Monday, February 22, 2010

After the Nagasaki and Machida Results

In politics, as in low-grade popular music, you are only as good as your latest effort. Yesterday, the voters of Nagasaki Prefecture and Machida City delivered an indirect review of life under the Democratic Party of Japan's doubtful duarchy.

Their verdict, according to the conventional wisdom: not thrilled.

The race for governor of Nagasaki Prefecture should have been closer. Last summer, the DPJ carried all four of Nagasaki Prefecture's district seats. However Nakamura Hodo, the LDP- and Komeito-supported candidate, pretty much sailed to victory over his ruling coalition-supported rival. Certain factors may have aided Nakamura: the field was crowded, with 7 candidates in the running, including a former professional wrestler; turnout was mediocre, with only 60% of the voters casting a vote--the second lowest total ever for a Nagasaki gubernatorial election; and Nakamura was virtually the incumbent, riding on the coattails of his predecessor, three-time governor Kaneko Genjiro, whom he had served as vice-governor.

Nevertheless, Nakamura's defeat of his younger DPJ rival by 95,000 votes kicked the supports out from under the fundamental strategy of presenting the DPJ and its coalition allies as the agents of vital change. The electorate in Nagasaki simply did not buy the message.

Far more threatening for the fortunes of the DPJ's duarchy, Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro in particular, was the wipeout in Machida City. With only a few days to go before the election and the poll numbers looking bad, Ozawa had made the decision to campaign in person in Machida -- a rare step down for Ozawa into the unpredictable world of municipal elections.

Sunday's result was near catastrophic for the DPJ. In a low turnout election (50%) with five candidates running, the LDP- and Komeito-backed incumbent crushed his ruling coalition-backed rival by nearly a nearly two-to-one margin. Machida, a sub-center of the Tokyo Metropolitan District, is just the sort of salary man-rich electoral territory that should automatically plunk down for the DPJ candidate. That the voters ignored the DPJ-annointed candidate will be the source of a great deal of stress at DPJ headquarters, particularly amongst those working for the many DPJ members whose candidacies live or die on the votes of the non-aligned salaried workers and their spouses.

For Ozawa, today is going to be a very rough day. Until now he has been able to dismiss the concerns of many middle-status members of the DJP that his handling of the investigation of his political funding organization and the arrests of three of his former political secretaries is driving voters away from the DPJ. The results from last night, particularly results from the Machida election in which Ozawa decided to inject himself, will provide Ozawa's internal party critics with ammunition for an assault on his leadership position.

Ozawa has had the luxury until now of saying, "So the polls say that the populace wants me to quit as party secretary-general. Where is the evidence that my polling numbers are going to affect the party's election results?" Fairly or not, Ozawa's many critics are going to take last night's results and say, "There's your evidence."

The only question for me is whether we will be seeing Ozawa in a paper mask this morning. His susceptibility to colds has always been so curiously synchronized with his times of political weakness.


PaxAmericana said...

Do you really think Ozawa is the issue? Most folks I know don't think so.

It seems to me that the economy is continuing to sink for average people, and the DPJ doesn't really seem to have its act together. Everyone knows the LDP practically owns all the patents for dirty money techniques.

Furthermore, the old guard owns the media. Even the Asahi Shimbun is hardly on the left these days.

MTC said...

Pax Americana -

I agree with your assessment that the media empires have been unable to shake their bonds of affection for the Ancien Regime. It must have been great fun following a single LDP bigshot through his career, disseminating leaked information and rumors that could always be attributed to "someone close to the Prime Minister's Residence."

Now the fat times are over and the political press is suitably ticked off.

The public is not quite fully clued in news media's uncritical repetition of any bad news it can come up with. This should not come as any surprise: large swathes of the consumers of English language news are convinced, despite years of proofs to the contrary, that Rupert Murdoch controlled-entities offer fair and balanced versions of the news.

As for folks voting according to pocketbook issues, it is really difficult to see how a vote for the incumbent in a local election is a vote for a better economy.