Monday, September 10, 2012

Okumura Jun's View Of The Diet Post-Election, And My Own

As is his habit and capacity, Okumura Jun has published a magisterial outlook, laying out the political situation in the Diet, post-House of Representatives election.

Okumura-san and I have been in agreement for a very long time that the Tanigaki Line -- block all significant Diet business in a bid to force the Democratic Party of Japan-led government into holding new elections -- was idiotic, as any post-election administration would have to be a coalition between the Liberal Democratic Party and the DPJ. Aggressively toppling the DPJ government through its effective control of the House of Councillors, only to have to reach out to the DPJ post-election because the LDP-New Komeito alliance lacked a 50% majority in the House of Representatives, seemed at best pointless, at worst a recipe for likely catastrophic intra-party strife.

Now that Osaka City Mayor Hashimoto Toru has unleashed his beast, the Nihon Ishin no Kai (or Nippon Ishin no Kai - E), translated as the Japan Renewal Party -- whose initials are, as Okumura-san has noted, the same as Japan's national horseracing organization, an acronym that is as much a brand name as NEC -- I must part ways with Okumura-san.

The political calculus has changed.

The LDP, the DPJ and the JRA will finish first, second and third in the number of House of Representatives seats. However, in the popularity contest, the proportional seat voting, the DPJ will likely finish behind the other two parties, in third place.

As Okumura has suggested, the JRA's policy platform presents problems for any party wishing to form a post-election ruling coalition with the JRA as a partner. In particular, the JRA's Eight Policies (hassaku) include a host of promises requiring changes to the Constitution, a document that has not seen a single comma altered in it since its promulgation 55 years ago.

The sheer number of improbable promises being made guarantees that negotiations with the JRA on a common policy platform will be onerous.

However, the LDP will have little choice but to approach the JRA, the DPJ having an incentive and a cover story for sitting on the sidelines.

The DPJ's reasoning will be impeccable:

"The voters have spoken and rejected our rule. How can we double-guess the voters' judgment and team up with either of the parties whom the voters have chosen as our replacements?"

The LDP and the JRA will come up with something, probably involving a lot of study groups examining such hopeless causes as direct elections of the prime minister, revision of Article 9 and abolition of the House of Councillors. They will agree on policies to assign an identity number to everyone, to further diminish the independence of teachers, to eliminate the ability of local bureaucrats to engage in political campaigns (a delicious bit of hypocrisy, considering the number of local bureaucrats currently enrolled as students at Hashimoto Toru's juku) and to promote greater love of the government country.

Left behind, despite being ideas that both parties share, will be commitments to unifying of the prefectures into lander (doshusei) and ensuring the country's accession to the Trans Pacific Partnership. These policy changes will go nowhere precisely because of loud commitments the parties will make to them. Mandating unification and the TPP require "Nixon goes to China" decisions: only those who have never been supporters have the credibility to make the leap, in light of the country's changing situation.

After the formation of the coalition and the election of a new prime minister, probably Ishihara Nobuteru, the fun will really begin.

It will likely not be over policy, either.

I have criticized Ozawa Ichiro bitterly on many occasions. However, in one area of political endeavor, his efforts have proven spectacular: in the recruitment of talent. He himself has been dogged by unproven and unprovable accusations of corruption. His recruits to the DPJ, however, have been spectacular in their capacity to stay out of trouble, a stirring contrast to the lurid spectacle of that was and is the LDP. The vetting and courting process of potential candidates would often stretch out over years, with Ozawa involved every step of the way. Indeed, the bringing in of candidates into a party is perhaps the only part of politics Ozawa really enjoys.

The JRA's candidates will be recruited primarily out of the enthusiasts and acolytes who shelled out the cash to attend the Hashimoto juku. As such, it will be a collection of a hundred ticking time bombs of scandal. Messy divorces, delinquent taxes, yakuza friendships, love children for whom no child support was paid, buried stints in hospitals for depression -- you name it, they will have it, just like any neighborhood in this country, where the veneer of civility hides a thousand secrets.

The afternoon broadsheets and the weekly scandal magazines have no incentive to protect any of these fresh-minted politicians or bolster the upstart Hashimoto. Even the much beleaguered Ozawa had at least one evening newspaper in his corner: the JRA boys and girls will have nothing.

It will be as sharks at a feeding frenzy, like Abe Shinzo's Year of Living Luridly (remember the four different Ministers of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries? The attempted coverup of the loss of 50 million pension accounts? Matsuoka Toshikatsu's water purification devices and his suicide a few months later?), only many times worse.

At this the DPJ Diet members will just sit and watch, a frieze of Dr. Gachets, stirring themselves only to ask the occasional pertinent and embarrassing question.

An overwrought vision? Possibly. But a damn sight more likely than the LDP and DPJ cohabiting. Unlike the LDP, the DPJ was born an opposition party. Losing power is unpleasant for the party but does not pose an existential threat. The DPJ will not succumb to a frenzied search for anything -- ANYTHING (a Socialist as Prime Minister? We can do that.) to seize control of the Cabinet.

As was the case in 2009, it would indeed be best for the DPJ to just wait and let the golden apple drop into its lap, again.

Later - My apologies for not fixing the typos earlier. Something has been blocking my access to Blogger.


Climate Morio said...

I'd like to pose a detail-related question about the more-or-less micro-parties. What are Watanabe Yoshimi doing, seeing the meteoric rise of the Hashimoto? I don't want to suggest that there can be only one "third pole" (as counterintuitive as that may sound), but before the Osakans cooked up their own party, YP was the default go-to place for any protest voter. Now, not so much? Are they in any way trying to rebrand themselves?

And also those countless "new conservative" parties that we saw split from the two big parties since 2009 onward. Are they squirming for purchase?

Philippe said...

The problem with your theory is the House of Councillors (in its current make-up, LDP-JRA doesn’t have a majority). Or are you betting on a simultaneous HoR-HoC election, summer 2013 ? I see that as quite plausible, nowadays…

MTC said...

Philippe -

A soundly defeated DPJ will not join hands with its conquerors. Such behavior would invite ferocious response from the public and the media complex. The bill passing situation in the House of Councillors will be irrelevant.

However, you do indirectly identify a presumption: "if recent trends are projected forward." This is a huge assumption, one which the most recent round of public opinion polls does not support. Noda still has a lot of gas left in his tank, especially since the LDP, through the censure motion, ensured the expiration of the best electoral district reform bill the LDP-New Komeito alliance could have hoped for from the DPJ.

The next LDP leader will be under pressure to cut some kind of deal on electoral reform. Unfortunately for the LDP, the climb down will both hit the party's support numbers and weaken its electoral lock on the House of Representatives.

My post is thus more a projection than a prediction -- but one based irrational but realistic human tendencies.