Monday, July 09, 2012
What Knowledgeable Friends Are For
It seems I have won my bet with Okumura Jun on the size of the July 6 protest in front of the Prime Minister's Residence. According to Tokyo Metropolitan Police estimates 17,000 demonstrators showed up on June 29, the day after the restart of the #3 reactor of the Oi nuclear power plant. According to the same source, 21,000 demonstrators showed up on Friday night (Protest organizers have of course said that far more protesters showed up on both nights than the police claim. Given the incentives, I am sure the correct number is somewhere in between).
Now Okumura-san can claim that the 24% increase in estimated crowd size, rather than the greater than 25% decrease he predicted, was due to the free-for-all that happened at the Foreign Correspondent's Club earlier in the day, when the non-Japanese press bludgeoned Kurokawa Kiyoshi, chairman of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Commission for the discrepancies between the English language précis and the Japanese text, including the foul attribution of the failure to "Japanese culture" found only in the English version ((F and E). Perhaps it was the obvious the desire of the folks on Friday to be out protesting in the rain, rather than under clear skies as was the case the week before.
All joking aside, what was stunning and important was that the mainstream news media on Friday stopped pretending the protests were not happening. TV news broadcasts had helicopters circling the Prime Minister's Residence (try that one in Washington DC, Beijing or Moscow) broadcasting live images of the crowd. The newspapers stepped up their coverage, including even the Yomiuri Shimbun, which refused to report on the June 29 protest. (J)
So over lunch at Aux Bacchanales (Okumura-san spent part of his formative years in a majority French-speaking city and I went to a bilingual school where one of the languages was French -- so our having lunch in a Tokyo bistro appropriate, thank you very much), I will have the chance to discuss why he and I have such different views of the timing of the next House of Representatives election.
As far as I can see, there is only one human being of consequence who wants a snap election after the passage of the consumption tax bill through the House of Councillors: Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu. Tanigaki knows that if the Diet is not dissolved before the end of its session on September 8, he will have to face an LDP presidential election. Due to his lackluster performance as LDP leader -- the party failing under his leadership to capitalize on numerous bumbles and fumbles of the Democratic Party of Japan -- he will go down as only the second LDP president, after Kono Yohei, to never become prime minister.
Sadly, and all too typically, Tanigaki is alone in believing that the stage is set for elections. The news media complex, after reporting at length in February that the current electoral map is unconstitutional, then repeating the process in May following the Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko's on-air admission that the districts are unconstitutional, are humming that elections will be held in the next two months -- proving once again that for the domestic media, facts will never be allowed to get in the way of a good story*.
For his party and party-to-be, Ozawa Ichiro has been declaiming that elections are imminent (J - check out the invaluable pyramid of the number of elections of the House of Representatives members of Ozawa's proto-party). However, Ozawa is merely using the threat of elections in order to 1) keep his fellow rebels close to him, 2) encourage to other members of the DPJ to defect (this in order that they might avoid going into elections tarred with the brush of raising taxes) and 3) perpetuate the illusion that he knows more than he actually knows**.
As for Tanigaki's fellow LDP's members, they are worried that entering a campaign with Tanigaki at the head of the party will lead to disaster. Better to wait until September, replace Tanigaki with someone more dynamic like Ishiba Shigeru, Ishihara Nobuteru or Hayashi Yoshimasa***, then push the Noda government to the wall in the fall extraordinary Diet session.
As always, there is the unresolved matter of rendering the holding of elections constitutional. The current situation would make a great trivia game "gotcha" question: "Name the countries in Northeast Asia where the holding of national elections is illegal." In a recent GlobalTalk 21 post, Okumura-san argues that a snap election is possible, either via the legislative fiddle devised by the LDP -- eliminate the five smallest electoral districts and their 5 seats in the Diet, lowering the discrepancy between the smallest remaining district and the largest to 1.78, well below the Supreme Court's threshold of 1.99 -- or simply bullrush the Emperor and the Supreme Court, in succession, over the unconstitutionality of the districts.
As for the latter solution, forget it. There is no way under the sun (intentional allusion) that Prime Minister Noda will convince the present emperor to send this blessed land spinning into an extra-constitutional void. He is a people's emperor, willing to junk tradition when tradition is contrary to fact or contemporary practice. Moreover, he is the son of Hirohito: he will never, ever, ever allow an extra-constitutional assertion of power by any branch of the government.
As for the first solution, not even the LDP, which dreamed it up, believes the DPJ will ever accept it. Redistricting is the key to the kingdom of heaven: he or she who holds in his or her hand determines who shall rule this nation for the next decade. It is the prize that the DPJ fought for -- to reward the DPJ's core urban/suburban constituencies with the representation they had so long been denied under LDP rule...and lest it be forgotten, the sad-sack district, the one whose voters are the least represented in the House of Representatives, whose votes are worth only 40% of the votes in the least populous Kochi #3 district -- that is Chiba District #4 -- Prime Minister Noda's district.
As if the DPJ needed any more reason to delay the next election, the popularity numbers for Hashimoto Toru's Ishin no kai have not yet plateaued. Until such time as it is clear just how far Hashimoto's political movement can roll, the incentive is to sit tight.
So a snap election? In the evening newspapers' dreams perhaps.
* The "Ozawa Ichiro is corrupt" presumption is another example.
** This is a classic smart prophet's double game. If the prophesied comes about, then the prophet was right. If the prophesied does not come about, the prophet claims it was precisely because of his/her prophecy that those in control altered conditions so as to render the prophesied impossible.
*** Hayashi has already founded his own study group, a precursor to a major candidate's run for the office of the presidency. He is the default Washington candidate (E). He is, however, a member of the House of Councillors, a huge demerit in LDP internal politics. Party members want to a leader from the House of Representatives, where he/she will share in the fates of those thrown into an election by a Diet dissolution.