Saturday, January 10, 2009

Estimating the magnitude of the LDP defeat

Last night, a former member of the Defense Agency asked me when the next election will take place—the usual dinnertime game.

Following my usual awkward hemming and hawing (complete with a long stare at the ceiling) I offered up, "In May? After the budget and ancillary legislation have been passed?"

"I think the ruling coalition will wait until the very last second, in September," he said, smiling.

I must admit, a rational analysis would tend to favor such a conclusion--that the ruling coalition will hold out until the bitter end. The leaders, such as they may be, of the Liberal Democratic Party have little else to pin their hopes upon than world events turning in the ruling coalition's favor. Either that or the Democratic Party of Japan running out of money over the next nine months.

Neither of which is going to happen, of course—but politics is nine-tenths dreaming with your eyes open.

Nevertheless, I will stick with my prediction of May—on the premise that after the Budget and its enabling legislation are passed, the government will gurgle, turn belly up and die.

Prime Minister Asō Tarō’s administration is moribund. The Cabinet and LDP support levels, as measured in the public opinion polls, hover somewhere in between "execrable" and "risible." The government terrifies no one: not even the national broadcaster NHK feels compelled to give the Cabinet and the LDP a break.

What's more, the LDP has broken apart. Yes, only Watanabe Yoshimi has formally voted against the government and vowed to leave the party. However, the Cabinet nowadays cannot announce a single decision without a sizable number of the ruling party members denouncing the policy or the thinking behind it, usually in interviews held only seconds after the government press conference has ended. Former LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao runs what is essentially a cancer in the LDP body politic—a mini-party with ideals and goals both contrary and inimical to the main body of the party. Other groups and individuals are heading off in their own directions—whether it be regionalism, hyper-patriotism, abject stupidity (an option in every political system blessed with a vibrant television industry), Barackism (He's so cool, he looks so good—he must know what he is doing. So let's do whatever he does!) or growth-spurt era nostalgia-mongering.

To those who might argue that the LDP has survived great internal conflicts in the past, making the current fractiousness just one episode in a long train of upheavals, I would caution with this observation: the LDP has alienated all of its friends. During the party's past periods of factional and ideological turf wars Diet members could hack away at each other, secure in the knowledge that the local level LDP political machine would back up their national representatives, whatever had been going on at higher elevations.

Unfortunately, in its desperate shifts of emphasis and loyalties since its 1994 alliance with the Socialists, the party has managed to alienate itself from all of its former significant support groups. Its coalition with the Sōka Gakkai New Kōmeitō cut local party ties to the mainstream Lotus Sect groups (the Reiyūkai, the Rissho Kōseikai)--the party's source of cheap election workers. Trade liberalization weakened the ties with farmers. The privatization of the Post Office cut party ties with the hereditary post office managers while the Koizumi assault on the parasitic privileges of the rural areas detonated the rural district-LDP mutuality. Abe Shinzō's readmittance of the postal rebels and attempted coverup of the size of the pension number mess detonated Koizumi Jun'ichiro's carefully constructed image of the prime minister as the tribune of the people. Economic fumbling, past and present, has undermined the image of the party as the ally of business, big or small.

Who is left? Who now stands with the party? The fantabulist right—but their allegiance is to their "true conservative" champions and their myths about Meiji, not with any sort of plan for governing modern Japan. The new Kōmeitō—but as the two trillion yen giveaway crisis has demonstrated, the "Clean Government Party" is a problem, not a solution.

Since 1992 the LDP has been a tiger with its tail on fire, running at full speed to avoid being consumed by the flames.

It has run itself to exhaustion.

My guess is 130 seats in the House of Representatives. At best.

4 comments:

John Mock said...

I think that the May argument is a good one because leaving the election to the very last minute would be seen (and would be) a sign of serious weakness, not a good premis on which to run an election.

However, I was also a bit offput by your comment about the "parasitic rural areas". If anything, I would argue that the rural areas of Japan have been systematically ripped off by the LDP. The only way, as I see it, the rural areas can be considered as "parasitic" is if you count the "Highway Tribe" as rural. It doesn't benefit rural folks to have an expressway running through their valley or a dam constructed through their village. The wages at the bottom of the food chain are pretty paltry compared to the major urban interests that usually run the companies (and collect on the bribes and such.

This may be a bit picky but I also don't see that the phrase adds much of anything to your argument and, in dismissing 80% of the area of the country, seems to weaken it.

Anonymous said...

This week's Shuukan Bunshu predicts a loss of 156 seats for the LDP, for a total of 149. With Komeu holding 18, the government ends up with 167. They've done a seat by seat analysis on the senkyoku and predict a loss of 132 seats.

Tellingly, they also offer a range, and the upper limit of the range is 216 seats for the government.

MTC said...

Dr. Mock -

Cognizant of your deeper and closer relationship with the problems of rural areas, I nevertheless stand by my characterization. As you know from our previous exchanges, I have a a great sympathy for those living outside the metropole. When I call the rural areas "parasitic" I am not asserting that the rural areas are peopled with parasites. Rural area parasitism is imposed from the outside: it arises from hideous land use and agricultural policies promulgated and perpetuated by the powers that be in Tokyo.

John Mock said...

Hmmm, maybe I did not make myself very clear. I know we agree about things like appalling land use, insane construction policies and the like. However, then I am confused about just what you mean by parasitic. If anything, I would see it as the opposite with urban areas feeding off of rural areas (cheap labor, exploited materials and such).

So, the question is, how do you see the rural areas (if not the people) being parasitic? On whom?