Thursday, December 18, 2014

Post-Election Analysis - Here We Go

As noted earlier, the most miserably pointless and demoralizing election in memory (How pointless? Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has decided to not make a single change in his Cabinet -- and you will not believe the reasons given for this decision: Link - Video J) has, for no good but plenty of bad reasons, unleashed a torrent of some of the best writing on Japanese politics ever.

It is worthwhile to offer another list of links to good reads:

Tobias Harris - "When Is a Blowout Not a Blowout?"

Mr. Harris and I, working from the same facts, came to essentially the same conclusions in the first hours after the election. I, writing for my blog, published first. Harris, because he is an assiduous worker bee, published a more comprehensive and readable article on someone else's calendar.

Sheila Smith - "Another Four Years of Abe"

Smith points out a major problem facing Abe: what to do about Koizumi Shinjiro, the Liberal Democratic Party's most popular and saleable legislator. The latest Koizumi in the Diet received the most votes of any LDP winner despite spending almost no time in his own district campaigning. Instead Koizumi played the good soldier, campaigning all over the country for other LDP candidates.

Abe tried burying Koizumi in Fukushima-related issues in the previous Diet. With Koizumi coming off a huge win, this may be more difficult.

Corey Wallace - "Not too early to start thinking about the 2016 election?"

As you can guess from the title, the soon-to-be Dr. Wallace (fingers crossed) does not think so. The Democratic Party of Japan has survived as an institution thanks to the large number of seats it has quarantined off in the House of Councillors. That block of seats comes up for reelection in 2016 - meaning that the new party leader, who is to be elected on January 18 (Why do they tarry? Amaterasu only knows) will have to quickly bring all the disparate groupings within the party into line and workout a modus vivendi with Japan Innovation Party.

Wallace also sees the election as enhancing the powers of the DPJ's rokuninshu, the six center-right legislators seen as potential leaders (The Yomiuri Shimbun less charitably calls them "the Gang of Six") of the party. I hope he is wrong, as all with the possible exception of current party secretary-general and next party leader favorite Edano Yukio are infected with the leaden seriousness that hobbles the party at election time. Politics should be about joy and these guys (and they are all guys) are not the Joy Division.

Okumura Jun - "Election 2014: The DPJ and JIP Need to Get Their Acts Together—Literally"

I cannot agree with Okumura Jun's conclusion that the DPJ and the Japan Innovation Party have to merge. Any attempt to link up the DPJ's remnants of the Japan Socialist Party with Hashimoto Toru's populists would lead to an explosion. Better to leave the two parties seperate, each running their candidates in designated DPJ-only or JIP-only districts, to challenging the LDP's conservative corporatism on the national scale with two radically different critiques.


Later - Many thanks to the commenters pointing out the broken link.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Very Kind Of Them #40

On December 10 I had a chance to sit down with Kang Yonggi of Reuters to talk about the outlook for Japan after the 14 December 2014 elections. The video link:

Future of Abenomics rides on Sunday's snap election

At the time, I was afraid Abe & Company would hit the 300 seat level, making them complacent and arrogant.

As we know they failed to hit the target, empowering Japan's pacifists. Dreams potentially thwarted, Abe & Co. are almost certain to plunge into economic issues to the exclusion of all else.

Très Gentil De Leur Part #38 Et #39

Very kind of Daniel Eskenazi of Le Temps and Philippe Mesmer of Le Monde to quote me in their stories on the lead up to the 14 December 2014 House of Representatives elections:

- Malgré son impopularité, Shinzo Abe devrait remporter les élections (Paywall)

- Au Japon, les enjeux cachés des législatives

Merci mes amis.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How Prime Minister Abe Shinzo Lost On Sunday


I brought this on myself...


Yesterday we all got a chance to see something we have not seen for a long time: a sober, somber and scared Abe Shinzo. He stumbled through his press conference, repeating himself, at one point launching his favorite overly poetic crutch phrase tsu-tsu-ura-ura ("in every harbor; in every inlet" -- the Japanese equivalent of "from sea to shining sea") twice in the space of 70 seconds. When a reporter from the Abe-hostile Tokyo Shimbun started out the Q&A with two simple questions about voter turnout and the schedule for the compilation of next year's budget (the latter being delayed due to the dissolution of the Diet and the election), Abe first feigned being flustered at being asked "so many questions" (Two is "so many"?) ignored them both, repeated the contents of his opening statement, and stared blankly, pretending he had answered either one.

Had Abe been facing a room of real reporters rather than the powder puff tossers of the Sankei Shinbun, Fuji Television and NHK, we might today be talking about Abe Shinzo's press conference meltdown. As it is, the video, available on the LDP's YouTube channel, features a far-from-impressive performance by the PM. (Link - YouTube video J)

This is the guy whose party won 291 out of 475 seats in Sunday's election, with his ruling coalition retained its supermajority in the House of Representatives at 326 seats? Whose main opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan only gained 11 seats during the middle of a terrible recession, and whose leader lost his district race so badly he could not return to the Diet via the proportional list zombie route?

Yes.

The LDP won on Sunday. The Komeito won on Sunday.

Abe Shinzo lost.

How is this possible?

Missed Expectations -

When a corporation fails to hit the consensus earnings-per-share, its stock price tumbles. The company might post really great numbers. Nevertheless, by not meeting expectations, its performance is deemed a failure.

Advance polling by both the major news organizations and the political parties projected the LDP would win over 300 seats. However, the party finished election night with 291, fewer seats even than the party held in the last Diet.

Early on Abe and the leaders of the coalition had tried to talk down the victory line in this election. However, by the beginning of last week 300 seats became the new normal (the initial high Kyodo projections so depressed the editors of the Tokyo Shimbun, one of Kyodo's owners, that the paper did not print the results on its front page).

As the party leader who called the election, then failed to lead his party to its projected victory, Abe Shinzo lost.

Beating Kaieda Banri -

Abe Shinzo and the rest of the Cabinet conducted themselves with utter gracelessness in the last days of the campaign, traveling to the home districts of the leaders of the opposition, as if they were seeking to not just beat the opposition but decapitate and humiliate it. Abe and Finance Minister Aso Taro indeed finished their campaigns in a boisterous rally in Akihabara for Tokyo District #1 candidate Yamada Miki.

District #1 is of course DPJ leader Kaieda Banri's district.

These "grind their faces into the dirt" tactics have boomeranged. Not only did Kaieda again lose in his district, Yamada beat him by such a large margin that he could not be resurrected on the proportional list. Out of the Diet, Kaieda is out as leader.

Unfortunately for Abe Shinzo, Kaieda Banri was the number one reason why voters would not vote and candidates would not run for the DPJ. In driving him out of the leadership position, which he would have clung to in loud desperation had he been revived as a PR zombie, Abe has kicked out of office his best ally in terms of keeping the DPJ down and the LDP in power.

So Abe lost.

Voter Turnout -

Abe Shinzo won the premiership a second time in what had been up that point the most dispiriting election in a generation, with voter turnout at its lowest ever.

After two years of Abe Shinzo's leadership, the public is even more demoralized, with turnout falling by 7% over 2012's historic low. The first victory was deemed shabby at 59% turnout. Victory at 52% is shabbier still.

Sure, the LDP finished with a million more votes nationwide in the proportional balloting than in 2012. However that gain of 1 million was out of nearly 5.8 million liberated by the breakups of the Japan Restoration Party and the Your Party.

When you pick up only 15% of what was available, you are not a winner.

So Abe lost.

Destruction of the Right Wing -

The hard right Party for the Next Generations, led by Abe Shinzo Best Friend Forever Hiranuma Takeo and Ishihara Shintaro, evaporated, going from 20 to 2 seats. The Your Party, a libertarian, pro-business, anti-bureaucracy party that won 5 million votes in 2012 (just TWO YEARS AGO) did not even survive to contest the election, its founder and Abe Shinzo Best Friend Forever Watanabe Yoshimi going down to defeat in a seat his family had held continuously for 50 years.

In this final agony of his friends to the right, Abe has lost the ability to threaten the Komeito with a new hawk-hawk (or hawk-hawk-hawk) coalition replacing the current hawk-dove, LDP-Komeito coalition. He has also lost useful militants who could ask revisionist history and war responsibility questions, with Abe and his government being able further their own revisionist agendas without taking any responsibility for events ("Look, it's not us. We were just answering questions coming from the opposition!")

So Abe lost.

Empowerment of the Pacifists -

Three parties could walk away from Sunday's elections with their heads held high. The first was the Japan Innovation Party, which clawed and scratched its way to a respectable loss of single seat when the party had been projected to lose over 10.

The two parties who gained seats, and in a big way, were the Komeito and the Communists.

The Komeito, by picking up seats when the LDP lost them, has increased its marginal leverage in negotiations with its coalition partner. The Komeito already made it presence felt in the confused, cramped and unpopular July 1 Cabinet Decision reversing the government's stance as to the unconstitutionality of the exercise of collective self-defense. It is certain that as the focus of the nation's attention shifts to the 15 or so Basic Laws that have to be revised to implement the July 1 Cabinet Decision, the Komeito will make use of this increased leverage so that the policy choices more closely reflect the concerns of the Komeito base.

As for the performance of the JCP, it was off the charts. The JCP not only managed to land a district seat -- an outcome supposedly rendered impossible by the 1993 adoption of single member districts -- but the JCP now has more than the 20 seat minimum necessary for a party's being able to introduce bills to the Diet.

The pacifist Left has been empowered, both in and out of government.

So Abe lost.

Anyone thinks that with the Komeito murmuring louder and the JCP screaming, figuratively, Mr. Abe is going to take his party's victory in Sunday's election to go on and do anything more than pay lip service to more patriotic education, greater Self Defense Forces activity abroad and revision of the Constitution's Article 9 -- as he does in the above linked video -- then that person is in need of a seriousness transplant.

Because, on Sunday, Abe lost.

And he knows it.


Later - Notice I did not say anything about the LDP's getting wiped out in Okinawa...

Later still- This post has been edited to remove typographical and style errors.

Even later still - Tobias Harris, looking at the same facts and coming to the same conclusions, checks in with a brilliant, comprehensive essay for Foreign Policy. (Link)

I heartily agree with his contention that Abe has taken his biggest blunderbuss and shot it, leaving him little with which to discipline his allies and cow his enemies.


Screenshot courtesy: LDP YouTube Channel

The Breakdown Of The Single Member District Vote Totals

Here are the single member district vote totals, nationwide, for the 14 December 2014 House of Representatives election.


Click on image to open in a new window.

Taking a rough view from the difference between the single member district and the proportional voting, Komeito voters provided over 6.5 million votes of the 7.8 million vote difference in between the LDP's SMD vote and its PR vote. Roughly speaking, Komeito voters provided 1/4 of all votes received by LDP candidates in the districts.

Anyone want to venture a new guess when the LDP/Komeito divorce will take place?

Notable is the number of SMD votes for Japan Communist Party candidates, with a nearly a million vote difference in between the SMD and the PR numbers. When the Communists were the only opposition or the other choices were an unattractive mainstream opposition candidate and an LDP candidate, Communist candidates received the protest vote.

Then again, in 2012, the JCP received over a million of these protest votes, in an election where the voters had many, many more choices.

The Breakdown Of The Party Proportional Vote

Here is the breakdown of the party proportional vote in Sunday's House of Representatives election, national totals.


Click on image to open in a new window.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and the LDP have been proudly noting that the party received over 1 million more votes than it did in the victory of 2012, when it received 16,624,457 votes.

As for the oppostion parties, the DPJ raised its total by 140,000 votes, having received 9,628,653 in the 2012 election. The Japan Restoration Party and the Your Party together received a total of 17,507,814 votes in 2012. In 2014, the remnants of these two parties, the JIP and NexGen, received a total of 9,797,618 votes.

Who really get to crow, though? The Japan Communist Party. It received nearly 2.4 million more votes than it did in December 2012, a two year increase of 64%.


Later - An earlier version of this post stated that the increase of the JCP proportional vote was 62%. Sorry.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Very Kind Of Them #38 - Special Pre-Election Edition

Were I to indulge in sincerely grateful hyperbole, I would say that I'm speechless, Justin McCurry. (Link)

But I have a voice, and my limited self-knowledge compels me to shout, "No, no. I actually know very, very little. If I know any one of great value, it is to keep up with what the hard-working, smart folks are writing."

If you want to know about Japan as it is, right now, on the eve of The Election Proving Nothing, find the latest writing by:

T.B., The Economist

Aurelia Mulgan George, various publications (for example)

Yuka Hayashi, The Wall Street Journal

Eric Johnston, The Japan Times

Yuri Kageyama, The Japan Times

Elaine Lies, Reuters

Ben McClanahan, Financial Times

D.M., The Economist

Jacob Schlesinger, The Wall Street Journal

Toko Sekiguchi, The Wall Street Journal

Linda Sieg, Reuters

Jonathan Soble, The New York Times

Corey Wallace, various publications (for example)

and this is just the start, not even beginning on the freelancers, and only in English.

Thanks be for all of you, for all that you have been doing, all this time.

That Is The Way It Is Sometimes: Readings For The December 2014 Election

While the December 2014 House of Representatives elections has been demoralizing on most fronts -- "Political system designed to deliver a victory for the Liberal Democratic Party against an organized, impassioned and popular opposition delivers a landslide LDP victory against a disorganized, lackluster and infuriating opposition: Surprise!" -- the election has stimulated Japan observers to produce some of the best writing we have seen on Japanese elections in recent memory -- perhaps ever.

Just the last few days, we have been privileged with:

- Sheila Smith's magisterial overview of the issues and ideas going into the campaign

"Electoral Landslide With an Ambiguous Mandate"

- Tobias Harris' typically polite and sympathetic look at the limits of Abe Shinzo, the political animal

"The Reactionary Visionary"

- Colin P. Jones's angry, and at times inaccurate, but nevertheless inspired rant against the election's being held

"Electoral dysfunction leaves Japan’s voters feeling impotent"

which stimulated a readable crib from the usually enervating William Pesek illustrating, in more modern but still not contemporary terms the seeming pointless of voting (Link)

- the mysterious plotted//grundriss' black, black, black assessment of Abe's dissolution as stroke of genius

"genius electioneering"

The post ends curiously with the optimist belief that this election will liberate Abe Shinzo, the reformer.

T'is is a hopeful view that I do not share.

What have I missed? Please let me know.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sometimes...I Can Feel Them



I used to, in private, characterize Prime Minister Abe Shinzo as Japan's George W. Bush: a silver spoon in mouth grandson of privilege elevated to the premiership despite a lack of fundamental appreciation of much but overflowing with a bristling resentment worthy of rain-soaked porcupine. Certainly his first stint in office was Bush-like, albeit conducted at seven times George W. Bush speed.

The returned Abe Shinzo, transformed by a stint in the political wilderness, is a rather different creature. In his uncharacteristic liberalism in policy after winning a victory over a wounded opposition, and flapping and crass conduct of an election destined to end in a landslide, the U.S. president Abe is emulating now seems to be not Bush fils but rather Richard Milhous Nixon.

Which may explain the odd Pauline Kael Phenomenon we are seeing: huge, crushing poll numbers but little direct anecdotal evidence of anyone rooting for the PM or his party -- outside the former domain of Choshu, possibly.

- Polls show LDP headed for landslide win despite lack of voter enthusiasm

-- Little Enthusiasm, But Plenty of Support, for Abe

- Japan Voters Ready An Unenthusiastic Yes to PM Abe

- Grudgingly, Japanese Voters Look to Stick With Abe


All of which, on this Friday, has considering the "Whoa Mama" response of a certain Robert Allen Zimmerman. (Link - Audio)

Es War Sehr Nett Von Ihm , Dies Zu Tun #37

Writing on Sunday's election for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Patrick Zoll quotes me on what is the killer for the hopes of the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Innovation Party -- the crushing effect low voter turnout has upon their potentiatl electoral performances. (Link - D)

If there were some indication of increased voter interst -- like dramatically higher number of voters using the absentee ballot option -- there would be grounds for imagining a surprise rally to the flags of the premium opposition parties (that is not an actual technical term, I am just testing driving an adjective).

Danke, Herr Zoll.