Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Apples and oranges

Over at Global Talk 21, Okumura Jun has an excellent analysis up of the current political status of the prime minister, at least according to an exegesis drawing upon the public opinion polls of Fuji Television.

Okumura-san indicates that he has his doubts as to one of my recent assertions--that the prime minister can win back some of his lost popularity simply through having a run of good days either through accommodating the opposition in order to pass legislation or, when the lay of land is right, challenging the opposition when it adopts a transparently opportunistic policy stance.

Of course the Fukuda administration could always try to win on policy. But I don't think that sweating the small stuff, such as tinkering with the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance system, is going to have a major impact. I don’t believe that the Hokkaido SG-8 Summit and a squishy agreement on greenhouse gases or any other combination of diplomatic or national security issues are going to be winners either.
Okumura-san goes on to speculate that the only policy program likely to attract enough public attention to affect the popularity numbers is the budget agenda-setting reform package scheduled to be tackled in a lengthy extraordinary session in the fall.

Given that the number of days until the end of the regular Diet session is growing few indeed, Okumura-san is possibly right.

But taking the Fuji Television Cabinet support figures for the Cabinet of Abe Shinzō and comparing them with the Fuji TV figures of the present Cabinet, Okumura-san may be making a fundamental error.

The two sets of numbers may not be comparable.

The Fukuda Cabinet and the current leadership of the ruling coalition parties are unpopular for failing to understand the mechanics of how to cope with a functioning, if limited, opposition. The people are furious that the ruling coalition has tried to force legislation and appointments, knowing full well that the Democratic Party of Japan and its allies were going to oppose them in the House of Councillors.

The voters do not like to see their representatives engaged in contests over who can be the most pig-headed time wasters of all.

Abe Shinzō, his Cabinet and his administration became unpopular not because they were ineffective. Quite on the contrary, they became unpopular because they could do whatever they wanted...and they were running amok.

What did they decide was going to be their major task in in December, after the successful visit to China? Was it revealing the state of the pension accounts and promising to putting them to rights? Noooooo. It was

a) the establishment of a Ministry of Defense and
b) the readmission to the LDP of the exiles, the Diet members expelled from the party by Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō for having opposed his plan to privatize the post office.

That second priority -- b) -- set off a detonation. The bald move repudiated the imputed will of the people, slapping them in their faces. The people had handed a landslide victory to Koizumi's LDP in the 2005 House of Representatives election...and now Abe was telling the voters that their judgment had been flawed.

This was only the first of a series of actions that Abe and his cabal foisted upon the nation not because they were popular or solved particular problems but because Abe and his long-denied fantabulist brothers and sisters finally had their hands on the tiller--and coalition majorities in both House of the Diet.

- Education reform emphasizing patriotism and order.

- The legal basis for a national referendum permitting amendments to the Constitution.

- Mandates, both open and secret, forcing the national broadcaster NHK to feature stories on the abductees at every opportunity.

At the same time, real scandals--in the pension system, in the offices of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries--were left uninvestigated, shunted to the side because the ruling coalition had unbeatable majorities in both Houses of the Diet.

Throughout the regular Diet session, the government railroaded every single piece of legislation through. Not one concession was made to the opposition.

The voters saw what was happening...and Amaterasu bless them, in July of 2007 they said, "No more of this. You will not do whatever you want. You will have limits on your freedom of action."

In his current post, Okumura-san notes that Abe Shinzō's popularity rose with the Cabinet reshuffle in August 2007. What he leaves out is that everyone agreed that the Second Abe Cabinet was a cast of all-stars--far more experienced and moderate than the Cabinet it was replacing, its members far more likely to accommodate a revitalized and now constitutionally relevant opposition.

Guess what? For the most part, those all-stars whom both Okumura-san and I hailed-- these are the ministers we have now. The folks inside the ruling coalition just do not get any better--Minister of Law Hatoyama Yukio and the yonyaku, excepted.

The reason the Cabinet is unpopular now is that the yonyaku, not the Cabinet, misunderstood and mishandled every bit of legislation and every appointment since September. The yonyaku, trying to rebuild the LDP's relationship with its traditional client base, failed to cut deals with the DPJ, choosing instead to try demonstrate its worthiness through a show of the indomitability of the ruling coalition's will.

As if that was what the people wanted. Ever.

What the people wanted was for Fukuda to be Fukuda; for Yosano to be Yosano; for Kōmura to be Kōmura; for Masuzoe to be Masuzoe...for the men and women of good intentions and wisdom to work out compromises with the opposition.

That is what the Cabinet was expected to do. It is not popular now because its members were not given the chance to run the government based on the political situation--but based on what the grandees of the LDP wanted the situation to be.

There has been, all in all, a stunning lack of realism in the actions of the ruling coalition since its wounding in the 2007 House of Councillors election.

Hence my feeling that things are on the mend for the prime minister. Just doing what governments do every day--passing nice-sounding but meaningless legislation to cover everyone's backside, accepting legislative amendments proposed by the opposition, calling opposition leaders aside for private talks about potential political appointees, watching the calendar--will be a vast improvement over what we have seen over the last eight months.

If Fukuda Yasuo and the members of his Cabinet (pax Hatoyama) can just do government--not revolution, not shock therapy,just government--then there is a chance that the political climate in Nagata-chō could more clement for the PM. There is evidence that Fukuda has at least chucked the "thank you for all your votes at the party presidency election" persona in favor of a "I will keep my own council and if you don't like it you can find somebody else to be your prime minister"--something he should have done in January.

Which presages peace and stability until the autumn...when the postponed death of Tanakaism will have to be faced at last...and when the LDP will be forced to look itself in the mirror and decide what it is to become.

Later - Apologies for all the typos in the original version of this text.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What would you recommend Bush and Republicans do to regain popularity in the US? Other than suicide, of course.

The point is that people can reach a point where they just say "enough". Maybe the Japanese are getting close to that point.