Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The party unmentionable

At the end of the day, the current political turmoil has its origins in the failure of the Komeitō eight million to show up on July 29.

Had the heretofore rock-solid 8 million + votes turned up, both the Komeitō and the LDP's losses would have been minimized. Twenty thousand votes here, twenty-five thousand votes there and pretty soon you are talking about a different political landscape. The DPJ together with its grab bag of allies are not holding the majority in the House of Councillors; Abe is still prime minister; the radicals cling to their Cabinet positions; the refueling bill passes despite desperate bleating by Ozawa Ichirō...

Without the guaranteed 8 million votes, however, the coalition with the Komeitō seems only so much policy baggage for the LDP. The alliance is given a reprieve: the Komeitō-held seats in the House of Representatives push the total number of seats held by the coalition over the two-thirds majority it needs to override a veto by the House of Councillors.

Circumstances intervene, though; the governing coalition never gets to deploy the override weapon in time to renew the Indian Ocean dispatch legislation.

Over the course of the autumn, as the fate of the dispatch legislation becomes hopeless, the thinking of the LDP leadership changes. Unlike the Abe Clique, whose controversial and radical programs demanded extremist solutions, the new Fukuda-led consortium of faction leaders are more comfortable pursuing broad-based, consensual initiatives--the kind of initiatives the DPJ can support.

If the DPJ can support the LDP's legislation and vice-versa, what then is the need for the current coalition providing a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives?

(An obverse is also true: if the LDP and the DPJ can cooperate on legislation, of what need is the DPJ's alliance with the fossilized opposition microparties of the House of Councillors?)

To the broth let us add one more element: the suspicion that the tumble in Komeitō support from 2004 to 2007 was not just policy-based as is commonly argued but was partly structural.

The growth of the Sōka Gakkai movement, the support base behind the Komeitō, was immensely aided by the social disruption caused by the great migration from the countryside to the cities in the post-war years. Lonely individuals looking for social connections or displaced persons looking to better themselves found in the Sōka Gakkai a source of community, personal solace and micro-finance.

However, ever since the 1980s, the social need for a "Study Society for the Increase of Wealth" has been less pressing. Recruitment for the movement would slow down. Membership in the group and thus the Komeitō vote would continue to swell, however, as the children of the first generation took their places alongside their elders.

However, at some point, without a) renewed vigorous recruitment or b) a higher fertility rate among the Sōka Gakkai faithful, the religious organization and the political movement it sponsors would fall prey to the same demographic downward spiral threatening all of Japan's institutions.

If you knew or suspected that the Komeitō not only did not but indeed would not ever again deliver 8 million votes-- but that indeed the Komeitō-Sōka Gakkai was about to suffer a sharp drop in support followed by a slow, steady, demographics-drive decline--what would be your alliance strategy today? If you guessed that an alliance with the Komeitō would still not eke out a majority in the House of Representatives, even after the inevitable major LDP losses in a general election, what kind of political dealmaking would you, if you were Ozawa Ichirō, countenance right here, right now?

* * *

Admittedly this is all but a diaphanous gedanken experiment...

Nevertheless, death and senility will start thinning the ranks of the massive postwar burst of Sōka Gakkai recruits. The hit up until now definitely does not account for the huge 8.6 million votes to only 7.7 million votes drop in Komeitō support between the 2004 and the 2007 House of Councillors elections--but dismay at the party's alliance with the Abe-led LDP seems insufficient as well.

It taxes my credulity to believe that ten percent of the Komeitō's support could have evaporated away in three years's time due solely to doubts sown by the internal contradictions of a pacifist party serving as the handmaiden of the LDP. Members of the Sōka Gakkai believe that beating a drum and chanting for an hour each morning, combined with unswerving devotion to Ikeda Daisaku's leadership, puts them on the path to wealth and happiness. Lose faith and/or disobey the leadership are not what members of the Sōka Gakkai do.

(Last paragraph rewritten for clarity)


Anonymous said...

Talk about deja vu. I've been reading books from the late 1960s about the Soka Gakkai the last few weeks (I know, I'm crazy) and you know what? They say exactly the same thing as you. "The Soka Gakkai had 3 million votes last election, but they're aging, they're not vigorously proselytizing, they're over the hill." Most of what you say seems logical, but it seemed logical 40 years ago too...

An alternative take: the NKP votes were down because they couldn't persuade any non-members to vote for them the way they usually do, and a fair portion of members decided they wouldn't vote this time, given how angry they were with Abe (not NKP, but Abe). I've heard both stories from members I've talked to about the election.

Your argument is essentially "If we assume they're abnormal (never doubting leadership) their behavior looks odd." The easy answer is that they are more normal than you think, in which case the behavior makes perfect sense. It also explains why Fukuda has gone to such great lengths to court the NKP vote since he became PM.

MTC said...

The key issue is whether the Komeito leaders can deliver the votes in a consistent, predictable way. If they cannot, then the days of Komeito's significance are over.