Thursday, July 17, 2008

Will the DPJ Betray Its Constituents?

Short Answer: "Yes. "

Slightly Less Short Answer: "Yes -- by definition."

Long Answer: The Democratic Party of Japan has two routes to power.

One route is to take on the trappings of the traditional LDP, rely on promises of fiscal support to interest groups in the over-represented rural districts and the reversal of the market-based reforms of the Koizumi years, eke out enough wins in rural, suburban and urban districts to become the majority party in the House of Representatives, then cement its victory by doling out political patronage to the rural districts from out of the economic surpluses generated in the party's tradition strongholds in the urban and suburban areas, thereby seriously compromising the DPJ's longtime identity but leaving the electoral map undisturbed.

The other route is to take on the trappings of the traditional LDP, cobbling together enough angry anti-establishment, anti-market-based reform votes possible to eke out enough wins in rural, suburban and urban districts to become the majority party in the House of Representatives, then immediately turn its back on the rural districts (many of the party's rural representatives will be freshmen, by definition--and thus expendable, by definition) passing legislation eliminating and consolidating many rural electoral districts and multiplying suburban and urban ones - all this being done out of the noble intent of "eliminating disparities in the relative voting strength of the citizens" ("ippyō no kakusa") - transforming the electoral map without seriously compromising the DPJ's longtime identity.

In order to win a majority of seats in the next election, the DPJ must compromise on its traditions and ideals. However, to cement its electoral victory -- to make the victory reproducible - the DPJ must make permanent changes to either itself or to the electoral map.

Yesterday, in an agreement with the New People's Party, the DPJ agreed to alter its election manifesto on the issue of postal reform. Under the new formula, the DPJ will call for revision of the Koizumi era laws privatizing and splitting up the post office's many functions.

In return, the DPJ - New People's Party alliance hopes to receive the votes of the members of the National Special Postmen's Association (Zenkoku Yūbinkyokuchōkai, or Zentoku, for short). Party leader Ozawa Ichirō and New People's Party leader Watanuki Tamisuke had dinner on Wednesday night with Zentoku president Urano Osamu.

Aha, so it is the DPJ's traditional identity that is getting the chop!

Not so fast.

First, technically, the DPJ had no input in the reforms of the post office enacted after the LDP's landslide victory in the 2005 House of Representatives elections. The reforms were the handiwork of Prime Minister and LDP President Koizumi Jun'ichirō. By modifying its stand on postal reform, the DPJ is merely changing its opinion of an LDP-instigated reform.

Second, cloning the LDP in order to beat the LDP is a one-shot deal. When the citizens find out that handing Ozawa Ichirō and the Democrats power does not lead to a new, different style of governance, they will toss the DPJ out on the street in the very next House of Representatives election, including and especially many of the party's core leaders.

Not a good thing, especially for the party's core leaders.

The better, more Machiavellian strategy will be to betray the party's newest supporters in the rural areas (and the revived alliance with the People's New Party) not the party's base in the cities and suburbs. New supporters will be fickle and untrustworthy anyway - they had until so very recently been the supporters of another party. Sacrificing their interests in favor of the "nation as a whole" will be easy. (Sacrificing the alliance with the People's New Party, which petulantly suspended cooperation with the Democrats over the nomination of Ikeo Kazuhito to the Board of Governors of the Bank of Japan, will be even easier.)

The Democratic Party will also almost certainly promise to take good care of the Diet members whose electoral districts are marked for elimination ("A nice new Kanagawa single seat district with ocean fronting, perhaps? What's not to like?")

Are the Democrats duplicitous enough to pull this off? The strongest indication of that the answer is "Yes" came in June when House of Councillors Speaker Eda Satsuki (a Democrat, though officially non-aligned for appearances' sake) very quietly asked the House of Councillors Reform Conference (San'in kaikaku kyogikai) to look into the reapportionment of House Councillors district and regional bloc seats in order to rectify the huge disparities in between the voting strengths of the least populated and most populated prefectures.

Now such a reform of the voting strength disparities in the House of Councillors (at their worst, up to 5 times - meaning that the votes of some citizens are worth 1/5 the votes of others) has been a longtime topic of House of Councillors deliberations.

It has also been, for an equally long time, something of a parlor game. In some publications the member of the House of Councillors are called "Senators," and that is not a bad description. Like the United States Senate or the senates in other republics, the House of Councillors is not supposed to proportionally represent populations. Representing populations proportionately is the job of the House of Representatives.

(Whether the Diet's House of Representatives actually does this is another question...a question whose answer is "No.")

Indeed, by not reflecting proportional voting patterns, the House of Councillors--when it is operating according to its constitutional ideals--is supposed to function as a brake on populism.

(Hello, Twisted Diet!)

So if the apportionment of House of Councillors seats does not necessarily have to be representative to be constitutionally useful, then what is Eda (who is no dummy) up to?

Could it be that apportioning more House of Councillors seats to the urbane and suburbane prefectures (the most likely reform proposal--because one cannot cut the number of Councillors in a prefecture below two) is a dry run for a similar reform in the House of Representatives? Fighting voting strength inequality in a House the DPJ already controls will be giving the DPJ not only the experience in how to conduct a revolutionary reform of a Diet House--but the moral authority to do the same to a House it does not yet control?


It would certainly open the way for transforming a cobbled-together, skin-of-one's-teeth, promising-the-moon, fundamentally dishonest election victory into a secure, possibly permanent Democratic Party majority in the House of Representatives.

Unless, of course, some one points out to everyone Ozawa and the Democrats cannot possibly fulfill the promises they are making.

Right, Maehara-san?


Anonymous said...

Great post, as usual. But then, what would be the strategy of the LDP?
BTW, the role of the House of Councillors is often debated in Japan. As far as I know, in the US, no matter its size, each State has two Senators to counterbalance the number of Representatives (ergo the influence) big, populous States can have in the House. In France, Senators are elected by the 36.000 mayors of the country to better represent the will of the regions. But in Japan, the House of Councillors seems to be an anomaly. I mean, the House of Representatives already embody the will of the people on the countryside, as matter of fact. True, thanks to article 46 of the Constitution, the long term (6 years) of office of a Senator is supposed to give him more political stability (no election in 6 years for him) to better exercize his judgment on proposed bills. But what does it mean? And, ultimately, having the House of Representatives in its hands may allow the Cabinet to bypass the Senate when it is in the hands of the opposition. (Sure, it comes at the expense of political capital but legally, it can work). So, it is difficult to understand the role of the House of Councillors nowadays - except that this is another place where Japanese taxpayers are wasting their money.
The fact that the House of "Representatives" (What does it represent, since the regions are empty? Trees and roads?) gives a tremendous power to the countryside over the heart of the wealth, Tokyo, is also curious.
I'm not stating that the House of Coucillors should disappear, indeed.
All of this should be an incentive to lean toward a real decentralization and a reform of the Constitution, to better reflect Japan's demographic and political reality.
But it's always difficult, because those kind of reforms come at the expense of the people who draft the bills and ultimately vote (or do not) vote for them.
Without the people's awareness, nothing can be done.
(In France, I think the Assemblee nationale's legislative electoral districts map is based on a census made in 1982 - which is kind of really not reprensentative of the powerful demographic trends that changed the country the last 16 years. But who is aware of that?) I would be curious to read more on the role of the two Houses.

MTC said...

A lot to chew on, French Reader.

1) I disagree with your assessment that the House of Councillors is a waste of the taxpayers' money. The citizenry clearly thought it worth their whiles to show up in droves on July 29 last year to give the steering wheel of the upper house to the opposition.

2) I agree that the House of Representatives is not representative. It is, however, significantly more representative that it used to be, certainly far better than it was in 1993, prior to the Hosokawa-Kono reforms.

3) The House of Councillors was originally conceived as a national "Hall of Worthies" set in opposition to the proportional mob rule of the House of Representatives. In its first iteration, the H of C had 100 members chosen in a national election and 150 in local constiuency elections. In its early years it did attract worthy individuals, who brought focus and caring to debates about legislation.

It was only later, after the H of C became a toy of the LDP, that it became a tarento and sports figure retirement home.

4) One of the striking features of current system, with its party lists of candidates for at-large seats, is the formal acknowledgement of the industrial and labor affiliations of the candidates. In the United States, where I assume you are right now, there was always the running joke about the Washington Senators that they were actually the "Senator from Microsoft" and "Senator from Boeing."

For the House of Councillors, however, newspapers actually listed the members as being as the "Senator for the Doctors" (Takemi Keizo), the "Senator for the Dentists," the "Senator for the Local Bureaucrats," the "Senator for the Fisherman"...without anybody snickering.

The Diet representation of industrial and professional groups has a weird over-democratic feel - the illogical consequence of representation run amok. Through the party candidates in the House of Councillors, specific special interests did not just enjoy the attention of certain lawmakers, they guilessly owned certain lawmakers.

One ascinating aspect of the wipeout of the LDP in the summer of 2007 the incredibly low party vote for the LDP left the the senators representing particular industries high and dry--they were all listed too far down the party list to win reelection. For that the first time in memory, powerful interest groups have to appeal to Diet members to support, not their owned member of the Diet, to push forward the passage of particular pieces of legislation.

5) Reapportionment is the lifeblood of republics and parliamentary democracies. Fail to reapportion and your Representatives with a big "R" fail to represetn with a little "r" anything. In my reckoning, around 25% of the members of the Diet House of Representatives are zombies -- representing citizens who do not exist, constitutents that disappeared from the rural districts over 30 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think your last line hits the crucial point. The constituency ceased to exist 30 years ago. Certainly, they don't exist now. The LDP no more "represents" rural Japan than the tooth fairy does. 25 years and you get a car? What a deal!!

In fact, with zero accountability and zero restraint, it looks like the hogs (upper and lower) are neatly lined up at the trough.

Anonymous said...

True, I went a bit far by saying that it's a waste of money for the Japanese taxpayers. Still, I remember a political TV program, when I was living in Japan, where the Senators invited to that show were basically unable to explain their role in Japanese political system/life! I think the three comments above the present one say the same thing: there's a "representativeness crisis" in Japan.