Thursday, October 25, 2012

In Defense of Noda Yoshihiko's Leadership

Two analysts whom I respect greatly yesterday issued negative assessments of Prime Minister and Democratic Party of Japan leader Noda Yoshihiko's leadership.

In a post to his blog GlobalTalk 21, Okumura Jun writes:

The October 22 evening edition of Nikkei has a chart listing the ministers that resigned or were dismissed during the three years of the DPJ regime. It tells us that Hatoyama lost two, Kan lost four, while Tanaka is Noda’s second loss. So one head better than par for the course? Not quite.


Noda's two losses by contrast were precipitated by political and legal misdemeanors by obviously under-qualified if personable politicos being rewarded for their political attributes.

But that's not all. Prime Minister Noda in what must be a national record has conducted three cabinet reshuffles in little more than a year in office. This is not exactly mitigated by the fact that two of those reshuffles were actually pretexts to get rid of a couple of appointees in each case who had exposed their lack of political toilet training and had to go.

Six incompetents kicked out, or three cabinet reshuffles in little more than a year. Pick his poison; whichever explanation you choose, he makes Hatoyama look good and Kan look at worst average as far as personnel management goes. And that’s probably not an easy feat to accomplish.


In a comment to my post of the wee hours of Monday, October 22 on Maehara Seiji’s act of political arson (Link), Corey Wallace of σ1 writes:

As for the main argument of your piece, I guess my point really is, yeah Maehara is a prat, but he hasn't really blown up any "plan" mainly because the plan was a pointless and ineffective one the moment that Noda chose the cabinet he did (irrespective of the Tanaka issue) and the party's leadership essentially sacrificed the middle and younger ranks of the party by signaling that they would turn over on the electoral redistricting. Maehara has made it easier for the LDP etc to badger them during the temporary session. But it may be for the best. It seems the senior leadership's plan is to extend the life of the administration as long as possible, even if it leads the party into even more devastating annihilation in an election. As long as they survive, the rest of the party be damned (and yes, Maehara is part of the senior leadership). A look at the opinion polls tells you what the public want, and the current Noda's administration survival is the lowest on the list for what they want to see happen over the next few months, perhaps only above the government running out of money.

My friends, respect you both I do, but you are both wrong.

As to the charge that Noda has a bad record of personnel management, consider the DPJ Hatoyama and Kan left him and what he has been able to do with it. Beside (because he most certainly not under) Hatoyama Yukio, Ozawa Ichiro managed to grab every atom of policy making power to himself, alienating the entire middle tier of the party's membership. The struggle reaching a climax in the Ubukata rebellion (Link) that ended in a humiliating stepdown by the imperious Ozawa.

When Hatoyama stepped down, and took Ozawa in a headlock down with him, Kan Naoto took over a party with a major image problem and deep internal fissures. Kan decided that Job One was the restoration of the party's reputation and mollification of the party’s middle ranks – most of whom had been in the party longer than Ozawa. This meant an openly declared policy of "de-Ozawafication," quarantining Ozawa – a process considerably aided by Ozawa's indictment on political funding fraud charges – and also trying to salvage a workable policy program from out of the mountain of impossible-to-fulfill promises made in the Ozawa-drafted 2009 policy manifesto.

However, Kan could only go so far in the de-Ozawafication process, as Ozawa still had sway over at least 150 legislators. So while Kan kept his Cabinet largely clean of Ozawa acolytes, he had to always be cognizant that he and his allies stood on the precipice as regards party unity, that a step too far could split the party in half. Had not 3/11 intervened, Kan could have indeed presided over such a split.

The recovery and reconstruction effort, and the absolutely disgraceful attacks on Prime Minister Kan by members of the Liberal Democratic Party and others in the opposition, submerged for a while the internal battle between the Ozawa followers and the DPJ main line.

However, Ozawa's frightening hold upon his followers and their willingness to follow him even on the most self-destructive of paths was demonstrated in the election to replace Kan. In a move that strains credulity even today, Ozawa picked as his champion Kaieda Banri, a man who had not only written a book denouncing Ozawaism but one month prior to the leadership election had broken down in tears during Diet testimony (Link). Despite the history of bad blood and real possibility of electing an emotionally unstable man party leader, Ozawa's followers provided the lion's share of 143 votes and a top-place finish Kaieda received in the first round of voting.

Noda eventually prevailed in the runoff, 215 votes to 177 – but what to do about those 177 votes? Noda, in his own attempt to keep the party together despite Ozawa’s machination, promised to be a "no sides" leader, willing to share power with Ozawa followers and allies.

Noda made good on his promise, appointing Ozawa allies Ishikawa Tatsuo and Yamaoka Kenji to his Cabinet – ministers who almost immediately came up croppers. Both were censured and had to be replaced in January 2012. (Cabinet Reshuffle #1)

In June, Noda, facing an uphill battle to get the LDP and the New Komeito to the altar on voting for the package of bills including the consumption tax, decided he little choice to but to rid his Cabinet of four vulnerable ministers, two of whom had been censure by the House of Councillors. (Cabinet Reshuffle #2)

The reshuffle did its job, which was to shut the LDP and the New Komeito up about the Cabinet, so that Noda could get down to the difficult business of working with the opposition to pass the tax rise, knowing that if he succeeded on the policy front, Ozawa and his closest followers would jump ship.

Which they did on July 2.

In September Noda breezed through a required leadership election (Link). Since he had won so convincingly, he had no overt reason to reshuffle his Cabinet. However, to do nothing would have been very poor public relations, especially given the low public popularity ratings for the Cabinet. So he moved his most important young allies around in a game of musical chairs in between the power positions in the Cabinet and party leadership. As for the second- and third-ranking Cabinet posts, he handed them out to all the different groups inside the DPJ, whilst deftly avoiding giving anything to any of the three men who had had the temerity to challenge him in the leadership race (try to get away with that trick, LDP presidents-elect!).

For a man with a less-than-10 vote majority in the House of Representatives, the handing out of minor Cabinet posts to the champions and princes of the various sub-groups inside the party was not just smart but necessary.

The opposition called Reshuffle #3 a travesty. Watanabe Yoshimi of the Your Party came up with a trio of epithets: the "Warehouse Clearance Sale Cabinet," the "Goodbye Memorial Cabinet" and the "Graduation Photograph Cabinet" (Link - J). Even I who tries to avoid running with the herd got carried away and called it the "So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish" Cabinet. (Link)

That Tanaka Keishu should have snuck in is hardly surprising. He is the standard bearer of the old Democratic Socialist Party (Minshato) that merged with the DPJ in 1998 but still retains a group identity within the confines of the party. Tanaka of course had a huge warning sign flashing over his head: he had lost his Diet seat in 1990 as a result of the Recruit Scandal. However, he is an old man, with no Cabinet posts under his belt and a much-interrupted and probably doomed Diet career. He was, as I have suggested before, the Prime Minister’s one selection made out of pity.

Politics, however, is a pitiless business.

As to idea that Prime Minister Noda is merely extend his stay in office is a misreading of Noda's approach to politics. With a razor thin majority in the House of Representatives, the Opposition blocking the passage of legislation in the House of Councillors, Cabinet and party support ratings in the cellar and with only nine months left in the terms of the Diet members, he is by definition playing an end game.

But what an end game it has been! He fooled Ozawa Ichiro into walking out of the DPJ with only a half a bushel of followers and no money in his pockets. He drove LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu into humiliating retirement, whilst extorting from him the votes he needed to pass the consumption tax. He maneuvered the LDP to vote for a censure motion condemning itself. He told current president Abe Shinzo, in their first meeting after their respective reelections, to go acquire carnal knowledge of himself should he press on the issue of early elections -- hence the magnitude of betrayal in Maehara’s Seiji's musings on Sunday. (Link)

For the DPJ, the war is lost. The party will be swept away in the next elections, in both Houses. There is nothing that the party can do, nothing that its individual members can do to avoid the deluge. So why not go down fighting, tooth and claw, with devastating tenacity, until the very end?

Unless, of course, Noda and the party choose the Unimaginable Alternative...

1 comment:

sigma1 said...

That Noda has up until now done amazingly well with very little is of course incontestable - I have argued as much myself. So I concede that. I am even happy to give Noda good marks on handling the Senkakus issue. However, unless Noda has a December surprise up his sleeve with the visit to Moscow, or Abe does something bizarre, then it is hard to escape the feeling that all sides are going through the motions, thus making the personal politics somewhat irrelevant (for me as an analyst at is of course very important for those involved). What is there really to contest? Or what has Maehara really jeopardized. I am not defending the unusualness and tin-eared nature of his actions. But from the wider point of view, and from the citizen's point of view, it is all a bit precious. I haven't been following Japanese politics as long as you, but the pointlessness of the next few months is going to be glaring.

We know that the LDP will give in to turning up to the new parliamentary session. We know they will eventually give in on the bond issuance bill. We know that the DPJ will give in on the electoral district bill. They have more or less said as much. It is almost unimaginable that with all of these things going to be resolved that Noda will be able to avoid at least agreeing to a dissolution by the end of December, perhaps to actually take place after the formal process of redistricting is completed. He may be able to make it to April using that excuse so to enable everyone to pass go and pick up their yearly political allowances. Anything more ambitious than that through political gaming and the DPJ will be creamed more than it currently already looks to be facing. And that will matter in terms of the post-election composition of the party, and what the prospects will be in the medium-term for the party and the centre-left in Japan.