The outlook for the Democratic Party of Japan's convincing members of the Diet and the general public of the necessity of Japan's being at the Trans Pacific Partnership table grows darker and darker. Tonight Yamada Masahiko, the former agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister who is leading the charge within the party against Japan's participation in TPP talks, claimed that he had the support of 202 members of the DPJ's Diet delegation (and, for good measure, 224 members of the former DPJ-led three-way coalition). If his claim is accurate, the government and the leadership of the DPJ hold a razor-thin 7 vote majority of DPJ members ready to support Japan's committing itself to participation in TPP negotiations.
If the government of Noda Yoshihiko seeks a silver lining in the present massing dark clouds, it would be in the weaker participation of DPJ members in the petition drive sponsored by the Central Union of Agriculture Cooperatives (Zenchu). Only 120 DPJ members crossed party lines and linked arms with members of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito to provide Zenchu with 356 names on its petition (for the full list in Japanese, click here).
Still, 120 members is more than a quarter of the DPJ's Diet membership.
What is so nonsensical about the weakness of the DPJ leadership's efforts is that the tail is really wagging the dog here -- and it is an LDP tail to boot. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries, the interest group that simply will not budge on the TPP (How could rice farmers survive minus the 778% tariff protecting them?) produces but a tiny fraction of Japan's GDP. As for the Japan Medical Association (Ishikai) it was and is a paid-in bastion of LDP support.
That members of the Cabinet or DPJ supporters of TPP participation are not out in front of the TV cameras every day, explaining the benefits of the pact for the majority of the citizenry, demonstrates that two years and three prime ministers in, the DPJ executive still does not understand what it takes to lead a government and a country.
Everyone is focusing now on Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko and his stated preference to push TPP acceptance forward (en). Noda-san has so far charmed the Diet, the news media and the nation with an easy-going manner and a conciliatory stance. Admirers and critics alike have likened his leadership style that of a safe driver on the road. Just how these qualities are going to help him pull the TPP rabbit out of the hat, if he even cares about deploying them, remains a question.
A huge question.