Friday, October 30, 2009

The Unbearable Hopelessness of Being in the LDP

Tanigaki Sadakazu at the Yamba Dam site
October 2, 2009
On the second day of this month, Sadakazu Tanigaki, the newly-elected president of the Liberal Democratic Party, traveled to Gunma Prefecture to visit the construction site of the soon-to-be-cancelled Yamba Dam. He came to denounce the Democratic Party of Japan, which has been following through on its campaign promise to halt the Yamba project.

In remarks dedicated to encourage those whose lives have been cast into turmoil by the project's cancellation, Tanigaki offered a string of sympathetic bromides, blissful in their lack of self-awareness.

"They have absolutely not listened to the locals," he said.

"I want them to understand the feelings of those who had their homes moved for the dam," he said.

"It is extremely regrettable that the decision was announced with prior consultation," he said.

"There is a history here and facts as to how we came to this point. If the dam is lost, there is a question of drawing the picture of how the people here will rebuild their lives," he said.

The people of the valley had opposed the construction of the dam for decades. They had fought desperately for their traditional way of life, knowing full well they would lose everything under the dam's waters. Decisions about their futures were made far away, in Tokyo, without the input of the locals.

These events were not part of a hidden history. The whole debacle was amply covered by the press over and over. Indeed, it was the vociferous opposition of the local populace at the outset and the eventually gargantuan price tag required to buy off the locals that won Yamba the notoriety making it worthy of inclusion in the DPJ’s party manifesto -- as a project the party promised it would single out for elimination.

Yet it is only now, 50 years into the project, that the president of the LDP, the party that has been in power over those 50 years, feels outrage at a government failing to pay heed to the opinions of those living at the dam site.

Only a miracle must have prevented attending members of the press from falling over in fits of giggles.
These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Some day you'll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you'll no longer burn
To be brothers in arms...

- Mark Knopfler, "Brothers in Arms"

Had Tanigaki-san had kept his mouth shut prior to and during his tour of the construction site --and thus avoided exposing the glaring contradiction between his personal concern for local opinion and his party's 50 year history of overriding it – the visit to the site would still have served notice of the hopeless political situation of the LDP.

In order to make a splash in the news, the president of the LDP had to travel deep into the spine of mountains, far from the nation's population centers, to a prefecture that is an LDP stronghold, demanding the revival of an LDP pet project.

Seemingly no one explained to Tanigaki-san that his party has already secured the votes of the construction-addicted mountain voters -- every single pro-Yamba Dam vote -- and his party still got completely wiped out in both the district and party elections.

Did no one point out to the party president that there are no new votes to be won out there?

Unfortunately "out there" is all the LDP has anymore. Like a guerilla army, the political writ of the LDP is restricted to the remotest, interior mountainous districts of the country. The party holds on to a few urban and suburban districts -- but these are islands surrounded by DPJ seas.

As for a return to the lowlands, last Sunday's by-elections for vacant seats in House of Councillors in Shizuoka and Kanagawa made clear that that eventuality may come about only if the LDP gives up and disarms. Even with miserably low voter turnouts – a once key factor the perpetuation of the LDP's dominance -- the results humiliated the party's candidates and its leaders. With fewer than 36% of the voters showing up in Shizuoka Prefecture, the DPJ-backed candidate thumped his LDP challenger by 160,000 votes. In the Kanagawa election, where the voter turnout was below 26%, the DPJ candidate buried his LDP rival by over 200,000 votes...and that was with the Communist Party running own candidates in both elections, siphoning off 90,000 and 230,000 progressive votes in the prefectures, respectively.

So much for popular appeal of the new, softer, more approachable, more humane LDP, as supposedly typified by Tanigaki.

So what are the portents for next year's House of Councillors elections, when the LDP will try to prevent the ruling coalition from seizing an unqualified majority of the seats in Diet's upper house? In elections run on exactly the same format - that is to say on a prefecture wide basis?

Terrible. Pitiable. Hopeless.

The LDP's partner in opposition, the New Komeitō, issued no instructions to its voters in Shizuoka and Kanagawa. In effect, New Komeitō party central did not support the LDP's candidates. Since in a very rough calculation New Komeitō voters provide about 25% of current LDP support in district elections, the lack of guidance essentially made the LDP's defeats foregone conclusions.

With the LDP out of power and thus unable to deliver any policy goodies to the New Komeitō in the Diet, how likely is it the New Komeitō leadership will issue orders to its supporters to plump down for the LDP district candidate in July next year?

When, it must be pointed out, the overmatched Tanigaki will almost certainly still be the LDP's standard bearer?

Photo of Tanigaki Sadakazu courtesy of Shikoku News.

1 comment:

Our Man in Abiko said...

The ironies are there for all to see, save for those with their eyes wide shut (like the LDP). Nice pic too of the new LDP chap making a splash where it counts.