- Where You Stand Depends On Where You Sit
For only the second time in 50 years, the incoming prime minister will be a representative of a primarily urban or suburban district. The other such prime minister of the last 50 years? The fabulously successful Koizumi Jun'ichiro.
Having a PM coming from a district where the voters are almost all white collar salaried workers or members of the managerial classes will likely have a significant effect on economic policy. Urban and suburban voters tend to see government as a regulator and a guarantor of fairness rather than as a source of largess. Indeed, many urban and suburban tend to see the state through corporate lenses: when there is a shortfall in revenues or an economic slowdown, the correct policy response is cutbacks and restructuring, making darn sure that the only projects getting funded are the ones likely to have an economic return.
As Finance Minister, Kan has already demonstrated an easy acceptance of the MOF view that Japan's most severe economic problem is its burgeoning public debt, with budget cutting and increases in the consumption tax as the policy tools of choice. That such policies are likely to constrict economic growth is relegated to the realm of unfortunate details.
Kan's representing a bedroom community of Tokyo also improves his chances of remaining popular over the long-term (should he prevail in September's DPJ leadership election, that is). Kan speaks the language and thinks the thoughts of the 80% of Japan's population crowded in and around urban centers. Just by reflecting the views of the people who have been electing him since 1980, including in 2005 when LDP landslide left him the DPJ's only surviving district representative in the Tokyo Metropolitan District, will have him in sync with over three quarters of Japan's population -- something his immediate predecessors as DPJ party president could only be vicariously and insincerely.
- I Got Plenty of Nothin'
It should not be surprising that Hatoyama and Ozawa had problems with managing their campaign finances: they both had so much money to manage. In contrast to the vast sums his predecessors had to keep moving around, Kan's personal wealth or the amounts of money he controls are both minor. That he has a clean reputation may be simply a matter of a dearth of funds rather than a surfeit of personal virtue.
That Kan is seen as clean is hugely important to the reestablishment of the DPJ's image as a party that was simply better than the Liberal Democratic Party. Having the financial irregularities-plagued Hatoyama and Ozawa remaining ensconced in the two top party leadership positions these past few months has infuriated the voters, who gave the DPJ its chance last year not based on the likelihood that the party would deliver on all its campaign promises (in fact over 90% of the population doubted the DPJ would) but because the populace had simply had it with the scandal-riddled, vote-scrounging spectacle that was post-1993 LDP.
- Goodby Tanaka-san, This Time For Good
Ozawa Ichiro has played the electoral map as it exists as well as anyone ever has. He has made the deals and promoted the policies that made the DPJ into winners.
Unfortunately, the map and rulebook Ozawa has been working with had been drafted with the purpose of keeping the LDP in power. Not surprisingly, the DPJ that was prevailing in the LDP's place increasingly resembled the LDP.
The days of the current electoral map and rulebook have been numbered, however. The sudden collapse last month of the intellectual edifice prohibiting most Internet campaigning, the string of victories in the district courts of lawsuits asking for invalidation of the 2009 House of Representatives election due to the large number of districts with inexplicable deviations from the principle of one-citizen-one-vote; and full-scale assault over the last year upon the public corporations and non-profit entities whose vast armies of scarcely working employees and their retired bureaucrat managers has long been dependable voting banks for the LDP -- all are indicators of the end of the era of the LDP Dependency State. Further out, in response to the coming decennial census, a root-and-branch redistricting of the House of Representatives - the most profound transformation of Japan's political landscape since the replacement of multi-seat constituencies with single-seat districts in the mid-1990s -- is set to take place over the next few years.
Kan's intent to undo the changes Ozawa has made to the DPJ -- exemplified by his confident "for the good of the Japanese politics, the DPJ and himself, Ozawa Ichiro should be quiet for a while" comment and his promise today to reestablish the DPJ's Policy Research Council -- is not mere political theater undertaken with the intent of influencing the voters in advance of the House of Councillors election. Kan knows he must quickly demolish the structures and practices Ozawa seemed to be crafting in order to delay the full flowering of the grand transformation already underway, lest that flowering again be delayed because of a political master's fiddling.