Thursday, September 29, 2005

It is from the muck that the lotus emerges

Richard Lloyd Parry of The Times is granted an exclusive interview with the PM and produces this. Koganei resident and all-around curmudgeon Earl Kinmonth get his two yen in about it and asks a question:
Although I have been a resident of Japan the entire span of Koizumi's tenure in office, I cannot for the life of me think of any reforms of any significance that Koizumi has actually achieved. Can someone help me out here?

Not following the advice of the Ministry of Finance on tightening the purse strings or raising taxes?

Not cluttering up the economic machinery with any really dumb stunts (anyone seen a 2000 yen note lately)?

Letting the Bank of Japan's Fukui Toshihiko redefine the position of central banker as "the individual charged with the task of not making decisions about the money supply, as conditions demand"?

Appointing a financial reconstruction minister committed to pressing the banks to stop deferring the write downs of the bad loans in their portfolios?

Not having governmental or semi-governmental financial entities intervene in the stock markets (through PKOs or other such nonsense) despite a big slump during the first two years of his prime ministership?

Weaning the LDP from its reliance on farmers, postmasters and the construction industry, setting the stage for massive reductions in goverment support for these economic actors?

Getting the SDF involved in security actions outside the Asia-Pacific region without running to the UN for cover?

A lot of non-actions to be sure--but the Hippocratic injunction "First, Do No Harm" was ignored by Koizumi's predecessors.

Late Breaking Developments - Due to strong negative reactions in Japan and in China to statements attributed to Koizumi, The Times is now offering a full transcript of the interview.

Even Later Breaking Developments - Parry and Robert Thomson drop in for a chat with foreign minister Machimura Nobutaka.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

But they would say that, wouldn't they?

As you can see here the editors of the Asahi Shimbun did not very much like prime minister Koizumi's policy speech. Surprise, surprise.

Clearly baffled by Koizumi's unwillingness to meet their standards of policy specificity, the editors have fallen back on ascribing the broad-brush policy address to a "May slump," the purported lethargy that grips new company recruits in their second month on the job. Unfortunately for the metaphor prime minister Koizumi, as he points out in the speech, has been elected three times to the prime ministership, having been in the job since 2001.

A bit of a delayed reaction, to put it mildly.

Since the Asahi editors found the foreign policy section particularly wanting, perhaps they need it retranslated.

The fight against terrorism is not over. Japan will cooperate with the international community and strive for the prevention and eradication of terrorism by, among other measures, extending the deadline of the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law.

In Iraq, the Iraqi people themselves are making efforts to establish a peaceful democratic nation. Japan's financial assistance through ODA as well as humanitarian and reconstruction assistance activities extended by the Self-Defense Forces have earned high praise from the people in Iraq. As to the future activities of the Self-Defense Forces, I will make my decision taking into consideration the requests of the Iraqi people and the international situation and upon closely assessing the situation in Iraq.

Technically, the legal conditions and constraints under which the SDF have been operating in Iraq and the Indian Ocean are unchanged. The bills my party will be presenting to the Diet will be extensions or reorientations of the existing missions, not plans for withdrawal. So go stuff it.

With neighboring countries including China and the Republic of Korea, Japan will strengthen cooperation in a wide range of areas and build future-oriented friendly relations based on mutual understanding and trust. On Japan-North Korea relations, I will aim to normalize our relations by comprehensively resolving the abduction, nuclear and missile issues.

I am sick and tired of Sino-South Korean insistence that relations be carried out "looking into the mirror of the past." However, I will be damned if I am going normalize relations with the DPRK without a more tangible show of contrition on its part for past trangressions.

Regarding the sharp rise in crude oil prices, there is concern that this will have a significant impact not only on Japan, one of the world's major oil importers, but also on Southeast Asian countries. In response, Japan swiftly released its oil reserves, and through such measures, is contributing to the international community. In order to prevent the occurrence of another oil crisis, we will continue to cooperate closely with other countries.

Look, we have offered to show you how we achieved the lowest energy-use per unit of GDP in the world, but up until now you have ignored us. Now we are going to bail you out with some of the petroleum we have stockpiled. Only this time you bloody well better listen to us.

Japan will also actively advance its initiatives for bilateral economic partnership and work tirelessly toward reaching a final agreement at the new round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations.

I did not say "also" in the original speech. Why did my Japanese-to-English translator put "also" here? It drains all the energy out of the sentence. I want to emphasize the "and" (to tomo ni). My administration will pursue both bi-lateral FTAs and a multilateral post-Uruguay Round with equal fervor.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Behold, a New Power Rises in the East

Well, that did not take very long.

The Koizumi Children are already a force to be reckoned with in the House of Representatives. Twenty three times during Prime Minister Koizumi's 14 minute and 36 second inaugural address, the second briefest address in postwar history, the Children applauded their leader. In comments to reporters afterward, Maehara Seiji, the new leader of the Democrats, derided them as "the applause crew" (hakushu yoin).

Certain television networks whose names need not be mentioned (i.e., TV Asahi and TBS) sliced and spliced the post-address interviews with various newcomers into montages that made it seem as though all they were all echoing each other:

"The Prime Minister sounded strong."
"The speech was extremely strong."
"Strength was what the prime minister was showing us."
"I came away with an impression of strength."

Convicted felon Tsujimoto Kiyomi added her two yen's worth, calling the Children "creepy" (bukimi). But she softened her comment by grinning broadly while she said it.

Speaking of the felons, due to the vagaries of the party-centered seating arrangements, all three of them are bunched together in the cheap seats near the left field foul line, so that a shot of the dais speaker's right profile has all three of them full frontal.

The Little Village People

The former Ozato Group, which has been leaderless since Ozato Sadatoshi chose to retire rather than run in the September election, has selected Finance Minister Tanigaki Sadakazu as its new leader. Former secretary-general of the Defense Agency Nakatani Gen takes over as the group's #2. The Tanigaki (?) Group will have 11 members in the House of Representatives and 4 members in the House of Councilors.

Say Goodnight Gracie

Keidanren Chairman Okuda Hiroshi paid a visit on China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Beijing on Monday. Okuda told Wen that Prime Minister Koizumi said, "Pass on my best regards to Prime Minister Wen...because I am a member of the 'Friends of China' wing of my party."

Wen's response, according the Mainichi Shimbun: “Me too.”

I need to see the Chinese original on this one.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Enter the Dragon

The scale of the victory of September 11 has thrust upon prime minister Koizumi a burden he never expected to be shouldering: the future of the LDP. He had probably assumed that the LDP would either change, becoming a smaller, tighter minority party controlling about 40 to 45% of the seats in the Diet, or else fall into pieces. These bits would in turn re-assemble themselves, combining with elements of the Democrats, into two large center-left and center-right coalitions.

Now, instead of a diminished LDP, Koizumi has a huge dragon. Nominally, the party is under his near-dictatorial control (one commentator, viewing footage of the first cabinet reunion after the election, spat out, "It looks like a damned CCP Politburo meeting."). It is nevertheless not hard to imagine the LDP devolving into factions the moment Koizumi steps down as party president. How can he protect the "new LDP" he has inadvertently midwived without drafting the Koizumi Children, the 80+ currently unaffiliated new members of the House of Representatives, into service as a de facto Koizumi faction? Currently, the plan is to have monthly education sessions for the newcomers--a woefully inadequate step if the PM really wants to keep his flock from seeking shelter in the LDP's traditional apportioners of party and cabinet positions, information and personal contacts.

If the prime minister had more time, he could pound the surviving factions to bits by passing over their members again and again in his cabinet appointments. However, he is going to stick to his promise to serve only one more year, in line with his intent to establish an archetypal prime ministership ("Grandpa, why do they have a statue of Koizumi shusho in Ueno Park?"). So his next cabinet will be his last.

Before getting all in a tizzy about next fall, however, let us see what was in the policy speech today.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Don is Gone

I was of half a mind to write about the death of Gotoda Masaharu, one of the most important politicians of the last half-century.

I shall wait a decent interval before trying to tackle his historical legacy, for two reasons.

One, my knowledge of Gotoda is restricted to his activities over the last 15 years, when he loomed over the polical sphere as the superannuate oracle of pinched legalisms.

Two, he is spoken of with near god-like reverence in my office, though Gotoda and my employer rarely agreed with each other over the last decade.

Best keep to keep quiet until I have something bright and cheery to say.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Wakamono, bakamono

T'is a sad day in folliedom. Sugimura Taizo, the LDP's twenty-six year-old blunderkind whose thunderclaps of inspired nonsense and on-camera breakdowns have been a source of much merriment since September 11, has been silenced.

On orders from He Who Shall Not Be Named (Takebe Tsutomu) Representative Sugimura can no longer talk to the press--though in tearful defiance Sugimura continues to nod or issue high-pitched whiny honks from his nose whenever he is asked a yes-or-no question.

How unfair to the populace--who had begun to rely on Sugimura as proof that even a flailing idiot-savant with less gravitas than a bicycle parking lot attendant could hope to someday be elected to the Diet. How unfair to political beat reporters--who instead of following Sugimura around for the laughs will have to now buckle down and actually read the kosei nenkin kaikaku proposals and not cry for their beloved country's pensions.

We are left now with just the memories...

Sugimura: “Learning the ways of the Diet from inside a faction is not a bad thing. In fact, it is what I believe I must do.”
Reporter: “Actually, the prime minister has asked that none of the freshmen join any of the factions.”
Sugimura: “The prime minister...the prime minister said that? Well, if that's what he said--then that's what I must do!”

Monday, September 19, 2005

Thank you master, may I have another?

Well, they have gone ahead and done it.

The Democrats, that is.

Having plummeted to ignominious defeat under the leadership of a dull, earnest, youngish policy wonk, Democrats chose on Saturday to reverse themselves, electing as their new leader a dull, earnest, slightly younger policy wonk.

Oh, the audacity of it all.

Seriously, do they have a death wish?

I tried to watch Maehara Seiji explain himself on Nichiyo Toron. It was excruciating.

I wish him and his party all the luck in the world.

The Sisters are doing it for themselves

By contrast, a joint appearance by Koike Yuriko and Sato Yukari on Saturday morning made for good television viewing. Some time between her less-than-impressive performance in the four-way debate of the candidates a month ago and the interview yesterday Koike decided she had better know what the heck she was talking about before going out before the cameras. Gone were the little girl voice chirps and the non-sequiturs. She was as sharp as a pin, concise and to the point, but not above being playful.

Perhaps too much.

After the first question, the interviewer complimented Koike how clever and excellent her answer was. The compliment was delivered with a frosting of sarcasm, however.

Something clicked in Koike's mind--a defense response-- and she fell into the “ara, so ka shira” gesture: the left hand held straight up with fingers extended but still slightly bent, reaching to touch the crown of the head just above the hairline, with the head slightly bent to the left and am impish smile creasing the lips.

It was an immediate, probably autonomic reaction, the product of years of playing the burikko charmer. Before completing the gesture, however, Koike caught herself. For the briefest of moments, her eyes flamed with her disappointment in herself--still playing the cutie despite her age and her status.

Sato, liberated from the burden of trying to be likable, reverted to her default, hard-nosed, mistress-of-the-Universe persona. Even when answering questions she had never ever thought through, such as whether or not she supports Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni, she was able to spin out plausible-sounding BS with all the buzz words intact.When the questions steered into more familiar waters, such as possible new economic initiatives, she put her chin down and stayed ferociously on message, playing the cold-blooded ideologue role to near perfection, breaking down only every so often to add in those little human touches that used to make the members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang so adorable.

Thank you master, may I have yet another?

Just when the fortunes of the Democrats could not sink any lower, they sink lower. On Sunday, Kobayashi Kenji, the Democratic Party's failed candidate for Aichi District #7, got busted along with a few of his buddies for smoking crystal meth. Well, not exactly for smoking, for possession, but he seems to have already confessed to have been smoking it.

Gosh, how...trippy..and to think some folks used to call Japanese politics bland and predictable.

Yes, I know that Kobayashi went to college in theUnited States...University of West Virginia..and I am sure that tomorrow everybody else in Japan will know.

Furukawa Motohisa, the advisor to the Aichi branch of the Democratic Party, has already announced Kobayashi's expulsion from the local party organization.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Teppanyaki League Cabinet and Party Post Selections

Once the ever-so-slightly-fiddled-with postal reform bill passes both houses of the Diet (Trumpets! A triumphal procession at Tokyo Big Site with Koizumi dressed as Susa-no-o! Piranha versus Ball Python spectaculars!) Prime Minister Koizumi will want to move on to a reshuffling of his cabinet.

Remember how easy it used to be to work out who was going to be in the Cabinet? Five ministers from the Obuchi faction, four from the Miyazawa faction, four from the Mori faction, one from the Kyu Komoto faction…a mix of old and new, everybody with at least 6 elections to the House of Representatives or 3 to the House of Councilors and one token woman…Good times those were for analysts and political writers, fat times...

Well now those days are gone and we are not so self-assured. All the dailies had articles with titles along the lines of "Looking at the Cabinet and the Post-Koizumi Race." Reading them, I could do nothing but shout out the Sergeant Schultz* reaction:

"Nahsing! I see nahsing at all. Nahsing!"

First, how to proceed, now that the faction leaders have been brought so low? Hashimoto retired in disgrace. Watanuki, Tsushima and Hori, the three next most senior members of the Keiseikai are all no longer in the LDP. Kamei and Horiuchi are out on the street. Komoto is in the doghouse for abstaining from the postal vote.

How can the LDP bang out a cabinet when the faction heads can no longer lock horns over sake and kaseki ryori at some discrete ryotei?

Second, what to do about the Koizumi Children/Koizumi Proto-faction/Koizumi Sisters (the new name for Katayama/Inokuchi/Sato/Fujino axis)?

The new Diet will have 83 first-timers, a mass of loyal Koizumi coattail riders larger than the dominant Mori faction. High intellectual wattage, youthful moxie and telegenic appeal will go to waste if some of these newcomers are not given prominent place in the new order. Since these newcomers cannot rely on a slow climb up the factional ladder (Koizumi himself has asked the newcomers to put off joining factions), they need to be put to good use now. Otherwise, the most worthwhile of them will drop out after a few years out of sheer boredom.

A Hint from the Man

Trying to determine who might go where given the above conditions would drive one to distraction. The PM, however, has laid down a marker: whoever it is who shall succeed him next September will have to proven himself or herself worthy during the preceding 12 months.

This means that the really key positions in both the party and the cabinet will be filled by potential prime ministers.

It also is a brilliant way of guaranteeing that even as September approaches, the Koizumi Cabinet will just keep on humming. The prime ministerial candidates, eager to make a good impression, will be knocking themselves out until the very last day trying to get their bailiwicks to outperform everyone else's.

It might even mean that the top candidates will be too busy to fall back into the bad old habits of winning the prime ministership through factional math games.

Here is a first attempt t at the possible lineup of the party and cabinet posts come October. (Warning: the following contains at least one utterly gratuitous joke)

The Party Posts

Kanjicho – Machimura Nobutaka – because one needs un grand fromage from the Mori faction in this post

Kanjicho dairi – Koike Yuriko – because one would want her to gain some experience in negotiating the obstacle course of the party bureaucracy and yet keep her in the public eye

Somukaicho – Tanigaki Sadakazu – because he neuters every organization he is made leader of.
Seichokaicho – Inoguchi Kuniko – because the tekko no onna has sat on more commissions than any other Japanese of the postwar era. She can be counted on to promote Koizumi’s vision. She also might revive the PARC into a viable source of crude policy products.

The Ministries

Finance – Aso Taro – because you need an Aso in charge of how the money gets spent...and from all accounts, this guy an Aso.

Foreign – Yosano Kaoru – because he knows the exact meaning of every word he utters; never loses his cool; kept the PARC from challenging the kantei on policy formation issues; and Tokyo boys do not get jobs that involve the dishing out of pork.

Health & Welfare– Abe Shinzo – because working out a solution to the pension problem will be a difficult and thankless job. If he succeeds in producing something of value over the next few months, he deserves to be the next prime minister. If not, he will at least have been kept away from the foreign policy beat.

Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries – Takebe Tsutomu – because Hokkaido needs some love and homeboy Takebe can be trusted to provide it without blowing the budget.

Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications – Takenaka Heizo – because he should have to implement what he helped craft.

After this I am lost. I cannot guess the criteria Koizumi will be using in making his selections for:

Science & Education
Justice – all I know is that who ever it is, the individual will be old
Land Infrastructure and Transport
Defense Agency

I Love to Laugh

As for the silly side of Sunday’s election, I do not know which story I like best:

1) the LDP’s Tokyo branch having to forfeit one seat because it did not have enough candidates to take all the proportional seats it had won, or

2) the supermarket manager whom Takebe called up at the last minute asking whether or not he would be willing to be on the tail end of the proportional list in his bloc. Now the poor guy has to find some to mind the store, or

3) the 26 year-old (Sugimura Taizo) who applied to be a proportional candidate by email and
whose life has been turned completely upside down. Since Sunday he has had to quit the company where he was about to be made a full-time employee; has had to buy a suit; and has had to find out what a member of the House of Representatives actually does.

Sugimura's crazed rants at his unexpected and unwanted good fortune have made great television. In one clip, he is standing on a sidewalk in a white t-shirt and slacks, reading out loud from a fax that explains the perks and privileges members of the Diet enjoy:

"Look at this! You get a rail pass! A rail pass good on any railway! Going anywhere! As far as you want! In the Green Car!


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Where to folks?

Prime Minister Koizumi has won an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives. Rebel members of the House of Councilors are already rolling over and offering up their throats to the great leader (long may he reign!). Should Koizumi wish, he can now embark on a crash program of radical reform.

We know that Item One on the agenda is passing postal reform legislation and Item Two is reshuffling the cabinet. What are the later items? Where will he concentrate his efforts during this last year of his presidency? Is there an issue regarding which he will be lured into going too far, shattering party unity a la Tony Blair it over the Iraq War? (Hmm....over-extending cooperation with the United States in...what? Or perhaps the exile of Abe Shinzo to the Oki Islands?)

P.S. Yes, I have considered "declaring Swedish the official language of Japan" an example of going too far. Replacing the emperor with Suzuki Muneo is also on the list.

P.P.S. Speaking of Suzuki Muneo, the top three felon candidates all won seats. I guess there really is no such thing as bad publicity.

P.P.S As for going medieval, I have never been happy with the Oda Nobunaga association. Koizumi is really more like Minamoto no Yoritomo. And yes, the Hojo Masako corollary of the simile applies.

The last paragraph of my incoherent ramblings of September 12, I failed to mention that I was writing about the proportional vote, not the total vote.

I here offer the corrected version:

A nice little demonstration of the political genius of this “ice cream for everybody” approach can be found in this evening's Asahi Shimbun. Page 3 is crammed with an even-more-abstruse-than-usual set of post-election, multi-colored, three-dimensional graphs that are guaranteed to resist even the most stubborn reader's comprehension.

However, the graph in the top right hand corner of page 3 tells a beautiful tale. According to the Asahi Shimbun's calculations, the LDP received 1) inside Tokyo, 2) in all the cities and 3) in the town and villages of the countryside exactly the same fraction of the proportional vote: 38%. Pathetically, the Democratic Party in defeat nearly matched the LDP in its consistency, winning 30% of the proportional vote in Tokyo and 31% in the cities and towns and villages.

In sacrificing a small part of the LDP's rural support (3%) the Koizumi LDP blew away the Democrats in the urban areas--just as political scientists had always predicted.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Try saying "Post-Koizumi" ten times fast...

To whomever it may or may not concern, interest or bore, as the case may be:

Given the size of the victory, who is the presumptive heir to take over the party presidency after Koizumi?

Takebe seems a more of Diet tactics and organization man (though I must confess I like his guiltless obesity); Yamasaki has the charisma of a cardboard box (and after an entire August on the campaign trail, a skin color to match. Boy, he could fit right in with the crowd at Enoshima). Abe was clueless as kanjicho dairi (Is there a job this man can do?) and bringing on Fukuda after the public has had the fireworks of Mr. K would be asking for trouble (just for a moment imagine what a Fukuda-Okada electoral fight would have been like. Yep, my jaw clenched in exactly the same way).

As for the princes, my disdain for them precedes me. Tanigaki, if memory serves me, took eight years to graduate from college and seven tries at passing the bar before he became a real boy. Aso is not a name one can say outloud in polite company--though, to his credit, he finally must have changed his accountant because he was not the #1 taxpayer in the Diet this year.

Now, I believe the public is more than ready for a Koike sosai --but is the LDP rank and file?
Cue the surf music

I am so glad Idid not try to extend my district by district analysis to the entire country. I would have ended up looking like a fool (sloth has its benefits). As it is, I remain as I was: a mildly annoying ignorant twit.

What was really surprising was that the public opinion polls were right.

In recent years, projections based on the results of public opinion polls have consistently underestimated Democratic Party performance on election day. A number of unscientific theories had been advanced for the decay in the reliability of the opinion polls, the most famous of which being that "the increased used of mobile telephones by the young had made it impossible for randomized telephone dialing to tap into the mood of this part of the electorate."

My own pet view has been that in two-income homes, no one iss around or has any time to answer the damn phone.

Two days prior to election day, theLDP central party headquarters warned its local organizations to look away from the gaudy poll projections in the newspapers, faxing the local branches photocopies of Mainichi Shimbun front pages from 2003 that predicted an outright LDP victory--quite the opposite of the spanking actually delivered by the electorate that year.

This time around public opinion polls accurately reflected the eventual relative performances of the two parties, at least in proportional seat terms.

The problem for pundits now is that they have to come up with a whole new set of unscientific theories to explain why the poll were right.

As to the specific projections of the total seats the LDP would win...let us just say that a whole bunch of folks at the Sankei Shimbun are feeling pretty smug right now.

Uh oh, Kanto!

The really stunning images for political junkies were the "Before" and "After" maps of the Kanto region. What was once a red heart surrounded by a speckled band of red and green became a sweeping green plain with a few tiny desultory poppies stuck on it for variety’s sake.

The Democratic Party went from 37 district seats in the Kanto to 5, one of which was a near-death experience for Kan Naoto [A personal note: Kan's victory, the only DPJ district win in Tokyo, means that the equipment and buildings at my daughter's elementary school will probably remain substandard. Just remember, Kan's is the district that got sodomized by JR East's plan to double the width of the Chuo rail corridor--making it impossible for cars and pedestrians to cross the tracks for hours at a time).

Being an overseas member of the U.S. Democratic Party, I know how it feels to see at electoral maps change like that in the hours after the polls close.

Things I am not surprised that did not happen, but would have loved it had they did:

a) An LDP candidate, frustrated at the Socialist or People's Party candidate opining yet again about "what will happen to inaka no ojiichan or obaachan if the nearby post office is no longer offering financial services in 10 years time," blurting out, "Cut the crap! In 10 year's time, according to census estimates, ojiichan and obaachan will have either moved to the cities or will be dead!"

b) a “yusei min'eika” ticker been printed in the top corner in the newspapers, counting both the number of times Koizumi said the phrase “yusei min'eika” in the last 24 hours and in the hours since he dissolved the Diet (the phrase must haunt his dreams).

c) in the wild “summer of love” spirit of cool biz, shikaku and "even if I am killed" an LDP candidates had come out of the closet. That or Fukaya Tadashi had explained what "my father was a shoemaker" means (ahh, Nonaka Hiromu's one saving grace).

d) a live web broadcast of Hu Jintao watching the results come in.

Finally, a pox on every idiotr who utters the platitude that Koizumi triumped by offering a simple, black & white choice to the electorate--as if the electorate had the political sophistication of a class of two-year olds. Ridiculous! Koizumi's genius was strategic ambiguity (and not a little tactical sexuality) in offering all possible choices to all the the electorate.

His actual "simple" message:

"If you love the LDP, vote LDP. If you want to reform the LDP, vote LDP. If you want to destroy the LDP, vote LDP."

A nice little demonstration of the political genius of this “ice cream for everybody” approach can be found in this evening's Asahi Shimbun. Page 3 is crammed with an even-more-abstruse-than-usual set of post-election, multi-colored, three-dimensional graphs that are guaranteed to resist even the most stubborn reader's comprehension.

However, the graph in the top right hand corner of page 3 tells a beautiful tale. According to the Asahi Shimbun's calculations, the LDP received 1) inside Tokyo, 2) in all the cities and 3) in the town and villages of the countryside exactly the same fraction of the vote: 38%. Pathetically, the Democratic Party in defeat nearly matched the LDP in its consistency, winning 30% of the votes in Tokyo and 31% in the cities and towns and villages.

In sacrificing a small part of the LDP's rural support (3%) the Koizumi LDP blew away the Democrats in the urban areas--just as political scientists had always predicted.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Last call!

We've emailed all the party heads to ask them to send us a final, very brief word of encouragement.

Mr. Koizumi's message:
"If you want to defeat the LDP, vote LDP!"

Mr. Kanzaki's message:I'm just along for the ride. No, I don't know how much my childcare and eldercare promises cost. Vote Komeito!"

Mr. Okada's message:
"People, people. Don’t listen to Koizumi. What he says makes no sense. I represent the real anti-LDP. Vote Democrat!"

Mr. Shii's message:
"You're one to talk, Okada-san! Once upon a time you were in the LDP, remember? If you want to send a message, vote Communist! Face it, we are the only ones to have really, truly, always been against the LDP!"

Ms. Fukushima's message:
"Do you have to bring up the Murayama episode? It was a mistake. We're past that now. To be honest, we never really liked them. Peace and security for everybody! Vote Socialist."

Mr. Watanuki's message:
"I love Toyama. Koizumi is a fascist. Wouldn't it be great if we could stop time? Vote…damn, what's the name of my party?"

Mr. Tanaka’s message
"Why am I doing this? I had some time. Don't get me wrong, being governor of Nagano’s great…but it’s not enough for my ego. Vote for Japan New Party! Or New Party Japan! Whatever."

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Reader P. W. asks:
"It sure looks like Koizumi has worked wonders with the mess he created, while the good old DPJ has floundered badly. Would you agree? And how would you explain it?"

MTC responds:
The short answer (the only answer I have time for right now) is that Koizumi did what he always said he would--but only when it suited his political needs.

He warned that he would dissolve the Diet out of spite if his much watered-down postal privatization measure were rejected. His clueless opponents thought he was bluffing. They forgot that his favorite movie is "High Noon." In the movie, the hero is abandoned by everyone: his bride, the townspeople, his brothers-in arms. Nevertheless he stays on to take on the bad guys, alone if need be--because he just knows that facing down the bad guys is the right thing to do.

Much to everyone's shock, the populace absolutely grooved to Koizumi's following through on his threats to dissolve the Diet and throw the postal rebels out.

He then spiked the punchbowl by nominating a bevvy of very attractive and talented women to take on the chinless creeps among the LDP post office rebels.

Suddenly way ahead in the polls, he was smart enought to reverse his much-feared promise to go to Yasukuni on August 15--for why make such a controversial and provocative move when you are on the cusp of blowing out all of your enemies in the general election?

Since then it has been a constant bashing away at the Democrats for their perfidious political opportunism --"they call themselves the reform party yet joined hands with the most decrepit of the LDP dinosaurs to defeat the postal privatization bill!"

Now if the Prime Minister can keep the whole confection believable for only six more days, he will be sitting pretty.
Sit Venia Verbo

Reader O. J. writes:
"MTC: I am too much of a gentleman to point out that there's nothing odd about a "Ho" at the 'guy party.'"

...and I thought I was being crass when I described the Koizumi assassins plan as a broad-based strategy!

I sure hope Professor S. is not reading this.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Now, if the torrential rains would stop and we had about six more weeks...

On Saturday, the Democratic Party finally found an able and articulate spokesman in its ranks. The only problems are that:
1) she is a spokesperson, which puts her at something of a disadvantage in what is for all intents and purposes " the guy party,"
2) she is not a member of the House of Representatives, and
3) she has that Taiwanese name.

Despite her ostensible handicaps, Ren Ho has been everywhere—taking command of a Saturday morning debate with other House of Councillors members (and pinning Takemi Keizo on the to the floor more than once), appearing alongside Okada Tatsuya in the official party video (Dude, she is like, so not a candidate in this election!) and squiring Okada in a saunter down the Ginza on Sunday.

Watching Ren Ho present the Democratic platform in clear, direct language while simultaneously dissecting the ruling party's plans, I am left to wonder where the Democratic Party would be today had it handed the communications duties to her. Okada's mannerisms—the lisp, the constant interruptions of the LDP speaker, the angry torrent of words that spill out when he is granted his moment—exhaust the listener or the viewer.

The Dog and Pony Show

Koike Yuriko and Kobayashi Koki conducted a joint appearance (one would hesitate to call it a debate) at the Foreign Correspondent's Club last week. I would very much like to know what the organizers of this coy slapfest were trying accomplish. It is not that Koike and Kobayashi do not see enough of each other--their campaign headquarters are in adjoining buildings, for goodness sakes.

The appearance of only two of the candidates in the Tokyo District #10 election rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way. Many commentators felt that foreign correspondents were facilitating the the degradation of Japan's politics to the level of mere performance. Why were the other two candidates even invited? If not, what was the higher purpose being served by this dog and pony show?

Splitting up is easy to do

The existence of two kinds of voting systems—one for a single district representative seat, the other for a bloc proportional seat—encourages vote strategic or message voting. Some savvy voters realize that by voting for one party's candidate in the district elections and his or her opponent in the proportional election, the district will end up with two legislators to the Diet.

Another voting strategy has been to split the vote between one's belly and one's head. Over the last several elections, indeed going back during to time of the Shinshinto, voters have been giving their district votes to their local LDP representative in order to preserve patronage networks. Their proportional votes, however, have been going to the main opposition party in order to deliver a vote of no-confidence in the government.

This pattern of voting has been the lifeline of the Democratic Party. Due to gerrymandering and patronage voting, the Democrats are a lost cause in the outlier districts. However, they can still eke out a few seats in even the most reactionary regions thanks to the proportional vote. Consequently, the mixed voting system has been generating something resembling a two-party system.

This election, with its the LDP rebels in the district elections, its "assassins" sent down from Tokyo to defeat them, a quietly revitalized neo-conservative left and deep urban-rural polarization around the postal reform bill, the mixed system is tearing up the old constituencies, support networks and voting strategies. No one knows who will benefit in the end.

The Prisoner of Toyama

We have heard damnably little of the interest from the People' s Party . While the television networks do allow its representatives a seat at their tables, the chair itself is usually empty, with the representative " appearing" as a video image piped in from a local affiliate. Rule number one regarding parties should be that if not even one of members is willing to make the trip to Tokyo, they are independents--and therefore need not be coddled.

I know I should not comment on a person’s appearance (other than Fukushima Mizuho's, that is) but every time I see Watanuki Tamisuke’s benign and artificially browned countenance smiling motionlessly from some non-descript hotel interior somewhere in his fiefdom, I find myself whispering, " It is the party of the living dead."

Friday, September 02, 2005

Five o'clock follies - a day of remorse and reflection edition

I will be taking a day off to ponder and reflect upon the evils of e-mail.

However, before I go on my retreat...

The Communist Party "elect a real opposition party" campaign grates on the nerves. However, Shii & Company do have a point. I am stunned at the number of "LDP" or "DPJ" candidates have been swingers, with multiple spells in and out of the LDP. Four of the seven parties and all the expelled rebels contesting this election are really only different strands of the old LDP coalition. Despite the high level of coverage of this election in the non-Japanese press, I cannot recall seeing a non-Japanese publication pointing out the common mongrel origins of the nominally "ruling" and "opposition" parties.

Perhaps I am reading the wrong non-Japanese publications.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Reader S. K. writes:
"Looking all the names in the list of candidates, I thought this election was only a game among politicians, 'cos, you know, most of candidates in the small constituencies are also listed in the propotional vote, so, even if they lose in the consituency, many will be anyway elected in the propotional vote. Then, not so much excited, except dissidents who can only run for the small constituency, and have little chance to win.

Professor S. brings up a salient point: voters have an incentieve to cross party lines between their district and proportional seat voting so as to elect two candidates from their districts.

The clearest case for such a split decision this election is Gifu District #1 where two extremely attractive (and not just in a prurient sense) female candidates are facing off against each other. By putting Sato Yukari in the number #3 spot on the LDP's list for the Tokai bloc, the LDP is begging the voters in Gifu #1 to give their district vote to local sweetheart Noda Seiko and their party vote to the LDP. For the moderate conservative female voter, it's a two-fer.

The problem is when one tries to integrate such hedging behavior into predictions of final vote counts in the district elections. Adding another variable will certainly help one develop a more accurate model.

However a more accurate model will not necessarily deliver better results, if one's data is not particularly good.

For myself, I rely the results of past elections, the likely participation rate (63%?), public opinion polls, basic rules of thumb (Rule #1: the Democratic Party receives about twice as many votes as pre-election public opinion polls predict) and the occasional off-beat thought (Of all the party candidates, those of the Komeito have the highest average age. Is the Sokka Gakkai going into demographic decline faster than the general population?).

At this point, I stop thinking and have to go with whatever I have got--because one can think oneself to a standstill:

"Two elections ago DPJ Candidate A in District Z was an proportional seat LDP representative who served only one term...while three elections ago LDP candidate B was a Shinshinto district representative from adjoining District W. Last election, DPJ Candidate A defeated LDP Candidate B by 2300 votes....AAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!"

Reader O. J. asked:
"Speaking of prurience, have you noticed many of the assassins, includingHoriemon, are divorced? Could it be many of them are single and/orchildless too? What does this say about social isues in Japan? The role ofwomen? Demographics?"

I answered:
"It is hard to run about making revolution when you were up until 12:30 a.m. doing dishes and other housework, the dog needs his walk, the laundry needs to be hung, the spouse has left without setting up breakfast, the seven year old has not done his homework, the nine year old has no idea where her swimsuit is, the birds have crapped on the telephone and shorted it out, the mother-in-law has come to the door demanding to be paid for "babysitting" you never requested, the garbage has to be put out, you have not worked out the meal plan for the gakudo hoiku camping trip (where you have to feed 105 adults and kids for two days), your boss calls, asking if you could come in 15 minutes early today and you live in a bedroom suburb an hour by train away from Nagata-cho."

Unconsciously I was echoing "The Scarlatti Tilt," a two-sentence short story by Richard Brautigan, author of Trout Fishing in America:

The Scarlatti Tilt

It's very hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who's learning to play the violin.

That's what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.