Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hatoyama Family Trivia - To Russia With Love

This one is for those who believe that sharing genes and living quarters with our parents tends to make us into our parents.

Hatoyama Kiichiro, the eldest (34) son of former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, has just published a book in Russian on the traffic circulation problems of Moscow. In so doing he neatly recalls both his grandfather (and former prime minister) Hatoyama Ichiro's strong desire for normalized ties with Russia and his father's Stanford doctorate in systems engineering.

We are not individuals, beads on a string. We are continuums.

Over-active Memories of China's Past

If one is left scratching one's head as to why the Chinese government's dispute with Japan went straight from lowly fishing captain with an anger management issues to the premier of the China making open threats, it is possibly best to remember that Chinese tend to have long memories...and that what the Chines government is thinking about is not just the government's loss of control over the anti-Japanese rioting to self-organizing groups of citizens in 2005 but the humiliating and costly aftermath of the Taiwan Punitive Expedition of 1874 -- where the Qing Dynasty's failure to step up and respond to a Japanese assertion of sovereignty in the Western mode led to the loss of China's claims on the territory of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus -- modern day Okinawa Prefecture.

The total failure of 1874, where the Qing Dynasty somehow maneuvered itself into accepting the premise that the government of Japan had the right to

1) take punitive action on behalf of Ryukyuans as if Ryukyuans were citizens of Japan,
2) invade nominally Chinese territories in order to pacify nominally Chinese subjects

still stings...and the Japanese assertion of sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands and the EEZ around it is salt in that lingering wound.

What we have is the George Santayana admonition ("Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it") in reverse. By remembering the past -- the Qing government's repeated blunders arising from its lack of appreciation of assertions of sovereignty under the Westphalian system and the violence protests of 2005 -- the present Chinese government has over-reacted, creating a no-win situation featuring a too vigorous assertion of sovereignty under the prevailing international system.

By far the best solution for the Chinese government would have been to wash its hands of the situation, claiming that whatever happened to the captain was his problem and without implications as regards the Senkakus dispute. By asserting that its fishing ship captains can do whatever they want wherever they want, however, the Chinese government has positioned itself into being the defender of international hooliganism. By escalating the dispute to cover all Sino-Japanese relations, they have telegraphed that their rise to power has come without a commensurate increased sense of proportion.

Such is the fate of those who remember too well the slights and failures of yesteryear and who live in fear of the judgment of their own people.

It's All Right To Go All Tokugawa Romantic But Not When Someone Bangs Up Two Coast Guard Ships

Could somebody please pull this poor fellow aside and help him understand that the Sinocentric international relations system that brought peace and stability to East Asia during the Qing Dynasty/Tokugawa Period:

1) had a focus in Beijing on the nomads of the West, always striving to keep them from sweeping in and ravaging China's western borderlands

2) endeavored to keep European imperial expansion to the north and the south at arms' length

3) ignored resource exploitation in the seas around China as a fundamental challenge of international relations

None of which are true anymore and are sort of significant, especially item #3.

Oh, yes, and could somebody ask the police to keep an eye on this poor fellow's house? He is a professor of Chinese Studies and he published this bit of let's-not-dwell-on-what-we-consider-our-sovereign-territory idealism in what is a widely read newspaper.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It Just Gets Worse and Worse -- for China

Now it seems that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will forgo a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Kan Naoto on the sidelines at the UN General Assembly because of the fishing boat captain dispute.

When you have to play "the prime minister will not be meeting you" card, you are signaling to the world you are out of options and have no winning strategy. You always meet, even if only to deliver a finger-wagging condemnation.

As the Chinese government has played its hottest peaceful civilian political card -- what is the next step? A kidnapping/arrest of a Japanese vessel's captain and then an exchange of detainees? Sending the Chinese Navy in force into the Economic Exclusion Zone around the Senkaku Islands?

Later - Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, Chinese analysts do not share my perception of the situation at all.

Well, at least we know now the kind of advice the Chinese government has been receiving.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Tsuribaka Nicchu* Thinking on the Kan Government Versus China

What strikes me as most the dangerous aspect of the escalating crisis in Sino-Japanese relations over one damn fishing boat captain is the pitting of one supremely confident civilian government in total control of how the situation is being viewed in its country against a supremely inconfident government of a potentially trigger happy nation, trying through escalation of rhetoric and the cessation of normal relations to stay ahead of the emotions of its citizenry, all whilst fighting off seeming freelance patriotic behavior by internal rivals hoping to seize part of the foreign policy agenda.

There are only hints, of course, that foreign policy freelancing is going on the Chinese side, beyond the free expression of outrage of the millions of self-appointed Internet patriots and their minuscule public demonstrations. I can see the movement of drilling equipment to the Chunxiao platform and the canceling of airline and coal talks as having a strong tit-for-tat quality. However, they seem to have absolutely nothing to do with the maintenance of public order and the safety of Japanese persons and property in China -- which is the main interest of the Chinese civilian government. As a consequence, one has to wonder what forces are really behind these actions.

This all seems like a promotional event for the new SIPRI paper's conclusions and yet another of Gordon Chang's "we are all doomed" explanation of Chinese political behavior -- one that, unfortunately, this time, might be absolutely on the money.

* Tsuribaka Nisshi is a long running serial (20 installments) about two fishing mad buddies and their adventures.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lightning Strikes Twice

One has to wonder at the luck of Kan Naoto.

He wins the prime ministership and support for his Cabinet soars, twice, each time after having slain the same dragon -- Ozawa Ichiro and his purported political dark arts.

I am not sure that Kan can count on a third rise and defeat of the Ozawa Menace as a means of bolstering his Cabinet's standing with the public. As a consequence he and his reshuffled Cabinet will have to start piling up accomplishments, not just be caught up in the midst of elections, as the previous incarnation of the Cabinet was for the entire three months of its existence.

The intervention in the currency markets was a good start. May there be more decisive and even pigheaded actions ahead...though pigheadedness might not be the wisest course of action in the burgeoning fishing boat captain crisis.

Funny, the last time Kan faced a serious problem where his hands were needed to steady the tiller (a problem he created when he mentioned the possibility of having to raise the consumption tax to rebalance Japan's fiscal situation) he unfortunately could not stick around because he had to jet off to Canada for the G8/G20 meetings -- creating a vacuum in Tokyo, allowing the crisis to spiral out of control.

This time around Kan is scheduled to fly to UN General Assembly only days after naming a new Cabinet, with China suddenly pushing its foot to the floor, precipitating a rapid decline in the Japan-China relationship.

Let us hope that the Chinese know what they are doing -- because with the PM, his entourage and the foreign policy team all at the UN, there will be nobody of consequence comfortably manning the telephones in Nagata-cho and Kasumigaseki.

In case the Chinese do not know what they are doing, let us hope that things work themselves out without direct intervention by anyone -- or that when Kan meets his Chinese counterparts in New York, they cut a serious/devious deal. For an interesting discussion of what the contours of a deal could look like, go to the dialogue Okumura Jun is having with Sun Bin over at Global Talk 21.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

More on the New Numbers

As The Japan Times reports, the Kyodo poll asked a nasty question larded with anti-Ozawa sentiment, to see if the subjects would bite. For the most part, they did.

How to describe the cant of this following question -- the mind boggles.

"In reshuffling his Cabinet, the larger number of Prime Minister Kan Naoto's picks were of members of the Diet who keep Ozawa at a distance. Do you see this decision as valuable?"

Valuable 67%
Not valuable 25%
Don't know 8%

Some 70% of those polled said that had high hopes for the tenure of Okada Katsuya as Secretary-General. Seemingly the general populace is unaware that Kan had to really struggle to get others in the party to agree to accepting Okada as secretary-general and that among DPJ members he is perceived as something of a lone wolf -- not exactly the best initial news about the person who has to be in charge of keeping all the various groups of the party happy.

Finally, lest the opposition Liberal Democratic Party not be forgotten, President Tanigaki Sadakazu reshuffled his party's core leadership on September 9, naming Ishihara Nobuteru Secretary-General; Koike Yuriko, the archetypal "wandering albatross" of Japanese politics the chairman of the LDP's General Council; and reappointing Ishiba Shigeru as the head of the Policy Research Council.

Asked by the Kyodo pollsters whether it thought these changes in the LDP's core leadership worthwhile, the public was highly solicitous:

Value the apppointments 56%
Don't value the appointments 36%
Don't know 7%

Not exactly the same numbers the DPJ is pulling down but nothing to be ashamed of, especially when one is in the opposition.

What the appointment of these three youngish (all are in the 50s), sharp-tongued, telegenic figures means is that we will likely be witnessing TV sound bite warfare in the autumn extraordinary session of the Diet and more of the same next year in the regular session of the Diet.

Twisting times lie ahead.

The New Numbers

As is its wont, Kyodo has a run a poll immediately after the reshuffle of the Kan Cabinet and the selection of a new core leadership group for the Democratic Party of Japan. The public relations effects of the election campaign with Ozawa Ichiro, Ozawa's crushing defeat in the September 14 election and the selection of a strong Cabinet packed with Kan allies in high positions seem to have filled the populace with the sense of confidence about the prime minister.

Cabinet support (September 9-10 results in parenthesis)

Support 64% (55%)
Do not support 21% (32%)

What is really exciting about these figures is not just the turnaround -- the support levels of the previous Cabinet having dipped down to 32% in mid-July -- but that the new support level is higher than the initial support level of the first Kan Cabinet, which was 62%. Not even Koizumi Jun'ichiro, who saw his support soar, plummet, then soar again, managed to surpass his initial support level.

Support for the DPJ has also risen again, reaching a new high for the year, with the support of other major centrist and rightist parties for the most part dwindling.

DPJ 40% (38%)
LDP 22% (24%)
Your Party 9% (11%)
New Komeito 5% (4%)
Communist 2% (3%)
SDP 2% (1%)
PNP lss thn 1% (lss thn 1%)
Sunrise lss thn 1% (lss thn 1%)
New Party Nippon lss thn 1% (lss thn 1%)
New Renaissance lss thn 1% (lss thn 1%)

When you are being outgunned by the top party by nearly two-to-one, the chances of your calling for a dissolution of the Diet and a House of Representative election is likely to So I do not foresee the LDP or the Your Party to be making too much in the way of "We need an election!" speeches. Not at least until those support numbers start coming down.

As for what interests the populace, it remains the economy-the economy-the economy. When subjects were asked to pick the top two issues the new Cabinet should be focusing its energies upon, the answers were:

Economic and employment measures 55%

Administrative reform, particularly the clean-up of wasteful spending 39%

Fortify the social welfare system, including reform of the pension system 27%

Reform of the civil service system, including the banning of amakudari 15%

Fiscal restructuring 10%

Fundamental reform of the tax system 9%

"Politics and money," particularly the banning of corporate political donations 7%

Foreign policy and security issues 7%

Transfer of authority from bureaucrats to politicians 5%

Reform of the constitution 1.5%

Note the tiny number for foreign policy and national security. Even with the supposedly looming threats of a nuclear-armed North Korea and an aggressive Chinese assertions of authority in maritime areas near Japan, the foreign policy brief gets less than half the interest of banning amakudari practices. As for the postwar bugbear of Japan reforming its constitution to become a major player in world politico-security arena -- well, my friends, the numbers are just not there.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Miller Light Lite Election

Once upon a time in America, an advertising executive had an unenviable task: how to make customers feel enthusiastic about or ever remember what was, basically, watered-down beer. In a stroke of genius, the ad executive came up with a solution: have a heated showdown between two hyper-partisan groups arguing over differing attributes of the product. "Tastes great!" one side would holler. "Less filling!" the other side retort. And so it would go on, louder and louder -- "Tastes great!" "Less filling!" "Tastes great!" -- without resolution.

While nonsensical -- two sides coming nearly to blows over a product they both liked -- the campaign created an immense brand awareness. It furthermore bored into the brains of those watching the ads that there was something in this product worth the fighting for.

In Japan right now, we are seeing an echo of this strategy in the contest for leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan. The two antagonists are between Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Ozawa Ichiro, the two candidates for the party leadership. The product is the DPJ itself, with the antagonists each yelling out at each other differing aspects of the DPJ's main political and philosophical elements. "We will not lie to you!" yells one. "We will not pass the bill for our actions on to future generations!" shouts the other. "We will push decision making down to the local level!" chuffs one. "We will create a central control mechanism for coordinated national planning!" screams the other.

Normally when you have two politicians haranguing in this manner, the pair are from two different parties, each of them flinging at the public what is distinctive about his or her party's platform. However, both Kan and Ozawa are from the same party and what they are arguing over -- if you want to call it that -- is differing aspects of the DPJ.

The first element of genius of this passionate display of party disunity is that in the high-volume dispute between the two men the voices or even the existence of Japan's other parties -- the actual, real opposition -- are being smothered. No one can recall the last time anyone has asked Tanigaki Sadakazu, president of the Liberal Democratic Party -- which won big time in the July elections, thank you very much -- his opinion of anything except the exciting Kan-Ozawa battle. When was the last time anyone saw the leader of the New Komeito, the party that supposedly holds the key to the passage of legislation in the Diet, appearing on television?

The second and crucial bit of genius displayed by this campaign -- which, when one considers the amount of coordination between the schedules of the two men that is allowing them to appear together on television and in public, must be a decidedly less-than-totally-antagonistic affair -- is how deeply the policies of the DPJ are being drilled into the brains of the Japanese people. Whether it is Kan or Ozawa who prevails, the voters are going to be fully briefed on what the party hopes to achieve in the upcoming year, both in the extraordinary fall session and the regular winter-spring sessions of the Diet. With the various proposals very much in the public's mind due to this intense campaign, opposition parties may find it very difficult to oppose what the DPJ proposes, this despite opposition control of the House of Councillors. The public will be looking for action on employment, on the transfer of control from bureaucrats to politicians, on reworking the relationship between the central government and the local governments -- and largely within the binomial framework being outlined by Kan and Ozawa in their debates. For the most part, opposition will be forced to deal with the hands that the DPJ has dealt them, rather than being able to bring their own ideas to the table.

So the battle rages, with paradoxically but quite reasonably, the DPJ the big winner.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Does The Public Care About The 2009 Manifesto?

One of the major pillars of candidacy of Ozawa Ichiro to be leader of the Democratic Party of Japan is his stated faith that the party has lost its way. By pulling back from the promises that it made to the public in the 2009 party Manifesto, the DPJ has lost the public's trust and in such faces ruin. He insists that when he is elected party leader, he will return the DPJ to its true path of fulfilling the promises made in the run up to the August 2009 House of Representatives election, reviving the party's strength.

While the DPJ did sweep to power on a wave of public enthusiasm about what the party could do for the country, does the public really care about the exact promises made in the 2009 Manifesto?

Not according to the polls, they do not.

In the Kyodo News poll released on August 29, 2010, pollsters asked members of the public about specific programs listed in the DPJ's Manifesto - whether they felt the program should be carried out absolutely, carried out to a certain extent (aru teido ni) or not carried out at all.

The result of their questions were:

Supplemental child support payments

Absolutely 20%
To a certain extent 42%
Should not be carried out 35%

Income supplement payments to farm households

Absolutely 23%
To a certain extent 49%
Should not be carried out 17%

Removing the tolls from the nation's expressways

Absolutely 14%
To a certain extent 30%
Should not be carried out 52%

Cancellation of the temporary levy on gasoline

Absolutely 30%
To a certain extent 38%
Should not be carried out 23%

In every case except the removal of tolls from the nation's expressways (a really unpopular idea, the reason being that the expressways' outstanding debts would have to be nationalized) the indication is that the public is most often lukewarm about pretty much every one of DPJ's campaign promises and would be more happy if they were only carried out only partway.

Similarly, the Mainichi Shimbun, in its poll published on August 30, 2010, asked members of the public about the implementation of the promises made in the 2009 Manifesto. The pollsters asked:

"Inside the DPJ, in the face of a severe fiscal situation, there are those who are of the opinion that the Manifesto should be revised showing some flexibility while others are of the opinion that the Manifesto must be carried out strictly. What do you think?"

The responses were:

Should be revised showing some flexibility 70%
Should be carried out strictly 27%

So why Ozawa continues to bang on about carrying out the promises of the 2009 Manifesto when the public is not particularly interested in them is beyond me. Perhaps he cannot divest himself of the principle that a politician should above all avoid the appearance of having been lying. The public has only a moderate attachment to the promises made to them in 2009. These were promises made by politicians, after all -- and the public, after 53 years of LDP rule -- is not naive about what a politician's promise is worth.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Japan's Presidential Election

Japan is a parliamentary democracy, with the Emperor as titular head of state. That being said, the country is suddenly slambang in the midst of a presidential election. There are two candidates, each with a distinct ideological cant and consequent distinct set of policy prescriptions. Both have their core supporters who will vote for them come hell or high water, leaving the pair battling, quite publicly, for the allegiance of undecided voters. Unlike battles of the old days, where intra-party clashes were solved with promises of Cabinet and party posts or even exchanges of cash, the successful candidate in this election likely have to win the affection of those with the votes capable of putting him over the 50% line. To capture these hearts and minds, both candidates are taking to the airwaves. Prime Minister Kan Naoto was on the 9 p.m. evening NHK newscast last night; tonight it will be his challenger Ozawa Ichiro's turn.

This is what political realignment a la Japonaise looks like, folks.

On the one side of the ledger is Ozawa. He leads the fundamentalist wing of the party, those who believe that the party's fate and future are indelibly written down in the party Manifesto of 2009. Either the party follows through on what it promised, or it is finished, seems to be the belief.

There is, of course, a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg problem here. Ozawa personally recruited many of the candidates who following the election are now the members of his camp. He was also the final decision maker on what got into the 2009 Manifesto. To what extent his supporters' faith in the Manifesto comes from Ozawa's having been the 2009 Manifesto's primary author and where Ozawa's championing of the 2009 Manifesto makes him the candidate worthy of his supporters's support, is a question nobody really wants to ask.

On the other side of the ledger are the revisionists and their standard bearer Kan, known from the very first days of the party as "the pragmatic one." Kan voters are the members of the DPJ who believed from the outset that the 2009 Manifesto was provisional - a nice collection of mutually incoherent ideas that taken together could attract enough votes to the DPJ's candidate to win the party control of the country. Seen negatively, these DPJ members saw the Manifesto as facetious, a largely cynical means of fooling traditional Liberal Democratic Party voters and the undecided into abandoning the familiar and accommodating Liberal Democratic Party and instead trying out the Democratic alternative. Once in power, however, the revisionists knew thet DPJ would have to water dowm most the promises made in the Manifesto on the grounds that they were either fiscally irresponsible or simply illogical.

Currently the revisionists control the government and the party, holding virtually all the major posts. Their hold is tenuous, or more tenuous than it should be, due to Kan's having been suckered by the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Finance into talking about raising the consumption tax -- a not terribly unpopular plan now, but a few months ago political poison -- on the eve of the House of Councillors election. When the party did unusually poorly in that election, the fundamentalist wing found themselves with the ammunition necessary to attack Kan and his followers for having sunk the party's fortunes, losing the supposedly vital prize of coalition control of the House of Councillors.

That the battle for the House of Councillors probably had been lost months earlier, at a time when the fundamentalists themselves largely held control, due to the fecklessness of their prime minister Hatoyama Yukio and his and Ozawa's myriad legal troubles, has been neatly swept under the rug.

There is much good news to be found in this new-style presidential battle.

First, the battle is between centrist views. What Ozawa and the DPJ fundamentalists are insisting must happen is not radical change -- merely a reversion to the promises that the party has already made to the voters, ones which the voters ostensibly ratified in 2009 by their voting so many Democrats into office.

The revisionists, for their part, are not asking for a complete rollback of all of the DPJ's 2009 promises. What they are requesting is that the party be realistic, fulfilling promises to the extent that is justifiable both politically and fiscally.

Second, the battle is being fought out in the open over policy rather than in the private rooms of high-class restaurants over spoils. There are two crystal clear policy platforms, with little or no prevarication over what certain words mean or do not mean in terms of the election. Furthermore, although there is no direct voting, there is a huge chunk of vote -- 300 points for the party members and 100 points for local assemblymen -- will fall one way or the other depending expressions of public satisfaction or dissatisfaction with one candidate or the other.

Third, this is not a life-or-death struggle for the DPJ. The persons who have aligned themselves with Kan, the party moderates and fiscal conservatives, survived and even thrived under three years of Ozawa's leadership of the party. They thrived under the puppet prime ministership of Hatoyama Yukio. They are not going to bolt the party just because Ozawa is in charge again.

As for the Ozawa supporters, while they are fanatical in some senses, they are not stupid. Most are from marginal districts where the voters could just as soon switch back to voting for the LDP in the next House of Representatives election, as they did in this year's House of Councillor's election. Jumping ship with Ozawa following an Ozawa defeat could easily mean a quick fall into political irrelevance and electoral defeat.

Both sides in the presidential race, both fundamentalist and revisionist, furthermore cling to a main branch of mainstream DPJ philosophy. To the fundamentalist's credit, they hold fast to the belief that promises mean must something, that a pledge to the public is not just a tool to be discarded once the election is over.

The revisionists believe, on the other hand, that promises have to be grounded in a finite reality -- that one cannot promise one's resources, both financial and political, to one interest group, then turn around and promise those same resources to another group. They believe in tradeoffs: that one must sell sacrifice and offer promises in equal measure. In this, they have the support of the vast majority of the public, who when asked about the promises in the 2009 Manisfesto, would be satisfied if they were honored "to a certain extent" (aru teido ni).

Both of these line of thought -- that one must keep one's word to the people and one must limit one's promises to the achievable -- are part of the core set of founding principles of the Democratic Party. Even now they serve a useful contrasts between the values of the DPJ and those of its predecessor in power, the Liberal Democratic Party.

So when one sees quotations about the closeness of the Democratic Party is to fissioning, one should know that it will not be along ideological lines. Some agitators within the party's ranks may talk about unbridgeable differences. Such comments, however, should be viewed as merely the individual in question stuffing whatever comes to mind into the voracious maw of the media beast.

Moreover, while the image of some of the members of the revisionist camp may seem to be rigid "my way or the highway" types, they are for the most part patient, somewhat older members of the party, willing to bid their time after a reversal of fortune. They know that in politics what goes up must come down. Ozawa's allies and followers, while numerous, are for the most part decidedly lesser politicians than those in the anti-Ozawa camp. While the pro-Ozawa partisans will be insufferably triumphant in early days following an Ozawa victory, their own shortcomings and inadequacies will soon compell the party leadership to call upon the talents of the party's competent anti-Ozawa first-stringers.

The wild card in this presidential race and its aftermath is, of course, that one of the candidates is Ozawa Ichiro, Japan's least popular politician. If Ozawa prevails in the intra-party contrast, the populace at large will feel at least a sense of letdown, if not out-and-out disgust. The election as virtual president, not of the DPJ but, as Kan relentlessly points out, the nation, of a man who is broadly mistrusted and disliked, will likely leave the populace feeling cheated, no matter how legitimately the election is carried out under party rules.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Ozawa Goes For It

One can find English language accounts of Ozawa Ichiro's decision (as if, in a less-than-half-an-hour meeting, there was any internal debate on Ozawa's part) to proceed with his campaign against Kan Naoto's leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan here and here.

By far the best account, however, comes from Paul Jackson at The Diplomat. Ozawa's windup to his announcement of his decision to take on Kan was indeed "seemingly interminable," a stultifying 1283 characters of the most obtuse polite language, dragging along until finally reaching its spirit-crushing climax, "It has come to the point where I decided to do this thing known as running in the leadership election..." (daihyosenkyo ni shutsuba sure to iu ketsui o shita tokoro de gozaimasu). It was performance that, despite an intention possibly to inform, could only upset an already largely hysterically anti-Ozawa press. Had Japan any equivalent of America's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on any of its networks, the long-winded address would have been the subject of merciless ridicule.

Ozawa's overlong announcement of his decision after a highly abbreviated first meeting of the two power brokers of the same party since the July 11 elections -- a meeting Kan, the Prime Minister of Japan, has been asking for since July 12 -- only burnished the reputation of Hatoyama Yukio, adding "negotiating a settlement between political heavyweights" to the list of things he seemingly cannot do. For a man with a Ph.D. in Systems Operations, Hatoyama has an alarming tendency to miscalculate the way certain combinations of actions will interact and bring about suboptimal outcomes. What he thought he was doing when he invited Ozawa and his retinue of 100 up to the Hatoyama mountain retreat to mingle and drink along his own 60-member group, leading to a tipsy and embarrassing chants of "Kiai da! Kiai da! Kiai da!" ("Now's the moment! Go for it!") by the entire mass -- well, he will have plenty of time to think about it, now that his mediation efforts, turgid as they were, have come to naught.

That Ozawa and Kan will be facing each other directly in a contest for the leadership of the party is a good thing. Under the Liberal Democratic Party, too many selections of prime ministers and Cabinets took place out of the public eye, for reasons of power and money that cheapened the image of the prime minister and the government. Here two competing visions of Japan will clash publicly, as well as two personal political styles and sets of practices.

The terrible news is of course that Ozawa could win this contest. An Ozawa victory would be terrible for the country not because Ozawa is an ogre with policies that will break the nation (he is not) nor a sleazy politician on the verge being made to stand trial for his crimes (as far as anyone can tell, he has no connection to the accounting mistakes of his underlings). It is terrible because he has virtually no support among the public and in the party. In the most recent round of public opinion polls, the highest level of support recorded was 17% of the populace in the Mainichi and Nikkei Shimbun polls. His support level among self-identified Democrats was even lower than in the general population. Despite this, so many Diet members owe him favors that he could win the majority of the points needed for election from them whilst getting gored in the local assembly elections and wiped out in the 300 district elections.

To make matters worse, most of the DPJ's luminaries are in the anti-Ozawa camp. When it would come time for Ozawa to pick a Cabinet, he would be able to induce only a cast of B-list and C-list non-entities with little policy experience and even less political savvy to his side.

In addition, the policies Ozawa insists his leadership of the party will save from Kan's lack of enthusiasm are not all that popular with the public. Most of the promises made in the DPJ's 2009 manifesto engender only weak support, while others -- such as the elimination of tolls on the expressways -- are actively opposed by the majority of the citizens.

The press will have a field day.

The fate of the country thus rests on the shoulders of the Diet's youngest members, many of whom were handpicked by Ozawa to run in their districts. If they vote with not their cerebrums but with their limbic systems, writing down Ozawa's name in fear of upsetting their benefactor, they may be handing the country over to a man the people simply do not want as their leader. Whatever his personal and political attributes, that he will be seen and portrayed as one who taken the reins of the country through a sly manipulation of the DPJ's election rules, against the will of the people.

Trouble with a capital "T" -- to put it mildly.

So while Ozawa may be an elections genius and/or the only person with the ability to push legislation through the Diet due to his purported mastery of deal cutting, it will be a national tragedy if he wins this contest.

When the citizens handed the powers of government over to the DPJ last year, the elation was palpable. The voters, finally and without a doubt, had chosen a government, not had one imposed upon them. An Ozawa victory in the DPJ leadership contest would reverse this huge step forward for the Japanese electorate. It could easily snuff out the still fervent belief that, even after a year of DPJ missteps, the DPJ is the party of the people and the people are sovereign -- and that the people's views, feelings and votes are important.

Later - A belated tip of the hat to Okumura Jun for the link to the Ozawa announcement.