Monday, July 12, 2004

And the near final** scores in the popular vote are in:

Party (Final tally) [My estimate a week ago]

DPJ (21,137,458) [22,200,000]
LDP (16,797,687) [16,000,000]
Komeitō (8,621,265) [8,300,000]
Communists (4,362,574) [4,500,000]
Socialists (2,990,665) [3,000,000]
Women’s (989,882) [800,000]
Green (903,775) [800,000]
Spoiled/Other** (128,478) [400,000]

**the elections committee has yet to released figures for spoiled ballots.

For the record, the final totals in terms of seats, both district and proportional:
DPJ 50
LDP 48
Komeitō 11
Independents 5

So what does it all mean?

1) This is pretty much a win-win-win outcome. The LDP missed its election target--but by only a few seats so Koizumi stays on. The slap on the wrist will not diminish Koizumi's verve but it should teach him to respect the Constitution a little bit more. The DPJ wins both the proportional vote and the contest for the total number of seats won. The close finish also positions both parties for a headbanger challenge match the next time a House of Representatives election is held.

2) Goodby Communists...Hello LDP: An increase of strategic voting among urban voters saved the LDP's bacon. In past elections, voters would vote for Communist district candidates just for spite. This time, urban voters opposed to the LDP voted for the DPJ candidates, letting the LDP slip back into the urban areas. The Communists, by contrast, lost every single one of their district seats. Now they are a proportional-seats-only party like the Socialists.

3) Strategic voting is pushing the development of a two party system...and vice versa. Every multi-seat district elected one LDP candidate and one DPJ candidate.

4) Anti-war voting is a wash. Many Japanese are opposed to Japan's involvement in Iraq and many more were ticked off by Koizumi's abrogation of Diet power in extending the Ground Self Defense Forces deployment last month. However, opposition to the Iraq deployment did not lead to increases in the share of the vote of the most emphatic anti-war parties, the Communists and the Socialists.

5) Score two for the Justice Ministry and the continuing survival of a shame culture. Convicted felons Muneo Suzuki and Hiromi Tsujimoto failed to win seats.

6) Democracy is alive and well: 56.6% of the population voted, down only a shade from the 58.8% who voted in the exciting 2001 House of Councillors contest. In 1998, the last time this particular bunch of candidates faced election, only 44.5% of the electorate bothered to vote.

7) Political economy counterfactoid: the DPJ is strongest is in prefectures where business and employment conditions have improved since 1993 while the LDP remains dominant where conditions have deteriorated significantly over the last decade. Sometimes it is not the economy, stupid.

[Actually it is the economy, stupid--in a twisted way. Pernicious structural wrongs needed to be righted. As measured by the ratio of jobs to job seekers, the collapse in employment opportunity has been strongest in Niigata, Shimane and Iwate prefectures...the political bases of Kakuei Tanaka, Noboru Takeshita and Ichiro Ozawa--the three warring kings of the Tanaka superfaction].

8) If the Communists were to do the decent thing and just fade away, the DPJ would be the ruling party right now. By sticking around, they keep the LDP in power. So in a sense Ralph Nader is not all alone in this world.

Finally, it is worth noting that Al-Qaeda did nothing to undermine or influence this election. Fears of a repeat of the Madrid attacks was great. It seems that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates either a) found it impossible to carry out operations in Japan, b) are under serious pressure in their base areas, or c) did not and do not give a hoot about Japan's participation in Iraqi reconstruction.

Whatever the answer, I score it:

Civilization 1
Forces of Ultimate Darkness 0

Friday, July 09, 2004

Please standby...

It is just moments before the plane carrying Robert Jenkins and his daughers arrives in Jakarta. Only Fuji Television and TBS are running all Hitomi Soga all the time. The other networks are broadcasting other programming. Either TBS and Fuji are hogging two of only three available satellite transponders (NHK always hogs a transponder--whether it is broadcasting anything or not) or the other networks do not think the story merits the expense and bother of uninterrupted coverage.
New expectations, now lower than ever...

This morning's paper has the latest desperate redefinition of non-defeat from the LDP anonymice. According to sources, Junichiro Koizumi will continue to serve as party leader and prime minister even if the LDP manages to win just 44 seats. LDP leader in the House of Councillors Mikio Aoki is also rapidly backing away from the line of "51 seats or bust" he drew only a week ago. “I am not the one who will be deciding whether or not we are in the post-Koizumi era,” he says.

The brighter minds within the LDP are discovering the main problem with setting up a line dividing victory from defeat: the LDP lacks a consensus Plan B candidate ready to step in should Koizumi be forced to commit political seppuku for failing to meet the party's performance goals. The main pretender to the post of party president and prime minister, Takeo Hiranuma, lacks the full backing of the party. Other candidates often mentioned as potential Koizumi successors--former chief cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda, former home affairs minister Tarō Aso and finance minister Sadakazu Tanigaki--are all either laboring under a cloud (Fukuda, who had to resign as chief cabinet minister because of his having been caught with his pants down in the pension non-payment scandal) or are too ridiculous to be taken seriously (Tanigaki, who is a sweet-natured flake. His status as one of the LDP's “leaders of tomorrow” never fails to amaze me). As for a new Cabinet, no one even has a clue even about the criteria the party might use to select a new lineup.

The lack of serious preparations for a post-Koizumi succession highlights one the LDP's campaign weaknesses: a too-brief roster of significant party luminaries. After Koizumi, Aoki, LDP secretary-general Shinzō Abe and minister for the environment Yuriko Koike (an Arabic-speaking former television news anchor), the party has few stars capable of whipping up any enthusiasm among the voters. The rest of the party is either too decrepit, too abrasive or too young to defend the party's record in a convincing fashion.

The stark contrast between the LDP's thin lineup at the top and the Democratic Party's deep bench of knowledgeable, telegenic leaders is no accident. It is not due to "bright policies attracting bright people" or whatever other nonsense activists might be peddling. The bright lights of the DPJ are the bright lights of the LDP, or at least they would have been had Ichiro Ozawa not bolted in the 1990s taking an entire generation with him into the political wilderness.

The latest poll figures on the proportional vote:

DPJ 24%
LDP 22%
Komeitō * 6%
Communists * 3%
Socialists 2%

* Komeitō and Communist Party supporters lie to pollsters about their voting intentions in order help their parties perform better than expected on election day.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Well, she at least is thrilled.

"She" in this case is Hitomi Soga, the simple island girl turned symbol of compromised Japanese national dignity. Tomorrow she will see her children and husband for the first time since her flight from North Korea nearly two years ago.

Abducted along with her mother by North Korean agents in 1978, she grew up, married and raised a family in the black hole of the DPRK. A non-person during her 24-year captivity, she married her English teacher Robert Jenkins, a former American soldier wanted in the U.S. for desertion. Freed from captivity, she has had to contend with being the pivot point in a three-sided tug-of-war between the governments of Japan, the DPRK and the United States.

Tomorrow's meeting represents only a brief, sad timeout from the battle of national agendas. Soga-san will meet her husband and children in a controlled setting in Indonesia, a country with diplomatic relations with Pyongyang and no extradition treaty with the United States.

Japanese of all walks of life should be touched by the aware, the hopeless sadness of this meeting. Soga-san cannot return to the land of her mother's murderers; Jenkins cannot set foot in Japan without the threat of immediate arrest; their daughters are North Koreans through and through.

Japanese should be touched...but they might not be.

Prime minister Koizumi's previous deft command of political gesture has left him. The obvious precipitous rush to have the meeting before Sunday's House of Councillors election has the whole kabuki production smelling bad. It is clear we are being treated to a ham-handed display of maudlin and expensive political theater, directed by the unsubtle kuroko of the LDP elections committee.

Luckily, it seems that the LDP's attempt to distract the voting public with the Soga saga is failing. All the newspapers and critical television news programs are pointing out the synchronization of the family visit with the elections. The public mood, which should be celebratory, is dark and suspicious. The seeming exploitation of Soga-san's personal tragedies for political gain, rather than bolstering the public's opinions of the LDP, may indeed be costing them a few votes.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Bush Curse Strikes Again?

I. The morning after

Barney Jopson of the Financial Times and Sebastian Moffett of The Asian Wall Street Journal raised the red flag last week. In front-page articles, both sounded the warning that prime minister Koizumi faces a possible setback in the July 11 House of Councillors elections. Both noted that recent dramatic decreases in Koizumi Cabinet and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) popularity will make it difficult for the LDP to meet its electoral goals. Both also found general agreement that in the event of an electoral disappointment, Koizumi will probably survive, though in a severely weakened position.

The PM’s situation is rather more serious than Mr. Jopson and Mr. Moffett were indicating. Indeed, something on the order of a major miracle is necessary over the next few days to prevent Koizumi, LDP secretary-general Shinzo Abe and all the members of the Cabinet from losing their jobs.

II. Oh, for the spring’s sweet song

Two months ago, the prospect of the LDP scoring significant gains in the upcoming elections looked good. The Cabinet’s and the LDP’s approval ratings soared after Koizumi’s trip to Pyongyang. The majority of Japanese saw the reuniting of the Hasuikes and the Chimuras with their children to have been well worth the money, food and empty promises the prime minister had to dish out to Kim Jong-il. Even the failed direct appeal to accused deserter Robert Jenkins was seen by many as a prime ministerial best effort to bring the abductee issue to closure.

Over the past month, however, public opinion has turned sharply against the PM and his party over two issues: one avoidable, one not.

The unavoidable bit of business was the restructuring of the national pension system (kōsei nenkin seido). By definition, reforming the pension system—i.e., raising fees and cutting benefits—is a sure method of cutting short one’s political life. Politicians will do their utmost to try to avoid pension reform. Something, however, had to be done, for the pension system was only a few years from complete collapse, even before facing the demands of the huge post-war baby-boom dankai sedai (the “mass generation”) that will soon reach retirement age.

The already unpopular restructuring effort descended into farce, however, over the system’s other weakness: its lack of an enforcement arm. The pension system is not so much a “system” as “a really good idea you should all participate in.” No one is charged with tracking down scofflaws, so millions of individuals neglect/skip contributing to the general fund. As this spring’s Diet deliberations on plans to restructure the system progressed, a delicious bit of irony emerged—the actress featured in Ministry of Health & Welfare ads denouncing those in arrears on their pension contributions was found to be herself not paying into the system. Serial bloviators in the Diet attacked the actress for her hypocrisy, only to find out that they too were in arrears in their payment. Soon everyone in Nagatacho was poring over his or her own records, discovering that staying in the good graces of pension system was actually damn difficult. Most ridiculously, service in the Cabinet seemed to guarantee gaps in a person’s record of contributions to the national pension scheme.

Much self-inflicted political bloodletting followed, including a great show of contrition by delinquent lawmakers from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DJP) and the resignations of chief cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda and DPJ leader Naoto Kan. After the bloodbath, however, the ruling coalition of the LDP and the Komeitō proceeded with business as usual, ramming an unrealistic and unpopular pension reform package through the Diet over the objections of the DJP.

The second, avoidable decision was Koizumi’s unilateral pledge to keep the Self Defense Forces (SDF) in Iraq after June 30. According to the dispatch legislation, the mandate of the SDF deployment was coterminous with the mandate of the Coalition Provisional Authority. After June 30 transfer of power, the SDF deployment would no longer have a basis in law. Abandoning Japan’s Iraq deployment on a technicality would have been a blow to Koizumi’s program of transforming Japan into a responsible international power and a trustworthy ally of the United States.

One of the hallmarks of the Koizumi style has been an ability to choose to solve only problems he wants to solve, allowing other problems to solve themselves. During the course of his premiership, this diffident, selective approach to crisis management has driven opponent after opponent into fits of rage. Expressing anger at Koizumi’s pet issues, methods and pacing, however, has always backfired on critics, no matter how legitimate their complaints about Koizumi’s inaction as regards Japan’s deep structural problems. In a sense, Koizumi has thrived through the application of the Serenity Prayer to politics, making the rest of the world look like a bunch of hyperventilating ninnies.

On the eve of the Sea Island Summit, however, Koizumi abandoned his modus operandi of responding to crises with benign neglect. Caught between the immanent end of the CPA and his own inaction on pushing a revision of the dispatch legislation through the Diet, and wrongly sensing a need to present a fait accomplit on Iraq before the other leaders at the summit (he may have felt he needed to give something to George Bush in return for a big, big favor: a presidential pardon for Robert Jenkins), Koizumi possibly extra-constitutionally and definitely with disdain for political etiquette announced that Japan’s Iraq deployment will continue under international command, whatever its form.

Most Japanese are aware that the Diet has suffered steep declines in its power relative the other branches of government in recent years. Many would agree that the Diet’s deliberations are often only so much vapid grandstanding. Some would tell you that a portion of the membership could not match wits with a tatami mat. However, a public aware of the deficiencies of Japan’s parliament may still resent having the power of that body entirely usurped by the prime minister. Decent respect for the forms of representative democracy required that Koizumi at least present his proposals to the Diet—if not for its approval, then at least for its consideration. Instead, he declared the debate over before it had begun. What was worse, the timing of his announcement made it look as though he was a servant of the Americans, not the Japanese people.

Koizumi’s error as regards the SDF’s deployment in Iraq was so huge that even the Asahi Shimbun’s editors could not miss it:

“We should help to rebuild Iraq even if it means picking up the pieces left behind by a wrong war. But such cooperation must be made after going through proper domestic procedures in the Diet and scrutiny by the public. “
- Asahi Shimbun, June 18, 2004

The public response to the government’s two contemptuous decisions has been swift. Cabinet and the LDP support levels fell like stones through water in the last three weeks of June. Support for the DJP, which had been languishing due to the Kan resignation and a pair of scandals earlier in the year that had tarnished its reputation as the “clean” party, skyrocketed.

III. “I will smash the reactionary forces in the LDP”

One of the eternal truths of Japanese postwar politics is that, in the end, the personal popularity of the prime ministers matters little at election time. Japanese politics has been machine politics, with the LDP representing a broad coalition of interests, each of which extends its support in return for advantageous legislation, contracts and cash. As long as each segment of the coalition receives its slice of the LDP’s largesse, the LDP limps to victory, no matter its faults.

The only problem with this eternal truth is that Koizumi has made it his business to break up the LDP’s ties with the its traditional support groups. The Koizumi Cabinet has upset almost all the groups that matter: farmers by promoting free trade, small-and-medium sized company owners by insisting that the banks cut off delinquent borrowers, rural residents by cutting public works spending, seniors by increasing their health costs and doctors and dentists by cutting into their most profitable income streams. Koizumi’s predecessors pitched in too, particularly in forging the alliance with the Komeitō, a decision that cost the party its traditional relations with the other Lotus Sect religious groups.

To whit, the LDP is going into the July 11 elections with its coalition in pieces. Individual politicians in the districts have their own koenkai and traditional local supporters. They may be able to cash in their local IOUs and eke out wins by appealing to their personal relationships with constituents. The national party support system, however, is truly smashed. In its place, many in the party have linked themselves to Koizumi, hoping to profit from his magical ability to float above events.

No one more committed himself more firmly to this transition than Mikio Aoki, the LDP’s leader in the House of Councillors. Aoki split the Hashimoto faction in two at the last LDP presidential election, helping Koizumi drive Aoki’s faction mate and longtime collaborator Hiromu Nonaka out of politics altogether. Aoki made the deal of a political lifetime, betraying his political family and friends, in order to ally himself with Koizumi’s new LDP order. Now instead of rising with Koizumi, he is sinking with him.

It is Aoki who has drawn the line sealing Koizumi’s fate. While Koizumi’s entourage has been suggesting that the Prime Minister can continue in his office even if the LDP loses a few seats, Aoki has set down a firm limit: 51 seats, one more than they hold now, or “the political situation becomes untenable.”

IV. The ugly numbers

 Until a month ago, 51 seats looked like a cakewalk, in a paradoxical way. High public support for Koizumi has only weakly correlated with support for the LDP. While the LDP’s proportional, i.e., party popularity, votes soared in 2001 along with Koizumi’s post-inauguration 80%+ approval ratings, the PM’s personal popularity with the voters did not keep the LDP from losing the overall proportional vote in the 2003 House of Representatives election. Indeed, as a leader who has spent much of his time fighting members of his own party over reforms, it should be remarkable if there is any correlation at all.

Koizumi’s personal popularity seems to have kept the party viable in district elections. Party members in urban or bedroom community districts could claim that even though they were LDP, they were Koizumi’s allies in the fight against the LDP’ reactionary elements. A vote for the urban LDP was a vote for Koizumi and for reform. Conversely, LDP candidates opposed to Koizumi’s reform program could tell their supporters in their districts that only votes for him or her could keep Koizumi’s reformists from joining with the hated Democrats in the destruction of Japan.

It was a lovely double game.

Now, on the eve of the election, even a weak correlation between Koizumi’s and the party’s popularity has the party elders worried. The Cabinet’s support ratings and the Asahi Shimbun’s “Which party do you want to see increasing its representation in the House of Councillors?” indicator have been in lockstep since the winter. Whenever the popularity of the Cabinet has risen, as in the week after Koizumi’s trip to Pyongyand, the proportion of persons saying they want the LDP to win more seats has risen and the number wanting the DJP to win more seats has fallen. Conversely, as the Cabinet support numbers have fallen, the number favoring an LDP increase has fallen and the number favoring a DPJ increase has risen.

Current indications are that around 56 million voters are likely to go to polls on July 11. This may seem a bold prediction given that voting rates have been declining over the last two decades and recent polls have shown a drop in the percentage of persons identifying themselves as “likely voters.” However, this year’s House of Councillors elections are being held in the second week of July, while schools are still in session. Nearly all the voting age population will be at home rather than on holiday. The weather has also been fairly pleasant of late, with neither the oppressive rains of last year nor the unbearable heat of late July 2001.
Proportional Voting

Some general rules of thumb used for estimating the proportional vote:

· For the past several elections, the DPJ and its predecessors have received double the percentage of votes indicated by pre-election polls. LDP vote percentages, on the other hand, have tended to closely track pre-election polling results. Current polls have 18% support for the DPJ and 20% support for the LDP.
· About two thirds of the voters are really upset about pension reform and Iraq dispatch decisions.
· Voters are aware that voting against the LDP means the PM loses his job. Despite Koizumi’s recent overreaching, only a third of the voters want him out.
· The Komeitō has just over 8 million voting followers.
· The Communists and the Socialists have been losing about 15%~20% of their support every election. The Socialists, however, may have finally stabilized under the leadership of Mizuho Fukushima.
· For the past several elections, the voters have used the House of Councillors proportional vote to send the LDP and the Cabinet a message, while using their district votes to perpetuate personal loyalty and patronage relations.

Should 56 million voters turn out to vote on July 11, the final tally of the proportional vote equivalents* should look like this:

Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) 22,200,000
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) 16,000,000
Komeito 8,300,000
Japan Communist Party (JCP) 4,500,000
Socialist Democratic Party (SDP) 3,000,000
Midori no kaigi 800,000
Women’s Party 800,000
Others/spoiled ballots 400,000

* = the tallies combining actual votes for parties with votes for individuals within the parties

With these results, the approximate division of proportional seats available on Sunday will be:

DPJ 21
LDP 14
Komeito 7

District Voting

If the LDP manages to capture 14 seats in the proportional voting, LDP candidates must win 36 contests (an LDP victory is considered a foregone conclusion in a Kagoshima election that the newspapers are counting as separate) to reach the 51 seat minimal standard. With the LDP’s historical near-total dominance of the single-seat districts (28 seats) and a reasonable chance of winning one of the two seats available in the two-seat districts (15 districts with 30 seats), the party in theory could lose all its places in the 3- and 4-seat districts and still clear the 51-seat threshold.

However, a prefecture-by-prefecture look at the party candidate lists throws doubt upon the LDP’s chances of winning 36 seats. The DPJ has chosen to stand up in the district elections, fielding candidates in as many districts as it can, even in hopeless LDP bastions like Fukui and Shimane. In the more competitive districts, the DJP is fielding candidates with reasonable chances of victory, many whom held their own in 2001 when they should have been swept away by the Koizumi tsunami. The DPJ has also been careful in selecting seasoned political pros in their late forties and mid-fifties to contest the seats held by LDP heptagenarians, rather than throwing 35 year-old babies at them as in the past. Finally, with so many voters angry at the PM, angry at the LDP or angry at both, the possibility arises of protest voting extending down to the district level, with the voters returning the otherwise nearly comatose Communists to office in Nagano, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures.

The current distribution of district seats is as follows:

LDP 33
DPJ 22
Komeito 3
Independents 9

Now if every thing goes perfectly for the LDP on July 11, meaning that the LDP wins everywhere it is competitive and the DPJ and Communists lose all contests they could reasonably lose, the results of the district elections would be:

LDP 45
DPJ 22
Komeitō 3
Independents 1

If on the other hand all hell breaks loose and with the voters reject the LDP candidate every district seat where the DPJ or the Communists are competitive, then the results of the district elections could conceivably be:

DPJ 37
LDP 25
Komeitō 3
Independents 1

This would be an extraordinary result, with the LDP winning fewer than 40 seats total. Not even the sensationalist evening sports newspapers have predicted a drop this big, though one has claims the LDP will top out at 41 seats. Despite the national polls indicating a broad anti-LDP mood, district election results depend on friendships, personal vendettas and hidden agendas often not discernable from Tokyo. The breakdown of the LDP’s electoral machine, however, means that is on average the LDP will lose more of the close district contests than win them.

V. Who’s Next?

The obvious next question is should Koizumi resign, who replaces him as LDP party president and prime minister? Former Economics and Industry minister Takeo Hiranuma has declared himself in the running, should Koizumi stumble. Nobody else seems eager for the party presidency at this time nor is visibly mounting a challenge for it.

Hiranuma, however, is a mid-level member of the Kamei faction. He has neither the party seniority nor the organizational muscle to persuade the bulk of the LDP to see the wisdom of his candidacy. Winning over the vast corps of young Hashimoto faction members presents a particularly daunting task. Should the Hashimoto faction balk at Hiranuma’s bid, a compromise candidate, perhaps the quietly ambitious and coldly handsome former foreign affairs minister Masahiko Komura, could emerge to seize the party presidency and the prime ministership.