Friday, February 19, 2010

Hatoyama Ali

It is becoming a pattern.

The media and opposition parties, realizing that despite the latest round of political hysteria, the Democratic Party of Japan did not magically lose its 300+ seat majority in the House of Representatives nor its coalition majority in the House of Councillors, begin raising expectations for a coming confrontation that will this time, assuredly, bring the downfall of the Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro, the Cabinet, DPJ unity or possibly all four together. The media predicts a showdown; the LDP, an exposure of the true shallow evil of the DPJ and its ruling duarchy.

And then the big day dawns. The cameras are in place, the announcers and LDP stalwarts predict a startling show...and then...poof, the spectacle collapses into an inconclusive fog of evasions, apologies and repetitions of "we'll get back to you on that."

The latest iteration of recurring nightmare took place on Wednesday when Hatoyama faced Question Time from LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu and New Komeito leader Yamaguchi Natsuo. Here at last, going one-on-one with the sharp-tongued leaders of the opposition, the PM would be held to account for his party's purported revolution's purportedly running off the rails.


The affair lasted 48 minutes. Some 36 of those minutes, according to the calculations of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, were spent on the Prime Minister's and Ozawa's fishy political fund organization accounts. About 10 minutes were spent on fiscal deficit and tax issues. A whopping 2 minutes were spent on the relationship with the United States.

No bombshells were dropped. No knockout blows were delivered. Editorials in the Mainichi Shimbun and the Nikkei both complained that Tanigaki and Yamaguchi brought nothing new to the table, that the talking points were recycled from earlier question-and-answer sessions of the Budget Committee. The Ehime Shimbun went so far as to characterize the contest of wits as the most mediocre theater, a huge letdown after the thrilling Japan-U.S. women's preliminary qualification round curling match that had immediately preceded the Hatoyama-Tanigaki-Yamaguchi debate.

The Asahi Shimbun in its editorial criticized the debate's lacking substance. However, the paper admitted that is was natural for opposition parties to want to dent the image of the ruling party by dwelling upon shady political donations.

It was, as the Nikkei Shimbun pointed out, also traditional. The very first question asked Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo in the very first Question Time session in February of 2000? "Why were the NTT DoCoMo-related shares belonging to a dead man assigned to the secretary described as your right-hand man?" The person asking the question: the then DPJ leader Hatoyama Yukio.

Yes, Virginia, there is irony here.

Each and every editorial decried Question Time's having deviated from its true purpose of debating the policy issues of greatest concern to the nation. That the media has played a crucial role in turning everyone's attention away from policy issues and toward the scandals real and imagined did not, of course, merit examination or comment.

The Prime Minister apologized the distress he and Ozawa have caused the people. He apologized for being so unaware of the goings on inside his own political funding organization. He apologized for not being able to guarantee that either Ozawa or his former secretary Ishikawa Tomohiro would testify in the Diet about the accounting problems at the Rikuzankai. "But if there were a reason for Ozawa to testify," the PM countered, "I would certain be in my rights to broach the topic with him, I think."

The PM was one sorry dude.

However, it seems clear that the Hatoyama's recondite behavior, his evasions about what he intends to do about Ozawa and his on-again, off-again awareness of what is going on around him are not just personal failings. They also constitute a strategy, luring the media and the opposition parties into returning again and again to the funding organization scandals until the public's patience reaches a breaking point--whilst off to the side, out of the spotlight, the DPJ-led coalition pushes its agenda through the Diet with nary a peep to the contrary.

The Hatoyama Cabinet has suffered serious declines in its popularity due to the political funds scandals. The DPJ has suffered somewhat less dramatic but still serious declines. However, it is a long, long time until July when the House of Councillors election will have to be held, or even until mid-May, when the government faces a deadline on an alternative plan for the replacement for the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. Until then Hatoyama, Ozawa, the Cabinet and DPJ will can afford to lean back and let the media and the LDP exhaust themselves or exhaust the nation's patience with their continuous but ineffectual pounding away at Hatoyama's and Ozawa "politics and money" (seiji to kane) shortcomings.

It's the Rope-A-Dope strategy.

And as long as it appears as though the DPJ and its current allies might fail to protect the majority they hold in the House of Councillors, the leaders of the New Komeito will remain convinced it is in their interest to pull their punches, on the chance that if they play nice, come August the New Komeito will be back in the government as the DPJ's essential coalition ally.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Cucek,

It's unclear why you are so pro-DPJ to the point of defending the ruling party at almost every turn (perhaps it's the desperate need to believe the DPJ will *some day* be fundamentally different from the LDP. That appears to be a noble goal). It's even more unclear why anyone would attach such importance to a 48-minute Q&A session that will be long forgotten by the time voters cast their ballots at the July 2010 upper house elections.

What really matters is not this Punch-and-Judy Show that features two equally inept political parties(the DPJ v. LDP) as they kill time between visiting their districts and smiling before the cameras, but the perception and image of the ruling party to voters as we approach the election. Right now, voters are expressing the same growing skepticism and disillusionment towards the ruling-DPJ as they did towards the LDP. The long-term polling numbers are clear in that respect.

MTC said...

Anonymous -

I attach importance to the toshu toron because a) the newspapers and televisions stations think it is important, b) the party leaders and party members think it is important, c) it is an example of an element of political reform borrowed from another country, with mixed results.

The DPJ is not inept. Under Ozawa's leadership it won power despite institutional, legal and financial roadblocks thrown in its path by the LDP, which had sought to rule forever.

Given the forces arrayed against the DPJ, and the control those forces have over the national conversation -- and adding in the clearly criminal conduct of Hatoyama's personal political operatives -- it is not surprising that the Cabinet's support levels have fallen. However, since the support levels have not plunged into the abysses of popularity acheived by the last three LDP prime ministers, one has to conclude that the DPJ still retains a latent amount of the people's goodwill.

As for "long-term polling numbers," Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro proved that no such entities exist.