Thursday, December 18, 2014

Post-Election Analysis - Here We Go

As noted earlier, the most miserably pointless and demoralizing election in memory (How pointless? Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has decided to not make a single change in his Cabinet -- and you will not believe the reasons given for this decision: Link - Video J) has, for no good but plenty of bad reasons, unleashed a torrent of some of the best writing on Japanese politics ever.

It is worthwhile to offer another list of links to good reads:

Tobias Harris - "When Is a Blowout Not a Blowout?"

Mr. Harris and I, working from the same facts, came to essentially the same conclusions in the first hours after the election. I, writing for my blog, published first. Harris, because he is an assiduous worker bee, published a more comprehensive and readable article on someone else's calendar.

Sheila Smith - "Another Four Years of Abe"

Smith points out a major problem facing Abe: what to do about Koizumi Shinjiro, the Liberal Democratic Party's most popular and saleable legislator. The latest Koizumi in the Diet received the most votes of any LDP winner despite spending almost no time in his own district campaigning. Instead Koizumi played the good soldier, campaigning all over the country for other LDP candidates.

Abe tried burying Koizumi in Fukushima-related issues in the previous Diet. With Koizumi coming off a huge win, this may be more difficult.

Corey Wallace - "Not too early to start thinking about the 2016 election?"

As you can guess from the title, the soon-to-be Dr. Wallace (fingers crossed) does not think so. The Democratic Party of Japan has survived as an institution thanks to the large number of seats it has quarantined off in the House of Councillors. That block of seats comes up for reelection in 2016 - meaning that the new party leader, who is to be elected on January 18 (Why do they tarry? Amaterasu only knows) will have to quickly bring all the disparate groupings within the party into line and workout a modus vivendi with Japan Innovation Party.

Wallace also sees the election as enhancing the powers of the DPJ's rokuninshu, the six center-right legislators seen as potential leaders (The Yomiuri Shimbun less charitably calls them "the Gang of Six") of the party. I hope he is wrong, as all with the possible exception of current party secretary-general and next party leader favorite Edano Yukio are infected with the leaden seriousness that hobbles the party at election time. Politics should be about joy and these guys (and they are all guys) are not the Joy Division.

Okumura Jun - "Election 2014: The DPJ and JIP Need to Get Their Acts Together—Literally"

I cannot agree with Okumura Jun's conclusion that the DPJ and the Japan Innovation Party have to merge. Any attempt to link up the DPJ's remnants of the Japan Socialist Party with Hashimoto Toru's populists would lead to an explosion. Better to leave the two parties seperate, each running their candidates in designated DPJ-only or JIP-only districts, to challenging the LDP's conservative corporatism on the national scale with two radically different critiques.

Later - Many thanks to the commenters pointing out the broken link.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Very Kind Of Them #40

On December 10 I had a chance to sit down with Kang Yonggi of Reuters to talk about the outlook for Japan after the 14 December 2014 elections. The video link:

Future of Abenomics rides on Sunday's snap election

At the time, I was afraid Abe & Company would hit the 300 seat level, making them complacent and arrogant.

As we know they failed to hit the target, empowering Japan's pacifists. Dreams potentially thwarted, Abe & Co. are almost certain to plunge into economic issues to the exclusion of all else.

Très Gentil De Leur Part #38 Et #39

Very kind of Daniel Eskenazi of Le Temps and Philippe Mesmer of Le Monde to quote me in their stories on the lead up to the 14 December 2014 House of Representatives elections:

- Malgré son impopularité, Shinzo Abe devrait remporter les élections (Paywall)

- Au Japon, les enjeux cachés des législatives

Merci mes amis.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How Prime Minister Abe Shinzo Lost On Sunday

I brought this on myself...

Yesterday we all got a chance to see something we have not seen for a long time: a sober, somber and scared Abe Shinzo. He stumbled through his press conference, repeating himself, at one point launching his favorite overly poetic crutch phrase tsu-tsu-ura-ura ("in every harbor; in every inlet" -- the Japanese equivalent of "from sea to shining sea") twice in the space of 70 seconds. When a reporter from the Abe-hostile Tokyo Shimbun started out the Q&A with two simple questions about voter turnout and the schedule for the compilation of next year's budget (the latter being delayed due to the dissolution of the Diet and the election), Abe first feigned being flustered at being asked "so many questions" (Two is "so many"?) ignored them both, repeated the contents of his opening statement, and stared blankly, pretending he had answered either one.

Had Abe been facing a room of real reporters rather than the powder puff tossers of the Sankei Shinbun, Fuji Television and NHK, we might today be talking about Abe Shinzo's press conference meltdown. As it is, the video, available on the LDP's YouTube channel, features a far-from-impressive performance by the PM. (Link - YouTube video J)

This is the guy whose party won 291 out of 475 seats in Sunday's election, with his ruling coalition retained its supermajority in the House of Representatives at 326 seats? Whose main opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan only gained 11 seats during the middle of a terrible recession, and whose leader lost his district race so badly he could not return to the Diet via the proportional list zombie route?


The LDP won on Sunday. The Komeito won on Sunday.

Abe Shinzo lost.

How is this possible?

Missed Expectations -

When a corporation fails to hit the consensus earnings-per-share, its stock price tumbles. The company might post really great numbers. Nevertheless, by not meeting expectations, its performance is deemed a failure.

Advance polling by both the major news organizations and the political parties projected the LDP would win over 300 seats. However, the party finished election night with 291, fewer seats even than the party held in the last Diet.

Early on Abe and the leaders of the coalition had tried to talk down the victory line in this election. However, by the beginning of last week 300 seats became the new normal (the initial high Kyodo projections so depressed the editors of the Tokyo Shimbun, one of Kyodo's owners, that the paper did not print the results on its front page).

As the party leader who called the election, then failed to lead his party to its projected victory, Abe Shinzo lost.

Beating Kaieda Banri -

Abe Shinzo and the rest of the Cabinet conducted themselves with utter gracelessness in the last days of the campaign, traveling to the home districts of the leaders of the opposition, as if they were seeking to not just beat the opposition but decapitate and humiliate it. Abe and Finance Minister Aso Taro indeed finished their campaigns in a boisterous rally in Akihabara for Tokyo District #1 candidate Yamada Miki.

District #1 is of course DPJ leader Kaieda Banri's district.

These "grind their faces into the dirt" tactics have boomeranged. Not only did Kaieda again lose in his district, Yamada beat him by such a large margin that he could not be resurrected on the proportional list. Out of the Diet, Kaieda is out as leader.

Unfortunately for Abe Shinzo, Kaieda Banri was the number one reason why voters would not vote and candidates would not run for the DPJ. In driving him out of the leadership position, which he would have clung to in loud desperation had he been revived as a PR zombie, Abe has kicked out of office his best ally in terms of keeping the DPJ down and the LDP in power.

So Abe lost.

Voter Turnout -

Abe Shinzo won the premiership a second time in what had been up that point the most dispiriting election in a generation, with voter turnout at its lowest ever.

After two years of Abe Shinzo's leadership, the public is even more demoralized, with turnout falling by 7% over 2012's historic low. The first victory was deemed shabby at 59% turnout. Victory at 52% is shabbier still.

Sure, the LDP finished with a million more votes nationwide in the proportional balloting than in 2012. However that gain of 1 million was out of nearly 5.8 million liberated by the breakups of the Japan Restoration Party and the Your Party.

When you pick up only 15% of what was available, you are not a winner.

So Abe lost.

Destruction of the Right Wing -

The hard right Party for the Next Generations, led by Abe Shinzo Best Friend Forever Hiranuma Takeo and Ishihara Shintaro, evaporated, going from 20 to 2 seats. The Your Party, a libertarian, pro-business, anti-bureaucracy party that won 5 million votes in 2012 (just TWO YEARS AGO) did not even survive to contest the election, its founder and Abe Shinzo Best Friend Forever Watanabe Yoshimi going down to defeat in a seat his family had held continuously for 50 years.

In this final agony of his friends to the right, Abe has lost the ability to threaten the Komeito with a new hawk-hawk (or hawk-hawk-hawk) coalition replacing the current hawk-dove, LDP-Komeito coalition. He has also lost useful militants who could ask revisionist history and war responsibility questions, with Abe and his government being able further their own revisionist agendas without taking any responsibility for events ("Look, it's not us. We were just answering questions coming from the opposition!")

So Abe lost.

Empowerment of the Pacifists -

Three parties could walk away from Sunday's elections with their heads held high. The first was the Japan Innovation Party, which clawed and scratched its way to a respectable loss of single seat when the party had been projected to lose over 10.

The two parties who gained seats, and in a big way, were the Komeito and the Communists.

The Komeito, by picking up seats when the LDP lost them, has increased its marginal leverage in negotiations with its coalition partner. The Komeito already made it presence felt in the confused, cramped and unpopular July 1 Cabinet Decision reversing the government's stance as to the unconstitutionality of the exercise of collective self-defense. It is certain that as the focus of the nation's attention shifts to the 15 or so Basic Laws that have to be revised to implement the July 1 Cabinet Decision, the Komeito will make use of this increased leverage so that the policy choices more closely reflect the concerns of the Komeito base.

As for the performance of the JCP, it was off the charts. The JCP not only managed to land a district seat -- an outcome supposedly rendered impossible by the 1993 adoption of single member districts -- but the JCP now has more than the 20 seat minimum necessary for a party's being able to introduce bills to the Diet.

The pacifist Left has been empowered, both in and out of government.

So Abe lost.

Anyone thinks that with the Komeito murmuring louder and the JCP screaming, figuratively, Mr. Abe is going to take his party's victory in Sunday's election to go on and do anything more than pay lip service to more patriotic education, greater Self Defense Forces activity abroad and revision of the Constitution's Article 9 -- as he does in the above linked video -- then that person is in need of a seriousness transplant.

Because, on Sunday, Abe lost.

And he knows it.

Later - Notice I did not say anything about the LDP's getting wiped out in Okinawa...

Later still- This post has been edited to remove typographical and style errors.

Even later still - Tobias Harris, looking at the same facts and coming to the same conclusions, checks in with a brilliant, comprehensive essay for Foreign Policy. (Link)

I heartily agree with his contention that Abe has taken his biggest blunderbuss and shot it, leaving him little with which to discipline his allies and cow his enemies.

Screenshot courtesy: LDP YouTube Channel

The Breakdown Of The Single Member District Vote Totals

Here are the single member district vote totals, nationwide, for the 14 December 2014 House of Representatives election.

Click on image to open in a new window.

Taking a rough view from the difference between the single member district and the proportional voting, Komeito voters provided over 6.5 million votes of the 7.8 million vote difference in between the LDP's SMD vote and its PR vote. Roughly speaking, Komeito voters provided 1/4 of all votes received by LDP candidates in the districts.

Anyone want to venture a new guess when the LDP/Komeito divorce will take place?

Notable is the number of SMD votes for Japan Communist Party candidates, with a nearly a million vote difference in between the SMD and the PR numbers. When the Communists were the only opposition or the other choices were an unattractive mainstream opposition candidate and an LDP candidate, Communist candidates received the protest vote.

Then again, in 2012, the JCP received over a million of these protest votes, in an election where the voters had many, many more choices.

The Breakdown Of The Party Proportional Vote

Here is the breakdown of the party proportional vote in Sunday's House of Representatives election, national totals.

Click on image to open in a new window.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and the LDP have been proudly noting that the party received over 1 million more votes than it did in the victory of 2012, when it received 16,624,457 votes.

As for the oppostion parties, the DPJ raised its total by 140,000 votes, having received 9,628,653 in the 2012 election. The Japan Restoration Party and the Your Party together received a total of 17,507,814 votes in 2012. In 2014, the remnants of these two parties, the JIP and NexGen, received a total of 9,797,618 votes.

Who really get to crow, though? The Japan Communist Party. It received nearly 2.4 million more votes than it did in December 2012, a two year increase of 64%.

Later - An earlier version of this post stated that the increase of the JCP proportional vote was 62%. Sorry.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Very Kind Of Them #38 - Special Pre-Election Edition

Were I to indulge in sincerely grateful hyperbole, I would say that I'm speechless, Justin McCurry. (Link)

But I have a voice, and my limited self-knowledge compels me to shout, "No, no. I actually know very, very little. If I know any one of great value, it is to keep up with what the hard-working, smart folks are writing."

If you want to know about Japan as it is, right now, on the eve of The Election Proving Nothing, find the latest writing by:

T.B., The Economist

Aurelia Mulgan George, various publications (for example)

Yuka Hayashi, The Wall Street Journal

Eric Johnston, The Japan Times

Yuri Kageyama, The Japan Times

Elaine Lies, Reuters

Ben McClanahan, Financial Times

D.M., The Economist

Jacob Schlesinger, The Wall Street Journal

Toko Sekiguchi, The Wall Street Journal

Linda Sieg, Reuters

Jonathan Soble, The New York Times

Corey Wallace, various publications (for example)

and this is just the start, not even beginning on the freelancers, and only in English.

Thanks be for all of you, for all that you have been doing, all this time.

That Is The Way It Is Sometimes: Readings For The December 2014 Election

While the December 2014 House of Representatives elections has been demoralizing on most fronts -- "Political system designed to deliver a victory for the Liberal Democratic Party against an organized, impassioned and popular opposition delivers a landslide LDP victory against a disorganized, lackluster and infuriating opposition: Surprise!" -- the election has stimulated Japan observers to produce some of the best writing we have seen on Japanese elections in recent memory -- perhaps ever.

Just the last few days, we have been privileged with:

- Sheila Smith's magisterial overview of the issues and ideas going into the campaign

"Electoral Landslide With an Ambiguous Mandate"

- Tobias Harris' typically polite and sympathetic look at the limits of Abe Shinzo, the political animal

"The Reactionary Visionary"

- Colin P. Jones's angry, and at times inaccurate, but nevertheless inspired rant against the election's being held

"Electoral dysfunction leaves Japan’s voters feeling impotent"

which stimulated a readable crib from the usually enervating William Pesek illustrating, in more modern but still not contemporary terms the seeming pointless of voting (Link)

- the mysterious plotted//grundriss' black, black, black assessment of Abe's dissolution as stroke of genius

"genius electioneering"

The post ends curiously with the optimist belief that this election will liberate Abe Shinzo, the reformer.

T'is is a hopeful view that I do not share.

What have I missed? Please let me know.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sometimes...I Can Feel Them

I used to, in private, characterize Prime Minister Abe Shinzo as Japan's George W. Bush: a silver spoon in mouth grandson of privilege elevated to the premiership despite a lack of fundamental appreciation of much but overflowing with a bristling resentment worthy of a rain-soaked porcupine. Certainly his first stint in office was Bush-like, albeit conducted at seven times George W. Bush speed.

The returned Abe Shinzo, transformed by a stint in the political wilderness, is a rather different creature. In his uncharacteristic liberalism in policy after winning a victory over a wounded opposition, and flapping and crass conduct of an election destined to end in a landslide, the U.S. president Abe is emulating now seems to be not Bush fils but rather Richard Milhous Nixon.

Which may explain the odd Pauline Kael Phenomenon we are seeing: huge, crushing poll numbers but little direct anecdotal evidence of anyone rooting for the PM or his party -- outside the former domain of Choshu, possibly.

- Polls show LDP headed for landslide win despite lack of voter enthusiasm

-- Little Enthusiasm, But Plenty of Support, for Abe

- Japan Voters Ready An Unenthusiastic Yes to PM Abe

- Grudgingly, Japanese Voters Look to Stick With Abe

All of which, on this Friday, has considering the "Whoa Mama" response of a certain Robert Allen Zimmerman. (Link - Audio)

Es War Sehr Nett Von Ihm , Dies Zu Tun #37

Writing on Sunday's election for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Patrick Zoll quotes me on what is the killer for the hopes of the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Innovation Party -- the crushing effect low voter turnout has upon their potentiatl electoral performances. (Link - D)

If there were some indication of increased voter interst -- like dramatically higher number of voters using the absentee ballot option -- there would be grounds for imagining a surprise rally to the flags of the premium opposition parties (that is not an actual technical term, I am just testing driving an adjective).

Danke, Herr Zoll.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Very Kind Of Them #36

Michael Penn kindly quotes me regarding the government's likely attitude toward the incoming Onaga Takeshi Administration in Okinawa Prefecture. (Link)

The treatment received by the Okinawa Prefectural government is likely to be all the more ferrous and chilly if all four Liberal Democratic Party candidates go down to defeat in Sunday's House of Representatives election. (Link - J)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Very Kind Of Them #35

David Pilling delivers a huge thumbs up to the post of December 6. (Link

Best not tell Professor Noah Smith of Stonybrook. He asked over Twitter what alternatives Japan had. I told him Abenomics done in an integrated way.

As for the article, I disagree with Professor Gerald Curtis (see him at the FCCJ on December 15) who says the two party system has fallen apart. I see a great deal of hope down the line, in two years' to three year's time.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Why It Is Over But For The Tears And The Resignations

An election in two graphs and a screenshot.


Turnout for House of Representatives elections, 1996 - 2014

Public opinion polls this year are finding the lowest voter interest results ever recorded.


Number of voters in district races (in millions) and number of seats

a) Yes, that's right. In between 2009 and 2012, 10 million voters, one tenth of the electorate, just gave up. Guess how many more will give up this time.

b) Yes, that's right. The LDP won 227 district races in 2012 with 1.7 million fewer votes than it received in 2009, when it won only 64 district seats.

Highlights why redrawing the district boundaries, equalizing the populations inside the districts, and turnout are such big deals doesn't it?

TABLE - from NHK evening news of 2014.12.08

Which party do you support?

LDP 38.1%
DPJ 11.7%
JIP 3.7%
Komeito 5.9%
NexGen 0.1%
Communists 4.3%
People's Life 0.3%
Socialists 0.9%
No party in particular 26.3%

In 2012, final pre-vote support percentages for the LDP and the DPJ were 26.6% and 16.6%, respectively.

With the opposition contesting in too few districts, there is nothing that can stop the LDP from stomping to victory...and with the new, higher numbers for the Komeito, the coalition looks even more fearsome.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

There Is Only One Reason

Give me one reason to stay here
And I'll turn right back around.

- Tracy Chapman, "Give Me One Reason" (1995)

There is only one reason why Abe Shinzo and the LDP have plastered the phrase

景気回復、この道しかない = "To Economic Recovery、 This is the One and Only Way"


In luminous, uplifting fashion

in dark, ominous fashion

in omnipresent fashion fashion

and that is for the same reason anything would have to be repeated, over and over again.

Because it's not true.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Het Was Erg Aardig Van Hem Om Dit Te Doen #34

Daniel Leussink of Het Financieele Dagblad and I had a conversation recently. An excerpt of some of what I said, translated into the Dutch, can be found here:

I wish I could say that I am the original author of the metaphor that the first two arrows of the Three Arrows of Abenomics were anesthetic for the Japanese economy, administered in advance of the surgery of the third arrow, structural reform. I think the first person to suggest this metaphor was Richard Katz of The Oriental Economist.

Coming Up At Temple University Japan - ICAS In December: Sracic and Okumura

I cannot attend but I hope you can what is likely to be a no-holds barred intellectual tussle between two sophisticated veterans. Paul Sracic and Okumura Jun will tangle this month at Temple University Japan - ICAS over a deceptively simple-looking and very much hush-hush question: if push comes to shove in the East China Sea, would the United States really go to war with China over the Senkakus?

The pair have already gone through a couple rounds of sparring over at The Diplomat:

- Will the U.S. Really Defend Japan?

- Yes, the U.S. Will Defend Japan

- Will the U.S. Defend Japan? More of a Definite Maybe

I would love to see the pair in live action...but I will be otherwise occupied that eve.

If you wish to attend, make sure to find out whether the event is being held at the Azabu Campus or the Mita Campus. A long trudge awaits you if you show up at the wrong venue.

To RSVP for the event, email ICAS at:

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Where Is The Normality?

There are something funny things going on in terms of these mega polls supporting projections of a massive LDP victory on December 14*

1) The Yomiuri and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun both are basing their reporting on a survey with 120,000 voters called, 80,000 responses, and a 64% response rate.

Oddly identical numbers.


2) The survey the Yomiuri used found 42% of respondents Support the Abe Cabinet and 39% Do Not Support the Cabinet. In the Yomiuri survey done three weeks ago, 55% of voters contact said they Support the Cabinet, and 36% said they Do Not Support.

Should we be talking about momentum (勢い) in our headlines so much, ladies and gentlemen of the press?


3) The Kyodo News is saying it polled 150,000 households and received 120,000 responses, a response rate of 80% (polling organizations normally report a 55%~65% rate of response).

Double hmmmm...

I do not doubt that if all these different polls are showing a distribution of voting patterns ending up at the 300+ seat figure for the Liberal Democratic Party that there is a significant likelihood of the party winning that many seat.

I would like to wait until next week, when The Asahi Shimbun at least promises to have snapshots of every one of the 295 district races by December 11.

Later - A few links related to the above:

Projections of an LDP landslide






Lack of enthusiasm for election (J)


Support for the Cabinet (J)


Come Lambaste, Taunt and Scoff

Sometime between now and Monday 8 December 2014 at 12:30 p.m. I will have to get my act together. Because...

Professional Luncheon: "After the Election – What Happens Next?" by Cucek & Toshikawa

Monday, December 08, 2014, 12:30 - 14:30

Michael Thomas Cucek, Adjunct Fellow, Temple University Japan, ICAS

Takao Toshikawa, Editor in Chief of Insideline and Tokyo Bureau Chief of the Oriental Economist

Language: The speech and Q & A will be in English and Japanese with English interpretation.

"After the Election – What Happens Next?"

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's surprise decision to call a snap general election has succeeded in at least one of its aims – it has caught Japan's divided political opposition on the hop. Abe is betting that he can persuade voters to return him to power with a stronger mandate, despite the fact that the country is technically in recession.

His conservative government wants to cut corporate taxes, boost defense and reduce Japan's huge public debt by raising the sales tax by two percent next year. He launched his cabinet in late 2012 with a three-pronged plan of fiscal expansion, loose money and economic reforms – known as "Abenomics." His opponents say the plan is dead. Abe says he is only getting started.

Will Abe's gamble pay off, and what can we expect after the election? As always at the FCCJ, we have invited some of Tokyo's best political thinkers to explain the likely outcome of the election. Michael Thomas Cucek runs the highly respected political blog Shisaku, a must-read for anyone interested in the machinations of Kasumigaseki. He is also an adjunct fellow of Temple University Japan, ICAS.

Toshikawa is a founder and editor-in-chief of Tokyo Insideline, a bi-weekly publication. One of the most astute and well-informed observers of Japanese politics, he is a well-known figure through his reporting and frequent TV appearances. His books include "Kasumigaseki; The Secret of MOF Power," "Japan-U.S. Power Line," and "Power Game Nagata-cho."

For The LDP And Mr. Abe, A Worst Case Scenario

Sometime early next week, or perhaps sooner, the major news organizations will be presenting their most likely outcomes of the 14 December 2014 House of Representatives elections. These outlooks will be based on reporting and polling from the prefectural and regional bureaus, combined with sophisticated analysis of past voting records and a jaundiced view toward voter turnout, which, if one goes by the traditional indicator questions of "How much interest do you have in the upcoming election?" and "How definite is your wish to go to the polls on election day?" is on course for a historical and possibly delegitimizing low.

However, let us assume, for argument's sake, turnout is closer to historical norms, i.e., greater than 59%. And let us assume, and this would not be for argument's sake but simply because it can be inferred, that every additional voter showing up will be voting against the Liberal Democratic Party, both in the district and the proportional vote, save in the districts where the choice is between an LDP candidate and a Japan Communist Party (JCP) candidate.

What happens?

I took a look on Monday at the projected list of candidates in all 295 districts. Based upon that list and small set of rules-of-thumb, I tried to arrive at an estimate of the worst possible reasonably plausible result for the ruling LDP/Komeito coalition.

My rules-of-thumb for the districts were:

- When an LDP candidate and a Democratic Party of Japan candidate with an equal number of elections to the Diet face off in a district, the LDP candidate wins.

- When an LDP candidate faces off against a DPJ or a Japan Innovation Party candidate with a higher number of elections to the Diet, the opposition candidate wins.

- When and LDP candidate faces off against a DPJ candidate and a candidate from the JIP, and neither the DPJ nor the JIP candidate has two or more elections to the Diet than the LDP member, the LDP candidate wins. If either the DPJ or the JIP candidate has two more elections to the Diet than the LDP candidate, an opposition candidate wins.

- If an LDP candidate faces off against a DPJ candidate or a JIP candidate of any status, and a Party of the Future Generations candidate is also in the running, the LDP candidate loses.

- The Komeito wins all 9 of its district electoral contests.

- Veteran candidates with more than 7 elections to the Diet win their districts, irrespective of party allegiance.

In the proportional seats I took the median values of the "likely to vote for in the proportional half of the ballot" question answers found in the Mainichi Shimbun and Kyoto News polls, and apportioned the 180 proportional seats accordingly. This left a huge clot of seats with no party assignation, as the voters in the surveys were undecided or had no opinion. Based upon the Theory of Wild Guesses, I apportioned the proportional votes of these undecided/uncaring voters according to the following pattern:

3 for the LDP
2 for the DPJ
1 for the JIP
1 for the Communists
1 for the Komeito
0.2 for the Democratic Socialist Party (Socialists)
0.2 for the People's Life Party (Life)
0.2 for the Party for Future Generations (PFG)

After applying the above rules, and a fudge factor consisting of just being mean to a handful of candidates whom I find unattractive ("There is no way you are going to win again, you rodent!") I ended up with the following "if everything goes right for the DPJ and everything goes wrong for the LDP" election outcome:

Pretty wild results, admittedly.

- The LDP loses only 48 seats -- remember this is a worst case scenario -- and with their Komeito allies finish 9 seats above the crucial 266 seat "absolute safety" line where the coalition possess both all the chairs of Diet committees and a greater than 50% majority in all the committees -- meaning that any and all coalition-sponsored legislation passes out of committee without incident.

- The DPJ hits its goal of three figures with plenty to spare.

- The Communists nearly triple their representation. Yikes.

- The JIP, despite having two dynamic leaders in Eda Kenji and Hashimoto Toru, gets mauled.

This is just a first approximation. Probably a lot more independents with local followings will get through (the drop in the independents number looks suspect). Remember also this is assuming that a lot more folks vote than the major news organizations currently think are likely to show up at the polls.

More later.

Later - The major news organizations have checked in with their projections, based upon their internal numbers...and they are saying the coalition ends up with greater than 300 seats.

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Link -J)

The Asahi Shimbun (Link -J)

Interestingly, or perhaps not, they find the same surge for the Communists I noted in my above "worst case for the LDP" scenario.

Denny Roy Being Helpful on Chinese Intentions

A question one hears with increasing frequency in foreign affairs discussions is an exasperated "What do the Chinese think they are doing?" I confess to having asked the question, and not facetiously either, more than a few times.

Denny Roy of the East-West Center has just produced a startlingly brief (just over 1000 words) essay offering the answers (plural) to the above question. A mere double handful of national goals seem to circumscribe and propel Chinese diplomatic and security behaviors.

I take issue with the assertion at the beginning of the concluding paragraph ("Most Chinese do not now aspire to superpower status"? Ah non, non, no, au contraire, mon ami, they really do aspire to it) but I most certainly will keep the essay nearby (figuratively speaking) to consult whenever the Beijing regime's actions and reactions befuddle me.

Recommended reading. (Link)

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Oh You Have Got To Be Kidding Me

Politics is such a glamorous profession...
Half the people are stoned
And the other half are waiting for the next election.
Half the people are drowned
And the other half are swimming in the wrong direction.

- Paul Simon, for Leonard Bernstein's MASS (1971)

Hey everybody!

Remember way, way back, you know, like a month ago, when folks used to think Prime Minister Abe Shinzo should wait until the December revision of the third quarter GDP figures came out before he made a final decision on whether or not to approve the second rise in the consumption tax? If you cannot remember, this was back before the November 3 Shukan Bunshun article revealed Abe's and Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide's tumescent desires for an election (that's with an "l") and the whole world's going nuts over the November 17 preliminary release showing a 1.3% decline over the previous quarter, making Prime Minister Abe's announcement of a Diet dissolution in the evening on November 18 almost an afterthought.

Japan's third-quarter recession seen milder than feared as capex grows

TOKYO - Japan's fall into recession between July-September could turn out to be less severe than feared, with new capital expenditure figures out on Monday suggesting revisions will put the third quarter in a slightly more positive light.

The 5.5 percent year-on-year rise in capital expenditure over the third quarter reported on Monday followed a 3.0 percent annual increase in April-June, which could ease concerns about recovery from a sales tax increase earlier this year.

"The revised data will show a smaller contraction in GDP that could be close to zero," said Hiroaki Muto, senior economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management Co...
If the revised GDP figure for the third quarter turns out to be close to zero, meaning that all this panicked action was for nothing, then there will be hell to pay. If anything is going to tick off Japanese voters it is a Diet dissolution and an election for absolutely no reason.

And for folks like the urbane, serious and admirable House of Representatives member Kono Taro (LDP, 6 elections to the Diet) who has been posting hilarious and sad photos of his bedraggled, lonely self campaigning in the cold late autumn rains (the above photo is from yesterday) learning that this was all for nothing will make future relations with Abe and his confidants a bit...testy, shall we say?

Photo image courtesy: Kono Taro's Twitter feed (

Monday, December 01, 2014

Looking At The Election With The Glass Half Full

True to its Watanabe Tsuneo-set mandate of being the Liberal Democratic Party's house organ, The Yomiuri Shimbun paints a picture of opposition parties in a hopeless, riven position requiring desperate actions on the eve of Tuesday's official start of the campaign:
Poll prompts opposition to eye merger
TheYomiuri Shimbun

Movements to restructure and consolidate opposition parties will likely intensify after the upcoming House of Representatives elections, as the Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition party, has decided not to seek a change of government in the elections for the first time since its inauguration, observers said.

DPJ Secretary General Yukio Edano told the press in Osaka on Saturday that his party will not seek a change of government at the upcoming lower house election.

"We would like to win sufficient seats this time so that voters will consider our party a possibility for government at the next election," Edano said.

DPJ leader Banri Kaieda also told the press on the same day, "We will try to increase the number [of our seats] to bring a feeling of tension to the Diet." Kaieda apparently meant that the DPJ would virtually concede the continuation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration and seek a chance to return to power at another lower house election in the future.

It is the first time since the DPJ's inauguration — in 1998, with the merger of the former DPJ, the Good Governance Party and others — that it has not sought a "change of government" as its goal in lower house elections.

As of Saturday, the DPJ had fielded only 178 candidates for the upcoming elections, far fewer than the 238 required to claim a majority in the 475-seat lower house. Its final number of candidates is expected to be about 200, including those in the proportional representation section. Even if all of them were elected, the DPJ would not be able to form a single-party administration.

In the 1993 lower house elections, the Japanese Socialist Party, which was the main opposition party at that time, the Japan Renewal Party — a breakaway group from the LDP — and the others fought, calling for formation of a government with other parties opposed to the LDP and the Japanese Communist Party. Consequently, the government of Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa was formed after the elections under eight non-LDP political parties and groups.

However, the upcoming elections are unconventional compared to those of the past. They lack the option of a government based on cooperation among non-LDP parties since the DPJ this time has not revealed a plan to form a coalition government with the Japan Innovation Party or other opposition parties.

Meanwhile, the Japan Innovation Party had fielded only 81 candidates as of Saturday.

Phantom new party

Alarmed by Abe's lower house dissolution for a snap election, members of the opposition parties have come up with the idea of unifying non-LDP forces to create a new party.

Former DPJ leader Seiji Maehara secretly met Japan Innovation Party coleader Toru Hashimoto in Osaka on Nov. 15 to propose a plan to form a new party.

"Let's form a new party with the DPJ, the Japan Innovation Party and Your Party," Maehara was quoted as telling Hashimoto. "That will enable the opposition to win more seats than the ruling coalition parties at the next House of Councillors election to create a divided Diet."

Both Maehara and Hashimoto are considered advocates for reorganization of the opposition parties, and are sufficiently close as to hold frequent meetings with one another...


OK, first of all, the silly stuff. "The opposition" is not eyeing a merger, Maehara Seiji is. Maehara, Amaterasu bless him, cannot get through breakfast without thinking of establishing a new, streamlined, conservative breakaway opposition government party with like-minded elements of other parties. He just never gives up on this kind of transparent, pathetic machination. He is the dog who will not stop bringing you a stick for you to throw even after you close the front door on him.

As for not having a "change in government" as the Democratic Part of Japan's goal -- what is wrong with having realistic goals? If you do not have enough candidates running to form a government and have had no negotiations with other parties on forming a coalition , would not setting a goal of a change in government be an invitation for anti-opposition figures like, oh let's say, the editors of The Yomiuri Shimbun, to accuse the DPJ of attempting to defraud the voters, enticing them with a promise the party cannot, in fact, deliver upon?

Talk about damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Furthermore, the analysis at the beginning is backward. Restructuring and consolidation will not take place after the election is over. The period of restructuring and consolidation is now, in the run up to tomorrow's opening of the campaign. An impending election has forced parties and individuals to decide whether to stay put, move in another direction or get out of the game entirely. Once the election is over, the pressure for change will be off, and off for a long time.

As for the tone and structure of the article, which posits simultaneous states of panic and resignation in the opposition, well, the nicest way to dismiss this depiction is say, "Amaterasu, this was sooooo two weeks ago! It's December 1 baby! Think of how much more the opposition will get its act together over the next two weeks!"

For the opposition has gotten it's act together after the inevitability of a Diet dissolution sank in over the second week of November. The DPJ has 177 candidates for the districts, up from 149 two weeks ago. The Japan Innovation Party has 81 candidates, up from 49 two weeks ago. There is some overlap in the candidacies -- the two parties will both be fielding candidates in 22 districts. However, that number is down from over 40 overlaps only two weeks ago.

Furthermore, fielding candidates in 236 out of a total 295 single-member districts is hardly running up a white flag of surrender. About 20% of the districts, mostly in Kyushu and the Chugoku regions of western Japan and the prefectures along the Japan Sea in eastern Japan, are so hopelessly dominated by Liberal Democratic Party machines that putting up candidates in them would be a waste of human and financial resources. Better to marshall the resources one has to contest the truly competitive districts, leaving the LDP strongholds alone.

The Yomiuri's account surreptitiously argues that the Abe administration and the LDP are invincible in this election. If one is talking about coming out on top numerically on December 14, this take is probably not wrong. However, to assume that Abe and Co. can come out this hastily arranged election with a strengthened capacity to govern and dominant position in Japan's political firmament is probably not right at all.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Never Get High On Your Own Supply Of Paranoia

"Who is the Prime Minister Fighting Against?"
"Prime Minister Abe has set off, lifting the banner of battle for his self-named 'Abenomics dissolution.' In two press conferences he has made reference to resistance forces -- but just who or what he is describing is unclear. Who is/are this/there enemy/enemies upon which he has fastened his gaze?"

There's no pretty way to say this: something has gone terribly awry in Abeland. (Link)

Let's talk image management here, shall we? If you really want to look so fearful as to be lashing out at butterflies with a sledgehammer, have your walking/talking id -- a.k.a., Hagiuda Ko'ichi -- write a letter to all the main commercial television networks asking/warning them they have to be fair, non-partisan and balanced (Fox News should sue) in their reporting on the election.

Or perhaps fulminate on Facebook that a college student's satire site is a part of an organized conspiracy against you. (Link - J)

While "certain elements of the media are congenitally against us" and "the misbehavior of some media outlets have severely wounded Japan" are standard applause lines of revisionist wingery, this latest outing by Team Abe is a saunter down a very dark, narrow and boggy path.

Lead editorials today in The Asahi Shimbun (no particular URL yet but try this) and the Tokyo Shimbun (Link - J) denounced the Hagiuda letter as a threat to press freedom. For the Asahi Shimbun, the threat is palpable: the Hagiuda letter alludes to the controversy over TV Asahi (The Asahi Shimbun is a main shareholder) reporting in the early 1990s that led members of the Liberal Democratic Party to threaten a revocation of TV Asahi's broadcast license.

As for the above picture with its semi-rhetorical questions pasted on it about where the prime minister thinks his enemies are, it comes from the Sankei Shimbun's online editorial section.


When not even the Sankei Shimbun, a publication which specializes in the identification of enemies, both real and imagined, can guess who you think your enemies are, Mr. Abe, you have a problem.

Then again, when aides quip that your best friends in international politics are Vladimir Putin and Taycip Erdogan and you carry out fond Twitter mutual affection fests with Narendra Modi (Link), perhaps you just don't care.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Live Blogging The FCCJ Press Conference Morishita Joji, Japan's Delegate To The IWCF

14:30 Nobody's home. Or almost nobody.

There is a reason, of course. The Foreign Press Center two days ago hosted a Morishita press conference. A lot of the foreign press went to that press conference. Today only 35% of the seats in this small room are occupied.

This is the second embarrassingly under-attended press conference I have been to this week. Wednesday's press conference of Eda Kenji on Wednesday, the urbane and erudite co-leader of the Japan Innovation Party, one of the only two significant non-Communist opposition parties, had rows of empty chairs in the working press -- despite our being in the midst of a crucial and increasingly combatative House of Representatives election campaign.

Then again, Morishita answers a length with a lot of victimization complaints, which can be a tremendous turn off.

He did answer my question on the scientific bases of the Revised Management Procedure (RMP) and a Minke harvest when the Minke are under pressure from larger Fin and Humpback. Seems to me that taking only animals from a population under pressure gives one a very skewed sense of the ecosystem's functioning.

Morishita is far more convincing, more accessible and more personable when he is discussing the possible scientific results from animal sampling. He should stay on arguing the science, exclusively. The "Us vs. Them" narrative simply irritates.

Later - Two observations

a) Morishita-san in his answers makes an unusual assumption: that their are folks who are interested in hearing how oppressive it is to not be liked.

b) that the under-attendance at both the Eda Kenji event and the Morishita event have a same cause: the sch Foreign Press Center's scheduling and promoting the first Morishita press conference two days earlier at the basically the same time as the FCCJ's Eda press conference.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Live Blogging The FCCJ Press Conference OF Tokyo Governor Masuzoe Yoichi

Note the empty chairs on both sides...

15:30 Introductory remarks, laughing, explaining what he has been doing in regards the Chinese poaching fo jewelry coral, and then it hits you - Holy crap Governor Masuzoe is holding his press conference in English WITHOUT A TRANSLATOR PRESENT. It is just the governor and David McNeill up there on the rostrum.

15:40 Reading from prepared remarks - and surprisingly, or not so, his English pronunciation is better when extemporizing or riffing on the prepared remarks than when he is reading.

OK, enough of the incredible bravery of the governor of Tokyo giving a press conference in what is his third language.

15:42 Brings up the possibility of regulations banning smoking in restaurants.

15:44 Talks about his visits to London and Moscow in city-to-city diplomacy. Great times with London's Boris.

15:45 Now the biggie - turning Tokyo into a more important financial center.

- one stop, English-language subsidiary registration for foreign cos

- more international schools, hospitals

Talks about the importance of foreign workers, notes the incredibly high percentage of foreign workers in London (real London envy/admiration from the git-go of this press conference)

15:48 Supplementary Tokyo assembly budget will subsidize Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to the tune of 1 million yen per vehicle. Tokyo will subsidize the building of 80 fueling stations.

15:52 Wild rhetorical flourishes to wind up the prepared remarks, calling the Olympics the last best way of reviving Japan.

15:56 Fireworks as a Japanese blogger (?) accuses the Governor of shady political financial declarations. Re of Masuzoe's eyes stand out as he cuts the questioner off, saying that all the questions on this subject have been answered at his Japanese press conference. Young man continues to try but Mazuzoe cuts him down. McNeill has to ask the young man to sit down.

16:00 Asked about 24 hour ATMs, asks questioner to consider the possibility of cashless, Internet banking. (In truth, probably in 6 year's time, we may be using cash a longtime).

16:06 Woman asking about the expansion of the size of the road expansion and whether it is not budget busting? (in Japanese)

Mazuzoe taks of a political leader is prioritization. If one does not create packages of policies, rather than an item here, an item there.

(Moderator should have the right to check the intentions of the questioners. Some folks show up just to complain...)

16:12 Casinos? Masuzoe does not say he is against them but he wants a deepened, national discussion.

16:14 The cost of the Olympics, materials and labor costs have indeed gone up.

As regards Fukushima, he receives no special information from the government. However, Tokyo will go from 6% renewables to 20% renewables in X years. Damn, how many was it.

16:25 Governor enthusiastically answers my question on Tokyo's responsibilities to share its good fortune and enrich the other prefectures as well. He argues that the relationship between Tokyo and the other prefectures must not be zero sum but instead win-win. His caveat is that Tokyo cannot be the only engine: Osaka, Fukuoka, Osaka must pull together with Tokyo (interesting implications for the shu-sized administrative unit plan, which would tend to divide the major cities and set them to competing with one another).

Very Kind Of Them #33

The day after Abe Shinzo made his announcements of

1) delaying the imposition of a 10% consumption tax until April 2017, and

2) his intention to dissolve the House of Representative and call an election

Mr. Steve Miller of Asia Now and I had a conversation on the roll up to the election and the possible aftermath. Mr. Miller recorded and edited our conversation and has posted it to the Web, illustrated with a great image of what must be the Tobu World Square model of the Diet Building:

I make one slip. I say at one point that the coalition controlled 66% of the seats in the House of Representatives. What I wanted to say was that the coalition had a greater than two-thirds majority (326 out of 480, just under 68%).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Where Things Could Go Right For The DPJ

Today's Nihon Keizai Shimbun makes a big deal about the Democratic Party of Japan's running 90 fewer district candidates in this year's election than in 2012 and about 100 fewer than the LDP is running. (Link - J)

Pretty stark numbers, underlining the seeming the failure of Japan's single member districts to do as foretold and give rise to a two major party system.

Well, maybe.

In 2012, in a record low turnout election, a demoralized DPJ had candidates running in 264 districts. In 227 of those districts, the DPJ candidate was running against both an LDP candidate and at least one other non-Communist major party candidate.

Fast forward to today.

The Your Party, 69 candidates in 2012, is no more. Two of its members just joined the DPJ last week. In 2012 the Your Party received 5.2 million proportional seat votes.

The Mirai Party, 121 candidaters in 2012 and 3.4 million proportional votes, is no more. Mirai's remnant, the Life Party, is down to five legislators after two defected to the DPJ last week. Life will be running 17 candidates in this election.

The Japan Restoration Party ran 172 candidates in 2012 and received 12.2 million proportional seat votes. Its two fission products, the Japan Innovation Party and the Party of the Next Generations, are running 73 and 34 candidates, respectively. In the most recent polls, support for the JIP stood at about half the support for the DPJ. NexGen polls at 0%.

In 2012, the DPJ basically fought the election with both hands tied behind its back, having to defend a legislative program that was not even its own. There were non-LDP, non-DPJ viable national alternatives.

Not this time.

This year is much more a two party race, with the JIP having to choose whether to play the role of regional champion or national nuisance. It is the LDP and Abe who are running on their records.

The road of course is bumpy. DPJ and JIP candidates are running against each other in 24 districts. The DPJ is running against another non-Communist party in 22 more districts. In total the DPJ is running against non-Communist opposition in 53 districts.

Last time I looked, 53 out of 173 is a better ratio than 227 out of 264.

Hence the crippling importance of believable, inspiring leadership. The numbers are there for the DPJ to mess up Abe Shinzo's December 14 plans. A flag carrier the voters could believe in would have a huge impact, driving turnout and moving the marginal voter to wish to punish the LDP and Abe for their broken wheel of good fortune.

Whatever happens, the 2014 election will result in a great winnowing of the parties. NexGen and Life will collapse into nothingness; the Socialists may join the pair in final, pathetic oblivion. JIP will lose many of its proportional seats.

What will remain is the ruling coalition's two parties, a revived DPJ, a pugnacious but rump JIP and the Communists.

Not quite a two party system, but lookin' more and more like one.

Later - Check out the intelligent points from A. Sutter in the comments.

Later still - The Mainichi Shimbun has checked in with its English-language version of the story. (Link)

Tweeting In All Directions - 25 November 2014 Edition

Tweets from the last 24 hours or so:

JPN Education Reform Watch - D. McNeill article on Shinto organizations shows the fastest route to moral power is through being certifiably nuts
So the father of the current Shinto Seiji Renmei chair was the chief priest at Yasukuni. I had no idea. Kind of undermines the excuse sampai apologists always toss out that Yasukuni is an independent religious corporation unconnected to the national management organizations for the shrines.

Trying this again - check out Rikki Kersten's sharp look at the Dec 14 JPN House of Reps election via @LowyInstitute
Puts the matter more succintly and acidly than anyone else so far
Japan Diplomacy Watch - I cannot wait to read actual texts of the query put to the Abe Cabinet and the Cabinet's reply on the non-agreement with China

Japanese voters see no way of expressing disastifaction with Abe gov't (J) but you knew that…

In Japan's one bastion of mildly violent feudal obesity, a Mongolian giant now shares record with a half-Ukranian giant

Japan Nuclear - Why must it take until next summer for LDP to proposed a best energy mix for the country? (J)

I actually watch the Nichiyo Toron debate described in the last link. I spent the whole time cringing at the responses from the various policy chairs. Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council Chair Inada Tomomi's tone, pitch and speed were so over the top that opposition panelists wavered between shaking their heads in amazement and breaking out in laughter. As her counterparts from the main opposition parties were men, however, they kept their reactions in check, not wishing to appear to be sexist pigs.

The following two articles have serious compositional problems, which is too bad as they are trying to introduce tough subjects in a balanced way:
JPN Labor Watch - terrible half-article on under-supervised foreign trainee program. Problems serious; article not

Fractured Ito Masami article on limits of Abe's Womenomics demonstrates difficulty of framing abstract with concrete
Dr. Mireya Solis writes a strong essay on two main competing free trade areas for the Asia-Pacific. The final attempt to rouse Americans from their torpor on the Trans Pacific Partnership seems misplaced, though: if China is interested in free trade and pushes its agenda in its region, where’s the negative? The U.S. should not have to be and should not be on the forefront of everything.
China flexes its muscles at APEC with the revival of FTAAP -

Monday, November 24, 2014

Catching Up, The Main Opposition

With one week to go before the fixing of the lists of candidates for the December 14 election, the Democratic Party of Japan has 173 district candidates, up from 149 a week ago. As of Friday the Japan Innovation Party had 72 district candidates, up from fewer than 50 a week ago.

It might be useful when looking at the relatively small number of candidates being fielded by the moderate and conservative opposition partie to remember these parties have no illusions about their seizing power. Since they cannot fight a broad, comprehensive battle, they are free to pursue a lily pad strategy. They can choose to fight only for strategic districts or districts where they have institutional advantages, leaving the hopeless, primarily rural LDP baronies of the west and southwest for the LDP incumbents who, for the most part, will be far greater irritants for Abe Shinzo in his reform efforts than any opposition representative could be.

In other words, the DPJ/JIP can do serious damage to the pretensions of the current leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party/Komeito by

1) not seeking a win but only the prevention of the ruling coalition from achieving its victory numbers, or

2) just relieving the reformist elements of the LDP of their seats.

As for the DPJ, believers should be taking heart that candidates are coming out of the woodwork to run under the party's flag. In addition to the inception of two members of the defunct Your Party and two members from the Life Party, including that party's secretary-general, word has come that Suzuki Takako, the sole candidate of Hokkaido regional party New Party Daichi and daughter of the party's notorious leader, former LDP pork king Suzuki Muneo, will be running as a DPJ-supported candidate in Hokkaido District #7. (Link)

The grand purpose of this coming election may be just one soft, fuzzy mass of guff. The ground war, however, is coming into focus.

Later - The ever sharp Okumura Jun sees very little standing between the ruling coalition at a >300 seat finish. (Link)

Photo image credit: MTC

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Abe Shinzo's Mock Test Election

Yesterday Prime Minister Abe Shinzo dissolved the Diet and called an election of the House of Representatives. Constitutionally, the Emperor dissolved the Diet upon receiving the request of the full Cabinet. Realistically, this was one man's decision, that man being Prime Minister Abe.

In his speech explaining his decision to dissolve the Diet to the members of his party, Mr. Abe insisted that the name of this Diet dissolution is "the Abenomics Dissolution" -- and that the election is a de facto referendum on his whole economic program:

"Will Abenomics go forward? Will it come to a complete stop? That is what this election is asking. Are our economic policies mistaken? Are they correct? Is there some other choice? That is what I wish to ask the voters."

(Link - J)

This statement is, of course, a concatenation of nonsense. The origins and evolution of Abe's decision to dissolve the Diet are known and they have little to do with putting to the voters a decision on the success or failure of the Three Arrows of Abenomics. (Link)

Abe's adamant attachment of a name to dissolution is not an idle exercise, however. First, it satisfies the cultural imperative for a label explaining the cause of the dissolution, differentiating the current dissolution from its predecessors. There has been a lively, mostly sarcastic, debate in the press and online over what this particular dissolution should be called. Candidates have included the "Life Extension Program Dissolution," the "'The Reason for Dissolution is Classified' Dissolution,"the "Moron's Dissolution" and "I've Got Personal Problems Dissolution."

Second, and more importantly, Abe has probably succeeded in focusing the purported debate in this election on his economic program. One has to say "purported" because there cannot be a real debate on Abenomics, not in the existing political environment.

If Abe wanted a real debate, he would want a real debating partner. However, none of the potential main opponents in this election -- the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japan Innovation Party or the Communists -- have the full set of weapons necessary to take the fight to Abe and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party/Komeito coalition. The DPJ has the national organization and the gravitas but has a terrible leader, no alternative economic program and an insufficient number of candidates running. The JIP has two good leaders in Hashimoto Toru and Eda Kenji and is a regional power but is still seen as a lightweight organization nationally. It also will be running too few candidates. The Communists have the candidates, the alternative plan and the national reach. No one could ever accuse them, however, of being seriousness in terms of policy.

Abe has furthermore stacked the deck in setting his pass/fail level in the number of seats at an absurdly low level. The ruling coalition had 326 of 480 seats in the just dissolved House of Representatives -- a greater than two-thirds majority. However, in his speech announcing his dissolution plan, Abe said he would consider the coalition's holding on to a majority in the new slimmed-down 475 member Diet -- i.e., 238 seats -- as his victory line.

The thought that a prime minister could voluntarily call an election, see 88 of his allies go down to defeat, then blithely go on about his business is absurd. The secretary-generals of the ruling parties, meeting after Abe's declaration, came up with a figure of 270 seats as the pass/fail line -- four more than the crucial 266 seats required to have dictatorial control over all the committees of the House of Representatives.

The chances of the ruling coalition losing 88 seats is unimaginable. That it will lose even 56 requires a vivid imagination.

What Abe, the ruling coalition and Abenomics are going to is not a real test. The test is on a fictional subject of the prime minister's choosing; it is (essentially) impossible to fail. In Japanese, this should be the 模擬試験解散 (mogi shiken kaisan): the Mock Test Dissolution.

I expect Abe-san to pass it.

Photo image credit: MTC

Friday, November 21, 2014

Looking At The Opinion Polls And The DPJ's Short To-Do List

It pains me to say it. It pains you to hear it.

Results from the first post-dissolution announcement public opinion polls are out. They are from Kyodo News, the newswire jointly owned by the nation's local newspapers -- which trends hard anti-Abe -- and The Asahi Shimbun, which despite the reputation of its editors being congenitally and irrationally anti-Abe, trends in the middle of the pack, at least in terms of its public polling results.

In the crucial "Which party will you vote for in the proportional part of the ballot?" the numbers are:

Kyodo News poll (11/19~20)

LDP 25.3%
DPJ 9.4%
Komeito 4.9%
Communist 4.2%
JIP 3.1%
Socialist 0.9%
Life 0.3%
Next Generations 0.1%
Other 0.2%

Undecided 44.4%
(Link - J)

The Asahi Shimbun (11/19~20)

LDP 37%
DPJ 13%
JIP 9%
Communist 6%
Komeito 4%
Socialist 1%
Life 0%
Next Generations 0%
Other parties 2%

Undecided 30%
(Link - J)

The results are pretty supportive of a comfortable LDP/Komeito victory in the election. Winning even only a third of the 180 proportional seats puts the coalition on course for well over the 266 they need for "total control" of the Diet, the number of seats where ruling coalitions members chair all committees and the ruling coalition enjoys 50%+1 member voting majorities in all committees.

For the Democratic Party of Japan, the numbers are unimpressive. In pre-2009 days, the DPJ typically received twice the percentage of the final vote as was indicated in pre-vote polling. Assuming that this trend reemerges, the DPJ still polls well behind the LDP -- which means while it may claw back some seats from its disastrous 2012 showing, they will not be taken from the ruling coalition. Instead they will be taken from the JIP, Life and Next Generation. The latter two parties, the remnant vanity projects of the two tired anachronisms Ishihara Shintaro and Ozawa Ichiro, will mercifully wink out of existence.

The large number of undecided voters and The Asahi Shimbun poll's head snapping first finding of a drop of Cabinet support below the non support number (Supporting the Abe Cabinet 39%; Not supporting the Abe Cabinet 40%) means the DPJ's chances of making Abe Shinzo and the LDP look like the losers of the election are not beyond reach. Indeed to claim the mantle of the credible opposition to the LDP, the DPJ would need to do only two things:

1) Stop party leader Kaieda Banri from speaking

Kaieda (pictured above) seems a nice, educated guy. However, and there is no kind way of putting this, he has a black tongue. Anything he talks about turns to dirt. Just hearing two sentences from him on matters of policy sends one scrambling for the mute button.

Demoralized DPJ members and conniving conservatives within the party lofted Kaieda into the leadership position for one purpose only: to resign in remorse after the party's pre-determined poor showing in the 2013 House of Councillors. In a testament to his political deafness Kaieda failed at failing, refusing to fall upon his sword at the appointed moment, insisting peculiarly that his having been elected leader means he is a leader.

If Kaieda remains the face and voice of the DPJ in this election, the party will fail to capitalize on the Abe administration's troubles.

2) Talk about the transfer of the nation's spending power

The DPJ cannot talk about the crushing of the economy from consumption tax rise because a DPJ government proposed and passed the legislation mandating the rise. The DPJ cannot dismiss Abenomics outright because it has no alternative plan other than managed, precipitous decline.

What the DPJ can and should do is ask Mr. Abe and the ruling coalition how, after having realized a huge transfer of wealth from the common citizens to the corporate sector* through the devaluation of the yen, the ruling coalition intends to get that money back.

[Many thanks to Corey Wallace (@CoreyJWallace) and Michael Penn (@ShingetsuNews) for the first reports on Twitter linking to the above opinion polls.]

* And not the whole corporate sector either. The Tokyo Shimbun reported yesterday in a front page story that in the mid-term reporting season of the 1381 companies listed in the Tokyo Stock Exchange First Section 50.5% of the profits declared came from the reporting of just 30 companies. Making matters worse, with all the help that Abenomics is supposed giving the corporates, 122 companies of the 1381 in the First Section booked losses.

Original image courtesy: Kobe Shimbun

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Very Kind Of Them #31 And #32

It was nice to have a long exchange with Elaine Kurtenbach on the dissolution and the delay in the consumption tax. It was even nicer that she found something in our interaction worth sharing. (Link

Rather humbling is it for this electronic scratch pad's having received the attention of Andy Sharp, who found my assigning Prime Minister Abe Shinzo an "A" for effort and content worthy of mention. (Link)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Kickstarting Abenomics: A Possible Scenario

Click on below image to open in a larger window.

Later - Oh, serendipitous coincidence. (Link - J)

Original photo image courtesy: Sankei Shimbun

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In Review- The Abe Announcements

All in all, Abe Shinzo just gave a pretty damn spirited and sound defense of his Cabinet's economic policies. Most importantly for the PM, in response to the idiotic "Abenomics has failed" argument, Abe went straight to the nub of the problem and asked his critics, rhetorically, "If not what I am doing, what is it that you would do?"

The first of the two weak points in the whole affair was when the PM reiterated his bogus proposition that the great failure of the Democratic Party of Japan was its having violated its campaign manifesto in voting for a rise in the consumption tax without doing as he is doing, dissolving the Diet and asking the people their opinion of the change of plans first. That the DPJ changed its plans due to its having been boxed in by decades of LDP profligacy and because it could not escape the accusation from the LDP of baramaki ("throwing money around") in its own attempts at stimulus...and that raising the consumption tax was one of the few legislative items it could push through both Houses of the Diet, specifically because it was AN LDP MANIFESTO PROMISE, the PM did not...shall we say, "make clear"?

The second weak moment was when the second questioner in the Q&A called him out on his bogus proposition regarding the DPJ and calling an election. The PM became testy and wasted a good 3-4 minutes explaining why his proposition was defensible.

My grade for Prime Minister Abe's performance: A

for both substance and effort.

I admit, a bias...but in a negative direction. After hearing what he said to the Japanese press in Brisbane and his attacks on Edana Yukio and the DPJ in the Diet I had very, very low expectations for tonight's press conference.

The Good, The Bad And The Whoa Where Did That Come From?

This've gone too far
This've gone too far
This've gone too far
I told you, I told you, I told you, I told you

- Peter Gabriel, "Digging in the Dirt" (1992)

Tomorrow night at Temple University Japan's Mita Campus, Glen Fukushima, the former head of Airbus Japan, will be offering his views on the Abe Cabinet. The original title of the talk was possibly not quite to the tastes of the Prime Minister's Residence: "How Washington Views Japan - The Good Abe and the Bad Abe." The latter half of the title no longer appears on official page announcing the talk. (Link)

T'is too bad because the Cabinet really has a Good Abe / Bad Abe problem...though it is probably not the one that Mr. Fukushima will speak/will have spoken about, the one which ticks off the South Koreans and bolsters the Beijing regime through Yasukuni sampai and undermining of the legitimacy of the Kono Statement.

The Good Abe reads his briefs, smiles when he speaks in English, firmly shakes the hands of world leaders and sits in the Diet, quiet as a mouse, until he gets up and says his piece. The Good Abe talks incessantly about the empowerment of women and tries to set an example in this regard. The Good Abe harangues his benefactors in the zaikai about the need to raise wages, a cry being taken up now by the Voice of Business, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. (Link)

The Bad Abe posts trash talk on his Facebook page, bounces out of his seat to spit out what he thinks is his right in the Diet and, when, faced with reporters, does not say, "Ladies and gentlemen, I know you need material but I have nothing intelligent to say" but instead tries to be clever.

The Bad Abe was on full display at his press availability in Brisbane, Australia, talking total tactical mendacity as regards vital issues. His complete nonsense on the Democratic Party of Japan's acceptance of the raising of the tax has roused even the ill and now mostly philosophical Haraguchi Kazuhiro (Link - J). His coy "I have not once said anything about dissolving the Diet" -- when he was is fully aware that back home the Diet and the ministries are in pre-campaign lockdown -- was unworthy of an adult human.

The Bad Abe is petulant, vindictive, adolescent and lacking in concern regarding the superficiality of his knowledge.

Abe supporters should hope when the man walks up to the microphone tonight to make the announcement of his plans as regards a Diet dissolution and a delay in the scheduled raising of the consumption tax, that Suga Yoshihide or someone Abe trusts has taken him aside prior and told him, "Abe-san, you do realize, this is for real?"

Monday, November 17, 2014

Abe Shinzo's Life Out Of Balance

You may recall that a few months back the Prime Minister's Residence release a video of Abenomics set to an amazing soundtrack. (Link)

You may be wondering whether the Kantei is offering a follow-up video, offering the popular view of Abenomics in the aftermath of today’s stellar third quarter preliminary GDP figures. (Link)

As far as anyone can tell, the Kantei has not...but I believe I have discovered a working copy of the rushes of the video on You Tube.

Now that leaks from the Kantei regarding Abe's desires for dissolution (Link) have pushed everyone into deep campaign mode, freezing all activity in the Diet and sending the opposition scurrying for policy and institutional union (Link) even as the PM is plaintively warbling, "But I have never said that I am going to dissolve the Diet!" (Link - J)the question arises:

"With the economy in recession, a loss in Okinawa (Link), reactors restarting, the Special Secrets Act going into force on December 10, the public still ticked off at the dodgy constitutionality of the July 1 announcement on collective self defense and the loss of marquee reform legislation (empowerment of women and labor mobility, for example) to the dissolution, what does Abe and Company think it will be telling the voters is the reason they should vote for the Liberal Democratic Party?"

To be sure, the Second Coming of the Abe Administration has been exemplary in trying to stay ahead of the curve, cutting off straying actions at the quick, avoiding a loss of momentum. Now, on the eve of an election without great purpose (大義) or causes to fight for (争点) being ahead of the curve seems to have put Abe and his people on the edge of a cliff.

What I Am Clicking On - Re The Economy On Monday, November 17

- Paul Krugman on the apparent decision to delay the October 2015 imposition of a 10% consumption tax rate ((Link). He clarifies that in a deflationary world, an independent monetary authority can be a curse.

- The Diplomat 's interview with Dr. Martin Schulz -- because one should see what the other side is arguing. (Link)

Yes, I too find off-putting Dr. Schulz's characterizations of those who are not with the program as being narrow-minded, short-term fixated and demanding of a large-scale story the media can mediate.

- Tobias Harris on the reality Abe Shinzo does not want to face -- that the greatest menaces to the success of Abenomics are the executives of Japan's corporations (a.k.a. his New Best Friends Forever) and their deflation-honed parsimonious ways (Link). Key here is the understanding that these are not evil individuals (well, some of them are, but for reasons other than parsimony). It is just that their accumulated virtues of thrift become the black hole into which the nation's generate surplus disappears, never to be seen again. The government of Japan has an obligation to yank some of the 300 trillion yen in inert savings back into the economy in the same way the government has an obligation to step in with increased spending when private consumption falters.

The all-important-until-last-week-when-the-Diet-dissolution-story-stomped-over-everything-else preliminary third quarter GDP figures are today. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is rushing back from the G20 in Brisbane, Australia to meet them.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Two Really Can Play At This Game

Seeking that majority in the House of Councillors...

In the background of the debate over the dissolution of the House of Representatives there has been the little matter of what happens to the Your Party. The basic operating assumption is that the Your Party, with its 0.0% support rate (according to the latest NHK public opinion poll) goes to annihilation in the snap election. Party leader Asao Ken'ichiro, even if he manages to retain his seat, is forced to resign as leader. Disgraced party founder Watanabe Yoshimi, who relinquished control of his pet project to Asao after being caught with his hand in the cookie jar to the tune of 800 million yen in loans from just one political benefactor, retakes control of the party and its precious 13 House of Councillors seats. Watanabe then goes to his very good friend Abe Shinzo and offers either to have Your Party join the ruling coalition or allow itself to join the LDP as the Watanabe Faction. Abe Shinzo graciously accepts whichever because the new political arrangement gives the LDP a majority in both Houses of the Diet -- WITHOUT THE KOMEITO.


Of course, all this skulduggery would come to naught if Asao could find a way to keep the Your Party from being captured by Watanabe and offered up as booty to Abe... like say, arranging for the Your Party to allow itself to be absorbed into the opposition Democratic Party of Japan prior to the House of Representative snap election. (Link - J video)


What fun...two really can play at this absorption game.

Very Kind Of Them #30

Steve Miller and I had a conversation the other day about the Autumn Festival Yasukuni sampai. Here is the podcast. (Link)

Since Secretary-General of the National Security Secretariat Yachi Shotaro managed to eke out a handshake and 25 minute meeting for Prime Minister Abe Shinzo with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing, surrendering not a thing in the process (Link) including even a vague pledge not to visit Yasukuni, my thinking is that the odds are now 50-50, rather than 100%, that Mr. Miller and I will be doing a follow-up podcast in late December.

Why only 50-50? Because after indulging his hot-blooded youthfulness (Link) in calling a snap election, Abe will have no late December doldrums to roust either himself or the revisionist partisans out of. And because Abe Shinzo probably appreciates one can tease and cheat the leaders of China only so much -- that there comes a point where their self-control will break and they will do something rash and most likely exceedlingly unpleasant.