Monday, May 31, 2010

The Futenma Failure Takes Its Toll on the DPJ and Boosts the SDP

Points to note in the latest Kyodo and Fuji Sankei public opinion polls.

Cabinet - In the Kyodo poll, support for the Hatoyama Cabinet has again dropped, this time below the crucial 20% line. Some 19% of those polled still support the Cabinet, down from 21% last month. Those not supporting the Cabinet soared, however, to 73%, up from 64% in the poll taken a month ago.

When asked why they do not support the Cabinet, 25% said it was because that they could not trust the Prime Minister and 36% said it was because they have no confidence in Prime Minister as a leader. Other reasons cited were having no confidence in the Cabinet's economic plans (13%) and no confidence in the goverment's ability to pursue reform (6%). Other options did not poll above 4%.

As for the Fuji Sankei Group pol, it finds found similar support numbers: 19% supporting the Cabinet and 74% not supporting it.

Political Party - When asked which party they support, 21% of respondents in the Kyodo said the Democratic Party of Japan while 22% said the Liberal Democratic Party. This marks the first time the support numbers for the LDP have exceeded those for the DPJ since last summer's House of Representatives election. The upstart Your Party (Minna no To), the reformist default party, has the support of 11% of the electorate.

As for which party the voters will be casting their votes in this summer's House of Councillor's election, the Kyodo poll finds 20% of the electorate voting for the DPJ, 21% voting for the LDP, 11% voting for Your Party.

The Fuji Sankei poll only asked its subjects which party they inted to vote for in proportional party vote in this summer's House of Councillor's election. The numbers there are even more stark: only 13% will cast their votes for the ruling DPJ and 18% for the LDP. Oddly, the Fuji Sankei poll finds a only 5% of its respondents ready to cast their votes for Your Party - the same as the number declaring that they will vote for the New Komeito.

In line with predictions made last week, the Social Democratic Party, which voted yesterday to leave the ruling coalition following the firing on Friday of its leader Fukushima Mizuho from her Cabinet post, seems to be reaping a P.R. windfall from its principled stance against the government's plan to move elements of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko. Whereas slightly fewer than 2% of voters declared themselves supporters of the SDP in last month's poll, the party now enjoys the support of 5% of the electorate - vaulting the SDP into fourth place among organized parties in the Kyodo poll. As this doubling of support is the first significant movement in the support numbers for the Social Democrats since last year, one can only assume it is due to the SDP's stubborn unwillingness to countenance the Prime Minister's failing to honor his promise to move all of Futenma outside of Okinawa Prefecture.

The Kyodo poll finds a similar jump, from less than 2% last month to over 5% today, in those who say they will cast their votes for the SDP. Oddly, the Fuji Sankei poll finds fewer than 1% of its respondents ready to cast their votes for the SDP. However, the lack of support for the SDP in the Fuji Sankei may be simply a reflection of the poll's having been conducted on May 27, before Fukushima made clear she would not budge on a vote for a Cabinet Decision, leaving the Prime Minister no choice but to sack her.

- The Futenma Climbdown - The people's view of moving MCAS Futenma remains unchanged despite the Prime Minister's heartfelt plea for understanding on Friday. In the Kyodo poll, 66% of respondents do not appreciate (hyoka shinai) the government's plan to move MCAS Futenma to Henoko. Only 25% say they do value what the government has done. This finding emphasizes what seems to be permanent feature of the political landscape: a two-thirds majority of Japanese voters believing unacceptable the continued stationing of the U.S. Marines forces associated with Futenma on the island of Okinawa, no matter the escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the increased number of incidents at sea involving the People's Liberation Army Navy and Japan's Maritime Self Defense Forces and Coast Guard. A majority of the voters still want Futenma somewhere else, even after seven months of fruitless searches for an alternative to the Roadmap.

All in all, a terrible sets of results for Prime Minister Hatoyama and the DPJ. In normal times, discussions would be underway to find a way for the Prime Minister and the top party leaders to step aside. However, with the end of the regular Diet session on June 16 and a likely calling of the election on June 23, there is simply no time to go through all the requirements needed to replace the PM and the party leadership before the currently projected July 11 House of Councillors election.

Friday, May 28, 2010

That's All Folks! (Fukushima Mizuho Edition)

NHK has just announced that Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio has relieved (himen) Minister for Consumer Affairs and Declinining Birthrate Fukushima Mizuho of her ministerial postings.

Hatoyama spent all day trying to convince the Social Democratic Party's leader to reverse her stance on the government's plan to move elements of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko. To every entreaty Fukushima replied that if the government's proposal named Henoko or any other place inside Okinawa Prefecture as the destination of the forces currently at Futenma, she would refuse to sign the document. Furthermore, if asked to resign, she would refuse to do so.

Faced with the prospect of the plan's not winning the status of a Cabinet Decision -- and having issued a joint statement with the United States on the outlines of the plan on a few hours earlier, the prime minister was left with no other choice but sacking his stubborn minister and coalition party leader.

The Cabinet will now meet sans Fukushima to approve the plan.

Having had to rely on forceful methods to pass a significantly unpopular plan, the prime minister's problems are only just beginning. He has a plan which his remaining non-DPJ minister, People's New Party leader Kamei Shizuka, has repeatedly stated is unrealizable. He has retreated from every position he has taken over the last nine months, driving the people of Okinawa to the edge of fury and the rest of the country over the edge of exasperation.

The contrast between himself, the constant and in the end unfulfilled waverer, and Minister Fukushima, who stuck by her guns all the way to the bitter end, could not be more stark.

Sic transit gloria mundi...

The Day Begins

It is a morning of full of promise in Tokyo, with a brilliant blue sky like an azure lid clamped down upon the city. Strong winds are setting the branches of the keyaki to dancing, whilst the gregarious onaga (Cyanopica cyana) in their gangs flit back and forth, screeching and jeering.

Hardly the appropriate overture for a day of conflict, resistance and defeat.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

House of Councillors Election 2010 - Districts in Transition

The House of Councillors has 242 members, elected to six-year terms. Half of the seats of the House, 121 seats, will be up for election this summer.

Seats are divided between electoral district (senkyoku) seats and party proportional (hireiku) seats. There will be 73 district seats and 48 party proportional seats up for election.

In the House of Councillors elections the electoral districts are contiguous with the boundaries of the prefectures. Each prefecture has a least two House of Councillors members representing it, which means prefectures will thus have at least one seat up for election this summer. The maximum number of seats up for election in an electoral district is 5.

There are 29 prefectures with but a single seat up for election, 12 prefectures with two seats up for election, 5 with three seats up for election and a single prefecture (the Tokyo Metropolitan District) with five seats up for election.

The prefecture with the greatest electoral leverage will be Tottori, where one House of Councillors member will be elected to represent the interests of just 590,000 inhabitants. By contrast, voters in Kanagawa Prefecture (3 seats) must accept having one House of Councillors member for every 2.98 million inhabitants.

Two prefectures, Gunma and Tochigi, will be losing seats in this election through reapportionment, each prefecture dropping from two seats to one. This means that two sitting incumbents could be in the running for but a single seat. In both Gunma and Tochigi, the two existing seats are split between a member of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and a member of the Liberal Democratic Party. Expect rowdy campaigns in these two prefectures, one of which (Gunma) is considered an LDP fortress, the prefecture having produced a slew of prime ministers for the LDP.

Two prefectures, the TMD and Chiba, will be adding seats in this election. This would normally be a plus for the LDP, which in recent elections has been able to rely on its political machine to scrape into office in multi-seat districts with second place or third place finishes. However in 2007, the LDP, running two candidates in the TMD, only managed to win one seat, this despite the expansion of seats available from four to five. The LDP's top vote getter, TV announcer Marukawa Tamayo, only barely finished above an independent, AIDS activist Kawada Ryuhei, in the battle for fourth and fifth places. Kawada has since joined the Your Party (Minna no To) which advocates policies resonant with the values of urban and suburban managerial-class and salarymen-class voters. With the LDP's political machine in tatters and the Your Party riding high in the polls, the Your Party candidate will overleap the LDP candidate, leaving the LDP likely fighting minor parties and independents for the newly available seat - a battle the moribund LDP could lose.

New In the Blogroll

The Asian Wall Street Journal has launched a Japan group blog Japan Real Time. Go for a visit by clicking the link on the left.

The timing of Japan Real Time's launch is somewhat interesting, as rival media giant Reuters seems to be losing interest in the blogging format. The stand-alone site Raw Japan has been abandoned in favor of a Japan page in the Reuters Global News Journal. The pace of contributions since the switchover - only 2 posts in the last 5 weeks -- indicates a possible lack of faith in the format.

Good luck to the folks at the ASWJ with their new venture.

She's Not There - Futenma-to-Henoko Edition

Well no one told me about her.
What could I do?
Well no one told me about her
Though they all knew.

But it's too late to say you're sorry.
How would I know, why should I care?
Please don't bother trying to find her,
She's not there.

The Zombies, "She's Not There" (1964)

All photographs are manipulations, saying as much (or more) about the attitudes of the photographer and the editor as what really occurred.

The above image of Consumer Affairs Minister Fukushima Mizuho and Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio in the Diet yesterday graces the front page of my newspaper this morning. It is assumed to speak volumes, silently, in shared visual language all understand.

Image courtesy: The Mainichi Shimbun

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Will Fukushima Mizuho Force Prime Minister Hatoyama's Hand?

Article 68

1) The Prime Minister shall appoint the Ministers of State. However, a majority of their number must be chosen from among the members of the Diet.

2) The Prime Minister may remove the Ministers of State as he chooses

- The Constitution of Japan (1946)

As a preface to this post, please read Ethan Chua's argument that the biggest loser from the Futenma climbdown is the Social Democratic Party.

I take exception with Mr. Chua's conclusion. The biggest losers from the Futenma climbdown are still likely to be the Prime Minister and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi, both of whom have watched their reputations evanesce away into air. No amount of apologizing, prevaricating or pandering can give them the least bit of political substance.

Minister of Consumer Affairs Fukushima Mizuho and the SDP, however, seem to be preparing to walk away from the smoldering wreckage of the Hatoyama fallback with their reputations for principled intransigence intact. In appearance after appearance in Okinawa today, Fukushima made clear that she will not vote in favor of the government plan outlined this weekend to move the personnel and materiel of MCAS Futenma to a new offshore base to be built outside Camp Schwab in Henoko -- basically the plan outlined in the 2006 roadmap.

If Fukushima votes no at the plan's presentation to the Cabinet on Friday, she will provoke a stunning political showdown. Without the unanimous consent of the Cabinet, the plan cannot be considered a Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei). It can only be a Prime Minister's Statement (shusho hatsugen) -- and according to press reports, Fukushima is ready to oppose the bill's even receiving this lower level of official status.

Furthermore --and someone should correct me if I am wrong here -- but if the plan does not receive the imprematur of a kakugi kettei, it cannot be presented in the Diet as a government bill (naikaku teishutsu hoan or seifuan). Hirano has argued that a Prime Minister's Statement, if it receives the understanding (ryokai) of the Cabinet is just as good as a Cabinet Decision -- but since Fukushima says she will oppose a Prime Minister's Statement, this attempt to find a work-around seems moot. Instead the bill would have to be presented as a Diet member's bill (giin teishutsu hoan), forcing the Prime Minister to either submit the bill in his own name with the signatures of 20 members of the House of Representatives or 10 members of the House of Councillors in support of it, or find a close ally to submit it instead.

Prime Minister Hatoyama can round up the signatures of 20 House of Representatives members in a second, of course. However, the humiliation of failing to win the unquestioned support of the Cabinet he himself picked makes this route the last one he would want to take.

The alternative is for Prime Minister Hatoyama somehow prevent Fukushima from voting no at Friday's regular Cabinet meeting. He and other Cabinet ministers, while indicting their rage at Fukushima's visit and statements, have tried to open a little political wiggle room for Fukushima to back out of her threat, saying that she traveled to Okinawa and made her statements not as a minister of the Japanese government, but as the head of her party.

Such casuistry will probably not lure Fukushima into backing down. Her party is facing the potential loss of all its seats up for election this year, including, it should be noted, hers. Having lost the support of, over the last 15 years, those hating the Liberal Democratic Party, the pacifists, the labor unions and true believers in socialism, the SDP has no natural constituency to keep it alive.

However, if the party can sell itself as the member of the revolutionary coalition that did not sell out the Okinawans, that held firm to its beliefs, it might win support amongst Japan's currently demoralized hardcore pacifists and the smoldering anti-American left.

If Fukushima does not back down before Thursday, when the DSP will hold a meeting that is sure to request that she vote against the Prime Minister's new plan, then Hatoyama may have no choice but to fire her. Under Article 68 of the constitution the prime minister has the right to arbitrarily (nin'i) remove any state minister from office.

The results of firing Fukushima could be even worse than letting her vote against the government's plans, however. While her party is numerically irrelevant in terms of the passage of bills through the Diet, its expulsion from the coalition will draw an immediate, negative response from the People's New Party, which is currently unenthusiastic albeit not opposed to the government's Futenma-to-Henoko proposal.

PNP president Kamei Shizuka, after talking to Fukushima on the telephone about the impending collision yesterday, has indeed suggested that Hatoyama needs to take two steps back, not even calling the plan a Prime Minister's Statement. Instead, he has suggested that Hatoyama refer to his plan simply as "a plan that is currently being undertaken" (tsukochu no an). As for Fukushima's seemingly suicidal devotion to principle, he is quoted as telling her, "Look, that government plan has no chance of being realized. To leave the coalition and go to an honorable death over a plan that cannot be realized is idiotic."

So for those who think that Hatoyama has, at great political cost, successfully sold out the Okinawans and the Socialists, staving off a crisis with the United States with a plan that essentially replicates the major elements of the plan LDP agreed to in 2006, hang on to your hats.

This is going to be a fun next three days.

Opposing Views From Persons In Whose Homes I Have Had Dinner

Pro: Robert Dujarric, writing in The Japan Times on the potential cultural diplomacy value of increased immigration into Japan.

Con (more skeptical, actually): Paul Scalise, writing in Newsweek, on the potential aggregate net economic cost of accepting immigrants, based upon Health, Welfare and Labour Ministry estimates.

What's nice is that I can agree on the validity of the points being raised by both authors.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Really Worthwhile Reads

Via a link on the Reischauer Center's blogsite comes William Brooks, the former director of the translation division at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, on the historical background to the Futenma climbdown. My only caveat to Brooks's timely tour-de-force: stay alert to the biases of various of Japanese media groups he cites.

Kiwi analyst Corey Wallace on an under-the-radar Liberal Democratic Party bill creating a permanent law on the dispatch of Self Defense Forces for peacekeeping and disaster relief purposes. The key point he homes in on: the proposed law will define what a peacekeeping mission is, with the rules of engagement being taken off the table.

House of Councillors Election 2010 - Buying Votes Where One Can

A glance at this morning's top news stories reveals a ruling party working its control of the dispensing of goverment goodies to either nail down or tamp down constituencies possibly crucial to the outcome of this summer's House of Councillors election.

In a move guaranteed to make believers in fundamental structural reform gag, Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro and People's New Party leader Kamei Shizuka made grand appearances at the convention of the National Postmasters Association (Zentoku) in Nagoya on Sunday. Ozawa promised the assembled that the Diet would approve the government's proposed amendments to the postal reform law in the current Diet session. The Kamei-drafted amendments, which halt the privatization of the postal savings bank and breakup of the postal services into separate business units, is now in committee in the House of Representatives. Presentation of a bill halting postal reform is having international repercussions and is portrayed in the media as the PNP tail wagging the DPJ dog. Nevertheless, Ozawa seemed quite pleased with his welcome.

Japan has around 20,000 postmasters, spread evenly over the entire country. As such they would hardly seem worth Ozawa's and the DPJ's time. However, pandering to the postmasters is seen as the key to securing the votes of Post Office's large unionized workforce, their family members and the hundreds of thousands of largely elderly voters in rural areas dependent upon the Post Office for their banking, insurance and delivery needs. Winning the support of the postmasters is thought to represent the securing of up to a million votes nationwide -- which gives the postmasters significant leverage in an election featuring a deeply unpopular ruling party and a plethora of political rivals vying for the public's favor.

A few stops down on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, National Policy Unit deputy minister Furukawa Motohisa visited Osaka to discuss with Osaka Governor Hashimoto Toru the possibility of establishing a special low corporate tax international business zone within the prefecture -- a pet project of the governor's. That Governor Hashimoto has recently established the Ishin no Kai, a political organization the governor hopes to transform into a full-fledged political party -- and that a candidate of the Ishin no Kai yesterday overcame candidates support by the DPJ, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Communists in a local election in Osaka Prefecture , are not likely to be unrelated -- particularly because of the candidates supported by political parties, the DPJ's candidate finished dead last.

That a national government gasping for revenues would actually be considering the establishment of low corporate tax zones in Hashimoto's bailiwick on the theory that a lower corporate tax rate would entice businesses to set up shop in Osaka (or elsewhere) despite the high costs for everything else (land, labor, energy...) is a belief that taxes the imagination.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

House of Councillors Election 2010 - When Will the Elections Be Held?

In probably less that two month's time Japan will hold its triannual House of Councillor's election. The election will be for half of the House, 121 out of 242 seats. The actual date of the 2010 elections has not been finalized. However, most reporting puts the date to be July 11.

The law holds that the election must be held within 30 days prior to the end of the six year terms of those currently in office. However, if the Diet is in session, or was in session less than 24 days ago, then the election must held off until the 24th day after the end of the Diet session. It can be held at any time within a 30 span starting from the 24th day on.

The House of Councillors election for the seats up for election this year was held on July 11, 2004, with the terms in office for those currently holding these seats beginning the next day, July 12, 2004. If the Diet were not in session, the House of Councillors election could be held as early as June 13, which is the earliest Sunday within 30 days prior to July 12.

However, the Diet is in its 150 day regular session, which will end on June 16. Unless the Diet session is extended, the earliest an election can be held is July 11, the first Sunday after the 23 day-long quarantine period ends. The election can, according to the law, be held anytime up to 30 days after the 23 day period ends.

However, the Sundays falling after July 11 are problematic ones for the ruling coalition. The first, July 18, is in the middle of a three day weekend. Nothing would anger the electorate more than an election in the middle of a vacation period. Holding the election on July 25 is a possibility, but that is already after the schools will be closing for summer break and when the citizens start dispersing for the summer. The print and broadcast media would strongly criticize the ruling coalition for regressing into the election date selection shenanigans the Liberal Democratic Party used to employ in order to suppress turnout.

An election on a Sunday in August? Not likely. It is too damn hot to campaign and too many voters are away from their voting districts, especially during Obon.

A July 11 date could be become moot if the ruling parties agree to an extension of the current Diet session. However, news reports say that the parties have agreed to not extend the session, as they have no pressing business to conduct. Indeed, many House of Councillors members are already in full campaign mode. Nearly 50 of them were absent from the Diet's regular plenary session on Friday.

All indications that the Diet session will wrap up its business on time, the formal announcements of the candidates eligible for office will be made on June 24 and the election will be held on July 11.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Oh Yes We Did So Get It Right!

Kudos the Public Prosecutors Office. After questioning Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro on Saturday and his former political secretary Ishikawa Tomohiro on Monday, the prosecutors are reportedly going to reaffirm their decision to not prosecute Ozawa.

This is a surprisingly positive, if not entirely surprising, result. While the prosecutors were unlikely to reverse their decision to not prosecute Ozawa, on the grounds that such would have been an admission that they, the professionals, had failed to be sufficiently diligent in the performance of their duties the first time out...that is until a randomly selected group of average citizens showed them the error of their ways...they also did not take the cowardly route out of their predicament. Rather than come out and say, "Yes, we were right, there are no grounds to indict Ozawa," the prosecutors could have just sat on their hands for another 82 days, at which time the Committee for the Inquest of the Prosecution could order its own prosecution, carried out by court-appointed lawyers. By tossing the case back to the Committee with the label "There is Nothing in Here" on it, the prosecutors are daring the Committee to grasp the nettle of actively interfering in the conduct of the House of Councillors election.

Now the case goes back to the Committee. Under normal circumstances, the Committee, having already come to a decision once to reject the judgment of the prosecutors, should have little trouble rejecting again. However, the reality that the Committee really will be ordering an extraordinary prosecution of the leader of the main party of government on the eve of a harshly contested election, may give Committee members pause. While those serving on the Committee have an interest in appearing consistent in their rulings, they also have an interest in not interfering too obviously in the political process.

The decision the prosecutors puts the Committee in the position to do just that -- be perceived to be messing with the election.

Just what the Committee will decide to do is very much up in the air; the disincentives are far to weak to inhibit a decision to second-guess the prosecutors again.

One matter is certain, however: there is a zero percent chance of Ozawa ever being convicted of the crimes of which he has been accused. The prosecutors, given a second chance at Ozawa, found nothing worth pursuing.

Members of the DPJ need to pray that Ozawa does not gloat at the Committee's failure to bullrush the Prosecutors Office into indicting him. Ozawa already was in high spirits after his questioning over the weekend, and on Monday seemed to be backing away from his earlier offers to appear before the House of Representatives Council on Political Ethics. An appearance before the Council, while superfluous given the prosecutors's decision not to indict, would put an exclamation point on the message that Ozawa has so far has failed to communicate to the public: that he has nothing, absolutely nothing to hide.

It is hard to overemphasize how lucky Ozawa has been in all this. Had just one of his former secretaries broken down under pressure and signed a statement that he had kept Ozawa fully informed of all transactions carried out by the Rikuzankai, it could have been curtains for the DPJ's Secretary-General.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

It Was All So Much Easier In The Old Days

Lost in the general languor and mental sloth of Golden Week, former Chief Cabinet Secretary and éminence grise Nonaka Hiromu spilled the beans in a major way on how the Liberal Democratic Party governments managed polish their images and get things done. In a parallel with former Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Yoshino Bunroku's decision to come clean on his involvement in the negotiation and coverup of secret agreements made with the U.S. government over the reversion of Okinawa, Nonaka recently gave a glimpse into the way the Chief Cabinet Secretary could use the secret bank secret attached to the office for the purposes of "information gathering."

According to Nonaka, who served served as Chief Cabinet Secretary from July 1998 to October 1999, he would withdraw 50 to 70 million yen per month from the secret account to disperse to various persons. To the prime minister he would give 10 million a month, and to House of Representatives and House of Councillors Diet Affairs chairman he would each give 5 million a month - this in order to smooth the passage of legislation. He would also send aides to drop off packets of money at the offices of opposition politicians and, shockingly, political commentators and journalists. According to Nonaka only one of the latter, TV Asahi host Tahara Soichiro, ever refused to accept the money offered. Opposition lawmakers would ask for money prior to making visits to North Korea, in order make their visits go more smoothly.

Passing on secret account funds to opposition members in case they needed to bribe North Korean officials can be seen as falling under the rubric of information gathering. However, the belief that the Chief Cabinet Secretary's secret account was accessible for pretty much any kind of activity seems to have been widespread. Nonaka claims that one politician-turned-political-commentator telephoned Prime Minister Obuchi asking for 30 million yen as a celebratory contribution toward the building of a new home for himself, knowing that the money would be drawn from the secret account.

One has to wonder, given Nonaka's revelations, what the Hatoyama goverment's situation might be if it made as profligate use of the Chief Cabinet Secretary's account as it predecessors. The DPJ, when it was in opposition, roundly criticized the abuse of the secret account, assuming, seemingly quite correctly, that money from the account was being used to buy off opponents and paying off election expenses. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi was roundly criticized for at first absurdly refusing to admit that the account existed (Why he would do this, when his party had long demanded greater clarity regarding the account, taxes the brain) then for declaring that he would not disclose in any way how the money was being used. On Friday, however, the Cabinet revealed that it was returning unused secret funds to the general account, having somehow been unable to spend them.

The Hatoyama government may be suffering from teething problems not just because it is drawing less from the secret account but because it is using the funds in more in a more ethical and justifiable manner. From the way the Prime Minister has been ridiculed by the press since the very first weeks of his tenure in office, one has to guess that Hirano has not followed the precedent of using some of the funds from the account to buy off journalists.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Cabinet Goes Below 20; the DPJ and the LDP Switch

The Jiji Press poll is the first to show a drop of the support for the Cabinet falling below the usually lethal 20% line, fulfilling a tentative prophecy I made a week ago. Nearly two thirds of those polled (64%) said they disapproved of the Cabinet, a seven point rise from last month's poll.

In terms of which party the voters say they support, 17% said the Democratic Party of Japan, 13% said the Liberal Democratic Party, with the other smaller parties all polling at 4% or below.

As to which party the voters say they say will cast their vote for in the proportional vote in this summer's House of Councillors election, 18% said they were voting for the LDP and only 17% said the DPJ - the first time the polls show the DPJ falling below the LDP among likely voters since the takeover of the government by a DPJ-led coalition. Your Party, the default reformist party stands at nearly 8%.

Which party will you vote for in the proportional voting in the House of Councillors election?

LDP 18.3%
DPJ 17.3%
Your Party 7.8%
New Komeito 4.8%

While the numbers are very bad for both Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and the DPJ, not much will happen in response. The political markets have already largely factored in a drop in the PM's popularity below 20% as a result of his missing his self-imposed end-of-May deadline for a deal on the MCAS Futenma-to-Henoko transfer. The opposition may splash out with a no confidence motion in the House of Representatives. However, the motion will go precisely nowhere given the huge majority of seats the DPJ holds in that chamber.

With no one except perhaps Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro chomping at the bit to become prime minister, the chances of an internal move to replace Hatoyama are exceedingly small. We are less than one month away from the end of the regular Diet session and probably less two months away from a House of Councillors election (the most likely date for an election is July 11, with July 25 a close second). No DPJ member in his or her right mind wants to have the PM resign, a party election to replace him, the selection of a new Cabinet, an attempt to salvage bills from the regular session and then a campaign -- all in two months.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Washington, We Have A Situation Here

Look what I found on the editorial/letters to the editor page of today's Tokyo Shimbun. A cartoon seemingly submitted by a pseudonymous reader!

I think scores pretty high on the "Whoa!" scale.

It's like Ted Rall Does Tokyo.

Can't see it too well? Here is a blowup. It's called, "Steppingstone"

Ambassador Roos is probably going to have to write a note...if he has not done so already.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ozawa's Talking Cure

If media reports are to be believed, Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro is preparing to testify to the House of Representative Deliberative Council on Political Ethics (seiji rinri chosakai) regarding the real estate dealings of the Rikuzankai, his political fundraising organization.

Why this? Why now?

First and foremost, his party needs for him to do it. While he has so far escaped indictment as regards this case involving a piece of land bought in order to construct a dormitory for his small army of subordinates, his former secretaries have not. Given the strong presumption of guilt that goes with indictment and the belief that Ozawa is a hands on manager of all that touches him, Ozawa escaping the prosecutors' nets so far is seen merely as evidence of his craftiness, rather than innocence.

As the case against Ozawa and his aides has lurched forward, the DPJ has come under severe criticism for not ridding itself of its troublesome and seemingly troubled secretary-general. Some 83% of the public, according to Kyodo's latest poll, believes that Ozawa has an obligation to resign from his party post. Ozawa's continued tenure has contributed, along with the performance of Prime Minister Hatoyama, in a dramatic decline in popular support for the party, and a sharp drop in the percentage of voters who say they will vote for the party's candidates in this summer's House of Councillors elections. Where once there was yawning gulf of 20% between those like to vote for the DPJ and and those likely to vote for its chief rival the Liberal Democratic Party, a collapse in support for the DPJ now leaves a spread of less than 6% between the two parties, with a huge block of the voters (29%-to-45%, depending upon the poll) up for grabs as to whom they will support.

If the DPJ is to have any chance to grab the majority or even a plurality of these floating voters, Ozawa has to either come clean about his financial dealings or step aside.

So why would Ozawa be agreeing to go through the process now, rather than appearing before the Council earlier, before the controversy eroded away so much of the public's good will toward the DPJ?

While looking out for the party's interests is at the top of Ozawa's to-do list every day, he has a primary obligation to look out for himself. Appearing before the Council before talking to the prosecutors would have been stupid. Talking to the Council after the prosecutors had passed on indicting him would have been superfluous -- it would have given a chance for his many enemies to take pot shots at him, with little upside for Ozawa himself or the party.

Now that the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution (kensatsu shinsakai) has issued its condemnation of the prosecutors's decision not to indict Ozawa* , the prosecutors have asked Ozawa to come and talk to them again. This he will do -- but since they will be asking the same questions as before, he will be giving the same answers.

It is hard to say whether or not the prosecutors will indict Ozawa following questioning . Such a decision will be an admission that they that failed to do their jobs properly the first time around. If they do not indict Ozawa after what will be his third little go-around with them, or, what is more likely, they fail to take action within 90 days, the Committee will issue its own order to indict Ozawa.

With the prospect of further months and months of circus-like media speculation over the fate of Ozawa in the courts, the secretary-general should be looking for a way to at least clear the air.

So why clear the air in the Deliberative Council, rather than in a safer venue like a one-on-one interview with a sympathetic journalist -- if an Ozawa-sympathetic journalist could be found?

Strangely enough, submitting himself to questioning by his opponents within the confines of the Deliberative Council of the House of Representatives is probably safer for Ozawa than facing a member of the press.

First, he has already been through questioning by prosecutors. He probably knows every single item in the case against him and every single angle from it could be approached. It is unlikely that members of the opposition have anything new that could throw him off-balance.

Second, he faces no chance of any other action from the Council itself. It takes the agreement of at least 2/3 of those present to come to a decision. With a majority of Council members Democrats, the chances of Ozawa earning censure are less than infinitesimal. Indeed, the number of times that a Deliberative Council has condemned the member of the Diet appearing before it: zero.

Third, he will face no surprises from Council. This comes from the fact that in 1985, he himself wrote the rules governing the actions of the Council, which were perceived to be in need of revision following the conviction of former Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei in the Lockheed Scandal.

Whether appearing before the Council will have any positive effect on the public's perceptions of Ozawa and/or the DPJ depends on whether or not Ozawa accedes to the concept that politics is as much theater as it is the accumulation of power. If the Council's examination of Ozawa is done in public (it can be done behind closed doors) -- he will have the chance to assert, as he has done time and time again, that there is no crime here --- that he has accepted no illegal donations, that he knows nothing about the accounting mistakes of his former secretaries and has no idea why they made them. If he acts as though his opponents are merely doing their jobs, and does not lapse into his harrumphing mode, he has a decent chance to score some political points for his team.

He has it in him to answer questions with civility and with smile. We have seen it before, as in his press conference after he talked the prosecutors.

All he has to do is want to clear the air badly enough.

* There was never any question that the Committee would encourage the prosecutors to indict Ozawa. The whole point of bringing a case to the Committee's attention is to force the issuance of an indictment.

Freeing Up the Use of the Internet for Elections

In a rare show of cross-party cooperation, the main parties in the Diet have agreed to pass a revision of the sections of the Elections Law that have been seen as banning changes to online content during the election season. The main parties are ready to go forward with allowing candidates to update content on their home pages and post content on blogs after the official start of the election season.

Two facets leap out of the announcement. First is the unbelievable speed at which the parties have come to this agreement. Only three weeks after opening up intra-party discussions on a revision of the law on April 16, the parties are ready to move on a bill, one they hope to get passed before the end of the current Diet session. Second is relative sophistication of the omissions to complete liberalization of internet campaigning. The revisions will still ban candidates from using Twitter or email for campaign purposes. DPJ members at the intra-party talks were understandably leery of liberalization of the use of platforms that could be used to produce spoof messages.

Why do I say "understandably"?

Ask Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister and former DPJ leader Maehara Seiji.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Ozawa and Hatoyama Resignation Charade

When God is trying to punish you
He answers your prayers

National Strategy Minister Sengoku Yoshito is reckoned to be one of the smartest and most reputable members of the Democratic Party of Japan's top leadership. He gets great press. The public also seems to hold him in high regard. He has won the mantle of a bold and steadfast politician the hardest way: by consistently opposing DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro's policies and party power mongering.

Sengoku Yoshito is fretting nowadays, however. Not because he and his allies might fail in their long war against Ozawa -- but that they might succeed too soon.

In a bit of irony, Sengoku and his party allies Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Maehara Seiji and Government Revitalization Minister Edano Yukio are finding themselves suddenly having to hit the brakes on their criticism of Ozawa and Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. They have realized that in the plummeting popularity of the Cabinet, the public's frustration with Ozawa's seeming stonewalling and pseudopopulist pandering and the Prime Minister's failure to achieve even a minimal amount of progress toward the acceptance, by any group or person, of the government's plan for moving MCAS Futenma -- the current DPJ duarchs might just "do the honorable thing" and resign their positions at the end of the month.

Such a double resignation, or a even resignation by Ozawa alone, would throw the anti-Ozawa camp in the DPJ into chaos. The anti-Ozawa forces would have to choose a new secretary-general from amongst themselves -- there is little likelihood they would countenance a replacement of Ozawa with his youthful protege, Internal Affairs and Communications Haraguchi Kazuhiro. They would then have to sell their idea to the party rank-and-file, which is packed with Ozawa loyalists. The new secretary-general would then be responsible, in tandem with current prime minister Hatoyama or his most likely replacement current Finance Minister Kan Naoto, to try lead the DPJ to victory in the summer's House of Councillor's election -- on a ticket comprised almost in its entirely of candidates chosen by Ozawa.

Faced with such a prospect, it should be unsurprising that Sengoku, Maehara, Edano and party curmudgeon Watanabe Kozo suddenly are finding merit in making excuses for Prime Minister Hatoyama's failure to meet his own deadline for "solving Futenma." They have realized that last thing they want is to suddenly receive what they have been asking for all these months -- Hatoyama's and/or Ozawa's exit stage left.

In a delicious bit of irony, the anti-Ozawa forces in the DPJ find themselves in somewhat the same boat as Tanigaki Sadakazu and the Liberal Democratic Party. Tanigaki and the LDP have been taunting the anti-Ozawa forces in the DPJ into taking on Hatoyama and Ozawa. However, the last thing the LDP wants is to face a DPJ led by anyone aside from Hatoyama and Ozawa. Droning on and on about money problems of the DPJ's ruling duarchs and Hatoyama's tendency to debate with himself out loud are the LDP's only election weapons. Should Ozawa and Hatoyama step aside, the LDP's goose would be truly and utterly cooked.

So despite months of muttering and pontification to the contrary, those in the political world opposed to Ozawa's influence finds they have one thing in common -- they need him to refuse to answer their prayers.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why Does He Do It?

One of the admirable qualities of Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro is his intense focus on playing the board, not the opponent. In the four years he has been running the show over at DPJ headquarters, he has not wavered, despite tremendous pressure from some party members and the press, from playing politics based on the electoral map and electoral rules the Liberal Democratic Party crafted over several decades in order to perpetuate its rule. He replaced the DPJ's astonishing compulsion to have the right policies with a wolfish desire to seize power. While one might fault him -- and many do -- for leading the DPJ from its original path of fiscal austerity and greater openness in government, he did what was necessary to get the party where it is today: so dominant that it its only credible opposition is to be found within its own ranks.

Which is why crap like this is so infuriating.

Why did Ozawa, when he confirmed that has recently had a private meeting with U.S. Ambassador John Roos, blithely tell reporters at his press conference that he and the Ambassador did not talk a whit about politics, only shared a delicious bottle of wine? Why does he not understand that his attempts to demonstrate his contempt for reporters and press editors through transparent lying actually comes across as his showing contempt for the public? Why does he continue to avoid making an unsworn appearance in the Diet to offer an explanation for his financial dealings, as 80% of the populace so demands?

Why does he let his contempt for the self-appointed watchdogs of the press veer out of control, to the point where his project of creating a new, policy-oriented political force is threatened?

Why does he not forget about his opponents in the press, the party (to whom he will not surrended power, not even in the face of electoral catastrophe in this summer's elections) the bureaucracy and big business? Why does he seem to let pride overthrow his heretofore admirable concentration on securing the vote of the non-aligned voter -- the prize in this summer's House of Councillors election?

Why does not play the board?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

We Three Kings of Tokunoshima Are

Sacreligious. But fun.

As Japan's prime minister Hatoyama Yukio, here portrayed as the Virgin Mary (precious!) holds tight his newly hatched fukuan - literally, "belly plan" - regarding the closure of MCAS Futenma, the three mayors of the townships on the island of Tokunoshima, here dressed as the three Wise Men of East, present the fukuan and Hatoyama with their gift of the signatures of 20,000 persons (actually 25, 800) rejecting the redeployment to the island of any of the forces being dispersed from Futenma. "It is the spirits, the hearts and the civic will of the people of the island," says Isen Township mayor Okubo Akira, explaining the gift he holds in his hands.

For a straighter take on the story, go here. For the excrutiatingly awkward ANN TV report on the meeting of the four men, go here.

Image courtesy: Tokyo Shimbun


A slideshow of a recent visit to Sugamo, currently being cheerily promoted in the media as "the Ginza for Silver Set." A decidedly downscale and dowdy Ginza, more indicative of a rather more economically stressed retirement than one would believe the happy talk media would want us pondering.

Friday, May 07, 2010

A Japanese Prediction of an Emerging Sino-American Trade and Economics Interdependence and Co-prosperity Relationship

"Whenever the [reference deleted] discusses the geography of America, it always compares it with China. Indeed, the two countries occupy very fertile lands in the eastern and western hemispheres. They are located in similar positions, their latitudes are the same, and their shape and sizes are also similar. However, in China, mountain-chains run east to west and there are many clear rivers, while in America the mountain ranges furn north to south and the rivers tend to be muddy. The races are distinct, as are their customs. Their geographical features may be similar, but their occupations are very different, and the people of each country produce their own distinctive products; one has what the other lacks. Thus, both countries find advantage in commerce and transport. Moreover, they are both naturally endowed with fertile soil, so with the increasing flow of people and civilization across the Pacific, both countries are expected to prosper through trade and exchange."

- From "Chapter 2: A General Survey of the United States of America" in A True Account of the Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary's Journey of Observation Through the United States of America and Europe (Tokumei zenken taishi Beio kairan jikki) compiled by Kume Kunitake and published by Hakubunsha in 1878.

Translation by Martin Collcutt.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The PM Stumbles Out of a Bad Golden Week

Today is, almost mercifully, a newspaper holiday. Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio wasted a set of perfectly beautiful warm days on the main island in a fruitless and humiliating series of presentations of his ideas about moving the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to new, less-inhabited areas of Japan's maritime margins. After a miserable Golden Week, he will at least be spared a thrashing at the hands of the nation's print press.

In truth, the prime minister's plan is not bad. It gets the Marines and their aircraft out of Ginowan, eliminating the supposedly crucial and insoluble problem of trying to operate a major military airfield in the center of a city. The plan also cancels the insidious land reclamation portion of the relocation of the Marines to Henoko. Instead of paving over yet another section of Japan's nearshore areas, the plan will locate the runways for the replacement base entirely on land. This clears the hurdle of preserving dugong habitat (what the dugongs will think of helicopter noise is another matter) and perhaps more important, Democratic Party of Japan Ozawa Ichiro's political promise that the beautiful ocean around Henoko will not be compromised. Finally the PM's plan moves at least some Futenma's U.S Marines personnel and maneuvers out of the Okinawa Prefecture, as the he promised to do. True, a move of some portion of the activities of U.S. Marines to nearby Tokunoshima fulfills the PM pledge to "move Futenma outside the prefecture" on the barest of technical grounds -- but somthing is at least better than nothing.

The problem the PM faces is not with the plan itself. The plan at least is an improvement on the plan the Liberal Democratic Party and the United States agreed upon in 2006. Yes, it does not represent a full transfer of Futenma outside of the prefecture as the PM promised last year. Yes, it ticks off the American military. Yes, it angers the populace of Tokunoshima. But finding a median solution, where all are called upon to sacrifice, is in the very nature of democratic politics.

The problem the prime minister faces are his own, regarding preparation and presentation. On the campaign trail last year, the now-PM made a very serious promise to the people of Okinawa -- that the main islands and the U.S. would finally do right by them. However, he did so while lacking the infrastructure capable of delivering on that promise. When he became prime minister he had no plan of his own to implement. He did not even have an individual inside the DPJ or the Government selected to be in charge of the project. Eventually the task devolved upon the uninspiring Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi -- but that assignment came about more out of precedent than out of a matching of man and mission.

70% of everything is preparation, 20% natural ability and 10% chance*. If you have a plan and a means of implementing it, you are 70% of the way to your goal. Coming into office without a plan, the PM found himself faced with delivering on his promise based on what is normally only 30% of a successful outcome.

Some talented individuals really can indeed improvise, cobbling together a successful plan and its presentation on the fly.

Unfortunately, if past experiences with "the space man" had not been sufficient to hint that the PM lacked the flair and fearlessness to conjure up a popular, workable plan from thin air, the last seven months have clearly proven that he does not. He has appeared alternately to have no allegiance to any fixed goals or values or, conversely, enthralled to the very last thought to enter his head. He is furthermore, and has probably from birth, a terrible communicator -- so that when he does indeed decide what his views are on a subject, he is unable to find the words and gestures necessary to transmit his commitment to his views.

(For the PM's polar opposite in this regard, see Koizumi Shinjiro. Koizumi fils could make a reading of the tax code sound like an inspiring call to arms.)

As for the 10% of any successful outcome that is the result of pure chance -- no one has a means of controlling that. The PM certainly does not and has not.

So into this short week, faced with a populace annoyed at the sudden halt to their week-long sojourns under sunny skies, stumbles the prime minister. He has two days to generate absolute fantastic news himself or hope that some magical bit of news emerges (Note to PM: on Sunday Ishikawa Ryo started the day 6 shots back in 19th place, then proceeded to shoot a 58 over a par 70 course to blow away the field - and that still did not distract the people's attention from your terrible trip down south) to stimulate a warm feeling about the country's future. For after the terrible atmospherics of the PM's last few days, it would not be surprising if a telephone poll of voters conducted this next weekend finds Cabinet support numbers to have fallen into the high teens.


* The "7-2-1 rule" is my own, based on my experiences of leading hiking trips - MTC.