Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Time Stand Still

"What was he thinking? Or was he thinking at all?"

Pity the rank-and-file of the LDP.

In the course of the last week, the LDP party president and the secretary-general have allowed their tongues and lips free rein, unbridling their inner moron. Just when the party most needed calm and internal cohesion, Abe Shinzō and Aso Tarō have managed to utter the most unspeakable of stupidities, sending the party faithful hurtling toward a spinning abyss of defeat and dissolution.

Aso struck the first blow in his declaration supporting the reabsorption of Hiranuma Takeo into the LDP without conditions. Well, not exactly his support--more like his his inability to think of why he might have any reason to oppose the idea.

Aso and Hiranuma are longtime fellow travelers in the neo-rightist movement. Along with ally Abe Shinzō, the pair serve on the executive committees of nearly all of the dozens of political study groups that sprang up following the 1990s collapse of dirty money politics. Whether the subject was rewriting the constitution, altering the teaching of pre-war history found in school textbooks, returning elements of pre-war society--particularly Shintō ritual--to prominence, opposing critical views of the Japanese imperial state, resurrecting subservient and sex-determined roles for women and promoting ministerial and prime ministerial visits to Yasukuni--wherever you found one you were sure to find the other.

The only problem with reinstating Hiranuma is, of course, he was expelled from the LDP for refusing to toe the party line on the privatization of the Post Office. He still refuses to toe the line. He negotiated the return of the Dirty Eleven last year with the currently ostracized Nakagawa Hidenao on the condition that the Dirty Eleven sign admissions of error in having opposed the postal reforms. Aso is now willing to waive this requirement for his old friend.

Only two small problems with that, of course.

First the House of Representatives is filled with first termers, particularly LDP members from traditionally Democratic districts and Democratic proportional seats, who won election precisely because Koizumi Jun'ichirō had Hiranuma and the other recalcitrants expelled. Aso's greenlighting Hiranuma's return to the bossom of the party makes it clear that the policy under which the first-termers won election is no longer operative--meaning that the LDP is flipping off the populace in terms of policy. It would also guarantee that nearly the entire freshman class could get wiped out, in the untoward event of a House of Representatives election.

The second small problem is that Hiranuma and the others were only ever even given a chance to return due to their supposed ability to swing elections in their home areas. The results of the House of Councillors election speak for themselves: it is difficult to find a single race where the return of the exiles did not make the defeat worse. One of the major talking points in support of Hiranuma's return that he went out of his way to support LDP candidates in Okayama Prefecture. Too bad the man whose career Hiranuma was supposed to save, LDP House of Councillors #2 Katayama Toranosuke, the LDP's man in Okayama, went down to ignominious defeat.

If Hiranuma cannot deliver the goods, why take him in?

Under normal circumstance another member of the party leadership would have already stepped in to point out to Aso that his fantasy of readmitting his buddy was sowing divisions within the party.

Unfortunately, the other powers in the current leadership all happen to lack qualities that would make it possible for them to confront Aso over his infatuation. Party president Abe Shinzō is as eager for Hiranuma's return as Aso--indeed, perhaps even more eager. General Council Chairman Nikai Toshihirō owes his position more to his potential to coordinate with DPJ party leader Ozawa Ichirō and New Komeito party leader Ota Akihiro than for his ability to lay down the law within the LDP. Indeed, as a former defector and Ozawa confidant, Nikai has just about zero party disciplinary power. Policy Research Council Chairman Ishihara Nobuteru is just too young and too isolated from the factions to be able to tell Aso to go and take a shower.

Which leaves Chief Cabinet Secretary Yosano Kaoru to play the role of executioner. Fate, history, health and the webs of mutual support and obligation intervene, however: Yosano and Hiranuma were classmates at Azabu High School (the high school of the bureaucratic and political elite) and Hiranuma is recovering from a stroke suffered late last year. Yosano would become persona non grata with his fellow Azabu alumni if he were to heartlessly deny a sick fellow classmate the chance to return to the fold.

So Yosano, who is not unaware of the unpopularity of the return of Hiranuma both within the LDP and outside of Nagata-chō, has nevertheless passed the issue right back to Aso.

The one person seemingly intent on derailing Hiranuma's return to the LDP is Hiranuma himself. His insistence that the LDP consider the readmittance of the assassinated exiles, the ones who failed to win election to the Diet as independents following their expulsion from the party (and who thus bear the double stigma of not only being rebels but losers) first before readmitting Hiranuma himself has thrown the party a lifeline at the last second. If Hiranuma is really serious about this condition, the party leadership can--if it gets its act together--turn around and rebuff this arrogant and doomed demand.

That, of course, leaves the other runaway train, one for which there seems to be no last second reprieve.

No doubt Abe Shinzō wanted to appear principled when he blurted out his intent to not cling to his post should the attempt to renew the Anti-Terrorism Law fail. Unfortunately, he could not have thought of a better way of encouraging every person opposed to the renewal to stand in league with Ozawa Ichirō --or to discourage those who were willing to fight for the law's renewal.

The only goad for a face-saving compromise between the ruling coalition and the opposition before the November 1 deadline was the threat that Abe would still be in power; would still be able to lead an override of the House of Councillors through an extension of the Diet session leading to a revote in the House of Representatives; would use parliamentary procedures to make the opposition's lives miserable; would even resubmit a deployment bill in January--anything to fight back tooth and nail, no matter how malicious and petty it made him look, to keep Japan's ships in service in the Indian Ocean even if there were a brief interruption.

Now Abe has promised to walk away should the deadline pass without passage of the bill in the House of Councillors.

Who the hell will even bother showing up for committee meeting on the renewal bill in the House of Representatives ? Who the hell will speak up for the bill in the House of Councillors, except to score meaningless debating points?

Hurtling to his destruction goes Abe...does he think any of the rest of his party will clamber on board with him?

1) Water Temple in Shinkawa Park. Kiryū City, Gunma Prefecture.

2) The Kiryū Meijikan, formerly the Gunma Prefectural Hygiene Station and Medical School, built in 1874. Kiryū City, Gunma Prefecture.

3) Playing a 78 on the steel-needle Victrola in the tearoom (coffee with apple pie = 500 yen). The Kiryū Meijikan; Kiryū City, Gunma Prefecture.

4) Study Hall of the Ashikaga School. Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture.

5) Sunset from atop Ryōgaisan. Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture.

All images captured on September 8, 2007. All images by MTC.

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