Sunday, November 07, 2010

Too Much Bad News

The latest polls are out and everyone's suspicions are confirmed: the government is struggling and the populace is getting fed up with it.

Do you support/not support the Kan Cabinet? (previous poll results in parentheses)

Yomiuri Shimbun

Support 35% (53%)
Do Not Support 55% (37%)

Kyodo News

Support 33% (48%)
Do Not Support 47% (37%)

FNN/Sankei Shimbun (from Oct. 30-31)

Support 36% (48%)
Do Not Support 47% (35%)

The new numbers are all record lows for the Kan Cabinet, falling beneath the previous lows set in the immediate aftermath of the Liberal Democratic Party's sound defeat of the Democratic Party of Japan in the July House of Councillors election.

It is not difficult to understand why folks are not thrilled with the government right now:

- the yen is at 80 to the dollar, exposing exporters to what one supposes one could called serious difficulties

- someone leaked videos of the Chinese fishing trawler's collision with two Japan Coast vessels, calling into question 1) the government's ability to keep secrets and 2) the wisdom of someone's having somehow influenced the Naha prosecutors into releasing the captain of the trawler, as the videos fairly clearly show his ship ramming at least one of the Coast Guard ships from behind

- a certain Russian president visited Kunashiri, becoming the first Russian leader, in either Soviet or Republican times, to visit any of the disputed Northern Territories islands

- Anti-Japan rallies continue to take place in China and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has proven a remarkably difficult for the Prime Minister of Japan to meet for any considerable length of time

- despite the public anger engendered by the two previous items, the Japanese government, eager to make the November 13 APEC leaders summit a success, has had to swallow its pride and send very sweet invitations to the heads of state of both Russia and China, praying that the leaders of these two nations will attend

- Ozawa Ichiro, finally deigning to meet with Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, flatly refused to appear before the Diet ethics committee, the lesser of the two fates (the other being sworn testimony in the Diet) being demanded by the opposition parties before deliberations can proceed on the supplementary budget

The final item, which turns on its head the concept Ozawa espoused after his failed attempt to defeat Kan Naoto in the DPJ's September leadership election -- that he would retreat from power politics to become a common foot soldier for the DPJ -- is a likely source of diminishing popularity for the party, as is also demonstrated in the latest polls.

Which party do you support? (results of previous polls in parenthesis)

Yomiuri Shimbun

DPJ 28% (36%)
LDP 23% (16%)

Kyodo News

DPJ 29% (34%)
LDP 26% (20%)

FNN/Sankei Shimbun (from Oct. 30-31)

DPJ 27% (31%)
LDP 22% (19%)

The declining poll numbers for both the Cabinet and the DPJ, while not exactly surprising given the cascade of bad news, will make it more difficult for the DPJ to shout down the opposition in the Diet and move its political agenda forward. The numbers also point to an electorate frustrated by the inability of the government to influence or stymie Japan's increasingly potent neighbors, the forces of the international economy, the United States (a great friend when it comes to protecting the Senkaku Islands; a not so great friend when it comes to curbing its easy money policies that have been contributing to the soaring of the yen)-- or one extremely sly old politician who has grasped the point that when you are going to be indicted on charges which no prosecutor is going to be able make stick, the indictment is your party's problem, not your problem.

None of which the government can do much about mind you, save possibly dragging Ozawa kicking and screaming into the Diet (DPJ leaders keep hoping that he can be convinced to go before the Diet voluntarily, for the good of the party...willfully forgetting that if he were to do so he would lose power to torment his rival party leaders). Great shifts in the global balances power and the international order must sometimes just be forborne.

An impatient and annoyed public wants better news...and the Kan Cabinet and the DPJ are not delivering it.


Janne Morén said...

I'll be honest and say that if I were a voter I would not support the DPJ as it stands, even though it is perhaps the closest party to me, policy-wise. There is a certain minimal level of competency you can expect from people tasked to manage a country, and the DPJ does not reach that level. Neither does the LDP of course, but "we're no worse than the other guys" is not much of a winning slogan.

As for Ozawa, I'm beginning to think the only viable solution is to throw him out. Strip him of his party membership. Tell him in no uncertain terms that he either gets with the program or he is no longer welcome.

Would that cause a split of the DPJ? Quite possibly. But then, if party unity is fragile enough that one man can wreck it, it's not much of a party to keep together in the first place.

YY said...

Let's assume that Ozawa is persuaded to front the diet. What then? You lead this horse to water, it is likely to barf in the pool. The party needs to come to terms with show of some spine. Since the Russians and Chinese are not about to fold, they should at least try to beat up Ozawa. Instead they go on a witch hunt for the video leaker, which most of the public probably appreciate as providing what should have been officially released weeks ago.

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Dan Aizawa said...

You know, 35~40% at this point in time in office is not that bad. If we can recall back to Aso, he had less than half the approval rating 6 months into office, something around the range of 15~20%.

On the other hand it seems somewhat miraculous that Kan has been so (relatively) successful. If we remember Hatoyama, his approval rating only went down, in fact it nose dived right after he took office, and it never went back up. Kan at least has under his belt that he was able to regain some popularity for his cabinet after defeating Ozawa, thus to some extent uniting the party.

I don't think Kan's cabinet is on the brink of collapse, and I doubt that he'll quit the job by next year. I don't think his approval ratings will continue to fall like his predecessors either. I base that on the fact that despite all the things Ozawa has done in the past, he's maintained a relatively low profile, and Kan is not out looking to pick a fight with other heads within the party. I don't see a constant power struggle within the party or "leg-pulling," so I think we can assume that Kan can be in power for longer than his predecessors, and most likely raise his approval ratings, at least above 45% within the next six months. He may be able to raise approval ratings just by being in office.