasuo started his career as an agriculture ministry bureaucrat. He resigned and later won two elections as a delegate in the Ishikawa prefectural assembly. One year after the Okinawa rape, he was elected to the Diet for the first time.

If he is not aware of the details of the case, he’s not qualified to run a pachinko parlor, much less sit in the Diet. That Noda Yoshihiko thought he was qualified to be the defense minister tells you all you need to know about Mr. Noda’s political acumen and qualifications to serve as prime minister.

* During the Fukuda Yasuo administration, when the Democratic Party was in opposition but held the most seats in the upper house, they devoted their energies to obstructing legislation and appointments to bring the government down. Illustrative of the party’s tactics, and indeed, the party itself, was their response to Mr. Fukuda’s appointment of Watanabe Hiroshi as deputy governor of the Bank of Japan. Hatoyama Yukio was DPJ secretary-general at the time, and he thought Mr. Watanabe was an excellent appointment. His view was echoed by Maehara Seiji, former party president and later defense minister, and the aforementioned Sengoku Yoshito.

Yamaoka Kenji

But Party President Ozawa Ichiro, the destroyer of worlds, saw this as another excellent opportunity to create a crisis. His political torpedo, Yamaoka Kenji, left a message on Mr. Watanabe’s answering machine telling him that “the party” was opposed to his appointment, with the unstated suggestion to take a hike. He never spoke to Mr. Watanabe directly.

The party’s initial acceptance of the Watanabe appointment notwithstanding, Mr. Ozawa imposed his will, the party then imposed its will in the upper house, and Mr. Watanabe did not get the job. In other words, he was subjected to a Japanese-style Borking.

Mr. Yamaoka has never served as a Cabinet minister, but after all these years of loyal service to Mr. Ozawa, he decided his CV needed some ornamentation. The extra salary and the perks were also probably an attraction. He was pacified with the consumer affairs portfolio, which is a Cabinet-level ministry only because of an ill-advised Aso Taro attempt to sell himself as a man of the people. He also is the minister for North Korean abduction issues, which shows how seriously the DPJ government views that problem. Now that Mr. Yamaoka was at last in an exposed position, the opposition saw their chance to use some of the dirt they’ve collected on the Ozawa crew. He was really censured for playing the role of a Democratic Party slimeball and for his Ozawa connection, thus reinforcing the linkage of Ozawa and dirty money politics in the popular imagination.

* Sengoku Yoshito’s comparison of the censures to “an infringement on supreme authority” loses quite a bit in translation. The Japanese phrase he used was 統帥権干犯, the identical expression critics in the Imperial Army used when Japan signed the 1930 naval arms limitation treaty. The treaty balanced the capital ship ratio for Britain, the U.S. and Japan at 5:5:3, while many in Japan wanted it set at 10:10:7. The essence of Japanese phrase is that the treaty was an infringement on the Emperor’s (then) supreme authority over the military, rather than the Cabinet.

In other words, by comparing the upper house opposition to pre-war military imperialists, Mr. Sengoku shows that Godwin’s Law is also applicable in Japan.

Then again, Sengoku Yoshito knows quite a bit about political standstills resulting from upper house censures. On 11 June 2008, the upper house, let by the DPJ and its allies, filed and passed a censure motion against Prime Minister Fukuda. It was the first censure of a prime minister under the current postwar constitution. It was passed just before the G8 summit with the intention of (a) humiliating him, and (b) forcing him to dissolve the lower house of the Diet. (He resigned instead and was succeeded by Aso Taro).

The ostensible reason for the censure was Mr. Fukuda’s handling of domestic issues, but that was just a convenient excuse. Seven months before, Ozawa Ichiro had hammered out a deal with Mr. Fukuda for a grand coalition government, a plan that was shot down by the non-Ozawa leadership in the DPJ. That led to a three-day minidrama in which Mr. Ozawa stalked off in a huff and returned in tears.

The same forces came together to censure Prime Minister Aso Taro in July 2009 and began to boycott Diet proceedings. The DPJ had filed a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet in the lower house, but it was voted down by the LDP majority. The point of this chabangeki was not that Mr. Aso had done something inexcusable; rather, it was to force the LDP to rally to his support instead of switching to a different prime minister for the lower house election that was due before the end of the summer anyway.

Indeed, it has only been a year since the upper house censured Mr. Sengoku himself, but unlike the excuses offered by the DPJ when they were in opposition, the LDP, New Komeito, and Your Party had plenty of good reasons: He takes pride in his obnoxious and belligerent behavior to the opposition; before taking office he bragged about how he would deliberately use lawyerly obfuscation to deflect questions on the Diet floor. There was also his responsibility for the Kan Cabinet’s mishandling of the Senkakus incident with the Chinese, in which the government tried slough off responsibility on the Naha prosecutors and refused to release videos to the public showing the behavior of the Chinese “fishing boat” skipper.

So, now that the precedent they created for frivolous hack attacks and besmirching party politics has come back to bite them for their own incompetence and venality, the Democratic Party has finally located the high road of statesmanship on their map. In fact, Mr. Sengoku even wonders if there’s any real reason to have an upper house to begin with.

To be sure, there is one important political element behind the censures. The Democratic Party is an inherently dysfunctional organization consisting of socialists/social democrats in one wing and the modern equivalent of the LDP’s Tanaka Kakuei (i.e., Boss Tweed) faction on the other, leavened by some Third Way types from Hosokawa Morihiro’s old New Party (Noda Yoshihiko, Maehara Seiji). Both Mr. Ichikawa and Mr. Yamaoka are Ozawa allies, which is the only reason Mr. Noda recruited them to begin with. The semi-constant threats of Drama Queen Ichiro and his minions to split the party if they don’t get their way create an inherent instability. The censure forces the socialist/social democrat wing of the party to back them, even though they can’t stand Ozawa and whatever it is he pretends to stand for these days, or finally get off the pot and dump them.

In addition to plain old incompetence, that instability is one of the primary reasons the DPJ government’s handling of the Tohoku recovery has been so catastrophic, surpassing even their failures to deal with the economy, Futenma, and Chinese hegemonism. The upper house censures have no bearing on the ability of the government to proceed with recovery and reconstruction — they showed months ago they lack even the most rudimentary of administrative abilities. A censure is a slap on the wrist compared to what they deserve. The sooner the Democratic Party ceases to exist in its present form, the better off everyone will be.

If Mr. Simon is anxious to deliver himself from the temptation of serious forehead banging, he should postpone any plans he might have to visit to Japan. After observing the local political fauna, he’d return home with welts from temple to temple.

****
Time to chase the crazy baldheads out of town.

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Now what

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 28, 2011

In the several elections held since the beginning of the 21st century, the (Japanese) people have continued to shout, “Affairs cannot be entrusted to the bureaucracy,” and “Grow out of bureaucracy-led politics”.
– Sakaiya Tai’ichi

In the past, they would change the era name to stop ongoing natural disasters, but isn’t a change of government what’s needed now?
– Kan Naoto, 23 October 2004, on his blog after visiting Ehime and Kochi to view typhoon damage

SUNDAY was election day for the second and final round of sub-national elections. Even Prime Minister Kan Naoto atypically admitted the results represented a defeat for his ruling Democratic Party. His assertion that none of it was his fault, however, was all too typical.

Part two consisted primarily of balloting for chief municipal executives and assemblies. Politicians at this level in Japan are less likely to have a formal party affiliation; 60% of the winners in the assembly elections do not belong to a party, and those who do tend to be associated with the smaller parties. Nationwide, the rank of municipal seats by party before the election started with New Komeito, followed by the Communists, the Liberal-Democratic Party, and the DPJ. That ranking is unchanged after this election, and the DPJ’s gain in their aggregate seat total was marginal at best.

At the top of the tickets, DPJ party candidates went head-to-head with opposition candidates in 10 elections for chief municipal executive and lost seven. One of their victories was the reelection of the incumbent mayor of Oita City. This was the fourth such sub-national election for the DPJ since their founding, and these results, combined with their dismal showing in Round One, demonstrate the ruling party of the national government is losing ground with the electorate rather than gaining.

The defining action by the party that demonstrates its current predicament was a non-action—they failed to contest a by-election for the lower house Diet seat a DPJ member vacated in a futile campaign for Nagoya mayor in February. That failure was the focus of post-election commentary in Japan. Said the Nishinippon Shimbun:

“Conspicuous from the first round of elections was the party’s losses due to uncontested elections, and their cooperation with the LDP and other parties to back candidates. While this exposes the weakness of their local organizations, which are incapable of developing candidates of their own, in many cases they also avoided running candidates in elections they thought they would lose. The DPJ has a heavy responsibility for failing to face the voters and offer policy and electoral choices, despite being the ruling power in national government.”

The poor DPJ showing was the signal for the resumption of moves to find some way—any way—to get rid of Prime Minister Kan. The key word is “resume”; were it not for the earthquake and tsunami, he would already have been disposed. The downside to this good news is that replacing Mr. Kan might be akin to a lothario ditching a girl who gave him the crabs and winding up dating a girl with chlamydia.

First the electoral truth, and then the consequences.

OSAKA

Momentum continued to gather for Osaka Ishin no Kai, the regional party led by Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru, as their candidate Inoue Tetsuya defeated the incumbent mayor of Suita, who was supported by the DPJ and two other parties. It was Mr. Inoue’s first election campaign.

DPJ Diet member Tarutoko Shinji resigned his position as chairman of the local party federation to take responsibility for the party’s poor showing in Osaka this month. Mr. Tarutoko’s strategy was to confront Gov. Hashimoto (a switch from 2009, when the party went out of their way to kiss his posterior), and that nothing turned out to be a real uncool hand. Some party members now want to rethink their support of Osaka Mayor Hiramatsu Kunio, a Hashimoto critic, in his re-election bid this fall.

In the 17 cities of Osaka Prefecture, New Komeito and Your Party elected all of their candidates. The DPJ elected 46 of 56, or 82%, (down from 95% four years ago), and the Communist Party 63 of 73, or 86% (down from 96% four years ago). Eight candidates from local reform parties were elected in three cities, including the Ryoma Project x Suita Shinsenkai.

AICHI

Former LDP lower house MP Niwa Hideki regained the seat he lost in 2009 in Aichi #6, defeating freelance reporter Kawamura Akiyo of Tax Reduction Japan by a margin so large city employees should be congratulated for taking the time to finish counting the votes. TRJ, led by Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi, was hoping their tsunami of a victory in February would carry them into the national legislature, but in this campaign they didn’t generate a ripple. Name recognition, a wish for post-disaster stability, and Ms. Kawamura’s inexperience may have been factors. (The two Kawamuras are unrelated—different kanji for the kawa.) The LDP focused its attention on this election, and party head Tanigaki Sadakazu came to campaign several times. Mr. Niwa also had the de facto support of New Komeito. This is the race the DPJ was too chicken to run in.

The results for the TRJ were so poor Mr. Kawamura confided to an old friend in the DPJ several days before the election that it would have better to give it a pass. Nevertheless, he made some progress on his agenda in Nagoya despite the election results. His party offered a bill to permanently halve the salaries of city council. The LDP and the DPJ countered with a bill providing for a temporary salary cut with a neutral third party determining the amount. None of them had the votes to get their bills passed, so they compromised by passing a bill for a temporary 50% reduction with no time period specified. Mr. Kawamura seems to have gotten the better end of the deal for now.

AKUNE

Events in Akune, Kagoshima, over the past year have received prominent coverage nationwide. Akune is a small city, and most of its revenue goes to public employee remuneration. Former Mayor Takehara Shin’ichi had strong public backing for his plan to pay city council members on a per diem basis instead of straight salaries. When the council refused to pass his legislation, however, he started governing by decree and the public turned against him. He was recalled in a close vote a few months ago, and lost the campaign to replace himself by another close vote. But when the new mayor reinstated the old salary system, Mr. Takehara’s supporters succeeded in having the entire city council recalled.

The new election for the 16 council members was held on Sunday, and both factions ran 11 candidates. The anti-Takehara group, mainly city council veterans, campaigned on a promise to end confusion in government and won 10 seats, while the pro-Takehara group of amateurs won six seats on a platform of reducing the number of assembly members, reinstating the per diem pay system, and cutting the fixed asset tax. The group of veterans also received about 1,000 more votes in the aggregate.

The winners will still have to mind their Ps and Qs, however. The candidate who received the most votes was Takehara Emi, the former mayor’s sister, who was part of the faction calling for downsized government.

TOKYO

The DPJ lost six of eight de facto head-to-head elections among mayors and ward heads in the Tokyo Metro District. The party also must have been discouraged by Murata Nobuyuki’s failure to gain a seat as a delegate to the Meguro Ward assembly. Mr. Murata, a freelance journalist, is the husband of DPJ national poster girl and reform minister Ren Ho. His candidacy developed no traction despite an early declaration. Neither Mrs. Murata’s speeches on his behalf nor her photograph on his campaign posters helped. There were 55 candidates for 36 seats. Mr. Murata finished in 42nd place with 893 votes, 457 votes shy of a seat.

Another Tokyo election of interest was that for the chief municipal officer of Setagaya Ward. The winner was Hosaka Nobuto of the Social Democratic Party (Japan’s loony left), who campaigned on an anti-nuclear power platform. The mass media thought his victory was Very Important News Indeed and treated it as such.

What they found less worthy of reporting was that the local LDP party organizations failed to agree on a single candidate, so two candidates split the LDP vote in the ward. The party organization for the Tokyo Metro District backed Hanawa Takafumi, while the organization for Setagaya supported Kawakami Kazuhiko. Mr. Hosaka received roughly 84,000 votes, Mr. Hanawa 78,000, and Mr. Kawakami 60,000. Had there been a single LDP candidate, the news from Setagaya on election night might have been Not Very Important At All.

Nagata-cho

Sakaiya Tai’ichi once held high positions in the predecessor of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. He is now a freelance writer, commentator, and harsh critic of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy in general, the Finance Ministry in particular, and the Bank of Japan and the domestic banking industry to boot. It would be impossible to improve on his summary of the DPJ government since taking power:

“The DPJ boasted that by eliminating waste from the budget they could squeeze out JPY 7 trillion in fiscal resources. They offered such new policies as the child allowance, the elimination of expressway tolls, and subsidies to individual farm households. The people were doubtful, but they expected the party to do something new. That’s why they won 308 seats in the 2009 lower house election.

“But the people were betrayed. The new DPJ government immediately became captives of the bureaucracy, and amakudari flourished. The ministers merely read out by rote the texts the bureaucrats had written for them. The budget reviews were broadcast live, but because the Finance Ministry had drawn up the scenario, they cut out only JPY 700 billion. That’s about the same total the LDP came up with when they were in power.

“Their promise to reduce civil servant salaries by 20% was an utter lie. In addition, their ignorance and lack of information in foreign policy and defense matters was exposed with the Okinawa base issue, as well as with the Senkakus and the Northern Territories.

“That’s why the DPJ has continued to lose elections since 2010. They defended 54 seats in the July 2010 upper house election and lost 10. They lost a by-election for a Hokkaido lower house seat that October, and also lost the elections for governor of Wakayama and mayor of Fukuoka City and Kanazawa. This year they’ve been defeated in local elections in Aichi and Nagoya.”

Mr. Sakaiya left out one other complaint, but Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru finished it for him:

“The DPJ has to distance itself from public employee unions. I think popular sentiment when they took control of government was for a change in the public sector.”

The expression Uma no mimi ni nenbutsu—Buddhist sutras in a horse’s ear—would seem to be applicable.

The Kan administration’s post-earthquake behavior is just one of several reasons for the party’s electile dysfunction, but as the most recent demonstration of that dysfunction, it’s a convenient place for politicos to pitch a tent—even for those who are supposed to be their allies. Shimoji Mikio, secretary-general of the People’s New Party and technically part of the ruling coalition, gave the party some excellent advice:

“That the Kan administration’s response to the disaster is not understood by the people is reflected in the election results. Their continued election losses make even clearer the people’s lack of trust in the government. They should reevaluate their approach to policy and organization in light of these results.”

More sutras for the horse.

Sunrise Party Japan leader Hiranuma Takeo also found their approach to organization wanting:

“The government has created more than 20 councils to deal with earthquake relief and Fukushima, but their duties overlap. The people are scornful, so we must change the trend of politics.”

No one was more scornful than Keidanren Chairman Yonekura Hiroaki, who said on the 26th:

“The leadership’s erroneous instructions were the source of the confusion (after the earthquake).”

Referring to the Cabinet’s boast that it had declared a moratorium on their travel overseas to deal with the recovery efforts, Mr. Yonekura said:

“A Cabinet that does its job properly should stay at home and take charge of affairs, but if people incapable of properly performing their jobs do us the favor of leaving, I wouldn’t care.”

Exposed

It might well be a waste of energy to hold Mr. Kan and the rest of the DPJ leadership in contempt. They seem at times to be living on another plane of existence. A Fuji-Sankei poll last week asked those surveyed if the prime minister had demonstrated leadership in dealing with Fukushima. The answers:

Yes: 13.4%
No: 79.7%

The losers of an election in a democracy are supposed to accept defeat gracefully. They are expected to acknowledge that the people have spoken and accept their verdict. The standards for accepting responsibility in Japan are higher still—those in positions of authority are expected to resign. Indeed, the head of the Aichi federation of DPJ parties, lower house member Maki Yoshio, said after the elections: “I will resign the position because I don’t want the voters to think this is a party of people who don’t take responsibility.”

Contrast that with the behavior of the party’s national leaders. Election campaign committee chairman Ishii Hajime offered his resignation at first, saying:

“The DPJ was defeated in the election and it was beginning to seem as if no one would take responsibility.”

But party Secretary-General Okada Katsuya said that wouldn’t be necessary:

“The results are better than the last time. Resigning by itself is not a way to take responsibility.”

So Mr. Ishii withdrew his resignation.

For his part, Kan Naoto has exasperated many because he wouldn’t recognize the concepts of accepting responsibility and gracefully accepting the will of the people if they walked up and bit him:

“Different people have said that (the DPJ) lost because our response to the earthquake was bad, but that’s not right. Our response to the earthquake has been sound.”

In fact, he has his own view on what constitutes the responsible course of action. When asked if he would resign, he said:

“Abandoning my responsibility is not the path I should take.”

He can’t say “Après moi le déluge” because there’s already been one in the Tohoku region.

It gets worse:

“That I am in this position (at this time) is fate. The people have a quite favorable opinion of what we’ve done so far.”

People who would be national leaders must realize everything they’ve said or done will be exposed, but Mr. Kan hasn’t made it there yet. When confronted with his blog post quoted at the top of this article, this is the best he could do:

“I can’t say right away whether I wrote that or not.”

The prime minister isn’t the only DPJ leader to have failed to notice it is no longer possible to hide one’s public past in the information age. Reporters asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio about poll results showing the public was extremely unhappy with the government’s handling of Fukushima. Mr. Edano’s usual response to these questions is that there are ups and downs in individual polls, and that he won’t respond to each one; i.e., the ones that make his party look bad. He should have stuck with that line instead of what he actually said this time:

“It’s natural that criticism would be harsh (but) I don’t think public opinion polls accurately reflect public opinion.”

He might as well have written Kick Me on a piece of paper and taped it to his backside. Before the day was out, reporters had dug up other Edano comments about polls made on the record in the Diet:

“Looking at the public opinion polls, most people think Health Minister Yanagisawa Hakuo should resign.” (March 2007)

And:

“Looking at the public opinion polls, it is clear the people are opposed to the (Aso Cabinet’s) stimulus fund proposal.” (January 2009)

Enough already

It’s inevitable that political prey this weak will attract predators. But the only way to deal with people who act as if it is their fate and their mission to cling to office and make things worse is a Constitutional coup. The many plotters in this instance aren’t bothering to conceal their intentions. For starters, the Asahi Shimbun reported that destroyer-of-worlds Ozawa Ichiro met with People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka, another veteran backstage manipulator, on Sunday evening “to exchange opinions about the political structure for disaster recovery”.

Ha ha ha!

On Monday, DPJ Diet members close to Mr. Ozawa launched a petition drive to convene a party meeting and hold an election to recall Mr. Kan as party president. Some suspect the real intent is to convince Mr. Kan to resign, as the petition would require the signatures of one-third of all DPJ Diet members. Said Kawauchi Hiroshi, the ringleader of this particular plot:

“Prime Minister Kan has no management ability. At a time such as this, the absence of a true leader will cause real trouble.”

Some politicians are accused of having lapdogs. Ozawa Ichiro has a lap pit bull, Yamaoka Kenji, one of the most obnoxious and nasty politicians ever to cast a shadow in a parliament building. Mr. Yamaoka convened a meeting this week of a group whose stated intention is knocking off Mr. Kan. The lineup was predictable: Boss Tweed’s daughter, former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko; politicians allied with former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio; and Haraguchi Kazuhiro, an Ozawa acolyte who served in the Hatoyama Cabinet.

About 50 or 60 people attended, an impressive showing of rebels for a party in power. In this case, however, it falls short of the 80 DPJ MPs needed to pass a no-confidence motion in the lower house, and it’s just about half the DPJ pols the media assumes are allied with Mr. Ozawa. Because everyone involved is aware of the numbers, they took the unusual step of calling on New Komeito to join them in forming a new coalition government. (That would give them a two-vote majority in the upper house, where the current government now falls short.)

Another reason, however, is that most members of the opposition LDP outside of the mudboat wing want nothing to do with an Ozawa Ichiro plot. They would prefer not to work with the Ozawa group if the latter were to submit a no-confidence motion. If the LDP were to submit their own no-confidence motion, however, an aye vote by a DPJ member would mean expulsion from the party. Therefore, the idea is to get inside the LDP’s collective head and threaten them with the loss of their former coalition partner.

Do they know something no one else does? New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo has already said Mr. Ozawa should resign from the Diet altogether. Urushibara Yoshio, New Komeito’s Diet Affairs Chairman, told his LDP counterpart not to worry:

“They used the New Komeito name without asking us about it. We’re not in lockstep (with Ozawa).”

While the people want the Kan Cabinet gone, that isn’t the group they want to replace them. They lost what little confidence they had in Mr. Kan long ago, but they lost their confidence in the likes of Mr. Hatoyama, Mr. Ozawa, and the rest of the DPJ before that.

Here’s a comment from one person identified as a “long-time Nagata-cho observer”:

“The LDP and New Komeito dislike and reject Prime Minister Kan and Mr. Ozawa in equal measure. Many in the DPJ also dislike Ozawa. If a no-confidence motion were to pass, it might cause a political realignment that would shut out both Kan and Ozawa.”

Compatible with that observation is another scenario involving Nishioka Takeo, the president of the upper house. Serving in that role requires the resignation of their party membership, and Mr. Nishioka was an Ozawa ally in the DPJ. He’s been calling for the prime minister’s resignation for several weeks, and finally said he would have to make a decision of his own if Mr. Kan doesn’t quit. By that, people assume he will ask the opposition to submit a censure motion in the upper house, which would likely pass. Such a motion is not legally binding, but the Kan Cabinet would find it impossible to govern if the opposition decided to boycott the Diet until they resigned.

One writer speculated another ungainly platypus-like coalition might result: LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu as prime minister and former DPJ Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito as deputy prime minister. Though Mr. Sengoku is from the same leftist turf where Kan Naoto grazes, he has a low opinion of the prime minister. After being brought back to the Cabinet as a deputy chief cabinet secretary to handle the recovery/reconstruction effort, he has openly criticized Mr. Kan’s conduct of post-earthquake affairs and the many organizations that he’s created.

Everyone would have to hold their noses, but that arrangement might work as a time-limited grand coalition with the LDP, New Komeito, and the anti-Ozawa faction in the DPJ to handle the recovery without having either Mr. Kan or Mr. Ozawa involved. The LDP has the experience, Mr. Sengoku is an intelligent and capable man, and no exchange of money between Mr. Ozawa and the construction companies would occur in addition to what already is being passed under the table.

How does Mr. Kan view these moves? There are now rumors that he wants to reshuffle the Cabinet and include some Ozawa and Hatoyama allies to forestall a DPJ revolt and prolong his political life.

History will judge Kan Naoto harshly as prime minister, to the extent that he is remembered at all. The longer he stays in office, the harsher that judgment will be.

*****
Mustt Mustt is the title of a qawwalli that translates as “lost in intoxication”. The Indian singer has something else in mind, but that’s as good an explanation as any for the pride the Kan Cabinet takes in being dazed and confused.

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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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Maneuvering on a multicellular level

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 28, 2010

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

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

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

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

In happier times

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

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

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

So, for a quick review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Machinations early

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

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

Maehara Seiji

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

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

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

Sengoku Yoshito

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

Ozawa Ichiro

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

Ozawa's back

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

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

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

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

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

Machinations late

19 August

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

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

23 August

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

24 August

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

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

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

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

25 August

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

At the news conference afterwards, Mr. Hatoyama said:

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

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

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

26 August

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

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

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

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

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

The election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Kan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To which Mr. Okada retorted:

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

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

Why Ozawa?

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

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

He later added:

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

That last thought leads into the second reason:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happens?

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

If Kan Naoto wins

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

If Ozawa Ichiro wins

Lordy lord.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Haraguchi Kazuhiro again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not quite yet, alas. But they will.

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

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

Afterwords:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aren’t they precious?

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

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

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

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

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Caveat emptor

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 17, 2010

CAVEAT EMPTOR–let the buyer beware–is a legal doctrine that warns the purchasers of property they will not be able to collect for damages after the sale absent of fraud.

The motto of the New York Times is All the News that’s Fit to Print. It’s long past time to replace that with either caveat emptor, or Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Read Here.

Example number 24,910 is an article by Martin Fackler published on 7 March headlined U.S. Reaches Out to Tokyo’s Real Power. It starts with semi-accurate snark about Japan, ends with a borrowed, backhanded slam of American behavior, and in between is festooned with comments and observations from unidentified Japanese and American “officials”, unnamed “political experts”, an identified Japanese professor who has little of interest to say, an identified American professor who talks more but says even less, unnamed “others”, and, on five different occasions, unnamed “analysts”.

At the end, all the reader will know for certain is that Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan might or might not visit the United States soon. The rest of the text presents a bottom-of-a-Coke-bottle view of Japanese-American diplomatic relations while omitting the critical information necessary for an understanding of what’s really happening.

To start:

Even as Japan’s new leaders have promised to transform the way the nation is governed, they have left one thing unchanged: the prime minister, like many before him, is backed by a shadowy leader who is widely seen as really running the country.

Japan’s new leaders have left a lot more than one thing unchanged, but if there is anything they modified, it is the prime minister’s role. If some shadowy leader was running the country from 2001-2006 when Koizumi Junichiro was prime minister, he must have worked out of a basement broom closet.

The DPJ regressed to an earlier age because the not-very-shadowy Ozawa Ichiro now running the country was the protégé of Tanaka Kakuei, the man most closely identified with that model in postwar Japan. Mr. Ozawa tried his hand at playing Shadow Shogun once before during the Hosokawa administration in the early 90s, but that lasted less than a year. Meanwhile, the poll numbers for the Hatoyama administration have fallen to basement broom closet levels—a 32% approval rating–in just six months. Running the country from backstage does not seem to be Mr. Ozawa’s métier.

Now, at a time of turmoil in Washington’s ties with Tokyo, American officials are reaching out directly to that power behind the throne. According to Japanese and American officials, diplomats have been quietly negotiating a visit to Washington as early as next month by Ichiro Ozawa, the secretary general of the governing Democratic Party and its widely acknowledged power broker. The possible visit, which could include a meeting with President Obama, was first suggested to Mr. Ozawa in February by Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell during a visit to Tokyo…

As we’ll see later, Japan’s Sankei Shimbun earlier this month reported that the Americans might be thinking of calling the whole thing off.

As for the possibility his visit “could include” a meeting with President Obama, Mr. Ozawa discussed the Campbell offer with the Japanese media during a 2 February press conference. He said he would be interested in leading a group to visit the United States, and added:

民主党のオバマ大統領だから、せっかく行くなら大統領にも十分な時間をとってもらわなければ困る
This is President Obama of the Democratic Party, so if we’re going to go all the way (to the U.S.), it just won’t do unless we receive sufficient time from the President.

In other words, Mr. Ozawa’s condition for agreeing to the trip is a meeting with the president that lasts “a sufficient time”.

(T)he offer has also drawn some criticism because it could be seen as circumventing the prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, in favor of a scandal-tainted figure who holds no formal cabinet position.

Someone is forgetting that Mr. Hatoyama is as equally tarred with scandal as Mr. Ozawa. Is it the unnamed critics or Mr. Fackler? Probably the latter—facts have a way of disrupting the narrative flow in historical recreations.

Political experts said the fact that the Obama administration would propose such a move, and the government of Mr. Hatoyama might accept it, appears to underscore a shared feeling that current difficulties like a disagreement over an American military base in Okinawa are caused at least partly by an underlying problem: a breakdown in communications….

That might be a valid point had not the American government already been well aware of Mr. Ozawa and the likelihood that the DPJ would form the next government for at least the past two years. There is no mention at all that Ozawa Ichiro was the DPJ president until last May and would now be prime minister had not the first of his scandals erupted. The Bush administration was in contact with him when the DPJ under his leadership tried to turn Japanese assistance to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan into a political issue. (That ploy failed.) Then-Ambassador Thomas Schieffer asked for a meeting with Mr. Ozawa to explain that the Security Council actually had authorized the operations in Resolutions 1386, 1413, and 1510.

Mr. Ozawa agreed to the meeting, but kept the ambassador waiting for half an hour before seeing him. The DPJ boss is notorious for being imperious and rude, though he makes an exception for Chinese pols.

In February last year, while still party president, Mr. Ozawa met U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for half an hour. That same month, he spent 75 minutes in a meeting with Wang Jiarui, the Chinese Communist Party International Department Minister, during the latter’s visit to Japan. That was longer than Mr. Wang’s 60-minute meeting with then-Prime Minister Aso Taro.

The significance of those time differences will soon be apparent.

The Democrats not only swept aside the Liberal Democrats, but they have also tried to fulfill campaign pledges to pry policy making from the hands of bureaucrats and give it to political officials.

Those who pay closer attention to Japanese politics—i.e., people who read newspapers and watch television—realize that the DPJ has been pilloried for months for not trying very hard to pry policy making away from the hands of the important parts of the bureaucracy.

The resulting lack of information fed excessive alarm in Washington last fall when Tokyo began to call for changing a 2006 agreement to relocate the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

If Washington began to be alarmed only last fall, they’re not paying attention either. Surely someone in the government knew that Hatoyama Yukio has long called for what he refers to as “a security (treaty) without (military forces) permanenty stationed in Japan” (常時駐留なき安保).

Mr. Hatoyama’s older brother Kunio, who helped create the party that became today’s DPJ in 1996 but departed when it took a leftward turn, referred to that policy last November (my emphasis):

The fundamental idea for Kan Naoto (now Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister), my brother, and Yokomichi Takahiro (current lower house speaker, former member of the Socialist Party, and the leader of the party’s most leftward faction) has always been that American forces do not have to be permanently stationed in Japan. He should (therefore) try to move Futenma overseas as soon as possible. If he can’t do that, his thinking has changed (from the days of the party founding).

It was also last November that Hatoyama Yukio asked Barack Obama to trust him.

Mr. Hatoyama, incidentally, admitted on 16 December that he had always felt that way, but had to put a lid on his beliefs in the role of prime minister. He has never offered a credible alternative program for Japanese self-defense. If he has such a program that involves Japanese military forces, it would require a Constitutional amendment.

The comments by ministers have often been contradictory and confusing, reflecting a lack of consensus in an inexperienced government, analysts say.

Lack of consensus, yes, but the Hatoyama administration is not the world’s first disorganized coalition government. Washington has dealt with that sort of thing before.

As for experience:

Ozawa Ichiro: 41 years in the Diet, served in the Nakasone Cabinet, secretary-general of the LDP and the DPJ when both were in power, de facto ruler during the Hosokawa administration, head of the Liberal Party when the latter was a junior coalition partner in the Obuchi government.

Hatoyama Yukio: 24 years in the Diet, son of a former foreign minister, grandson of a former prime minister, great-grandson of a former lower house speaker, deputy chief cabinet secretary in the Hosokawa administration, a founding member and bankroller of the Democratic Party, now the prime minister.

Okada Katsuya (Foreign Minister): 20 years in the Diet, former president and secretary-general of the Democratic Party.

Their administration is now six months old.

Barack Obama: Part-time state senator for Illinois for seven years, part-time adjunct law professor at the University of Chicago, U.S. senator for four years.

Hillary Clinton: U.S. senator for eight years, wife of former President Bill Clinton till death do them part.

Their administration is now 14 months old.

While Mr. Hatoyama has said he wants to maintain the two nations’ security alliance, his voice has often been drowned out by the din. One result was that American officials misread Tokyo as seeking a much larger push away from the United States than was actually the case, analysts said.

Perhaps Mr. Hatoyama is being drowned out in the din because he’s not speaking with any conviction.

It’s too bad Mr. Fackler didn’t specify the identity of the “analysts” so we could ignore whatever it is they might say in the future. Here’s why.

Yamaoka Kenji, Chairman of the Diet Affairs Committee (who’s served in both houses of the Diet for a combined 27 years) is known as Ozawa Ichiro’s closest associate in politics. It is not just widely assumed that he speaks as an Ozawa surrogate—everyone knows he is the Ozawa surrogate.

Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Yamaoka led a DPJ-sponsored troupe on a trip to China in mid-December. At a symposium in Shanghai on 14 December, Mr. Yamaoka delivered a speech in which he said that the relations between Japan, the United States, and China should be that of an “equilateral triangle”. This is known to be a long-held view of Ozawa Ichiro. He added:

It is a fact that Japanese-American relations have become strained over the base issue. That’s yet another reason why a realistic process to resolve the problem with the United States is to first, strengthen Japanese-Sino ties, and to then create the equilateral triangle.

He continued:

This was confirmed in the meeting between Mr. Ozawa and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Japan’s security has been guaranteed by the United States since the end of the Second World War. The Japanese Constitution does not permit the country to engage even in legitimate self-defense. That’s why there are American military installations in Japan to begin with. The security arrangement defines Japanese foreign policy.

To declare that Japan will maintain an equal distance from both China and the United States is tantamount to abandoning this relationship with the United States. It would be the most important change in governmental policy of the last half century. To initiate the strain in Japanese-American relations, and then use that as an excuse to cozy up to the Chinese, is tantamount to being a creep.

Note that Mr. Ozawa, who is only a party official and not a member of the government, is “confirming” this policy in a one-to-one meeting with the Chinese leader.

Note also that Prime Minister Hatoyama seems to think this was just hunky-dory. Considering that he wants the American military to be gone, and that he wants to rely on an ill-defined, EU-like East Asian entity, no one should be surprised.

Note also that this apparent watershed change in policy was never discussed with or explained to the Japanese public.

The Sankei Shimbun reported on 9 February that Mr. Ozawa referred to a possible meeting with President Obama during a meeting with senior DPJ officials on the 8th. He said—and this was a direct quote:

中国に行ったとき、胡錦濤国家主席にお出迎えいただいた。オバマ大統領もちゃんとやってくれるだろう。

I left that in Japanese for a reason. In unadorned English, it might read something like this:

Chairman Hu Jintao received me when I visited to China. President Obama will probably do the right thing by me, too.

But as readers of Japanese will spot right away, there’s a lot more happening in those two sentences. When referring to Mr. Hu, the DPJ secretary said “receive” or “meet” in the sense of someone greeting a visitor at the door or meeting one at the airport.

More important, he attached the honorific “o” in front of the verb, which exalts the person who performs the action. Even more important, he attached suffix “itadaku” at the end of the verb. By doing so, Mr. Ozawa is signaling (a) that he is inferior in status to Mr. Hu, and that (b) he received a favor when the Chinese leader bestowed an honor on him by meeting him.

In contrast, he attaches no honorific prefix to the verb when talking about Mr. Obama. He uses the verb “kureru”, which is a verb of giving rather than receiving. The speech level also signals that he considers the American president to be either equal to or below him in status.

One university-level Japanese language textbook has the following example sentences for those verbs. Here’s the one for itadaku, the verb Mr. Ozawa used about the Chinese leader:

“I received a dictionary from my teacher.”

Here’s the one for kureru, the verb Mr. Ozawa used for the American leader:

“My roommate gave me a t-shirt for my birthday.”

If the Hatoyama administration didn’t move as far away from the United States as they feared, what was it the “analysts” expected? Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro trying to make their dream come true? Japan’s abrogation of the Security Treaty with the U.S. and recognizing China as its suzerain?

Back to the Times:

But some analysts warn that the move to bring Mr. Ozawa to Washington could send the wrong message. By suggesting that the Obama administration views Mr. Ozawa as the real center of power in Japan, these analysts say, the invitation could undermine the authority of Mr. Hatoyama, who already faces growing criticism at home for weak leadership.

This particular set of “analysts” needn’t worry. No one in Japan has ever thought Mr. Hatoyama had much authority in this administration to begin with. Everyone has viewed Mr. Ozawa as the “real center of power” since Hatoyama Yukio was elected party president last May. That has been the common assumption of every report from every news organization in the print or broadcast media, without exception, regardless of political orientation. The only message the Americans would send in that event is that they’re paying attention.

Here’s a question. Did these “analysts” warn that Mr. Ozawa’s “confirmation” of the equilateral triangle policy with Hu Jintao last December, with neither the prime minister nor the foreign minister in sight, might “send the wrong message”?

Here’s a better question: Did they even know that’s what Mr. Ozawa said?

Washington may also be seen as allying itself with an unpopular political figure who has come under a wave of media criticism here as a last holdout of the old regime’s backroom-style politics.

The headline of the article refers to Mr. Ozawa as Japan’s “real power”. It says “like many before him”, his backroom control is “unchanged” from the past. Now, a few paragraphs later, he’s “a last holdout”.

Warning to the New York Times: You might be sending a confusing message here.

Speaking of warnings:

An Ozawa visit might even be seen as an effort by the United States to engage in petty one-upmanship with the Chinese, warned Gerald Curtis, a professor of Japanese politics at Columbia University. American officials risk appearing as if they want him to repeat his performance last December in Beijing, when he took more than 140 Democratic lawmakers to meet with the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, Mr. Curtis said.

Why anyone would see this as “petty one-upmanship” instead of just the Americans doing business with the man who has the keys to the shop is not explained.

Mr. Curtis, like some other American analysts, said the Obama administration had also stumbled by seeming to stubbornly insist that the new government in Tokyo adhere to the existing agreement. They said this heavy-handed approach has appeared to backfire by raising ire here that Washington was failing to recognize the right of the new Japanese government to change the policies.

Follow this quick summary and timeline about the Futenma Base agreement, and see if you think the Americans have been “stubborn” and “heavy-handed”, if their approach has “backfired”, and which of the two parties is justified in feeling irate.

Futenma is a U.S. Marine Air Corps Station in Ginowan, Okinawa. It has been an airbase continuously since World War II, when it was used by the Japanese military. The U.S. Air Force assumed control in April 1945 and passed control to the U.S. Navy in 1957. The surrounding area is now densely populated area due to postwar development. Under current safety standards it would not be chosen as the location for a new airbase.

September 1995: Three U.S. Marines from the base gang rape an Okinawan school girl.

December 1996: The Japanese and American governments agree to relocate the base to an area offshore Camp Schwab in Okinawa. They decide in 2005 to move the location a few hundred meters further inland at the same location to Henoko in the city of Nago due to the difficulty of building an offshore airstrip in the original location.

December 1996: More than 80% of Nago residents vote against the air station move in a local referendum. Shortly after that, however, they elected a mayor willing to accept the air station.

August 2004: A Marine Corps CH-53D transport helicopter from Futenma crashed into Okinawa International University. Three crew members were injured. No local residents were harmed.

March 2006: A new mayor was elected in Nago, who was also willing to accept the new base. He received more votes than his two anti-relocation opponents combined. He signed an agreement to that effect with Defense Agency chief Nukaga Fukushiro in April 2006. The agreement was later signed by the mayors of the five principal cities in northern Okinawa.

May 2009: After his election as DPJ president, Hatoyama Yukio promised to work to have the base moved outside of Okinawa. He and other party members campaigned in Okinawa during the lower house election in August 2009 on the pledge of actively working to have the base moved. This pledge was not officially written into the party’s election platform, however, because of the difficulties and controversy involved.

29-30 October 2009: In both houses of the Diet, Prime Minister Hatoyama said that developments regarding the base needed to be reviewed, but went no further.

13 November 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama met President Obama, said “Trust me,” and promised to resolve the issue soon.

14 November 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama said the Security Treaty with the U.S. would not be the basis for his decision about Futenma.

27 November 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama said he would resolve the situation within the year.

Late November 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama sent Terashima Jitsuro, the chairman of the Japan Research Institute think tank, to the U.S. as a confidential emissary to discuss the issue. The White House called up the Prime Minister and asked why they had sent a private sector employee to negotiate.

Meanwhile, one of the DPJ’s minor coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party of Japan, was due to hold an election for party leader. Current party leader Fukushima Mizuho is a member of the Cabinet as the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety, Social Affairs, and Gender Equality. The SPDJ was added to the ruling coalition because their five votes in the upper house helps gives the DPJ a majority in that chamber. It is an anti-American party and has long campaigned to have the base removed from Japan entirely. Other party members criticized Ms. Fukushima for being lukewarm on the Futenma issue.

3 December 2009: Ms. Fukushima threatened to withdraw the party from the coalition if the air station was not removed from Japan.

3 December 2009: That same day, Prime Minister Hatoyama said, “I never said I would resolve (the issue) within the year.”

3 December 2009: That night, he summoned Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi and directed him to look into other options for the base site, including Guam. Guam is not part of Japanese territory.

4 December 2009: Fukushima Mizuho was selected by acclamation to head the SDPJ for a fourth term.

4 December 2009: In the morning, Prime Minister Hatoyama said it was necessary to consider Guam as a compromise solution for the base location.

4 December 2009: During the day, Foreign Minister Okada and Defense Minister Kitazawa met with U.S. Ambassador John Roos to discuss the issue. According to the weekly Shukan Shincho of 17 December 2009, they told the ambassador that the prime minister was considering a location for the air station other than Henoko, and it would be difficult to reach a decision before the end of the year. Mr. Roos asked everyone except the two ministers to leave. After they did so, he raised his voice and demanded to know what was going on. He reminded the two men that the prime minister had asked the president to trust him. Was he no longer to be trusted?

Mr. Okada and Mr. Kitazawa had no answer. Mr. Okada finally suggested again the possibility of merging Futenma with the Kadena air base. This solution had originally been suggested during the 1996 negotiations, but the Americans have repeatedly rejected it because Futenma was a Marine facility and Kadena an Air Force facility. The American position is that it is not possible to combine the command structures of the different branches of the service.

Foreign Ministry officials had informed Mr. Okada of this on several occasions, according to the Shukan Shincho, but he tried again anyway. The suggestion was rejected again.

4 December 2009: That same night, Prime Minister Hatoyama said he never brought up the idea of Guam as a compromise solution, claiming that it was the idea of a “different minister”.

15 December 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama announced he would put off a decision indefinitely. When he was criticized for this decision, he said he would decide before the end of the year.

16 December 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama admits that his personal objective has always been to have American military forces removed from Japan.

29 December 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama announced his decision by saying he would reach a decision by May 2010.

25 January 2010: The city of Nago elected as mayor an opponent of the air station move by a margin of 17,960 to 16,362. That’s 52% of 34,322 votes cast among 44,896 eligible voters. The Okinawan prefectural assembly later unanimously voted to oppose the relocation of the base within the prefecture.

Today: Now word is circulating that Prime Minister Hatoyama wants to stick with the original agreement. Reports also say he is claiming that he wanted to stick with the original agreement in December.

Mr. Ozawa, however, has criticized that policy because it could harm the party’s chances among the Okinawa voters in the upper house election in July.

*****

Editorialized the left-of-center Mainichi Shimbun on 3 March:

When there’s a change of government, it is standard practice internationally to uphold the diplomatic agreements of the previous administration. That should have been the guiding principle of this government as it conducted negotiations over several years for further cuts in the Okinawa bases. This childish diplomatic friction has exposed to the international community (the government’s) lack of statecraft.

The Shukan Shincho quoted an unidentified American official:

Japan is (now) a banana republic. It’s not possible to negotiate with them about security matters.

Said Eda Kenji of Your Party about the Hatoyama adminstration:

I want nothing to do with politics of this sort. It’s like children playing house, ignorant of the ABCs of politics and diplomacy.

The Shukan Shincho also quoted Kato Koichi on the issue. Mr. Kato is a former Chief Cabinet Secretary, Defense Agency chief, LDP secretary-general, and was nearly prime minister. Remember, this was in December:

The American government has gotten perversely cross over this, and it’s possible they’ll allow the American auto industry to bash Toyota and refuse to cooperate with interventions to halt yen depreciation in currency markets. In other words, this issue is not limited to security alone. It could also have a harmful effect on automobile trade, Japan’s primary export industry, and foreign exchange policy. It could even cause a further deterioration in the Japanese economy.

That seems rather prescient, does it not?

He added:

Every politician has dreamt once about some of Mr. Hatoyama’s ideas, such as a security arrangement without foreign troops permanently stationed here, or an East Asian entity. But he is completely unable to distinguish between a medium- and long-term vision on the one hand, and circumstances that require a decision within a few months on the other. It’s a new administration, so of course he can seek changes in the promises of past governments. What would be rational, however, is to present a definite substitute proposal.

For its part, the Shukan Shincho wondered whether it will be possible for Mr. Hatoyama to even meet the American president again.

The Times piece concludes:

How does it help improve accountability in Japan if we strike a deal with the powerful man behind the folding screen? Mr. Curtis said.

By this point, the reader should understand the sheer pointlessness of the question. He might also be questioning why Mr. Curtis was interviewed for the article at all.

Now let’s look at what the Sankei Shimbun reported in two articles earlier this month.

*****

The newspaper’s Washington bureau chief, Sasaki (I can’t confirm his given name) wrote the first article on 2 March.

Mr. Sasaki said that discussions were proceeding with the idea of inviting Mr. Ozawa to the U.S., but they were based on the idea that it would not be a formal invitation from the White House or the State Department. If Mr. Ozawa were to insist on a formal invitation from Mr. Obama, he said, it would decrease the likelihood that an invitation would be extended.

The superficial reason is that Mr. Ozawa is not a member of the government. He’s just the head of the ruling party.

Translating back from the Japanese, Mr. Sasaki reports that Mr. Campbell extended the invitation informally “if his schedule permitted”, and that they would “welcome him with respect”. The latter phrase seemed to suggest a presidential meeting.

But Mr. Ozawa’s scandals have begun cause alarm in US government circles, and now some believe it would be best not to invite him at all. As his source, Mr. Sasaki cited someone “familiar with Japanese-American relations”. He added:

An invitation from the American government would mean that President Obama could not avoid a direct meeting. Another reason for the hesitation is the memory of Kanemaru Shin.

Kanemaru met with President George H.W. Bush for 50 minutes on 4 June 1992. At that time, he was the vice-president of the LDP and not in the government. Mr. Bush pledged his support to help Japan in the Northern Territories issue. (Those are the four Japanese islands currently held by Russia.)

Three months later, Kanemaru was indicted for JPY 500 million in political donations in the Sagawa Kyubin scandal, and was arrested for income tax evasion the following March.

It is rare, said the source, for an American president to meet a politician not in the government. Mr. Bush made an exception to help push the bill then pending in the Diet to allow Japanese Self-Defense Forces to participate in UN peace-keeping operations. The bill passed later that month. The newspaper quotes another American source “familiar with Japanese-American relations” who says the “trauma” from that visit still remains.

Ozawa Ichiro was close to Kanemaru Shin, and accompanied him on that visit. Now he’s the one involved in financial scandals.

The paper’s regular Washington correspondent, Komori Yoshihisa, wrote an article shortly thereafter saying that the Obama administration is trying to arrange for the invitation to come from Virginia Senator Jim Webb, the chairman of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

During Mr. Webb’s visit to Tokyo on 15 February, Yamaoka Kenji hit him up to wangle an invitation for Mr. Ozawa. Mr. Webb was non-committal. Mr. Webb has since received phone calls and other contacts from the Ozawa camp asking for help, according to the Sankei’s source. Mr. Ozawa wants a written invitation.

The Sankei article didn’t mention it, but it is not unusual in situations such as these for a foreign dignitary to meet with other political leaders in Washington, and for the president to just happen to “stop by” during the meeting. That might be the situation the Americans envision for Mr. Ozawa.

*****

Zachery Kouwe resigned from the New York Times last month because he was caught red-handed in plagiarism. He wrote several articles for the business section that copied sections verbatim from The Wall Street Journal and Reuters. Type “The New York Times” and “plagiarism” into Google and watch how quickly the name Jayson Blair turns up. He was fired. Times columnist Maureen Dowd also got caught copying, but she skated.

The Times even publishes the columns of a Nobel Prize-winning economist. In one of those columns, he refers to a U.S. senator’s statement as a “bizarre point of view”. That point of view is identical to the point of view cited in an economics textbook–written by that same economist and his wife.

On the other hand, the Sankei Shimbun had to issue a public apology when Komori Yoshihisa was caught making up a story. He’s still working for them in Washington.

Then again, his account concerned only secondary details and cited just one or two sources. The New York Times, meanwhile, cited enough unidentified people to cast a chorus line in a Broadway musical, had only a glancing relationship with the facts, and seemed more designed to push a point of view than to present information.

*****

Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio asked President Barack Obama to trust him.

Fat chance.

The New York Times asks us to believe them.

Caveat emptor.

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