Thursday, March 04, 2010

As Scandal Swirls About the DPJ, It Is The LDP That Is Drowning

Though I have linked to it once already, T. Harris has written a magisterial post on the current parlous state of the Liberal Democratic Party. He proposes some possible answers to the current conundrum of Japanese politics: how despite the many wounds inflicted these past few months to the Democratic Party's longtime "clean" image, the Liberal Democratic Party has failed to earn even a modicum of respect in opposition. Indeed, with the rapid decline in the chances of the LDP returning to even par with the DPJ, the party has lost the support of the dentists, one of the LDP's most loyal institutional voting blocs... and is facing the loss of the doctors as well.

It seems the Japanese political market can only support one variegated, everybody-gets-something, ethically compromised umbrella party at a time.

When you are reduced to throwing tantrums because three ministers (though admittedly a very interesting trio of individuals) failed to get the message that a committee meeting start time had been rescheduled from 9:00 a.m. to the unusual hour of 8:50 a.m., you have really lost all sense of proportion.*

The LDP's stature has indeed sunk so low, and the New Komeito with it, that the only real opposition the DPJ faces comes from its own coalition partners.** It is because of People's New Party vehement opposition that the controversial foreigner's local suffrage law seems a dead letter, at least for this Diet session. The Democratic Socialist Party has played a milder but still corrective role as well, reminding the DPJ again and again to deliver on its campaign promises.

So there is reason for ruling in coalition with tiny but obstreperous political allies, even when they are superfluous: they can prevent you from falling in love with your own cleverness.***

The self-styled paper-of-record The Asahi Shimbun is today predicting a potentially disastrous House of Councillors election for the DPJ, on the basis that the support levels for the Hatoyama Cabinet have sunk from "stratospheric" to merely "moderate." The argument does not hold much water. The voters need to see the emergence of a plausible alternative to the DPJ before they will be willing to instigate yet another round of change. There is not one now nor is there a likelihood of there being one by the time July rolls around.

Wishing something is true as a recompense for your illusions having been shattered is not analysis. Sometimes justice is not served; sometimes a sin will go unpunished.

* That the media would report the ministers' having been late as the top political news story of course indicates how low the news media have sunk.

** A coalition ally's being the only effective opposition is not unprecedented. It was only because of intense New Komeito opposition to the LDP's authoritarian draft revision of the Basic Law on Education that the bill eventually passed in 2007 was not utterly egregious.

** Not unlike friendship in between individuals, no?


Anonymous said...

Oh no, now some stunning reflection on "Twitter addiction" amongst politicians given yesterdays scandalous events. Clearly the DPJ are nothing more than a bunch of NEETs in disguise, which of course = the end of Japan as we know it.


Anonymous said...

It has taken the Conservatives in the UK more than a decade to get themselves together. The Canadian Liberals still haven't managed the feat. The Liberals in Australia are still in a mess and their third or fourth leader, as were the Labor party before them. I fully expect the LDP to take as long. I don't think there's much we can read into it about the nature of Japanese democracy, as much as the nature of being destroyed at the ballot box.

MTC said...

Anonymous -

I do not disagree with the assertion that regrouping after a shellacking takes time. However, none of the parties you mention was handed nearly as much free ice cream as the LDP has enjoyed. The press and the judicial branch have had it out for the DPJ from day one. They have expended a not insignificant fraction of their respective credibilities in trying to topple the PM and Ozawa Ichiro.

That the LDP's support levels have scarcely moved over these past few months indicates that the marginal, unattached voter does not see the LDP as an alternative to the current administration.

Anonymous said...

"The voters need to see the emergence of a plausible alternative to the DPJ before they will be willing to instigate yet another round of change."

Wishful thinking on your part. The voters didn't care much for the DPJ the first time around. They voted for them by default; not because they supported their policies. The exit polls in the Nikkei Shimbun (and the polls thereafter) were fairly clear on this point. I'm confident that the House of Councilors election will simply bring about a very muddled, disorganized, fragmented Upper House that will not serve the best interests of the nation, let alone the DPJ. Frankly, Hatoyama is no better than Hosokawa so many ways. The poor man is a space cadet, not a leader. The political situation will only grow worse from here.

Anonymous said...


Surely so. But the point is that a shell-shocked party is focused inwards on recriminations, hand-wringing over what they stand for, financial problems, candidate morale, interest group problems, and any number of other things. They are structurally unable to act as an effective opposition until they work that stuff out of their system. This dynamic is universal. We had to have Michael Foot before we had Neil Kinnock, before we had John Smith, before we finally had Blair.

MTC said...

Anonymous (Hosokawa reference) -

Your assertions regarding the results of the Nikkei surveys illuminate the reasons why I prefer anthropological to political science perspectives. A political scientist, juxtaposing the results of the surveys against the results of the elections most likely comes to the conclusion that the voters were not voting for the DPJ, just uncritically and spitefully against the LDP. The voters in essence fooled themselves into believing that they were voting for change.

An anthropologist, looking at the same data, might come to the conclusion that the voters saw the August elections as an incipient opportunity for reimagination of the self, a chance to reaffirm through change certain deep and idealistic stories they have long told themselves about themselves.

Joe said...

I don't know how the LDP can continue to expect that haranguing the DPJ over money issues will garner them support. Do they really think the citizenry don't possess memories beyond the last election?

Climate Morio said...

Hm, i share Anonymous' analysis of the August election, if only for having lived through Eastern Europe's rejection of Communism. You do have point about that anthropological approach, but i would be tempted to say that those kinds of identity-rearticulating moments require circumstances that are significantly more... the right word escapes me right now, but perhaps "exhilarating" will do?

In Eastern Europe people clapped their hands and stomped their feet when the Berlin Wall fell and the string of regimes making up the Warsaw pact fell. People were also very excited to kick out the rump remains of their respective Communist parties a couple of years down the line, heralding the first real post-Communist administrations. Unfortunately, for all the euphoria, these new governments had not the foggiest about how to run a country and come next elections they were booted out.

Romania is a very telling case in that sense, for instance. What happened there was that after the elections lots of parties from unexpected quarters gained ground, like marginal parties or crazy right wingers.

I expect the same thing to happen in this summer's elections. I see the same kind of fanfare and big rhetoric in the DPJ as i saw more than a decade ago in Eastern Europe. They simply have not shown yet that they can actually run a government "in real time", as opposed to merely mouthing high-falutin' reform talk.

I do not wish to sound snide here, but what would an anthropologist use as evidence to suggest that the voters are going to stick to a party such as the DPJ, as opposed to casting their votes with some nutters or splinter parties?

Anonymous said...

"an incipient opportunity for reimagination of the self, a chance to reaffirm through change certain deep and idealistic stories they have long told themselves about themselves"

Methinks you are talking about yourself. And only you yourself believes you changed in August.

The deep self-examination and realization needed for change exist neither within the DPJ nor you.