Monday, June 28, 2010

Faith In Numbers (1)

In the dip in the popularity polls of the Kan Cabinet after the quite responsible shout out by Prime Minister Kan Naoto to the Liberal Democratic Party to stop the catcalls from the sidelines and instead join with the ruling coalition in reforming country's revenues base (i.e. - raise taxes) the nation's liberal news organizations are beginning to lose their marbles panicking.

Here are the latest seat projections for the various parties in the upcoming House of Councillors election from The Asahi Shimbun.

And here are the projections from the Tokyo Shimbun

According to the median view of the of the Asahi, the DPJ will end up with exactly the same number of seats -- 54 -- in the House of Councillors as it now controls. In the Tokyo Shimbun, the party will actually lose two spots, slipping to 52 seats. In both cases, the DPJ will have to go hat in hand post election in search of (a) coalition parther(s), as it needed to win 60 seats in order to have a 50%+1 majority in the House of Councillors.

Not having a majority in the upper house is not the end of the world, of course. The most important piece of legislation, the national budget, goes into effect 30 days after it is passed by the House of Representatives, no matter what the House of Councillors does with it. The DPJ holds a comfortable 307 out of 482 480 seats* majority in the House of Representatives - so the budget is safe. However, for all other legislation or the confirmation of officials, the DPJ will have to rely on the kindness of strangers to make it to the 122 votes it needs to get anything done on the legislative front.

There also so problematic issues of control of committee chairmanships in the House of Councillors should the DPJ fail to win an outright majority. These are not on a par, however, with the simple fact that no legislation is guaranteed passage without a 50%+1 majority of the House of Councillors members present -- which opens up some interesting opportunities in the case the DPJ fall just a few votes short of an absolute majority for sudden absences of independents from the chambers at crucial moments. Two of the seven independent members of the House of Councillors are up for reelection this year, meaning that at very least, in the next Diet session, 119 votes might be sufficient for passage of legislation which the DPJ really want to see passed.

Anyway, both the projected polls leave the DPJ far short of the majorities it needs. Just how they do this seems unsound.

First is the pass given to the microparties in both polls. There are not just five, as listed in both sets of results. There are eight seven. Two of the left: the Social Democratic Party and the Women's Party. Six on the right: People's New Party, Sunrise Party (Tachiagare Nippon), New Renaissance Party (Shinto kaikaku), The Spirit of Japan (Nihon Soshinto) and the Happiness Realization Party.

The larger the number of little parties, the greater likelihood they will zero each other out the d'Hondt system, which is the method used to assign seats in the proportional part of the election. In each of the last three House of Councillors elections a party had to secure 2.2% of the national vote to win even a single proportional seat. At present, only the SDP is polling greater than 2%.

To see how the winnowing process happens, check out the wonderful d'Hondt system calculator here.

Using the calculator, I have run a basic scenario, assuming conservatively that

1) just as many voters show up in 2010 as in 2007
2) skeptical non-aligned voters choose Your Party as the non-DPJ, non-LDP alternative
3) that the Communists and the Socialists stay put
4) that Your Party captures the business lobby vote
5) that the conservative microparties steal votes that would have gone to the LDP, and
6) some voters will vote for the LDP out of nostalgia or force of habit

The results of the simulation, which you can see here, assigns the 48 available proportional seats this way:

DPJ 19
LDP 11
New Komeito 6
Your Party 6
Japan Communist Party 3
Democratic Socialist Party 2
Sunrise 1

One can fiddle about and get New Renaissance a seat that the cost of one DPJ seat. However, failing a huge jump in turnout of folks boiling mad at the DPJ, these are likely to be the results we see in the morning paper on July 12.

Sic transit nunc gloria the microparties and their purported seats.

If my simulation can be faulted, it is for being too generous to the LDP. The party chose last year to run as the anti-Ozawa Ichiro party, choosing stances not based upon their logical coherence but on whether or not Ozawa was for them or against them. Other than anti-Ozawaism, the party failed to produce a convincing reason for its wavering supporters to stick around, the reason why Masuzoe Yo'ichi quit, dismissing "LDP" as the acronym for "Lousy Dumb Party."

Which brings up my second, much larger objection to the Asahi and Tokyo Shimbun projections: the presumption of viability of the LDP as a political force in the district elections - the subject of my next post.


*Kobayashi Chiyomi resigned from her seat the day after the close of the regular Diet session. The by-election for her Hokkaido #5 district seat will be in October. One other seat is also vacant.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Inherit the Wind

Ozawa Ichiro's keeping quiet -- so he is following Prime Minister Kan Naoto's suggestion that he do so for the good of the nation, the party and himself.

It is seems the Old Toad has read the fine print, though. He was asked to keep quiet, not stay silent.

Whilst campaigning in Yamanashi Prefecture on Thursday for his buddy Koshi'ishi Azuma (Doesn't Koshi'ishi's website make just hop on the Chuo Line and go to Yamanashi right now?) Ozawa made a rather public visit to the grave of Kanemaru Shin, a rather interesting and embarrassing choice of local worthies to honor with a visit at election time.

After a roadside speech to about 40 local residents, Ozawa also uttered his first words of criticism of the new DPJ regime since its installation three weeks ago. They were hardly hair-raising quotes: he told reporters he thought Kan's goal of leading the party to winning "54 seat plus alpha" too weak, saying that the goal of a ruling party is to win a majority (which in the case of this upcoming election means 60 or more seats - a goal that Kan yesterday declared he would "spare no effort in achieving"). Ozawa also said that in order to improve the Japan's fiscal position, raising the consumption tax should not be done soon -- that the party's stated goal is to get rid of as much wasteful spending as possible first.

On Friday, up in Aomori, Ozawa got a little bolder, playing the concern troll regarding the decision to talk about raising the consumption tax in the run up to an election. He dangerously chose to play the city/country dichotomy card --- shining a light on the truth that cannot speak its name, that following this election the DPJ intends to terminate the countryside's dependency on largess and support from the center, forcing the countryside to either pull itself up by its bootstraps or fail -- saying, "The prime minister seems to talk continuously about [raising the tax to 10%] but out here in the countryside, as compared to the city, the economic situation is severe. If you talk out [in the countryside] about a 10% consumptipon tax, for myself this gives me tremendous worries."

Just to throw salt in the wound, Ozawa reminded listeners that under the Hatoyama Administration (of which he, of course, was the string puller) the DPJ had issued a public promise to not raise the consumption tax for three to four years.

Way to be a team player when your party needs you, Ozawa-san.


For an explanation of the title, see Proverbs 11:29. For some photos of a few of Yamanashi's places to visit, check out a few selections from the Flickr site.

Notes to the Wise

Keep up with Sigma1, Nejibana and Paul Jackson's Tokyo Notes.

They are doing their darndest to keep us from being ignorant.

Call Me Unreliable

Dear MTC,

Exactly how, if we are to go by your projected vote results, is the Komeito going to win four district seats when the party is only fielding three district candidates?

Uhhh...electoral magic?

For a text a little less magical, please check out my expanded piece on Kan and the consumption tax picked up by the very kind folks at PanOrient News, a fledgling English/Japanese/Arabic news service.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

And the Home of the Brave

Just four weeks ago, we were looking, with not an insignificant amount of despair, at a 2010 House of Councillors election being fought over whether or not the PM is such a dufus that did not actually know how $14,000,000 of donations from his mom were handled in his accounts; whether Ozawa Ichiro is or is not Richard III; over whether the Democratic Party of Japan should be castigated for making promises it could not keep (because they were fiscally unsound) or for not keeping those promises; over how far backwards the DPJ was willing to bend -- to the small-scale farmers, to the trucking industry, to the postmasters and the postal unions -- in giving them what they wanted to the detriment of the national weal.

An ugly, dispiriting exercise, in other words.

Now, just a few weeks later, with Hatoyama Yukio, Kamei Shizuka and Ozawa Ichiro sent to the sidelines, the public is being hit with a hard, inconvenient truth -- the country takes in too little revenue to pay for the services the public has come to expect, meaning that taxes will have to be raised -- and that the voters will have to make their choices in the election booth based in large part on the soundness of their plans the various parties have put forther confronting that inconvenient truth.

On May 2, just a month and a half ago, the Tokyo Shimbun ran an explainer article, a little Socratic dialogue about the struggle inside the ruling coalition over when the subject of raising taxes will be broached: before the election, after the election or never.

Q: "So if the experts and the politicians both are thinking the same way, then it is in fact already decided that tax rates will be raised?"

A: "No, no, no. While you are likely to hear expressions like 'We will have to with haste grapple with fundamental reform of the tax system, including the raising of the consumption tax", nobody is brave enough to say what the new tax rate will be or when it will come into effect. Because whatever the government's plan is, it will be in effect a part of the DPJ's manifesto for the House of Councillors election."

Q: "And the DPJ has made a public promise to raise the consumption tax before, hasn't it?"

A: "Yes, in the DPJ's 2005 House of Representatives election manifesto the party put forth a plan to raise the consumption tax rate exclusively in order to stabilize the pension system. However, in that election, the DPJ suffered a landslide loss."
Nobody is brave enough...while it is true that Prime Minister Kan Naoto, DPJ Secretary-General Edano Yukio and Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito are calling the bluff of the Liberal Democratic Party, which had challenged the ruling coalition to show some guts and talk about raising the consumption tax to 10% - a number the LDP never dared mention when it was in power save as a hypothetical -- it is not hyperbole to say that they have proven the Tokyo Shimbun wrong. The DPJ's new core leadership knows that talk of raising taxes is political poison. The party has taken a body blow (as did the LDP before it under Takeshita Noboru and Hashimoto Ryutaro) for talking honestly about Japan's fiscal situation and the unpleasant business of rebalancing the whole.

Let the tough talk continue. Hurrah.

(This post has been reedited for clarity, based upon a reader's comment. - MTC)

Let Me Guess - Just Guess

Today is when the starter's gun goes off in the great scamble for seats in the July 11 House of Councillors election. There is a great deal speculation in the air and a flood of analysis yet to come...but let me venture a very rough early estimate of the final results based solely on the polls, not the individual candidates.

That must wait for another rainy day.

In the meantive, my guess is:

Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ): 66 seats (43 district and 23 proportional)

Liberal Democratic Party of Japan: 31 seats (21 district and 10 proportional)

New Komeito: 11 seats (4 district and 7 proportional)

Your Party (Minna no To): 8 seats (2 district and 6 proportional)

Social Democratic Party of Japan (DSP): 3 seats (1 district and 2 proportional)

Communist Party of Japan (JCP): 3 seats (3 proportional)

Sunrise Party (Tachiagare Nippon): 1 seat (1 proportional)

All other parties: 0 seats

Over the next few weeks I will offer refinements and backup information on the individual races. An overwhelming victory will give Prime Minister Kan Naoto and his Cabinet the authority they will need to remake Japan according to both standard DPJ priniciples and the current, rapidly changing geo-political and geo-economic order. With comfortable majorities in both Houses of the Diet, the Diet will pass any legislation leaderhip may cook up -- and it has plenty of projects in the sketchy stage.

At which point, the revolution will most certainly be on.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The June 19-20 Kyodo Poll - The Small Price of Honesty

After the polls close on July 11, and the various and sundry winners shout their banzais or bow deeply and take responsibility for their failures, this blessed land will still have to be governed, and clearly under a radically different and likely painful new system of fiscal balance. The leaders of the Democratic Party of Japan, with no small amount of cheerleading from the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Finance, have called the bluff of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan on the matter of raising taxes to bring the budget into primary balance.

Of course the Kan government and the DPJ have paid a price.

* * *Most recentPrevious
Cabinet support







Will vote for DPJ in proportional vote








Will vote for the LDP in the proportional vote









Normally, no sane party would talk about raising taxes before an election. Certainly, the prime minister has been backtracking a bit on the pledge. Nevertheless, the new core DPJ leadership grasped the nettle of public finance, talking about doubling the consumption tax -- and has suffered little for it. Its opponents, the LDP, have certainly not reaped a windfall from this supposed fundamental political blunder of being honest about the hole Japan finds itself in.

While being honest about the need to increase taxes may lose the DPJ a few seats, losing those seats seems a heck of small price to pay compared to coming back to the voters, hat in hand, pleading, "Sorry, we were not entirely truthful during the campaign. We cannot balance the budget merely through squeezing out wasteful spending. We really do need to raise taxes. OK?"

In 2009, Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro tried to convince the voters that taxes do not need to be raised to bring the budget into balance. After the government put the bureaucrats and their perks through the ringer in the Government Revitalization Unit proces, the amount of grease extracted was 1% of just one year's budget. The government then produced a budget where borrowing was greater than revenues.

Folks notice that kind of thing.

So while the papers are braying (chortling even) about the sudden drop in the support level of the Cabinet and the DPJ from the euphoric heights hit following the downfall of the spend-til-you-drop Hatoyama and Ozawa and their replacement by the Neo-Kan fiscal conservatives (yes, that one is mine, I claim it) the press need to give the Cabinet and the leading party of the ruling coalition something of a break.

The Kan government has treated the electorate like adults...and has survived the experiment.

House of Councillors - The Basic Numbers

Based on what seems to be a request from a commenter...

Number of seats, total: 242

Terms in office: 6 years, with half the seats up for election at staggered three year intervals

Total number of district seats: 146

Total number of party proportional seats: 96

Total seats currently occupied: 241 (one vacancy)

Total needed for a simple majority: 122

Current number of seats held by the DPJ+Shifuryokukai*+PNP+JNP** caucus: 122

Current make up of majority caucus: DPJ/Shinfuryokukai (116), PNP (5), JNP (1)

Number of seats up for election: DPJ/Shinfuryokukai (54), PNP (2), JNP (0)

Number of seats DPJ needs to win in order to have independent control of the House of Councillors: 60 ( 54+6 )

Number of seats up for election in single seat districts: 29

Number of seats up for election in two seat districts: 24

Number of seats up for election in three seat districts: 15

Number of seats up for election in a five seat district: 5

Number of seats up for election in the party proportional election: 48


* Defunct organization.

** Though Hirayama Makoto caucuses with the majority in the name of the Japan New Party, the Japan New Party does not consider him a party member.

Oh, Amaterasu, How Did I Ever Miss This One?

A photo for the ages -- let us just hope the age in question is not ours.

Right wing heroine and TV personality Sakurai Yoshiko, former prime minister and LDP member Abe Shinzo, Sunrise Party (Tachiagare Nippon) leader Hiranuma Takeo and The Spirit of Japan party leader Yamada Hiroshi announce the formation of a united front against the Democratic Party of Japan.

- The Hanoi field hospital (1945)-born author of the infamous "The Facts" full page advertisement in The Washington Post, as well as hundreds of revisionist articles, opinion pieces and books.

- The grandson of a Class A War Criminal. And lots of other stuff.

- The adopted son of a Class A War Criminal.

- A signer of the official letter in support of "The Facts" advertisement and former mayor of the only major city whose public middle schools used the controversial Fusosha "New History Textbook."

Honestly, when will these folks find some other hobbies to pursue?

Photo courtesy: The Sankei Shimbun

Sunday, June 20, 2010

House of Councillors Election 2010 - the District Elections

The other day I took a look at the historical vote totals in the proportional party list half of the House of Councillors elections, then tried to make a prediction (since updated) of how the proportional seats will be apportioned out in the upcoming election, if current trends in the public opinion polls reflect of the preferences of the voters on July 11.

Now as which candidates will win the 73 district seats up for grabs on July 11, a number of factors will affect the outcomes.

- In this telegenic ages is the candidate a handsome, outgoing, energetic person or a warmed over lump of human flesh? (Then again, in 1995 the elfin Aoshima Yukio, a member of the House of Councillors, ran for Governor of Tokyo by making only the mandatory taped five minute free televised speech, then spending the rest of the campaign period locked in his apartment -- and still won.)

- Does he or she have any scandals or embarrassing statements to live down?
(Then again, in 2004 Suzuki Muneo and in 2007 Tsujimoto Hitomi, both convicted felons at the times, both finished just out of the running in their House of Councillors district races. Both are now members of the House of Representatives)

- Is he or she an LDP hopeful in Eastern Japan or a Democrat in Western Japan, as the country is largely split into a Democratic East and and an LDP West?

Nevertheless, there are some questions that seemingly will have significant impacts, particularly in the rural, single seat prefectures, where the reversal of Ozawa Ichiro's reforms of the DPJ will tend to support a reversion to historic norms in voting patterns.

To whit:

- Where will the estimated 300,000 to 1,000,000 post office-related voters cast their ballots? It is not likely that they will plunk down their vote for the Democratic Party of Japan after the government let the postal reform bill die on Wednesday. However, can the postmasters and their unions go back to supporting LDP candidates, seeing as how the LDP was the party that passed the original privatization law, in overwhelming fashion and furthermore, lacks the votes in the House of Representatives to be a force capable of sponsoring legislation in the post office's favor?

- How will the farmers vote? They received their price supports, as promised in the 2009 DPJ manifesto and the current manifesto promises continuing efforts. However, the guarantor of the farmers actually receiving similar supports in the future was former DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro, who is gone from the scene, at least for no. The new DPJ leadership team seems to be entirely the sort of urban- suburban- white collar cost-cutting and budget rationalization crowd that will target farmers and other primary good producers as inordinately well treated members of the public.
Should farmers, fisherman and foresters trust that the Kan Naoto/Edano Yukio-led DPJ will continue to coddle agriculture in the name of preserving food security? Or will the debacle of the foor-and-mouth disease in Miyazaki prefecture prompt every single farmer in the land to abandon the DJP?

- The government of Hatoyama Yukio failed to follow through on the DPJ campaign promises regarding the elimination of expressway tolls and rescinding of the temporary fuel taxes. Unsurprisingly, the nation's parcel delivery and short- and medium-haul trucking industry is furious. Will they go back to voting for the LDP, even though the LDP has no fiscally sound way of satisfying the requests of the trucking industry?

- Are the voters still in the "let's throw the bums out" mood they have been in since pretty much 2001? Due to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, should the DPJ can pretty much write off Kumamoto and Kagoshima Prefectures, the neighbors of the stricken Miyazaki? Will Aoki Mikio's selection of his son to take over his seat in Shimane Prefecture blow up into a minor public relations fiasco for the LDP in the Chugoku region?

- Will a relatively early election increase turnout, generally seen as a plus for the DPJ?  July 11 is well before the midsummer break for the schools; before the time workers start to leave their electoral districts on their summer vacation; and before much of central Japan heats up like a furnace, wilting both campaigners and voter patience?

However, the big kahuna in this whole election -- and the only reason that Ozawa Ichiro was able to cling to the position of Secretary-General for so long, despite every indication that his presence in a leadership position was unacceptable for 80% of the electorate -- is the LDP's district performance in the likely absence of electoral cooperation between the LDP and the New Komeito.

Look at these two sets of numbers:

2009 House of Representatives

Total votes for party proportional seats,
by party
DPJ 29,844,799
LDP 18,844,217
New Komeitō 8,054,007
Communist 4,943,886
Socialist 3,006,160
Total votes for party candidates,
by affiliation of candidate

DPJ 33,475,799
LDP 27,301,892
New Komeitō 782,784
Communist 2,978,354
Socialist 1,376,739

In 2009, when the LDP and the New Komeito were coalition partners, LDP district candidates received a net 8 million votes from New Komeito voters - a full one quarter of all votes cast in the districts for LDP candidates.

If the members of the New Komeito do not ride to the rescue of the LDP at the last minute, it is unlikely the LDP will defend all of its current seats or seize a single DPJ seat in the upcoming election.

This must have been Ozawa's ace in the hole - the reason why the DPJ's plummeting poll numbers did not fret him.

I will do a district-by-district run down for the country...but it hardly seems worth the trouble. Without the New Komeito by its side, the LDP is set up for a huge fall.

Table: Projected House of Councillor July 11 Results, Party Proportional Votes

PartyJun 7-8 Kyodo pollprojected seats




New Komeito


Your Party










New Renaissance


The Spirit of Japan


New Party Nippon




Total seats48

Now as to my predictions on who will win the 73 district seats up for grabs on July 11, see my next few posts.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Commercial Whaling Deal In Peril

On the verge of the most important meeting of the International Whaling Commission in decades, when the body will be considered the possibility of revising its easily evaded moratorium on the hunting of large baleen whales and sperm whales in favor of a strictly limited and regulated commercial hunt, the key actors in the drama are going to be absent due to illness. IWC chairman Christian Maquieira, whose plan to bring all commercial whaling back under IWC control from out of the metastasizing exceptions that have been undermining the moratorium, namely

1) Japan's scientific whale hunts

2) Iceland's and Norway's self-exemptions from the moratorium on principle, and

3) South Korea's and Japan's increasing by-catch numbers, both legitimate and not-so

will not attend due to a personal illness. Japan's nominal top gun on whaling issues, newly-appointed Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Yamada Masahiko, will likely skip the meeting because his every waking moment tied up with the consequences of the still-not contained Miyazaki Prefecture outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

With all the leg work that has gone into preparing for the Morocco conference and all the recent acrimony over Japan's scientific whaling program -- not to mention the unnecessarily petty and hopeless International Court of Justice suit filed against Japan's Southern Ocean scientific whaling hunt by the government of Australia -- that it all might come to naught over of the unfortunate absences of a small number of key decision makers is distressing

It is unfortunate that in the political turmoil that has taken place over these past few weeks (remember three weeks ago? Back when Prime Minister Hatoyama was receiving the Chinese premier and the Liberal Democratic Party was polling ahead of the Democratic Party of Japan in the proportional vote for the House of Councillors?) the important opportunity provided by the June 21 Agadir, Morocco IWC conference to quarantine the lingering and debilitating debate over Japan's whaling has been lost from view. Japan needs a high powered individual at the Agadir meeting, a dealmaker and strategic thinker, rather than a pinch hitter sent by the MAFF. Right now, both the meeting's maestro and the crucial main actor will be absent from the scene.

Considering the depth of the wound the scientific whaling program inflicts upon Japan and the unique opportunity presented by the Maquieira proposal for Japan to wriggle is way out of it, all whilst retaining its international dignity -- cries out for some bold, even whacky improvisation. Prime Minister Kan should send a special ambassador, extraordinary and plenipotentiary, to the Agadir meeting to negotiate in Japan's behalf. This person would need to be of extremely high rank, considered an advocate of the MAFF yet also with a clear vision of japan's overall strategic position and the imperative sometimes, in order to improve that position, of radical shifts in emphasis.

The ideal candidate: Ishiba Shigeru.

Yes, the idea the idea is daft: the gentlemen is a member of the opposition. The idea that one could convince the policy research council chairman of the LDP to depart on a government mission on the eve of an election that is crucial to his party's very survival is...nuts.

Nevertheless, who else could one send? The man is the former MAFF Minister of the most recent LDP Cabinet. He knows the MAFF bureaucrats, their strengths and their weak points. He is also the acknowledged of grand poobah of the security affairs wonks, able to discern the strategic long-term interest of Japan in the slightest shift in the winds of international opinion. He could never, ever, despite whatever concession he might accede to, ever be tarred with the brush of having "sold out Japan" on the issue.

Ishiba's party would gag, but why not reciprocate? Send Democratic Party of Japan Policy Research Council Chairman Genba Koichiro and House of Councillors member for Tottori Kawakawi Yoshihiro as his deputies? Kawakami has experience as the head of the DPJ's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Committee, and his attendance at the meeting, along with Genba's, would blunt the impact of Ishiba's not being able to campaign in his home prefecture on behalf of the LDP's candidate there or LDP candidates around the country.

Just a thought. Actually more of a wild, flailing gesture desperately trying to save the limited, shore-based commercial whaling proposal, which I have written about earlier here and here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

They're Off!

The 2010 regular session of the Diet closed down for good yesterday, on schedule but with a record amount of its business unfinished. Lawmakers of both Houses immediately scrambled for their prefectures to begin campaigning in earnest, if in advance of the official starting date for the elections period, which will begin on June 24.

The press and commentariat have been critical of the immense number of government bills left lying either out on the table in the House of Representatives or to die in the House of Councillor's docket. Delayed until further notice are the bills on establishing a bureau for national policy strategy and the rules governing the use of dispatched contract labor. Evaporated into nothingness are the bills on revisions to the postal reform law, the climate change bill and the bill revising the way bureaucratic appointments are made. In total, the Hatoyama and Kan administrations managed to push only 56% of the governmment-submitted bills through the Diet in the regular session -- a postwar record low.

Then again, with so many of these bills having being either blatant attempts to buy off consituencies in advance of the House of Councillors elections or simply ill-considered gestures at quickly fulfilling campaign promises made by members of the ruling coalition in 2009, that they are now either delayed or deceased should prompt hurrahs, not sniping and harrumphing.

What It Says

Over at Nejibana, more of the the same staggeringly excellent stuff.

House of Councillors Election - The Proportional Vote*

[* A formatting problem marred the original posting of this material. The original text is here reproduced sans the problem. - MTC]

So how will the various parties do in the proportional vote in July? Let's take a gander at the historical results for insights.

Year: 2004

Total votes: 55,431,789

Share of the vote:

DPJ: 37.7%
LDP: 30.3%
New Komeito: 15.4%
JCP: 7.7%
SDP: 5.3%
Women's: 1.7%
Green: 1.7%

Final number of seats, proportional vote in 2004

DPJ: 19
LDP: 15
New Komeito: 8
JCP: 4
SDP: 2
Women's: 0
Green: 0


Year: 2007

Total votes: 58,913,679

Share of the vote:

DPJ: 39.5%
LDP: 28.1%
New Komeito: 13.2%
JCP: 7.6%
SDP: 4.5%
JNP: 3.0%
PNP: 2.2%
Women's: 1.1%

Final number of seats, proportional vote in 2007

DPJ: 20
LDP: 14
New Komeito: 7
JCP: 3
SDP: 1
JNP : 1
PNP: 1
Women's: 0


How does the outlook for the July 2010 election look?

This week's Kyodo Tsushin poll of June 8-9, where the new Kan Cabinet received a hearty 61% approval rating, the DPJ's projected share of the proportional vote was astonishingly high.

When asked which party they intended to cast their vote for in the proportional vote, the respondents said:

DPJ: 48.3%
LDP: 21.6%
Your Party: 8.1%
New Komeito: 3.1%
JCP: 2.3%
SDP: 1.9%
PNP: 1.9%
Sunrise: 1.3%
New Renaissance 0.6%
The Spirit of Japan 0.1%
New Party Nippon 0.1%

Don't know 15.2%

Now if these numbers hold up until date of the July 11 elections, with the DPJ in the end receiving more than 40% or more of the popular vote, then the great dream of the DPJ's winning enough seats to have control of the House of Councillors seems assured (Alison, it seems you were right - MTC).

Much of the boost in the numbers for the DPJ (just four days earlier, the percentage of voters ready to cast their votes for the DPJ was only 34%) can be ascribed to exultation at the departures of Hatoyama Yukio, Shizuka Kamei and Ozawa Ichiro. However, 40% of the party line vote should be considered a floor for the DPJ in this coming election. In the decidedly heady August 2009 House of Representatives election, the DPJ's percentage of the proportional bloc vote ranged from a high of 46% in Hokkaido and Tokai to a low of 38% in the LDP bastion of Kyushu, with the median of all the blocks hovering around 42%. Since those August 2009 elections, the DPJ's main rival the LDP has been shedding many of its most attractive members; has watched professional group after professional group shedding its affiliation with the LDP; and has failed to come up with a convincing reason for the voters to cast their proportional ballots for the former party of government.

So what do the above Kyodo polling numbers foretell in the way of results in the proportional vote on July 11? Going out on a limb I would guess:

DPJ: 24 seats
LDP: 9
Your Party: 6
New Komeito: 6
JCP: 1
SDP: 1
PNP: 0
Sunrise: 1
New Renaissance 0
The Spirit of Japan 0
New Party Nippon 0

That my friends is a prognostication of the elements of a wipeout for the DPJ's rivals.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hatoyama Yukio - Innovator

In 1992, President Alberto Fujimori of Peru, frustrated by an obstructionist Congress stymieing his every effort to battle both hyperinflation and the psychotic Maoist Shining Path insurgency, suspended Peru's constitution, granted all legislative powers to the executive branch of government and sent the Army to seize all members of the Congress opposed to him. For his use of the Army to lead a toppling of the constitutional order of which he supposedly was the apex, leaving himself in power, Fujimori was credited with having pioneered, or at least provided the textbook example of, a new form of government overthrow, the autogolpe or auto-coup.

Hatoyama Yukio deserves a similar honor for what he achieved on June 2 - 4. The newspapers have for the most part referred to what happen as Hatoyama's having "stepped down" (taijin - literally "withdrawal of the military encampment") from the post of prime minister - the standard term for a prime minister resigning voluntarily. However, in overseeing a friendly transfer of power to his fellow party co-founder Kan Naoto, securing the bloodless simultaneous political seppuku of his supposed political master Ozawa Ichiro, all with the retention of his entire Cabinet save four of the five really problematic/ferociously unpopular ministers and party executives (himself, Ozawa, Consumer Affairs Minister and Social Democratic Party leader Fukushima Mizuho and the Miyazaki Foot-and-Mouth Disease outbreak scapegoat Akamatsu Hirotaka. The fifth problematic minister, Financial Services Minister and People's New Party leader Kamei Shizuka, was left behind for disposal by Kan) Hatoyama should be considered the author of a political innovation worthy of its own technical term. For what happened was not so much a change of Cabinet as a Cabinet reshuffle, only one where the Prime Minister, realizing that he is part of the problem, reshuffles himself out of the Cabinet lineup.

Perhaps it should be called "The Pigeon Mountain Shuffle" -- that seems to be a sufficiently "loopy" name.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

No Thank You Mr. Postman

Oh yes, wait a minute Mr. Postman
Wait...Mr. Postman
- The Marvelettes (1961)
On May the 23rd a contented Kamei Shizuka, Minister for Financial Services and leader of the People's New Party, was seated next to a beaming Ozawa Ichiro, Secretary-General of the Democratic Party of Japan, on the dais at the National Postmasters Association (Zentoku) convention. Both men promised the assembled that they would push the Diet to pass legislation rolling back the reforms. They then asked for the association's support in the upcoming House of Councillors election. Associate president Tsuge Yoshifumi, welcoming the pledge, responded that in order to realize the goals of the legislation, members of his organization would have to do their best to promote the election of candidates identified with Zentoku -- after the bill's passage of course.

Three weeks later, Ozawa Ichiro has resigned from the position of DPJ Secretary-General. The new Prime Minister of Japan, Kan Naoto, has decided to delay the passage of the bill, currently in the House of Councillors, to a fall extraordinary session of the Diet -- effectively killing the bill in its present form. In response, Kamei Shizuka has resigned as Financial Services Minister, only three days after the inauguration of the Kan Cabinet. A member of Kamei's party has taken his place as minister and the PNP is still nominally in the Cabinet, but the relationship between the two parties is broken in spirit.

The reversal of fortunes of the postmasters and its unionized workforce, from courted darlings to abandoned has-beens, in such a short span of time reflects the tactical and strategic shifts the DPJ has undergone since the resignation of former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro.

On a tactical level, the huge surge in popularity of the Cabinet and the DPJ after the resignations of Hatoyama and Ozawa and the selection of Kan as the new party leader wiped out the electoral significance of Zentoku and postal union vote. For a ruling party with support levels hovering around 20%, every vote counts, particularly in thinly-populated rural single-seat prefectures. In rural areas the post office is the predominant banking, insurance and package delivery institution, often the only one. The fear of losing a community's sole financial services institution is reason enough to vote for the party Zentoku supports. Having such support can mean the difference in between victory and defeat in prefectures where a move of even 10,000 votes one way or the other makes a huge difference.

The trade off was, of course, the loss of the party proportional support for the DPJ among non-aligned voters. Pandering to the postmasters, while not a crucial issue for most, contributed to the extremely negative image of the Ozawa-dominated DPJ as the party that was willing to grovel for every organizational vote pf the pre-Koizumi era Liberal Democratic Party electoral machine.

On a strategic level, the new Kan government has made it clear that it is abandoning efforts to stimulate economic growth through loosened lending standards -- policies strongly associated with Kamei. Reversal of postal reform was a part of this general reversal of the strictures imposed during the Koizumi era. Reversal of postal reform of course infuriated the nation's private financial institutions, which have quite rightly see the post office as a favored behemoth sucking trillions of yen out of the world's financial system. This in turn earned the DPJ the hostility of the financial press, which, for good or ill, is the primary opinion-shaping information source for much of the world's population.

Postal reform might have been saved if the PNP actually brought something of substance to the DPJ. However, in poll after poll, support for the PNP nevers hits even 1% of those polled. It is the party of zero, of nothing and nowhere. It is indeed such a weak entity that it cannot stomp off in huff, like the Social Democratic Party could do after the sacking of Fukushima Mizuho over the Futenma reversal. Instead, the PNP must cling to the skirts of the DPJ in the hopes of surviving as an official political party.

As for the once powerful Zentoku, it must contend with the consequences of having backed the wrong horses in the race for power in the nation's capital. Kan clearly takes his talking points on the economy and finance from Ministry of Finance bureaucrats and the banking industry -- the enemies of the post office. Zentoku could try to boost the fortunes of the PNP by a full court press to have its members vote for the party in the proportion vote -- but that would result in perhaps one or maybe two more seats for the micro-coalition, which has been, thanks to Kamei's overreaching and interference on many fronts, more of a hindrance than a help to the DPJ. More likely, however, it will free its members to vote as they wish, giving the organization political cover in the likely anti-post office mood that will prevail after the July House of Councillors elections.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Kan Cabinet's First Scandal

A new Cabinet has just been announced. Predictably, one of the new ministerial appointees is discovered to have some rather odd entries in his accounting books. Just as predictably, members of the opposition demand that the minister in question resign. The newspapers take up the tune of Japan's being unable to escape its "politics and money" (seiji to kane) problems.

From 2002 to 2007, the official Tokyo address of State Minister for National Policy Arai Satoshi Arai's political organization was a longtime friend's Tokyo condominium (manshon). In the annual expenses accounts submitted by the political organization to the Ministry of General Affairs and Communications (Somusho) a total of 42 million yen was listed office costs associated with the address, including around 27.5 million yen in personnel costs, 4.6 million in equipment and software and 10.1 million for "costs associated with maintaining an office" (jimushohi). According the friend, who has spoken to reporters, the condominium served only as postal contact point. No staff worked there, no equipment was installed there nor was any rent paid. Aside from handing over to the Arai organization any mail addressed to Arai or his organization that arrived at the condominium, the friend had no responsibilities or contact with the organization.

Arai, in response to questions from reporters, has said that he had submitted his political organization's account books to Democratic Party of Japan lawyers and campaign funding specialists and that the DPJ's experts had found no problem with the accounting.

Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council Chairman Ishiba Shigeru has predictably drawn parallels between Arai's use of the address of his friend's condominium with the office expenses scandals that led former Ministers of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Akagi Norihiko and Ota Seiichiro to resign and Matsuoka Toshikatsu to commit suicide in 2007. He has says that Arai's having to resign is "a matter of course" and that Prime Minister Kan Naoto must take political responsibility for having named a tainted member of the Diet to his Cabinet. The LDP has said it is also looking at the Somusho reports of Education Minister Kawabata Tatso and Administration Reform Minister Ren Ho for similar odd assignments of offices expenses.

There is both less here and more here than meets the eye.

Political funding organizations are fluid and amorphous entities, with staff numbers and physical locations shifting with the political cycle, the career path of the member in question and that members financial resources. Expense accounts filed with the Somusho, however, need a legal permanent address for the organization. For some members having one's residence, the residence of one's parents or, as in this case, the residence of a friends serve as the nominal home of one's political organization is the only feasible option. It is an accounting fiddle, but a necessary and innocuous one, most of the time.

Whether Arai and Kan can stand the heat from both the LDP and the press will depend upon the level of detail in Arai's organization's books. Indications are that unlike Matsuoka, Akagi and Ota, who were knocked out by a lack of documentation or impossible-to-explain-expenses (Matsuoka's famous "water purification devices") the Arai organization seems to have kept all the necessary receipts for the expenses associated with the nominal office.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

They Do So Get It

One of the common complaints one hears regarding the current Japan-U.S. alliance is that the United States is insensitive and brusque, so wrapped up in its own global strategic planning and timetables that it fails to honor or even appreciate the feelings of the Japanese people. This sense of Japan's being misunderstood is not a right-wing or left-wing issue: one hears it from both ends of the political spectrum. That the Americans do not understand is of course a major reason behind the current parlous level of communication between the two governments.

The problem with trope is that Americans, at least American academics, do get it. I would challenge any one reading Kenneth Pyle's essay "Troubled Alliance" -- the first of a collection of essays from the National Bureau of Asian Research available for free downloading here until July 31 -- to say that he or the other authors in the collection do not understand Japanese or even Democratic Party of Japan feelings. Pyle, the dean of American scholars on Japan's security policy, outlines very clearly the deep yet thwarted desire for jiei and jison that spans the ages and crosses political lines.

Pyle's views and the views expressed by the other authors are not government views. Still they are authoritative views regarding the Alliance. While members of the DPJ, members of the commentariat and a goodly portion of the public may believe that they have few friends in and enjoy little sympathy from Washington, they are possibly being too hasty in arriving at their conclusions.

Either that, or they are looking to the wrong Washington for understanding.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Background to the DPJ's Ongoing Counter-Reformation

Prime Minister Kan Naoto has nearly completed filling up the holes in the new line up of Democratic Party of Japan executives and the Cabinet. From announcements and speculation printed in the nation's newspapers, it is clear that the DPJ is undergoing a massive shift away from the course it has been following since 2005.

When Kan and former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio founded the DPJ in 1996, the party's core faith was that Japan suffered from an excess of government spending on slow growth or even loss-making endeavors. The key to reviving Japan's health was the removal of the control of spending from bureaucrats (who were supposedly using the budget compilation process to featherbed organizations and industries that would supply them with sinecures following their formal retirement from government service) and assaults on the system of subsidies and supports for industries and activities (agriculture, construction, package delivery) with close ties to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Under the classic DPJ paradigm, government would have a limited role in directing the economy, with the focus of policy on the cutting away of the relations of economic dependency. The goal was a more open, failure-tolerant structure, where a social safety net would catch those who fell out of those industries undergoing shrinkage.

Two major events post-2000 forced the party to junk this policy framework. The first was the wholesale larceny of the party's ideas by Koizumi Jun'ichiro, who ran against the traditional policies of his own party, the LDP, promising change almost identical to the changes proposed by the DPJ.

The second was the landslide loss in the 2005 House of Representatives election, where a glum Okada Katsuya seemed to be campaigning on the slogans of "no fun anymore, suffering for everyone." Against improbable optimism of Koizumi, Okada's grim warnings of disaster were a total electoral downer. Unsurprisingly, the party fell flat on its face, getting wiped out in urban and suburban districts, its supposed impregnable electoral fortresses.

Rather than switching to a Koizumi-like bon vivant with a taste for the spotlight, the DPJ opted for the leadership of Ozawa Ichiro. Like Koizumi, Ozawa had a flair for the irresponsible and insincere promise. Unlike him, he was disdainful of the press, preferring to build his political machine out of the knitting together a thousand normally mutually exclusive promises to a thousand different interest groups. Recruiting local worthies to his cause through patient courtship, he built up a huge electoral bank of persons he could run as candidates who were primarily reliant on his political wiles for their educations.

This was, of course, the classic LDP Tanaka/Takeshita faction's winning playbook. Under Koizumi, the LDP abandoned its traditional method of building coalitions of interest groups and patient local recruitment in favor of a media-driven presidential and national mode of rule. As the LDP set about "modernizing" itself, Ozawa moved into the gap, dragging the DPJ, kicking and screaming, in with him.

The new DPJ had a successful test drive in the 2007 House of Councillors elections, where it prevailed over the LDP. It can be argued, however, that the DPJ did well due more to latent disgust at the LDP (particularly over the pension scheme fiasco and other policy missteps ) than thanks to the DPJ's new look.

Ozawa's DPJ received its real test in the 2009 House of Representatives elections, where it completely flipped the country's districts from LDP to DPJ control. The touchstone of the election was the DPJ's policy manifesto, which contained so many concessions and promises to so many different constituencies as to be internally incoherent, and impossible to implement as a whole. A strategy of promising everything to everyone made perfect sense in political terms, however: the electoral map having been drawn by the old time LDP in such a way as to favor the party that could make the most improbable promises.

The results of the 2009 vindicated Ozawa and bolstered his standing in the party to immense heights. A grateful Hatoyama, who found himself in the position of being the party's candidate for Prime Minister thanks to Ozawa's having rigged the snap 2009 party leader election, granted Ozawa the position of Secretary-General and the ability to fully complete the transformation of the DPJ into his personal policy and elections machine.

Events, however, began eating away at Ozawa's authority within the party faster than he could remake the party to his own needs. The global economy began recovering from the 2008 crash much earlier than anticipated, reducing the intense need for the deficit spending tthat undergirded his promises to interest groups and shifting attention toward countries with seemingly unsustainable debt increase paths, of which Japan was one. Prime Minister Hatoyama's political finance difficulties turned out to be far, far worse than imagined, composed of hundreds of real, repeated criminal acts involving hundred of millions of yen. The Futenma base problem turned out to be insoluable, no matter that most of the country believed that the Okinawans had been shafted by previous LDP governments.

What seems to have broken the camel's back, however, was Ozawa's shutting down the DPJ's Policy Research Council. While nominally a move to concentrate policy formation in the Cabinet, the abolition of the Council looked like shutting down the only forum for anti-Ozawa elements to argue that the party manifesto was a laundry list of promises, not a plan -- and an electoral liability for a ruling party. Whether or not this contention was true on not is debatable -- but by abolishing the Policy Research Council, Ozawa seemed to be declaring that that debate would not ever happen.

While members from the DPJ's middle ranks fought with Ozawa over the elimination of the Council, it was likely that they did so under the supervision of senior members of the party, many of whom understood that their own influence was in danger of being usurped. Until the abolition of the Council, the claims that Ozawa sought to establish a dictatorship could be explained away as fanciful LDP scare stories. After its abolition, and the sidelining of dozens of longtime DPJ policy wonks, these scare stories seemed suddenly far less farfetched.

The turning point, it seems, was the Ubukata Affair. When Ubukata Yukio went to the media with the case against Ozawa, the party directorate announced that Ubukata would be stripped of his Deputy Secretary-General post. This decision did not last the weekend. Announced on a Thursday, the dismissal was rescinded on the following Monday.

Several weeks ago I wondered why the Seven Magistrates of the DPJ did not follow Ubukata's lead and rid themselves of their wounded and troublesome Secretary-General and his associates. At the time, I rationalized the inaction of Sengoku Yoshito, Edano Yukio and others as their decision to take the path of least resistance: clashing with Hatoyama and Ozawa head on was risky, picking up the pieces after a disastrous House of Councillors election would be child's play.

Following the collapse of support for the Cabinet and the Party in the wake of the Futenma climbdown and the dismissal of Fukushima Mizuho from the Cabinet, the Seven Magistrates found themselves in the situation where they could carry out the prophesied coup -- because, as every poll indicated, the House of Councillors election was lost.

[Yes, a paradox: anti-Ozawa forces could move in and alter the course of future events only after the course of future events was inevitable.]

Since seemingly winning over Hatoyama Yukio to their cause, the anti-Ozawa leaders have moved with staggering efficiency and dispatch to eliminate Ozawa's influence over both policy and party management. Fiscal conservatives are now in all the party's and the government's top policy setting positions (bureaucrat bête noire Ren Ho, who had been slated to take over for Fukushima at Consumer Affairs, will take over for Edano as Minister of Government Revitalization), the Policy Research Council is being revived and the PM has told former Secretary-General Ozawa to keep his thoughts and advice to himself.

Today's party position announcements and tomorrow's new Cabinet lineup will be sending a message, one that will have repercussions well beyond its already mesurable impact on the fortunes of Kan & Company in the upcoming House of Councillor's election.

The DPJ, the classical DPJ, is back.

One More Interesting Item on the Prime Minister

The recent spate of reporting on the background of newly-elected Prime Minister Kan Naoto has brought out a lot of stories of which I was unaware. The patented mahjong point counting machine was a pretty neat bit off previously suppressed personal history.

What has been rather surprising is how the English language media has failed so far to discuss Kan's relationship with his wife. Not in so far as foregoing rehashing the supposed affair he had with his media advisor in 1998 -- nobody has a problem going on about that, seemingly.

What everyone has either been ignoring, willfully or not, is that the PM and his wife are related.

Closely related.

First cousins, in fact. If online family trees are correct, Kan Naoto's mother and his wife Nobuko's father are sister and brother.

Whilst first cousin marriage is the most common form of marriage in pre-modern societies and was not at all rare in even urban areas in pre-war Japan, it has become a rarity in this modern, mass education, mobile age. While obviously legal (just barely) it has been driven out by a mass inculcation of the belief that first cousin marriage carries an unacceptable risk of birth defects, should there be children. Indeed, the prime minister and his wife's parents vehemently opposed the two marrying.

That the PM and his wife are so closely related might explain Nobuko-san's salty response to the news of Kan's having had an affair in 1998. Rather than demanding a divorce -- the normal way of handling a public report of an affair -- or suffering in silence, she famously berated him, "Your were careless in covering your flanks (waki ga amai) you a**hole (bakatare)."

Which is something you would tell your first cousin whom you have known all your life (Nobuko-san is a year older than her husband).

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The DPJ Thunders Out of the Valley

As the indefatigable Isabel Reynolds has already reported for Reuters, the Democratic Party of Japan has received a huge ratings bump from the resignation of Hatoyama Yukio as prime minister and DPJ party leader and from the election of Kan Naoto to both posts. Support for its major rival, the moribund be not still quite dead Liberal Democratic Party remains stable. The major losers, according to the poll, are the responses displaying "a pox on both their houses" mentality.

Whereas the last poll conducted less than a week ago (May 29-30) found that the percentage of voters supporting the DPJ at only 21%, below the 22% supporting the LDP, the poll conducted over June 4-5 -- the day of the election of Kan as DPJ leader and PM and his first full day in office -- finds the percentage of voters calling themselves supporters of the DPJ at 36%. Support for the LDP remainds essentially unchanged, at 21%. The predictable drop in the support for Your Party, the default party of fiscal stringency and bureaucrat bashing, is relatively mild: from 11% to 8%. The stunning figure is in the drop of persons declaring themselves supporters of no party: 28% a week ago, 18% in the newest poll.

Which party do you support? [May 29-30 in parentheses]

DPJ 36% (21%)
LDP 21% (22%)
Your Party 8% (11%)
Communist Party of Japan 4% (2%)
Social Democratic Party 4% (5%)
New Komeito 2% (4%)
Peoples New Party lss thn 1% (1%)
Sunrise Party lss thn 1% (lss thn 1%)
Japan New Party lss thn 1% (lss thn 1%)
New Renaissance Party lss thn 1% (lss thn 1%)

Do not support any party 18% (28%)
Don't know 3% (3%)

The results of the Kyodo polls should offer some reassure to those who believe that Japan has comprehensible and even normal politics.

First, the march to a two party system goes on: despite a plethora of alternatives, the LDP remains the alternative to the DPJ. The LDP's current support level of 21% is pretty close to where it was nine months ago -- a nadir, yes but also a a floor below which the party cannot seemingly long sink. Aside from Your Party (which has policies virtually identical to the ones Kan will likely be implementing through the DPJ) the conservative alternatives to the LDP like Sunrise and New Renaissance have not caught on. They are micro-parties. After the House of Councillors election they will remain micro-parties, if they are not indeed reduced to nano-parties.

Second, as in European democracies, the majority of the populace votes center-left, not center-right. The Communists and the Socialists, predicted by many during the Koizumi years to be headed for the dustbin of history, have regained strength. The hard line conservatives, including the coalition partner PNP, which advocates socialist economics and conservative social policies, have close to zero appeal.

As for the question of which party the voters intend to cast their proportional seat ballots for in the July elections, which are now seen as likely to be held on July 25 rather than on July 11, the results tell much the same story as the support numbers.

For which party will cast your proportional seat vote in the July elections?
[May 29-30 in parentheses]

DPJ 33% (20%)
LDP 23% (21%)
Your Party 9% (11%)
Communist Party of Japan 5% (3%)
Social Democratic Party 4% (5%)
New Komeito 3% (5%)
Sunrise Party 1% (lss thn 1%)
Japan New Party 1% (lss thn 1%)
New Renaissance Party 1% (lss thn 1%)
Peoples New Party lss thn 1% (1%)
Nippon Soushinto lss thn 1% (lss thn 1%)

Don't know 18% (27%)

If these support numbers hold -- a big if given the volatility of the views of non-aligned and Your Party voters -- the DPJ is pretty much guaranteed to defend the 53 seats it has up for reelection. While such a result would leave the party far short of the seats it needs for an unbridled legislative mandate, with majorities in both house of the Diet, it is a far cry better than the outlook of only a week ago -- which saw the party losing as many or more than 15 seats.

Friday, June 04, 2010

What Does the Election of Naoto Kan As DPJ Leader Mean?

- 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.

As Regards Today' DPJ Party President Leader Election

The news is full of plots and counterplots, of Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ozawa Ichiro trying to cling to power, of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio having double-crossed Ozawa last week on Futenma.

There is likely some truth in all of these assertions and many more. The press has a story to tell -- "the Democratic Party is riven with factional infighting, with pro-Ozawa and anti-Ozawa forces at each others' throats" -- so members of the DPJ leadership have probably shrugged their shoulders and decided to go along it.

Nevertheless, the simplest analysis is probably the most likely to be true.

1) Everyone is agreement that Kan Naoto was, is and will be the relief pitcher for Hatoyama.

2) For the party to have a real leadership fight just before the election would be deeply damaging to the party's chances of capitalizing on the departures of Hatoyama and Ozawa. So the party needs to put on the semblance of a leadership fight, with only the vaguest outlines of a contest going on (a campaign period of just one day; no participation by the prefectural party chapters...).

3) No one wants to upset the delicate balance of forces within the party. However, for appearance's sake, somebody has to run against Kan. Tarutoko Shinji, a politician no one had ever heard of, has been drafted to provide the alternative. After Kan wins, the party has a new leader and Tarutoko can add "finished in second place in the voting for party leader on June 4, 2010" to his resume.

As a side note, the final tallies of votes for Kan and Tarutoko are likely not make any sense in terms of group voting. Neither Ozawa nor the party has an interest in giving a clear sense of how many legislators take their orders from him. Ozawa may indeed ask half of the 150 members of his group to vote for Kan and half to vote for Tarutoko, just to start generating a "Ozawa has lost his grip" story line in press reports.

A Very Few Final Words on the Hatoyama Premiership

A pair of quotes I collected in May that I thought appropriate as introductions for a post about Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio's climbdown from his promise to move the elements of the U.S. Marines Corps at MCAS Futenma to a location outside of Okinawa. With the Hatoyama Era coming to a close today, I might as well dump the quotes out of the box:

In foreign policy, to be called "Liar!" is the most disgraceful thing of all.

- Ozawa Ichiro *

Virtue is respected only when it is backed by power; power without virtue is disastrous; but virtue without power is helpless.

- Raj Krishna **

That's all for the next few hours...

* Ozawa Ichiro, Ozawizumu: kokozashi o mote, Nihonjin (Ozawaism: Have an Aim, People of Japan). Tokyo: Shueisha. 2006. p. 158. Author's translation.

** Raj Krishna, "India and the Bomb," India Quarterly, 21, no. 2 (April- June, 1965).
Reference from Michael Krepon, "Exceptional India" at Arms Control Wonk (April 20, 2010) []

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Tell Me I Am Dreaming

Here is the main schedule for the time remaining before the House of Councillors elections, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun:

June 4

- Joint meeting of the Democratic Party of Japan members of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors to elect a new party leader

- Special plenary sessions of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors to elect a new prime minister (in case of different persons winning in each House, the decision of the House of Representatives takes precedence)

- New prime minister unveils his/her Cabinet

[Yes, you read it right. All three in one day.]

June 7

Prime Minister's Policy Address to the Diet

June 12

Prime Minister pays official visit to the Shanghai World's Fair (tentative)

June 16

End of Regular Diet Session

June 24

Opening of the official campaign period for the House of Councillors elections (projected)

June 25-27

Prime visits Canada and attends the G8 Summit

July 11

House of Councillors Elections

I have to admit: if one set out with the intention to draw all attention away from the campaign efforts of opposition parties, one could hardly devise a more tightly packed and distracting schedule.

I also see do not see how either the revisions to postal reform bill or the revisions of the laws governing the dispatch of contract labor will make it out of the House of Councillors by the currently projected June 16 deadline.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Kan Declares, Others Mull Their Chances

Finance Minister Kan Naoto has said that he wants to run for the post of leader of the Democratic Party of Japan and thus become prime minister. State Minister for Administrative Reform Edano Yukio has said he does not. Minister for Land, Transport, Infrastructure and Tourism Maehara Seiji is not sure.

Various groups (don't you dare call them factions) of the DPJ are holding evening meetings, weighing the options of putting up a candidate or declaring support for another group's likely candidate.

What do the citizens think? Though they have no vote in the DPJ's leadership election, the party membership has be thinking about which candidate is most likely to win the public's trust and fire the public's imagination. Who is it that the voters think is most appropriate to replace Hatoyama Yukio as PM? Who has momentum?

Though it is a very crude measure, the Kyodo News poll of Monday, May 31 gives some hint of the persons the public perceives as prime minister material. DPJ members are in bold; the number in parentheses is number from previous poll conducted over April 28-29.

Q: Who amongst politicians do you think is the best suited to be prime minister?

Mazuzoe Yoichi 15.7% (18.3%)

Kan Naoto 9.3% (5.6%)

Ishiba Shigeru 8.9% (6.2%)

Maehara Seiji 8.3% (10.6%)

Watanabe Yoshimi 7.8% (6.7%)

Okada Katsuya 6.5% (5.3%)

Hatoyama Yukio 3.5% (6.0%)

Ozawa Ichiro 2.7% (1.9%)

Edano Yukio 2.5% (1.1.%)

Tanigaki Sadakazu 2.0% (3.0%)

Hamaguchi Kazuhiro 2.0% (1.3%)

Yosano Kaoru 1.5% (0.9%)

Hiranuma Takeo 1.3% (1.3%)

Sengoku Yoshito 0.8% (0.7%)

Of course, the big favorite with the public was "Don't Know/Can't Say" -- with 23.9% (29.5%).

A Clean Sweep for Hatoyama

Here is an interesting development: in order to promote a consistent electoral message of the Democratic Party of Japan as the party of clean politics -- a reputation the party had enjoyed until last year-- DPJ Party Leader and Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio has demanded the resignation of House of Representatives member Kobayashi Chiyomi. Kobayashi has been in danger of losing her seat ever since her former campaign accountant was arrested for campaign finance violations. She had not been forced to resign her seat before now because forcing her to step down whilst leaving Hatoyama and DPJ Secretary-General in their posts would have looked sexist. With Hatoyama resigning today as PM and Party Leader, and Ozawa apparently accepting a Hatoyama request that he (Ozawa) resign as Secretary-General due to the drag that investigations into Ozawa's fundraising organization have had on the DPJ's support numbers, Kobayashi's number has seemingly, finally, come up. the moment he stands upon the verge of his losing control of the party he founded and spent his family's fortune in building, Hatoyama is finally free to order the changes needed to restore its former good name.

Photo of Kobayashi Chiyomi courtesy the official DPJ website.

Hatoyama and Ozawa Are Leaving The Stage

A pair of random questions and fragmentary answers.

Why is Kan Naoto the prohibitive favorite to replace Hatoyama?

Kan is the only senior member of the Democratic Party of Japan seen as being on a par with Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio. Kan and Hatoyama founded the party in 1996 and ran it for a time as co-leaders. He succeeded Hatoyama as sole party leader in 2002, serving in the post until May 2004. Following the inception of the wreckage of Ozawa Ichiro's Liberal Party in 2003, Kan, Hatoyama and Ozawa were seen as the "troika" running the party jointly. After stepping down from the position of party leader due to a very minor issue, a gap of a few months in his record of contributing to the national pension scheme, Kan has kept a much lower profile than his fellow troika members.

His recent relative detachment from the grubbier corners of the world of politics is all to his advantage now as the party and the country search for political smarts and party authority unblemished by a strong association with either the helpless Hatoyama and the fearsome Ozawa.

Will Hatoyama's and Ozawa's resignations help the DPJ in the House of Councillors election?

A definite yes. From the responses given to pollsters, it is clear that the populace is disappointed by Hatoyama and mistrusful of Ozawa. Disappointment in the Cabinet and the party since the inauguration of the Hatoyama government should have resulted in great slices of the citizenry rushing back to familiar embraces of the Liberal Democratic Party. However the opinion polls show the sections populace as either tentatively supporting the completely unknown default reformist Your Party or opting out of supporting any particular party at all.

With the problematic Hatoyama and Ozawa no longer in charge of the government and the DPJ, the 50% of voters who consider themselvers to be non-aligned should return to their voting stance of 2009: willing to entrust the reins of government to a new, non-LDP political force.

Hatoyama Resignation Announcement

Jiji Press is reporting that Hatoyama Yukio will be announcing his intent to resign as prime minister at a special emergency meeting of Democratic Party of Japan this morning.

Congratulations U.S. government, you have just concluded an agreement with someone who will not even be around long enough to get a copy of the agreement text via the post.

Good luck on trying to hold the new guy or gal to the agreement, considering how its acceptance seems to have impacted Hatoyama's political viability.

Congratulations also to the international financial community. With the time and energy to be expended electing a new DPJ president, the selection of a new party leadership group and Cabinet and the unsettled mood in the Diet, the chances of the revised postal reform bill passing the House of Councillors before the end of the current Diet session is just about zero.

Reuters report on resignation announcement.

AP report on the announcement.

Later - The Yomiuri Shimbun is claiming that Ozawa Ichiro will also resign as DPJ Secretary-General. I say "is claiming" rather than "reports" because as far as Ozawa goes, the Yomiuri is not an unbiased source.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

And by Next Week, Prime Minister Kan?

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.

- William Congreve

Memo to me: avoid making definitive pronouncements.

I said yesterday that not enough time remained before the end of the current Diet session and the probable date of the House of Councillors election for the DPJ to replace deeply unpopular Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio.

My having made this statement seems to not be impeding in any way political maneuvering that very well might lead to such an outcome.

The avalanche began in a question to Democratic Socialist Party leader Fukushima Mizuho, who until last Friday was State Minister for Consumer Affairs and Declining Birthrate. When asked whether or not members of her party, who voted to leave the ruling coalition on Sunday, would join members of the opposition in a vote of a no-confidence against Prime Minister Hatoyama, Fukushima said it would be "rather difficult" (nakanaka muzukashii) for her party to not support the resolution.

That "rather difficult" set everyone's pulses to racing. Not about a no-confidence resolution in the House of Representatives, which would compel the Prime Minister to resign or call a general election. In that chamber the prime minister's Democratic Party of Japan holds a ponderous majority of 308 seats out of 480.

No, the exciting possibility is a censure measure in the House of Councillors, where ruling coalition's majority is wafer-thin. While the passage of a censure measure would not force the prime minister from office, it would be a stinging official rebuke to the PM, one he can ill afford given that his fumbling has cost his party dearly in terms of public support on the eve of a crucial election. Should the House of Councillors vote to censure the PM, the humiliation could be enough to force him to resign of his own volition.

The numbers on the vote work out like this. Following the withdrawal of the SDP from the ruling coalition, the DPJ-Shinryokufukai/People's New Party/Japan New Party caucus controls 122 seats, one seat above 50% line in the 242 seat House of Councillors. In fact, as Adamu has recently pointed out, the caucus enjoys a two-vote cushion, thank to Wakabayashi Masatoshi's having had to resign from the chamber in shame following an extraordinary case of wandering fingers. So if all the member of the caucus show up, their numbers can easily defeat any censure motion.

That caveat however -- if the members of the caucus show up -- turns out to be significant. Of late, it has been the non-ruling coalition members of the House of Councillors who have been absenting themselves from plenary sessions. They feel that since their votes cannot stop the majority from prevailing in the House, their time would be better spent out campaigning for the upcoming election. If the opposition offers a censure motion, however, one can be fairly sure that the party whips will get on the phone (or send an email) to their wandering charges to get back to the chamber for the vote.

If all the members of the opposition are in the House, the focus then shifts to the ruling coalition's membership. If even only a handful of them fail to show up for the vote -- or even, in a fit of manic rage, a handful vote for the censure motion -- the motion will pass.

How likely is it that members of the ruling coalition will not show up to block a censure motion or show up to turn tables on the PM? That depends on how serious you believe the "Class of 2004 Problem" to be.

The DPJ has 35 district seat holders and 18 proportional seat holders facing reelection this year. These incumbent seat holders were elected in 2004, when Okada Katsuya was DPJ party president. Some of these seatholders have close ties to the current problematic party leadership duo of Prime Minister Hatoyama and Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro. Most, however, do not. Indeed, the Class of 2004 in the House of Councillors are the DPJ members who owe the least allegiance to Hatoyama and Ozawa. That the fundraising scandals, fiscally irresponsible policies and infuriating leadership styles of both men have put these members of the House of Councillors in a precarious electoral position (not to mention Ozawa's cramming a second DPJ candidate into some multi-seat districts, meaning that the incumbent would be running not just against opponents from other parties but one from his/her own party) would seem to be reason enough for them to suddenly have an errand to run when the opposition brings its censure motion up for a vote.

A situation that seems indeed nakanaka muzukashii for the PM and his political fixit man Ozawa.