Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Someday Son, All This Won't Be Yours

One would likely feel a lot better about the plans of certain members of Democratic Party to propose a ban on close relatives from inheriting district seats -- and think the plan worthy of the hastily-organized Sunday talk show panels of second-, third- and fourth- generation Diet members -- if it were not for the unfortunate reality that virtually everyone in charge -- this being in the leaderships of both the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan -- is a close relative of at least one other Diet member, past or present.

The requirement that the leaders of the parties volunteer to depose themselves, their descendants, siblings and cousins has me thinking that the chances of this reform's being instigated are remote. Seldom indeed has been heard the revolutionary rallying cry:

"To the Barricades, Comrades! Death to Me...and to those Closest To Me!"

Tobias Harris has provided a detailed overview of the current status of the proposal and his analysis of its political significance. Harris suggests that in proposing a rule that would prevent party leader Ozawa Ichirō and any of Ozawa's sons from running in the family seat in Iwate Prefecture (I am unsure how the Okada proposal handles definitional issues arising from the mid-1990s switch from medium-sized, multiple seat districts to smaller, single-seat districts - but that is for another time) -- Okada Tatsuya is making a play for the leadership of the DPJ.

The proposed rule is a rather peculiarly timed irruption against the hereditary political classes of Nagata-chō -- one where no real follow up has been done on the potential consequences of forcing sons and other close relatives into running in other districts (for a hint, I note that Kōno Tarō, son of Konō Yōhei, is one of the few LDP supporters of the Okada rule). Given the beating the DPJ has been taking in the polls recently over the Okubo Affair and Ozawa's refusal to step down for the good of the party, the proposed change could certainly be Okada's indirect request for Ozawa to hurry up and get out of the way.

However, the sweep of the proposal -- which would not only affect Ozawa but other core DPJ leaders like Hatoyama Yukio -- seems too broad to be simply an attempt to hoist Ozawa out of his post. That it is Okada offering the proposal opens up the possibility of a snide counterproposal, on the order of "Why not a rule against the sons of supermarket chain magnates running for district seats? Does not immense personal wealth offer an unfair advantage?" Furthermore, while Ozawa's insistence on remaining party leader has had a deleterious effect on the DPJ's popularity ratings, it has not affected Okada personally. A showdown with Ozawa, on the other hand, carries considerable personal risks for Okada, should the attempt fail -- and could instigate the breakup of the DPJ into pro- and anti-Ozawa rump parties, should it succeed.

Okada's proposal is possibly not so much a call to arms as a rebranding effort. Under Ozawa, the DPJ has undergone a soul-stripping transformation from a party of the urban and suburban salaryman, with a focus on fiscal rectitude and politico-economic restructuring, to a national party modeled on the old LDP, with promises of profligacy for everyone. Okada's proposal revives the image of the DPJ as the party of reform and opportunity, putting the LDP in the position of defender of the ancien regime. That Okada's proposal has no chance at all of becoming policy is good for both Okada and the DPJ: one can benefit from the appearance of a conscience being at work without the messy business of actually putting one's principles into practice.

1 comment:

RMilner said...

Japan isn't the only country with hereditary politicians within a democratic framework. The USA and UK can also show examples, though there are fewer of them.

Similar nepotism occurs in other fields such as showbusiness. It is to some extent a natural consequence of a field of endeavour where personality, experience and connections are more important than academic qualifications or technical ability.