Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Very Kind of Them #3

The nice folks at The Diplomat have published my morning ruminations on the challenges facing Noda Yoshihiko as he makes his personnel choices for both the Democratic Party of Japan and the Cabinet (Link).

In the meantime, Koshiishi Azuma, after initially turning the offer of the post down, has succumbed to Noda's entreaties and will become the party's new secretary-general. It is a bit of sweet revenge: Koshiishi has been advocating the lifting of Ozawa Ichiro's suspension. Now Koshiishi will be the one in the hot seat who actually has to sign off on the lifting of the disciplinary measure, then pray that the opposition does not go into "politics and money" feeding frenzy.

Be careful what you wish for, in other words.

Noda has also asked former foreign minister Maehara Seiji to become the party's policy research chief. Maehara is considering offer.

Ooops, news flash coming in.

Holy moley! NHK is reporting that Noda is making sure that no one could accuse him of discrimination, even on the basis of ability. According NHK's sources, Noda has asked Hatoyama Yukio confidant Hirano "the Worst Chief Cabinet Secretary Ever" Hirofumi (en) to be the DPJ's Diet Affairs Committee Chairman (kokkai taisaku incho).

I know Noda has to reach out to Ozawa and Hatoyama -- but choosing Hirano for anything is a leap into the dark.

So What Happens Now?

- Do the blogtariat writers and the Twitterati of China and South Korea pressure their governments into cutting off high-level meetings between a Noda government and their counterparts over his comments on the Class A war criminals the same way they compelled the Chinese government into a hysterical reaction over the incarceration of a Chinese fishing trawler captain last year?

- Do Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio, whose annointed candidate Kaieda Banri finished 38 votes behind Noda in the run-off, offer up a list of their followers whom they want to be ministers, vice ministers and parliamentary vice-ministers in the new government, or do they sit on their hands, sulking?

- Does a rush to the bond market, heartened by Noda's message of a reduction of Japan's deficts (reducing the debt is not a realistic prospect) send the stock market into a tailspin?

- Does the New Komeito think even harder about parting ways with the Liberal Democratic Party or do they cleave to their current ally, confident that as a unified opposition they will get better deals from a Noda-led government than if they try to cut a set of private deals with said government?

- Does the public get mightily ticked off by the abandonment of large chunks of the DPJ's 2009 Manifesto, or did the public never really care about the promises as much as they wanted to just toss the bums of the LDP out of power?

- What will be the form of Noda's tax that will pay for the reconstruction and recovery of the Tohoku region -- and how does he sell the plan to the anti-mainstream group of his party, the LDP/New Komeito coalition and the public at the same time?

- Who gets to be Secretary-General of the DPJ, the person who will not only decide who runs in what constituency and distribute the party's political funds, but will be the point man or woman on negotiating with the LDP and New Komeito?

Very Kind of Them #2

I had a conversation with Marco Werman of IPR last night about what we should expect from a Noda Yoshihiko premiership. The powers that be deemed the edited version that conversation worthy of broadcast (Link).

To The Anonymous Reader

To the anonymous reader who tried to comment on my post "I Have Been Warned..." I hope you saw that I rescued your comment from the ether into which it had vanished.

You were, as events turned out, right on the money.

Monday, August 29, 2011

And The Winner Is...

The final tallies, from the runoff for the position of leader of the Democratic Party of Japan:

Noda Yoshihiko 215
Kaieda Banri 177

That's all folks!

NHK's Sources

The vote has not even finished for the House of Representatives members of the Democratic Party of Japan and NHK is telling us that the supporters of Kano Michihiko agreed to vote for Noda Yoshihiko if he made it to the second round and the supporters of Mabuchi Sumio have been encouraged to vote for "anyone but Kaeda Banri" in the event of runoff.

Given the presumed agreement between the Noda and Maehara Seiji camps to vote for the candidate of the other in the event only one of them made it through to the runoff, Kaieda Banri is about to get wiped off the map.

Which means that the pro-Ozawa, pro-Hatoyama cohort has shrunk by 50 members in a year, enough to render the Ozawa threat not quite impotent but definiteyl not potent either.

Just how Ozawa and Hatoyama will react to this defeat is of course the next fun question in the docket.

That is if we can trust NHK's sources.

What They Should Be Writing About The First Round

The headline should read, "143 members of the Democratic Party of Japan were convinced that a man who broke down under questioning in the Diet should be entrusted with the pressure cooker that is the post of prime minister of Japan."

That my friends, is loyalty to the Master's voice.

And the Winners Are...

Results of the first round of voting:

Kaieda Banri 143
Noda Yoshihiko 102

Maehara Seiji 74
Kano Michihiko 52
Mabuchi Sumio 24

three voters did not show up

Noda Yoshihiko and Kaieda Banri go on to a runoff.

The Speeches Part 3 - Thank You NHK!

As Minister of Agriculture. Forestry and Fisheries and final candidate Noda Michihiko waxes ineloquent on the plight of those caught in the triple disaster of March 11, the NHK producer decides to do some crowd reaction shots.

Focus in on Prime Minister Kan Naoto: he has both eyes closed. Then, as if he senses the caress of the camera on him, he opens one eye, looking about with suspicion.

Focus in on former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio: he is slumped over his seat, out like light.

Focus in on party Secretary-General Okada Katsuya: eyes closed, stressed.

Focus in on party fixer and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito: eyes closed, a placid look on his face.

Focus in on DPJ leader in the House of Councillors Koshiishi Azuma: someone with his eyes open! Perhaps the courtesy of one senior citizen to another.

The Speeches - Part 2

Kaieda Banri just delivered a report card on his term in office as the Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry. Considering that as METI has been the home of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the much maligned regulator and promoter of nuclear power in the government, he had little choice but try to defend his tenure as METI minister. Though not as excrutiating as Mabuchi's speech, the speech is not very reassuring.

Next up, Noda Yoshihiko is mezmerizing the crowd with an account of his life as illustrative of the aspirations and policies of the Democratic Party of Japan. It is a bravura performance. The man can certainly talk.

Too bad that many of his plans for Japan are simply not workable.

The Speeches - yet another mezzanine level aside

The politicking and dealmaking must have gone well into the wee hours of this morning. Why else would so many of the DPJ's Diet members be listening (?) to these speeches with their eyes closed?

The Speeches - a mezzanine level aside

Uh-oh. Kaieda Banri has started out his speech referring to himself in the third person, like Elmo on Sesame Street.

Not a good sign.

The Speeches - Part 1

Maehara Seiji has just finished his speech. He was sweating so much his lips glittered -- meaning he forgot his handkerchief. However, he bulled through a zinger of a speech, full of smart ideas and classic Democratic Party of Japan talking points. Bravely, he touched on the black marks his his record: his infamous faked email brouhaha and the illegal campaign contributions by Japanese permanent residents with Korean citizenship. Somehow, his eyes looked sad, as if he knows that Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko has amassed enough floating votes to surpass him in the initial round of voting.

Mabuchi Sumio is now speaking and it is clear he is not ready for prime time. He may indeed never be. He is talking about the election of Kakuei Tanaka as head of the LDP, as if he choose a topic that could turn off a group of Democratic party members more. Why he is choosing also to wax nostalgic about the 1960s and 70s challenges the imagination. Amaterasu knows what the 20 legislators who signed his application to be a candidate are feeling right now. Most likely they are studying their tips of their shoes with desperate concentration.

At Last!

Peter Ennis, who usually pokes holes in my assertions (in a friendly way) has come around to the view I expressed last week regarding today's Democratic Party of Japan leadership election: that this is a final battle for all the marbles (Link).

At last we agree on something.

Meanwhile, Maehara Seiji has begun giving his speech at the New Otani Hotel. The game is afoot.

He Does It Again

Over at σ1, Corey Wallace has plunged into the numbers of the DPJ leadership race (Link).

Anyone going this deep into the numbers needs scuba gear.

Very Kind Of Them #1

The Diplomat has very kindly printed some of my thoughts on the race for the post of leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (Link).

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I Have Been Warned...

...that Noda Yoshihiko may not be out of the race for the post of leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, as I a week ago predicted he was. Indeed, this morning's Tokyo Shimbun showed Maehara and Noda neck and neck behind Kaieda Banri, with each of the two "mainstream" candidates being able to count upon about 50 solid votes (ja).

Still I think that Noda's well publicized stance (en) on the Class A war criminals is so certain to cause havoc in Japan's relations with its close physical neighbors that Noda cannot be the next prime minister.

The decision making processes of Nagata-cho are insular but they are not necessarily stupid.

I Couldn't Help Noticing...

...some things about the candidates for the post of leader of the Democratic Party of Japan.

- whenever Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Kano Michihiko is asked a question, he responds with a question, then sums up his response with "and answering that question is the job of a leader." This says to me that he indeed has no answer to any question and begs the question, "How did he ever manage to get this far?"

- former foreign minister Maehara Seiji, unlike his rival Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry Kaieda Banri, has complete control over his emotions...so much so that it seems he does not have any. He is going to have to emote a little if he is ever going to hold on to the precious public support now boosting his cause in this election.

- Aurelia Mulgan George has found yet another reason why Kaieda Banri -- he of the Diet Committee weepfest, the writing on the palm of the character for "persevere" (忍) and Ozawa Ichiro's pick among the candidates for leader of the DPJ -- simply should not be in the race: 15 years ago he wrote a book about why he hates the politics of Ozawa Ichiro.

- former minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism Mabuchi Sumio, who has no chance to be anything but a spoiler in the contest, has some reasonable ideas about economic growth. Too bad nobody will pay attention to them.

- Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko uses bon mots and simple, short sentences to express some very nutty ideas. I have not heard him say what should be done to break Japan's slow-moving but chronic deflationary spiral -- perhaps because not even nutty ideas seem to work against deflation.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Second to None

But I'll need some assistants to look after the zoo
I can't see nobody better so I guess you'll just have to do...

Sting - "Rock Steady"

Ichiro Ozawa has decided to come forth in support of Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry and noted weeper Kaieda Banri for the post of leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, or so NHK tells us (en). Too bad it comes only after a frantic two days of Ozawa and his sidekick, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, scrambling to find someone else to run against Maehara Seiji other than the six already declared opponents of the former foreign minister.

It should make Kaieda feel just great to know that he comes in as the default choice, right after "None of the Above."

If Ozawa's backing of Kaieda is just a stunt, concocted so that Ozawa can claim a moral victory as Kaieda wins in the first round on Monday, only to lose to Maehara in the runoff second round, I am going to be mightily sick.

Friday, August 26, 2011

If Ozawa Ichiro Has His Price Then So Do I

The newspapers reported this morning that Ozawa Ichiro or his surrogates have asked Maehara Seiji for important party posts for himself and his allies in return for Ozawa's support in Monday's Democratic Party of Japan leadership election. The Ozawa camp reportedly has gone so far as to request that Ozawa be given the post of DPJ Secretary-General (en).

This is either an incredibly stupid move on the part of the Ozawa camp or...no, it is just an incredibly stupid move. Maehara spoke yesterday of his wish that the party would practice "baseball of the whole team" (zennin yakyu)-- by which he meant he would want all the various forces within the DPJ to work together toward common goals out of a common sense of duty. "You support me," Maehara is saying, "and I will make sure that your interests and desires will not be forgotten."

By shooting for the moon -- requesting that Ozawa become Secretary-General -- the Ozawa camp has shown it has lost all sense of where it stands as regards Maehara. By demanding places in the party leadership and the government in return for an Ozawa endorsement, Ozawa camp has managed also to get its sequencing backward. Endorsement first, then wait for the Maehara camp to propose posts commensurate with Ozawa's generous offer -- that was the sequencing the Ozawa camp should have followed.

In bargaining, and bargaining in a presumptuous fashion, the Ozawa camp has unleashed all the candidates in the race in these waning hours before the official candidacy papers must be filed to cut their own deals with Maehara's people. Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko, former Environment Minister Ozawa Sakihito and former Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Mabuchi Sumio now have a very good reason to fail to file their papers and pledge their support for Maehara -- trusting that Maehara will not forget them when it comes time to pick a new leadership troika at party headquarters and a new cabinet.

As for Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry Kaieda Banri, he must be completely stunned at the actions of his group leader Hatoyama Yukio over the last 24 hours. Not only did representatives of Hirano Hirofumi, current holder of the title of "Worst Chief Cabinet Secretary Ever" and Hatoyama's closest confidant, show up at the meeting of the representatives of those running in party leader race, even though Hirano has stated he is not running, but Hatoyama said, in what is a stab in Kaieda's back, that he is looking for "the most suitable person, not necessarily from the people currently set to run in the election"(en).

What, at this late hour? Somebody else?

Ay Caramba. Just when you think you have plumbed the depths of his duplicity and clumsy lust for influence, you realize that his duplicity and clumsy lust for influence are bottomless.

If Hatoyama has indeed dumped Kaieda, who was only in the race because of his a) ambition and b) rank of crown prince of the Hatoyama group, then Kaieda may also be offering his candidacy up to Maehara.

[While were on the subject of Kaieda, immediately after the vote on the feed-in tariff renewable energy bill, he offered up his resignation as minister of METI -- this ostensibly in order to put some distance between himself and the Kan administration.

When the Kan administration will cease to exist in four day's time.

Gotta admit it, Kaieda marches to a different drummer.

Prime Minister Kan, noting the brief period left before he will dissolve the Cabinet, refused to accept Kaieda's resignation.]

In the meantime, the House of Councillors has passed the bond issuance bill as well as the aforementioned renewable energy bill, the bills Prime Minister Kan Naoto said must pass before he will be willing to hand the reins of power over to the next generation of leaders. At 14:00 today he will make the formal announcement to the General Council of the DPJ that he intends to resign as head of the party and prime minister.

Then the fun, or what passes as fun in these disturbed and threatening times, begins.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ozawa Ichiro's Last Battle As A Democrat?

On Monday the 22nd, the Tokyo Shimbun carried an editorial criticizing the Democratic Party of Japan for being in such a rush to select a new leader to replace Kan Naoto (ja). While the editors acknowledge that the party should move with dispatch to eliminate the political vacuum that has resulted from the cabinet's support numbers having fallen into the low teens, they argue that the candidates should be engaged in serious public debate over where the party will go on a number of pending issues. As they note with dismay, however, with the party election set for the 29th, there is little chance that the candidates will clash over matters of substance.

In the absence of a debate over policy, the election for leadership of the DPJ is boiling down to a single issue: will former party leader Ozawa Ichiro be let out of his cage or not? The current party executive committee has battled mightily to keep Ozawa away from the levers of power, stripping him of his party privileges in February and outfoxing Hatoyama Yukio in the runup to the June no-confidence motion that had threatened to topple the Kan government. Ozawa, however, cannot resist the temptation to be in control of the party again -- even if it only as before through a surrogate occupying the party leader's spot – and is trying to turn the party leadership election rules to his own ends.

The DPJ leadership election that takes place on the 29th will be a mid-term election, meaning that the only participants will be active members of the Diet. In a general leadership election, party supporters and local assembly members participate in the voting. It was through his support among the party supporters and the local assembly members that Kan was able to bury Ozawa in the September 2010 overall vote. Amongst the Diet members, however, the vote was tantalizingly close, with Ozawa receiving the votes of 200 party members and Kan receiving 209.

In this election the votes of 398 party members are at stake. The full party representation in the Diet is 407 members, but Ozawa has his voting rights suspended, as do the eight senior members of the party who either abstained or did not show up for the no-confidence motion in June.

When three or more candidates are in the running for the position of leader of the party there can be two rounds of voting. If no candidate wins 50%+1 votes in a first round, then the top two vote getters of the first round run against each other in a second round.

This rule is what Ozawa and Hatoyama hope to exploit in order to win back power in the party. The number of members of the DPJ loyal to Ozawa number about 120 and the number loyal to Hatoyama Yukio around 40. The number of members loyal to former foreign minister Maehara Seiji is around 50, the number loyal to Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko is around 30 and the number loyal to Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Kano Michihiko, former Environment Minister Ozawa Sakihito and former Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Mabuchi Sumio, and Chairman of Fundamental National Policies Tarutoko Shinji is around 20 each.

Ozawa's strategy is to keep as many candidates as possible in the race. He has clearly been encouraging each candidate he has met with pledges of support from amongst his group members. However, on election day, in a carefully calculated ballet, a given fraction of Ozawa's close supporters, say 50 or so, join with Hatoyama's supporters to vote for Minister of Economic, Trade and Industry Kaieda Banri – whilst the remainder of Ozawa's supporters vote for a second pliable candidate – most likely Kano. Maehara and Noda each receive the votes from their group members, with unaffiliated security hawks voting for Maehara, unaffiliated fiscal conservatives voting for Noda. Anti-tax rise crusaders would then vote for Mabuchi while Ozawa Sakihito and Tarutoko supporters would each vote for their man.

The final results of this first round of voting could then be very close, with the top two vote getters receiving just over 90 votes and the third place finisher just under 90. Ozawa is counting on Kaieda and Kano (or possibly Tarutoko, who ran against Kan in June 2010 with Ozawa support) to be those top two, relegating the more popular Maehara to third place – and thus out of the runoff, where, if he were paired against an Ozawa client, he would win easily.

The slim possibility that this divide and conquer plan could work has energized Ozawa. He has not looked so alive in months -- and that is alive in the mammalian sense: drinks water, breathes air, walks around, has hair.

The clearest indication that Ozawa is manipulating possible candidates with promises of support from his group is the number of candidates who have stated a willingness to reverse the stripping of Ozawa's party privileges – or who have offered obfuscating blather when asked their intentions. Ozawa Sakihito, the weakest candidate in the race, has said straight out that the punishment is unmerited. Mabuchi, also in a weak position, has stated that unless new facts come to light, a review of the punishment is obligatory. Noda has said that he would like to gear his actions according to the situation -- whatever that means -- whilst Kaieda has stated that "for the past year, the party has not been fighting at its full strength." Tarutoko and Kano have tried to avoid the question, Tarutoko saying that the issue of revoking Ozawa's punishment should not be an issue for the candidates for the position of party leader (which is an admission that it is) and Kano saying that as a member of the current government, he cannot comment on the issue.

Only Maehara has come out against revocation, saying that the decisions of the party executive committee have to be taken seriously.

Members of the anti-Ozawa majority in the party are not unaware of Ozawa's potential to turn the runoff into an all-Ozawa client affair (en). They can count just as well as Ozawa can and not a few of them are frightened.

The anti-Ozawa mainstream leaders are not without a few cards of their own to play. Mabuchi, who will be struggling to sign up the mandatory 20 Diet members needed to support his candidacy, is a former Noda group member. It is not inconceivable that Noda will persuade him to drop his candidacy, in return for promises that the party will focus more on measures boosting economic growth. Noda himself must clearly be thinking about dropping out, preparing to tell his supporters to line up behind Maehara. That he has not done so already is possibly to keep Ozawa busy plotting, rather than schooling his candidates on what they need to say to win support from unattached members of the party.

That there is little talk of policy (seisaku) and a lot about maneuvers (seikyoku) should not dismay the editors of the Tokyo Shimbun or anyone else. This is the DPJ's Sekigahara (en). The fates of those who will rise or fall will depend the result of this battle. If Maehara finishes in either in first or second place after the first round of voting, then Ozawa's and Hatoyama's influence on the party will go into eclipse.

Shimada Shinsuke Becomes Too Much Trouble

When I scanned the front page of the morning, I very nearly choked on my food at the story of Shimada Shinsuke, one of the most ubiquitous of the no-talent talents infesting the Japan entertainment sphere, precipitously retiring last night because of yakuza ties. I thought, "Wow, a very big fish. I wonder what Jake Adelstein will have to say about this."

"'Will' have to say about this?" Jake Adelstein is already all over the story.

Sayonara Shinsuke-san, or should I say, "Hasegawa-san" now? You will not be missed. Perhaps in your next earthly iteration you will actually be funny, rather than being the beneficiary of contrived laughter.

Later - I would wager a pretty solid cohort of the entertainment industry was busy deleting photos, messages and numbers from their mobiles phones last night.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Date Official

Progress on the renewable energy bill and the government bond issuance bill have reassured Prime Minister Kan Naoto that the time has come to announce the date of his resignation. He told the Cabinet at its regular Tuesday meeting that he will resign on Friday (en). The DPJ will have its leadership election Monday the 29th; the Diet vote will take place the next day and a new prime minister will take office just before the buzzer sounds ending the current, extended regular Diet session.

The Kan Cabinet's ratings may be extraordinarily low right now. However, in a few years' time, the populace will likely look back at the tumultuous last 14 months with a bit more appreciation of the man and his era. Unlike his predecessors, both in the case of prime minister and in the case of the leader of the DPJ, he was not a rich man. His only forms of wealth he possessed were those decency and diligence, both of which he displayed during his term in office. He fought off not once but three times a mugging by Ozawa Ichiro, the greatest political meddler of the last 30 years. He may have been too ready to speak inconvenient truths and a terrible campaign organizer -- but at least you knew he cared about the country and its future.

May history treat him better than the domestic press ever did.

Maehara Seiji Jumps Off The Fence

Over at σ1 Corey Wallace looks at the DPJ leadership race in the light of Maehara Seiji's entry and comes to the same conclusion as many in the media: that the race will boil down to Maehara vs. Kaeda Banri or Kano Michihiko, whichever of the latter two is anointed the puppet of Ozawa Ichiro (and a lot of other stuff, too).

Over at Janne in Osaka, Janne Morén offers a simple answer to a complex question: "Will it matter who leads the Democratic Party of Japan and thus the government?"

Here is my take on the matters at hand.

Wallace urges caution in declaring Maehara the victor in advance. I, as a rule, throw caution to the wind. I predict that Maehara against either Kaieda or Kano will end in a solid Maehara victory. Had Kaieda not broken down in committee last month, a race pitting him against Maehara would be very, very close – just as close as the race was between Kan Naoto and Ozawa Ichiro in the votes of the members of the Diet in the leadership election of September 2010. As it is, Kaieda's breakdown means he is extremely damaged goods, viable as a party leader only within the rarefied confines of Ozawa's sentimentalists. Kano, for his party, is simply too old, too enmeshed in the farm lobby and too Liberal Democratic Party to be accepted as a leader of the DPJ.

It is hard not to share the negative outlook Herr Morén presents in his post. Even if the bureaucrats do not surreptitiously undermine every single initiative Maehara may propose and the soft-liners in the LDP leadership continue to lead their party to cooperate with the DPJ on legislation in the House of Representatives, the LDP crazies in the House of Councillors are just slavering to have a go after Maehara. They already are planning to go a rampage on an issue that the public has already put behind it: the small illegal donation made to Maehara's political group by a South Korean national (ja). Maehara, out of a sense of honor, resigned as foreign minister to atone for the mistake and that should have been the end of it. The upper house maniacs will make sure that Maehara's gesture will not put the matter to rest – and that anything that comes up to them, whether it be legislation, slander or trivial fluff – it will be picked over as if by vultures.

Given the appetite for destruction in the House of Councillors and the myriad problems Japan faces, should we also just give up, as Herr Morén suggests we do?

Not if Maehara does the right thing in two areas: media relations and personnel selection. It is well past the hour that the Chief Cabinet Secretary is both the government's chief disciplinarian and its chief spokesman. The job has to be split in two parts. The Chief Cabinet Secretary running the coordination between the ministries, the national strategy office, the DPJ committee chairmen in both houses of the Diet and the general secretaries of the DPJ and the People’s New Party. That is more than enough work for anyone. The government spokesperson, most probably a Special Advisor the Prime Minister, would be in charge of the delicate art of defending the government whilst seducing the media giants.

This approach was tried, in a limited and unsuccessful way, during the Abe Cabinet. That the experiment failed was due almost in its entirety to Abe Shintaro's having selected Seko Hiroshige – a candidate for "the most inept man on the planet" – as his Special Advisor for Public Relations. With a more media savvy and careful individual as the government's spokesperson – i.e., Renho – Maehara would be free to appoint a real coordinator to the chief cabinet secretary position.

Maehara would also have to discover what Koizumi Jun'ichiro sensed instinctively: that a camera and a microphone are of great usefulness to someone trying to move a mountain. Time and time again, Koizumi used the media's voracious hunger for material as a means of reaching out beyond the screen or the speaker to the people, to shake them, to move them and to get them to see that his was the only way.

The prospects on this latter project are not good. Maehara has, to this point, had a perennial "deer in the headlights" stare when facing the cameras, a seeming blankness when he should be projecting certainty. Perhaps if he stood facing himself in a floor length mirror, practicing the phrase "Follow me" over and over until he himself believed it, he would be ready for prime time.

Let us all hope he gets to work on it, starting now.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Is There Something The New Kyodo Poll Tells Us…

…that we do not already know?

First, let us check out the English-language sources. Over at The Japan Times Online:
Cabinet polls at new record low of 15.8%

The public support rate for Prime Minister Naoto Kan's Cabinet has fallen to 15.8 percent, the lowest since he took office in June last year, a poll showed Sunday.
In a telephone poll conducted by Kyodo News on Saturday and Sunday, former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara was the most popular of the candidates likely to succeed Kan, drawing 28 percent of respondents' votes.

Some 66.5 percent of the respondents said cooperation between the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the opposition parties over specific policies is the best course of action for the next administration once Kan steps down, while 19.7 percent want a grand coalition by the DPJ and the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, the largest opposition force.
Now at Kyodo's own English language site:
Kan's support rate hits record low, Maehara favorite successor

The public support rate for Prime Minister Naoto Kan's Cabinet has fallen to 15.8 percent, down from 17.1 percent last month and the lowest since he took office in June last year, a Kyodo News poll showed Sunday.

The Kan government's disapproval rating stands at 70.0 percent.

In a telephone poll conducted on Saturday and Sunday, former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara was the most popular politician among the potential candidates to succeed Kan, receiving 28 percent of votes by respondents, followed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano with 11.0 percent and DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada with 10.9 percent.
All right, that the Cabinet of Prime Minister Kan Naoto is moribund is not news, as the PM himself showed when he shuffled through the book racks at the Yaesu Book Center the other day, looking for reading material to fill up his plentiful post-premiership free time (ja). Who is to going to pledge allegiance to a government whose leader is simply hanging around until the LDP makes good on its promises to be nice and vote for the bond issuance bill and the renewable energy bill?

As for race to replace Kan, the new findings add fuel to the speculation that Maehara Seiji will reverse himself and run for the post of leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, dashing the hopes of Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko, who had been counting on the support of Maehara's 50-member group. According to reports, Noda had a private meeting with Maehara on Saturday night where Maehara told him there were "difficulties" (konnan) in consolidating support for him in Maehara's group (ja).

The numbers for Edano Yukio and Okada Katsuya tell us nearly nothing, as neither of the two has indicated a wish to run for the post of party leader. The numbers indeed represent a collapse of support for both men, for they scored higher (Okada 15.8%: Edano 15.6%) in the poll Kyodo conducted in July.

Among those in the running for the post of leader, or presumed to be in the running, the numbers are:

Maehara Seiji 28.0
Noda Yoshihiko 4.8
Kaieda Banri 4.7
Mabuchi Sumio 3.5
Ozawa ShinjiSakihito 1.6
Kano Michihiko 1.5
Tarutoko Shinji 0.3

The number of respondents saying, "Don’t Know/Can’t Say" dropped slightly, from 29.3% in the last poll to 26.7% in the current poll. **

The real news in the poll is the shift in the party support numbers for the two major parties. Respondents counting themselves as supporters of the DPJ rose from a precarious 14.7% to a more steady 19.3%, while the number of those calling themselves supporters of the LDP declined from 25.9% to 23.3%. This is the first significant reversal of the trends on these two figures for many months – and seems to reflect a renewed hope on the part of the engaged segment of the electorate that under a new prime minister the DPJ will provide the country with some direction.

As for the disengaged segment of the populace, it remains disengaged. Those answering either "I support no party" or "I don’t know" were 41.9 % of respondents in the last poll, 40.7% in the latest poll.

The responses to the final question in the Japan Times Online report beg the question, "Are the voters rabid believers in the power of a social norm prohibiting conflict, eternal optimists or merely unobservant?" When asked, "What kind of administration should exist under the new prime minister?" the answers were, as noted above, 66.5% in favor of the opposition parties linking up with the ruling coalition to cooperate on specific pieces of legislation and 19.7% in favor of a grand coalition linking the DPJ and the LDP (the numbers for the two propositions in the July poll were 51.7% and 30.7%, respectively). As for the fraction of the respondents who wanted the present situation of a DPJ-led government to continue, only 5.5% were in favor it.

Folks, folks, folks, what two-thirds of you want the parties to do is what the parties have been trying to do since the House of Councillors election in July of last year. The piecemeal cooperation strategy has not worked out. It may be the case that an amazing number of you attribute this failure to Prime Minister Kan himself, for when the Kyodo pollsters asked their respondents how much they appreciate the achievements of the 14 months of the Kan administration, the answers were:

Greatly appreciate 2.0%
Appreciate to a certain degree 30.0%
Tend to not appreciate 45.5%
Absolutely do not appreciate 21.5%

Amazing what the purported lack of leadership from a man can do to a country.

Then again, we live in the era of Koizumi nostalgia, forgetting that during his tenure, Koizumi was running against the unpopular political legacy of his own party. He also had a few other advantages including parliamentary majorities in both Houses or a supermajority in the House of Representatives and an economy buoyed by exports to rapidly expanding economies in China and the United States. Kan has not and his successor will not have such advantages.

Wish Kan's successor good luck.

* Why am I reproducing these articles here in full? Because Japanese news outlets sever their links within days of a story’s appearance. The practice is of course idiotic, as it assures that the news as it was reported by the news source will vanish from the intellectual debate.

** Having numbers beyond the decimal point is ludicrous, given the margin of error in these polls. Usually I round off the numbers. Since I am quoting from Kyodo directly in this post, however, I am sticking with Kyodo’s version of the numbers.

Please Help Me

As I cannot decide on my own, I am conducting an informal poll. Which of these two articles is worse?




Remember to award bonus points for non-sequiturs, unfounded assumptions and misleading assertions.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Grand Coalition Debate, With Commentary

Professor Gerald Curtis has published a disorganized but affecting journal entry on his visits to the Tohoku region since the triple disasters of March 11. It is worthwhile to read in full, as it is much more nuanced than the redacted version that appeared in the East Asia Forum.

However, it was worthwhile to scroll down through the East Asia Forum version to read Dr. Aurelia Mulgan George's comment to the redaction version of Dr. Curtis' semi-analytical, semi-journalistic composition.

Here is the section of Dr. Curtis's journal entry on the current political predicament the new prime minister will face, whoever he may be:
There is no short-term remedy for Japan's political woes. Japan, like the United States, has divided government. With their control of a majority of seats in the upper house, the opposition parties find the temptation to block the DPJ from passing legislation all but irresistible. The only way for the government to force the opposition to cooperate is to rally public opinion strongly to its side. That is how Prime Minister Koizumi was able to overcome intense opposition to his program from within his own party. But unfortunately for Japan Kan is no Koizumi.

Forming a grand coalition is not the answer to Japan's political predicament either. In Germany or in Britain parties are able to enter into coalition without forsaking their separate identities and core bases of support. But in Japan where social cleavages – class, region, religion, ethnicity, and so on -- that help structure the party system elsewhere are weak, a grand coalition would signify the effective end of the existence of a major opposition party and the virtual collapse of competitive party politics. That would not produce more enlightened policies; it would only threaten Japan's political democracy.

A grand coalition that is not based on a policy accord would move the power struggle out of public view into the backrooms of the coalition government. For the LDP the attraction of a grand coalition is the opportunity to get its hands on power once again. For the DPJ it is the hope that the LDP would in reality become hostage to the DPJ government.

There is considerable resistance to forging a coalition in both the LDP and the DPJ. Many in the LDP believe that the best course of action for their party is to hammer home the argument that the DPJ is incompetent and press for an early election. Many in the DPJ as well oppose forming a coalition because of the fear that they would become hostage to the LDP's policies rather than the other way around. So a grand coalition is not likely to materialize and if it were it would not be a palliative for a deeply troubled political system.

Here is Dr. George's response:
I agree that forming a 'grand coalition' of DPJ/LDP/Komeito undermines prospects for the consolidation of competitive party politics in Japan, and is certainly not the answer to Japan's political woes in a more general sense. However, the ability of the three parties to contemplate such a coalition surely reflects the fact that policy differences between the two major parties (DPJ and LDP) are not that great (possibly a reflection of the absence of deep social cleavages in Japan, as you say); and perhaps extraordinary times call for extraordinary solutions.

Something might also be said for the positive benefits of 'temporary coalitions of convenience' which we have just witnessed i.e. the legislative cooperation amongst the major parties that resulted in the passage of the budget-related bills etc in the Diet. First, these 'temporary coalitions of convenience' may at least get the DPJ over humps in the road ­ the legislative obstacles caused by the nejire kokkai. Secondly, they provide a strategy for the government to outflank opposition within the DPJ led by the pro-Ozawa forces, enabling it to pass legislation without the benefit of the votes of Ozawa supporters if necessary (not forgetting that some of these supporters resigned from the DPJ's parliamentary caucus in February, putting the two-thirds override vote in the Lower House out of reach of the Kan administration). Yet another hidden benefit is the opportunity such coalitions provide for the LDP (which all indicators suggest will remain the major opposition party) to learn to behave like a 'loyal opposition' – a novel experience for the LDP ­ helping to build new and constructive conventions of parliamentary behaviour. Finally, given that Japan has been a political democracy without competitive party politics for most of its postwar history, the threat of a grand coalition to Japanese democracy is perhaps exaggerated. Although desirable, competitive party politics is neither necessary nor sufficient for Japanese political democracy. It’s how the parties are elected in the first place that matters.
It is hard to decide which part of the ledger to come down upon in this. debate. I think Dr. George is spot on in her critique of Dr. Curtis' assertion that a grand coalition would threaten Japan's political democracy, seeing as how in the era of the "1955 system" -- where an opposition party had no hope of taking power -- Japan still had the trappings of a democracy.

I take issue with Dr. George's assertion, however, that a spell in a grand coalition government could educate the LDP as to the proper behavior of a loyal opposition. The problem is and has been, though Dr. Curtis would be too circumspect to ever say this out loud, that the LDP cannot be a loyal anything. As a concatenation of clients of special interests, it has never been capable, save under extraordinary leaders such as Nakasone Yasuhiro and Koizumi Jun'ichiro, to be a loyal majority party. As an "ice cream for everyone" creation of the periods of rapid growth and catch up with the United States, it was able to provide for the general welfare, but only by accident. In times of limited resources and a fundamental need to make brutal choices, it floundered, allowing, for example, the bad loan problem to fester for a decade rather than a few years (as was demonstrated in the case in Sweden) and driving the country into a singular gross debt position through repeated attempts to apply fiscal solutions to what were structural problems. It was the public's appreciation of the failure of the party to provide necessary national leadership in the absence of the guidance of a lone wolf like Koizumi that compelled the electorate to toss the whole kit and kaboodle out of power only two years ago.

So why support the idea of a grand coalition, when the LDP has a craving for power as its sole guiding principle? Because the LDP has a craving for power as its sole guiding principle. Once in power, the LDP will be sated, willing to take a junior role in carrying out a reformist vision that its wonkish current leadership share with the the DPJ's current wonkish leadership. The combined forces of the DPJ's and the LDP's wonks could team up,as Dr. George suggests, against the real threat to Japanese democracy: Tanakaism, or, as it is currently formulated, Ozawaism -- the idea that the goal of a party is not just to win elections, but to try to fulfill the myriad promises the party made in order to win elections. Ozawa Ichiro, fully cognizant that a team of policy specialists would determine there was no way to pay for all the promises the DPJ made in its party manifesto, consolidated all policy decision making power in his own hands through the first few months of the Hatoyama Cabinet. This he called "crafting a budget without the interference of bureaucrats" but what the LDP and other opposition parties and the news media quickly labeled an "Ozawa dictatorship" -- deeply wounding the DPJ's reformist credentials.

That a competitive, two party system may dissolve in the wake of a grand coalition seems a risk the country should willing to take -- for almost anything would be better than the current situation, where the minority party has veto power over anything the majority party proposes, and where the desire to oppose what the majority party proposes is, as Dr. Curtis notes, "irresistible."

That a host of technical details stand in the way of a grand coalition is the problem of putting the bell on the cat.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Boys of Summer -- An Addendum

Nihondai San High School, the team representing the Tokyo West region, has just won the summer baseball tournament, beating Kosei High School, the team representing Aomori Prefecture. The final score was 11 - 0.

It was 40 years since a team from Aomori Prefecture (population rank among prefectures = #31) last managed to make it all the way to the final. It shows that my contention -- that the smaller prefectures scarcely have a chance in the national contest, due to the lower level of competition in their intra-prefectural contests -- has its exceptions.

But was this team really from Aomori? That is a good question. It turns out that Kosei High School is a magnet school, recruiting students from all over the country.

So how many of the Kosei High School starting nine were actually from Aomori?

Not a single one.

Eight of the starting nine were from Osaka -- Japan's second city. The remaining player, the team captain, hails from Okinawa, the prefecture with the highest birth rate in the country.

So the principle of numbers breeding competition breeding success is not violated.

Bad news for the small population prefectures.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Five Ways You Know Noda Yoshihiko Will Probably Not Be The Next Prime Minister, With Commentary

At the beginning of this week, Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko was the presumptive top choice in the race to replace Kan Naoto as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan and thus the person who will become Japan's next prime minister. Nichiyo Toron, NHK's prime political debate show (airing at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings) had him on as the sole politician, answering the questions of three academics.

Now, at the end of the week, Noda's candidacy looks as fried as an egg on the hood of a black Toyota sedan in Kumagaya in August.

What has gone wrong for this, the presumptive crown prince? Why has his candidacy gone into a swan dive, even before the race has formally begun?

1) He has talked about raising taxes, including the consumption tax.

As a general rule, one thing one does not do, no matter what political office one is running for, is talk about raising taxes. One could argue that by showing a willingness to talk about raising taxes, Noda is demonstrating his toughness and bravery – and that the people appreciate this bold and honest approach. Unfortunately, talk about raising taxes could also be the result of having spent too much time in the presence of Finance Ministry bureaucrats – a definite negative. Kan Naoto was Finance Minister for only a few weeks before becoming prime minister – and the finance ministry bureaucracy mesmerized him, with deleterious results for the DPJ in the 2010 House of Councillors election.

There is furthermore still a number of members of the DPJ who cling to the party's pledge to not raise the consumption tax – the tax that would be the most fair and efficient -- without holding an election. Seeing as how the party is suffering from a huge deficit in the public opinion polls as compared to its rival the Liberal Democratic Party, the chances that a sizable number of DPJ legislators would support a candidate singing the praises of a tax rise is negligible.

2) He has confirmed that he still is in basic agreement with a 2005 statement that the Class A war criminals enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine are not actual war criminals.

No. No. No. You are trying to become prime minister, not the leader of a boy scout troop. You want to go overseas, visit nice places like Beijing, Seoul and Washington, where they take that kind of talk very seriously. If at one time you said in Diet questioning, "Those who are called Class A war criminals were not really war criminals" and you today are asked, "Do you still believe this?" you answer, "I was speaking hypothetically" or "I was speaking metaphorically" or "I wasn’t inhaling at the time" or "I swear to you, I thought he was a woman"…anything but "Basically, my way of thinking has not changed." (ja)

3) The Liberal Democratic Party has waved off any talk of a grand coalition.

Noda has stated that the only way to solve the current impasse in the Diet is for the next prime minister to go to the LDP, head bowed, and ask them to join the government. Noda has sold himself as the man who could make that request, indeed yesterday, he said he would be willing to make that request "one hundred and one times" (ja).

Unfortunately for Noda, leaders of the LDP on Wednesday came down hard against suggestions that their party would be entering into a grand coalition with the DPJ (en). The only glimmer of hope for a grand coalition came from LDP party president Tanigaki Sadakazu, who said, "We have to cooperate on the recovery from the disaster; however, one must keep in mind that a grand coalition would be an outlier among outliers."(ja)

Now Noda could have a back pocket deal with the New Komeito in the works, whereby the New Komeito junks its alliance with the LDP and joins the government or agrees to vote with the government, giving the new coalition the requisite number of votes for a majority in the House of Councillors and a supermajority in the House of Representatives. However, there have been no reports of Noda or his allies in talks with New Komeito representatives.

No grand coalition = no need for Noda.

4) Kaieda Banri is planning to run.

If there was anyone who would have less of a chance to be perceived as the leader of a country, it is Kaieda Banri. Beyond the fact that he leads the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry, the ministry in charge of the safety of Japan's nuclear power plants – already a black eye – his name also cannot be mentioned without the television networks running the video of him breaking out in sobs during committee questioning in late July (photos and video).

Nevertheless, Kaieda, who can count on the support of the group of DPJ members loyal to former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio, is in the running (en).

If Kaieda can run, the field must be wide open, with the votes of the 150 or so strong group of legislators with close ties to former party leader Ozawa Ichiro in play.

5) Noda has lost Maehara Seiji's commitment to sit this election out

Noda and former foreign minister Maehara Seiji are both graduates of the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management. Though they are natural rivals, they have an understanding that when one makes a leadership move, the other will get out of the way and support him. At the beginning of this week, Noda had Maehara's tacit promise to not run in this leadership contest. Yesterday, however, Maehara met with 50 DPJ lawmakers of his group. Coming out of the meeting, he did not say, "I am not running and I give Noda my full support." Instead he said, "I am really torn. I would like to take a few days to think about this." (ja).

If Maehara runs, a lot of DPJ members will get off the fence and support him. He is telegenic, a hardliner on security issues (thereby blunting LDP criticism that the DPJ as a party is naïve on security matters) and is always at the top of the list when pollsters ask "What politician would you want to have as Japan's leader?" He also seems to have an ambivalent relationship with former party leaders Hatoyama and Ozawa, rather than the pure enmity that lie between those two men and the DPJ's current executive committee.

If Maehara is even taking a few days to think about whether to run or not, then one can pretty much declare Noda's candidacy in serious, serious trouble.

This is trebly so because the job of taking over from Kan Naoto is a such crappy one. The LDP and the New Komeito are going to be as obstructive as possible – as is indicated by their current mostly feigned outrage (ja) at a DPJ internal flier that states that the kodomo teate is not dead (See my discussion of the kodomo teate vs. jido teate semantic debate here). The job guarantee, if anyone can survive the mind-bending pressures of a divided Diet, is for only a year, as the DPJ has its regularly scheduled leadership contest in September next year. Ozawa Ichiro will still be in the party, muddying the waters; indeed, there has been a suggestion from Koshiishi Azuma, the leader of the DPJ in the House of Councillors, that Ozawa have his party rights restored (ja) – a step forward for the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty but a step back for the principle that the duty of a party member is to serve the party.

As it stands, no sane person would want to be responsible for a) getting the members of the DPJ moving in one direction, which is akin to herding cats, b) trying to sweet talk the LDP and/or the New Komeito into voting for every single piece of legislation sent to the House of Councillors (with the exception of the national budget and supplementary budgets), c) leading the reconstruction and revitalization of the devastated areas of the Tohoku, d) managing the cleanup from the Fukushima nuclear power station disaster and e) finding solutions to Japan's myriad other problems, most of them chronic, which have been sitting simmering on the back burner in the five months since the March 11 catastrophe.

Nevertheless, if one includes Maehara, there are at least seven candidates in the race to replace Kan as PM.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Boys of Summer

I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone…

- Don Henley,
The Boys of Summer

Walk or bike through some of the quieter sections of the country at this time of year, and you are likely to hear wafting out of open windows a tell-tale “plink” and the sound of announcers going crazy. It is the time of the national high school summer baseball tournament, and a goodly part of the nation is transfixed by the drama. Forty-eightnine teams representing each of the forty seven prefectures in the country (Tokyo, due to its massive population, sends two teams and Hokkaido sends two as well) try to pitch, hit, bunt, slide and catch their way through a single elimination tournament.

August thus is a time of heightened prefectural identity, where individuals, no matter where they are now, follow with intense emotional attachment the team from the prefecture where they were born or where they grew up*.

The summer tournament also presents a regular test of the competitiveness of the populations of the various prefectures. Entrants in the national contest are selected by prefectural tournaments. In the aggregate, prefectures with larger populations or larger populations of young persons should have more intensely competitive intra-prefectural tournaments. These teams that have been tempered in more intense intra-prefectural contests should do better in the inter-prefectural competition.

It is an imperfect test of course. The presence in certain prefectures of baseball magnet schools like the once predominate but now mercifully defanged PL Gakuen can tilt the results. Also the presence of a supremely talented pitcher – a Darvish Yu, for example -- can pull a mediocre team from a small prefecture upward to a finish well above expectations.

The final eight surviving teams of this year's national tournament will be playing in the quarterfinals today. The draw features a fairly good mix – one of the two Tokyo teams, a Tohoku team (though from one of the prefectures least affected by the March 11 disasters), one team from the North Kanto area, one team from the South Kanto (if Yokohama High School had not suffered one of the most epic ninth inning breakdowns in the history of the tournament, there would be two), two teams from the Kansai and two teams from the Chugoku region.

As for the correlation of the competitiveness of the teams versus population, the results are pretty good. Only one team from a small population prefecture (Aomori) has survived until today’s game. A team from Tokyo, the prefecture with the highest population, has survived – and if the coach had not replaced his starting pitcher in the Yokohama-Chiben game, the top two prefectures in terms of population would be represented.

Overlay the surviving teams with political maps, and one sees further patterns. Again, had Yokohama not had its breakdown, the team with from the prefecture that is the least-well represented in the House of Councillors would still be in the tournament. Surviving also is the team from Chiba, the prefecture boasting the least-well represented House of Representatives electoral district in the country.

Lay across the eight teams the Democratic Party of Japan's plan for reforming the House of Councillors – a reform mandated by a Supreme Court decision that the current level of disparity between the representation for the prefecture with the smallest population and Kanagawa Prefecture -- and things get really interesting. The combination of two factors – the Supreme Court standard of disparity and a pledge in the DPJ's 2009 Manifesto to reduce the number of members of the House of Councillors by 40 – has guided the DPJ to produce a radical bill cutting across political red lines and carefully constructed regional identities. For the first time prefectural boundaries would be dispensed with, as nine small population prefectures will lose their right to have two members in the House of Councillors. Instead, eight small prefectures will be teamed up into four groups of two, with the voters in the two combined prefectures voting for a single House of Councillors seat in the triennial elections. One large prefecture will be teamed with a small one to send four members to the House of Councillors.

Additional reforms are found in the bill. Six prefectures will have their current representation by four senators knocked down to two. Only one prefecture — yes, Kanagawa — will have its representation bumped up from its current six senators to eight.

Lay this new map across the eight surviving teams in the national baseball tournament -- the pinnacle of a national talent contest of the youth populations of each prefecture – and you see a fairly solid correlation. None of the teams from the prefectures slated for political union** is in the final eight. Only one of the prefectures slated to have its representation in the House cut from four members to two*** under the DPJ plan is in the final eight. Tellingly, it is Hiroshima, the largest of of the six prefectures threatened with the halving their representation****.

The DPJ House of Councillors draft bill is one of the likely subjects of lengthy horse trading in between the DPJ and the opposition Liberal Democratic and New Komeito parties. Some kind of bill has to be passed before 2013, as one would have to tie oneself into intellectual knots before one could justify the holding of an election under a system the Supreme Court has already identified as unconstitutional (the same problem haunts the House of Representatives districts, which have similarly been declared unconstitutional). The draft bill would certainly need to be dealt with prior to any serious policy linkage of the three main parties -- yet another difficulty standing in the way of a grand coalition or government of national salvation.

As for the prefectures, their governors and legislatures are going to hit the roof over the DPJ's current plan, if only for the cameras.

In the interim, Kosei of Aomori (population rank = 31) has just beaten of Toyodai Himeiji of Hyogo (population rank = 7). The final score was 2 - 1.

Not everything in the game proceeds according to the numbers.


* Mid-August is also when the time of Obon, when one is expected to return to the family's ancestral home to pay respect at the family gravesite -- yet another intense driver of prefectural identity.

**The four new political unions would be Ishikawa-Fukui (2 seats); Shimane-Tottori (2 seats); Kochi-Tokushima (2 seats); Nagasaki-Saga and Yamanashi-Nagano (4 seats).

*** The six prefectures dropping from four seats to two are Miyagi, Fukushima, Niigata, Gifu, Kyoto and Hiroshima.

**** It would be interesting to go back and check over the results of the summer tournament over the decades, to see whether or not the level of disproportionality of Diet districts correlates in a significant way with the summer tournament's final eight. Of course, since there were middle-sized, multi-seat districts for the House of Representatives and funky electoral systems for the House of Councillors in the past, the meaningfulness of the exercise may only extend back to the nineties.

Later - Many thanks to Peter Cave for finding the error in my count of the number of teams.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Why Not A Grand Coalition?

Noda Yoshihiko, whose bid for being the "economic conservative policy wonk" candidate for leader of the Democratic Party of Japan has already crowded out the potential candidacies of Maehara Seiji, Sengoku Yoshito and Edano Yukio (ja), has said he would seek to form a cabinet of national salvation, seemingly with ministers from the DPJ, the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito.
Noda eyes grand coalition
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, considered a leading candidate to replace Naoto Kan as prime minister, said Saturday he will launch a "national salvation cabinet" by formulating a grand coalition with major opposition parties if he takes the reins of government.

Appearing on a TV Tokyo program Saturday morning, Noda reiterated his resolve to run in the next presidential election of the Democratic Party of Japan. The election will be held after Kan announces his resignation from the premiership, probably later this month.

Noda said that if he becomes DPJ president, he will strive to establish a grand coalition with two major opposition parties, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito. Consequently, debate in the forthcoming DPJ presidential race will likely focus on how to secure cooperation between the ruling and opposition camps, analysts said.

"I believe now is the time for the ruling and opposition parties to have a heart-to-heart talk to establish a national salvation cabinet," Noda said.

"Because we can't do what the government needs to do without a coalition, I think I'll have to begin [if elected DPJ president] by bowing my head before opposition members to seek their cooperation, as if I was knocking on someone's front door to make a request," he said...

One teensy-weensy little problem with this plan -- of what certainly must be a gamut of them: a lot of DPJ legislators sit in the district seats once occupied by LDP members of the Diet, members who came back from the dead because they had their names on the LDP's proportional seat list (ja). It is hard to imagine that these resurrected members of the LDP will be holding the hands of the DPJ members who ousted them from their cushy district seats. What will these proportional seat LDP legislators do, come the next House of Representatives election? Graciously abstain from running in the district in deference to the incumbent DPJ candidate?

Might happen...but that would mean realignment, wouldn't it?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Beyond the Event Horizon -- Or The Joys Of Being Wrong

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Kano Michihiko last night met with members of the Democratic Party of Japan with close ties to the agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries. Though way too long in the tooth (Kano is 69 years old) to be in any way considered a member of "the next generation of leaders" Prime Minister Kan Naoto has said he wants taking over the reins of power once he has resigned, Kano is nevertheless is seen as a serious candidate for the post of DPJ party leader. That such an old and semi-compromised (Kano has served as Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries before...as a member of the LDP!) politician is seeking support from younger DPJ members whose interests are aligned with the ministry Kano leads into seems to indicate that my post of two days ago was not entirely off-base.

However nice it is to get something right, or at least seem to get something right, it is even more refreshing to get something completely wrong.

On Monday I predicted that the determining factor in whether or not the LDP or the DPJ will come to terms on the 4K issues, the bond issuance bill and the renewable energy bill would be public pressure. Either the DPJ or the LDP would fold depending on the results of polls measuring the public’s support of either party.

Not so.

If I want to claim partial vindication for my assertion, polls showing the LDP whipping the DPJ was the justification for the “no compromises” stance taken by the hardliners in the LDP, led by Policy Research Chairman Ishiba Shigeru and some of the party’s most veteran legislators (ja).

The hardliners, however, lost the argument within the LDP over how to handle the 4K issues, the bond issuance bill and the renewable energy bill. The soft-liners, led by LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Shintaro, compromised on all three items, breaking up the logjam in the Diet, largely in return for promises from the DPJ directorate to reform of existing laws.

Nothing solid, just promises.

What broke the back of the LDP – and what I forgot to take into account when I made my prediction – is that there are two consequential parties in the opposition: the LDP and the New Komeito. Though it is common to think of the pair as a unit, seeing as how they have stayed close even when the embrace of the LDP cost the New Komeito severely at the polls, they still have differing agendas and constituencies.

The New Komeito, while it will follow the lead of the LDP on most issues, is not as sensitive to movements of public opinion as it is to the movement of a single opinion: that of the directorate of the Soka Gakkai. What Ishihara knew, and what Ishiba and the hardliners in the LDP either ignored or were oblivious to, was that the directorate of the SG was upset with the leadership of the New Komeito over its cooperation with the LDP in seikyoku (political maneuvering) rather than seiji (politics) in a time of national calamities (ja). It was also deeply upset at the prospect of national elections (ja) both in a time of a national calamity and when the New Komeito was not prepared for them.

When Ishihara caught wind of the New Komeito's weakening will to fight the DPJ to the bitter end on problematic legislation, he had to preemptively announce that the LDP was going to cooperate with the DPJ on the bond issuance bill and the renewable energy bill – this even though the DPJ and the LDP had not even begun negotiations over their differences as regards the renewable energy bill.

While the Soka Gakkai, the publicly-denied but openly-acknowledged "mothership" of the New Komeito, gives secularists and adherents of other sects and religions the heeby-jeebies, it has at times proven itself of value to the country. One need only hearken back to the time when the lunatics were put in charge of the asylum (the Abe Cabinet) and the draft Basic Education Law the then LDP leadership proposed to replace the law enacted when Japan was still under U.S. occupation. The draft was heavy on patriotism and light on upon the evils of the nationalism of the pre-1945 Imperial state. The Soka Gakkai, whose first two leaders died in Imperial prisons for their beliefs, had the New Komeito send the draft back to the LDP for revision so fast the LDP's teeth rattled – this despite the fact that the New Komeito was very much the junior member of the ruling coalition.

That the secretive and usually silent SG can yank on the LDP's chain from time to time was something I had forgotten to include in my calculations.

There are other narratives, of course. The Mainichi Shimbun maintains that what really turned the tide in the negotiations was an LDP threat of a vote of censure against the prime minister in the House of Councillors (ja). DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, seeing the threat of a total breakdown of the legislative process, accepted that the time for wrangling was over.

While possible, this assertion does not explain why the LDP and the New Komeito made concessions in their approaches to the pending legislation. Ishihara, if he indeed raised the issue, may have thrown a threat of censure motion in as an afterthought, an extra twig on the fire under the DPJ's feet.

The onus this past week has clearly been on the LDP to soften its line, not harden it.

So I was wrong – gloriously so.

Now on to the horse race, where there are all of a sudden way too many horses showing up at the starting line.

Damn Straight

Our Man in Abiko, the man behind Quakebook, says what needs to be said about the Yomiuri Shimbun's plan for a better governed Japan.

The sworn enemy since day one of the Democratic Party of Japan-led government deserves no quarter.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

One Ministry To Rule Them All

In ancient times (pre-August 2009) hideous beasts stalked the halls of the Diet. Called the zoku giin, they had the faces of human beings but hearts that would beat only for the bureaucrats of a particular ministry. The zoku giin, in their roving bands, would strike down, gut or otherwise harass any legislation that threatened the interests of their particular beloved ministry. It was to flush the zoku giin from their lair and break their insidious hold on national policy that the populace in 2009 elected to power a brand new party, one that desird only to chastise and humiliate the bureaucrats.

Now this is a fable, and as with all fables there are exaggerations. The horrid zoku giin of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party were not simple automata responding to the will of the ministries they favored. Each legislator had a multiplicity of competing loyalties – to his or her faction, to his or her constituents, to his or her political support group (koenkai), to his or her fellow college alumni, ad nauseum – pulling and tugging at the heart of the individual. Bureaucrats could never be sure, no matter how much they sought to curry favor with a particular legislator, whether or not that legislator would be able to deliver on what the ministry wanted.

Yet is not a fable that the people in 2009 did toss out the LDP and handed power to the Democratic Party of Japan with the goal in part of wiping out the zoku giin-bureaucrat relationship – a relationship that in the eyes of many had led to the sacrifice of the national good in favor of the interests of a particular ministry, over and over again.

Switch now to today. By all accounts, the DPJ has come to terms with the LDP and the New Komeito on the passage of the legislation Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said must pass before he will hand over the reins of power to the next generation of politicians. This means that very soon, sometime within the next three weeks, Kan will resign as leader of the DPJ and the party will elect a new leader.

Why lovers of ancient history and delicious irony should be in ecstasy and the rest of us should be concerned is that the candidates for the position of leader of the DPJ seem to be running not as the leaders of particular groups within the party (that is to say, along factional lines) or as representatives of particular part of the country (regionalism or urban vs. rural candidacies) or even as the purveyors of a particular ruling philosophy, articles published in their names in monthly magazines notwithstanding.

Instead, the candidates for the leadership of the DPJ seem to running as paid-in and sold out representatives of a particular ministry. Noda Yoshihiko, the current Minister of Finance, is running on a ticket of balancing the national budget through increases in the consumption tax and fiscal restraint – i.e., Ministry of Finance fundamentalism. Not surprisingly, Noda is also advocating greater role for bureaucrats in governance than was the case under the premiership of Hatoyama Yukio and is the case under Kan. Mabuchi Sumio, late of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, cannot find a tax increase he cannot hate nor a spending program, seemingly, he cannot like. Suddenly making the rounds is Kano Michihiko, the member of the government who spiked Kan’s plan for Japan to start talks on joining the Trans Pacific Partnership. Not surprising, since Kano is the sitting Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Also among the otherwise undeclared but certain to be running is Maehara Seiji, who through his recent travels and quotable quotes has pretty much set himself up as the candidate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense. Kaieda Banri, if he can compose himself, could easily mount a challenge as the candidate of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Now it used to be in the bad old days of the bad old LDP that a candidate for the leadership of the party had to have held a number of ministerial posts, including one of the Big Four (Finance, Foreign Affairs, MITI and Chief Cabinet Secretary) under his belt before he could be considered prime ministerial material. A candidate therefore would have had to have dealt with and represented the interests of a series of ministries, ones with often diametrically opposed agendas, before he would be even considered a candidate to sit in the prime minister's chair.

Consider our present situation in these, the shiny good new days. The DPJ has been in power for only a brief period. The candidates who are stepping into the shark tank of the DPJ leadership race have served as the heads of but a single ministry, or for a very brief period at two. Many are stepping directly out of a current ministerial position, without any cooling off period. If the zoku giin and the drag they purportedly put on national policy making were "bad," bad enough that the whole LDP had to be put out to pasture, what the heck should be the adjective used to describe a direct clash between what are for all intents and purposes champions of the ministries themselves, this within the walls of a party that is supposedly at its core "anti-bureaucrat"?

Crossing The Line

One thing is for sure: over at The Asahi Shimbun, there is a sharp line between reporting and editorializing...and they give their reporters the freedom to skip right over it.

Amaterasu help these authors, who think themselves journalists.

Then again, just plug in 菅首相 and 外交 into a search engine and you get pretty much the same stuff appearing everywhere else.

Whatever happened to just laying out a diplomatic schedule on the assumption that Kan will be the prime minister, then doing a global replace on all the documents when he resigns and a new prime minister is elected in his place? What the heck are these foreign ministry anonymice whining about?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When Best To Betray Your Friends and Principles

In a long post over at Sigma1, Corey Wallace lays out an explanation for the most baffling political conundrum in quite a while: the sudden stated willingness on the part of the Liberal Democratic Party to cooperate with the Democratic Party of Japan on the passage of the two pieces of legislation Prime Minister Kan Naoto has said must pass before he will resign.

In Wallace's telling of the tale, current market turmoil may have played a part in forcing the DPJ on the one hand and the LDP and the New Komeito on the other to think seriously about how their parochial fighting might be endangering Japan's credibility. However, the primary reason a deal is being worked out is that top leaders in the LDP, in particular Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru and Vice President Tadamori Oshima, saw a need for the LDP to pre-empt the New Komeito's cutting a deal of its own with the DPJ.

Now the LDP and the New Komeito are bossom buddies and have stuck together through some tough times. There was furthermore no obvious indication that the New Komeito was thinking about cutting a deal with the DPJ, trading a DPJ-People's New Party-New Komeito majority in the House of Councillors (and a supermajority in the House of Representatives) in return for a solemn promise to not hold elections for significant span of time. However, the possibility that the New Komeito might be wondering what it is that it is gaining by continuing its cooperation with the LDP -- and what it might gain if it sided with the DPJ -- forced the LDP leadership into throwing in the towel on the policy of constant confrontation with the DPJ.

Makes sense to me.

Later - If you want an analogy, think of the LDP and the New Komeito as two gunslingers, riding through the badlands, when they come to a point where the canyon has become so narrow, only one rider can proceed through at a time. The LDP turns to the New Komeito and says, "You are my friend and I trust you. You and I have been riding alongside one another for a long time. However, if I ride ahead, you could just shoot me in the back. In order to preserve our friendship, what I am going to do is go ahead and shoot myself in the back first, so you don't feel you have to."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Has Disaster Saved The Day?

Yesterday, when I was trying to sift through the scenarios on how the deadlock over the 4K issues dividing the government from the LDP and the New Komeito might be broken, I lamented that the news organizations tended to conduct their public opinion polls at the end of the month, so it would be impossible to tell directly whether or not the public was ticked off by the standoff in the Diet preventing the passage of the bond issuance bill.

I lamented too quickly, for even as I was typing, the Yomiuri Shimbun and NHK (video clip and text) were letting loose with new polling results from over the weekend. As the Yomiuri poll has been translated into English, I will go over only the results of the NHK poll.

Support for the Cabinet

18% Support
65% Do Not Support

This is a click upward in Cabinet support of a single percentage point from the July numbers, with a 3 point drop in the Do Not Support numbers – both numbers being pretty much within the margin of error for these polls. What this demonstrates is that the performance of Prime Minister Kan Naoto and his cabinet has been sufficiently strong to prevent the prime minister's numbers falling along the normal downward curve toward irrelevance. However, holding steady at very low levels of support seems to be all the Kan administration can accomplish.

When Should The Prime Minister Resign?

By the end of this month (the end of the Diet session) 45%
By the end of the year 28%
Sometime next year 14%

If the Diet would just pass the bond issuance bill and the renewable energy bill, the plurality of the electorate will get its wish. Will the LDP and New Komeito oblige them, or have they become, as DPJ Deputy Policy Research Chairman Shirojima Koriki has claimed, a cheerleading squad for Prime Minister Kan? The longer he has remained in office, the higher have gone the numbers of persons saying they will vote for the LDP in the next election.

How should the deadlock in the Diet be broken?

By the ruling parties and the opposition working together on a case-by-case basis 35%
By the ruling parties crafting an alliance with parties other than the LDP 5%
By a DPJ-LDP grand alliance 11%
By dissolving the Diet and holding elections 37%

There is only one problem with the first solution, the one desired by 35% of those polled: the DPJ has already tried it, with disastrous results. Interesting it is to see how unpopular the idea is of the DPJ bypassing the LDP to form an alliance with another force in the Diet capable of breaking the legislative deadlock – i.e. a DPJ-New Komeito alliance. Interesting it is also how unpopular is the idea of a grand DPJ-LDP alliance, despite the national state of crisis. Just throwing the whole mess into the air with new elections is the most popular way of working out Japan’s problems.

When would you have the next House of Representatives election?

Immediately 24%
By the end of this year 26%
Next year sometime 20%
At the end of the current Diet’s term in office in 2013 20%

Half the people are sick of this Diet and want a new one, soon. How this squares with only 37% of the people thinking that the way to break the deadlock in the Diet is through elections is somewhat beyond me.

Who among current members of the Diet should be the Prime Minister?

None of them are worthy 38.3%
Maehara Seiji 5.6%
Ishiba Shigeru 4.2%
Ozawa Ichiro 2.7%
Edano Yukio 2.5%
Okada Katsuya 2.3%
Noda Yoshihiko 1.7%
Ishihara Nobuteru 1.6%
Kaieda Banri 1.0%
Tanigaki Sadakazu 0.9%
Mabuchi Sumio 0.7%
Koizumi Shinjiro 0.7%
Abe Shinzo 0.6%
Yamaguchi Kunio 0.5%
Watanabe Yoshimi 0.5%

Maehara Seiji, as usual, tops the list of existing members of the Diet, with the LDP's Policy Research Chairman Ishiba Shigeru right behind him. Ozawa Ichiro comes in third, a placing that can only be explained by a desperate belief that the man can do anything he likes, except of course fight off the shadowy group of ex-journalists and administrative scriveners that has been trying to put him behind bars all these years. As for LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu, the man who would become prime minister should an election be held today, he simply lights up the house with his 0.9% and ninth place finish. How the populace can concurrently hope for a new Diet yet have little love for their likely new prime minister is again a conundrum. Perhaps we are seeing is a lack of thinking through the consequences of taking certain actions, yes?

What is of course both disheartening and not entirely unexpected is that 38.3% of those polled said that no member of the Diet is worthy of being prime minister, a new record high.

As to the fruits of compromise, they seem to be only barely palatable.

How much do you appreciate the compromise worked out between the ruling parties, the LDP and the New Komeito over the child allowance system?

A lot 16%
Some 41%
Rather not 25%
Not at all 12%

Now taking together the Cabinet support numbers and the party support numbers found in Yomiuri poll, one would think that the government would not have the muscle to push through the bond issuance bill, given the reportedly irreconcilable differences between the DPJ and the LDP-New Komeito on the three remaining of the 4K issues. However, the press is reporting that a meeting of the secretary-generals of the parties has produced a compromise that will allow the bond issuance bill to pass the Diet during the current session. In return the DPJ has promised that the three remaining 4K items in the national budget will be thoroughly overhauled or abolished in next year's budget.

What put the fire underneath the feet of the LDP and New Komeito, and to a lesser extent the DPJ? It certainly was not the public polling results of the Yomiuri and NHK, which are largely in favor of the LDP and New Komeito continuing their policies of delay and denial.

Perhaps a little matter of a global financial market meltdown convinced the LDP and New Komeito that now was not the time to be playing hacky-sack with the national government's funding mechanism. The collapse in the markets certainly shook up Finance Minister Noda, who was all set to announce his run for the presidency of the DPJ today. With Tokyo markets crashing and the yen rocketing upward, he suddenly had an epiphany that announcing a run for higher office on a program of a rise of the consumption tax to 10% might not be the best use of a finance minister's time. (No worries for Noda's campaign, though. The latest edition of Bungei Shunju goes on sale tomorrow with an article inside penned by Noda explaining how he would run the government.). Perhaps it was the strength of the assurances of DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya that he and most of the party leadership really hated these programs as well.

Anyway, if current reporting reflects reality, only one more piece of legislation now stands between Prime Minister Kan Naoto and his resignation: the renewable energy bill.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Cooperation and Compromise, In August, In Theory, Or Not

"You have sold out your principles and earned the enmity of your rank-and-file by swallowing wholesale everything we have demanded!"

"I most certainly have not. I have crafted a temporary compromise. I have saved what I could of one of our cherished policies in the face of the fiscal demands of the March 11 disasters."

"Have not!"

"Did so!"

This sparkling and adult exchange was not exactly how Liberal Democratic Party Research Council Chairman Ishiba Shigeru and Democratic Party of Japan Research Council Chairman Gemba Koichiro argued over last Thursday’s signing of an agreement between the DPJ and the LDP on limiting the government’s child support payments plan. But it might as well have been, given the juvenile breakout of a fight over what to call the compromise.

For the LDP and New Komeito signers of the compromise, next April will see the return of a government anti-poverty program for families with children, so the compromise system is a jido teate (child allowance) – the name the program had under the LDP-New Komeito coalition government. For the DPJ, the name of the program remains the kodomo teate (child allowance), the name of the universal child support payment plan promised in the DPJ’s 2009 manifesto. DPJ leaders point out that 1) the current program remains unchanged until April 2012 and 2) the new program will be much more generous in terms of its payouts and will raise the maximum income level for eligibility for the program over what the LDP and the New Komeito were demanding.

The breakout of a fight over the name of the compromise, virtually only hours after the signing ceremony, does not bode well for a quick meeting of minds over remainder of the so-called "4K" differences of opinion separating the DPJ from the LDP-New Komeito alliance*. Indeed, Gemba argued this weekend that having taken such a hit on the kodomo teate, the first of the four programs the LDP and New Komeito want erased, the DPJ has the right to refuse to budge on the remaining three: the kosoku doro muryoka - the basic abolition of tolls on the nation’s expressways; the koko jugyoryo mushoka - the abolition of fees for high schools; and the nogyo kobetsu shotoku hosho seido - the granting of agriculture subsidies not just to large-scale farmers but to all farmers. Gemba's declaration sparked a quick rebuke from LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu: "It is a mistake to not show a posture of compromise."

It seems petty for the LDP-New Komeito to be demanding to renegotiate all of the 4K policies, with the hopes of essentially gutting the DPJ's domestic policy program, all in return for voting in favor of the DPJ bill to extend the government’s ability to issue bonds – one of the three bills prime minister Kan Naoto has demanded be passed before he is willing to step down. Imposing an income cap on the kodomo teate program and reducing the payments to well below what the DPJ promised in 2009 should be victory enough, seeing as how it results in a huge cut in government expenditures, one of the alliance's purported goals.

However, the hatred the LDP-New Komeito members feel toward the 4Ks blinds them to any thought that they are being poor winners right now. It is alliance dogma that these four programs were then DPJ president Ozawa Ichiro's way of bribing vital constituencies into voting for the DPJ in 2009 – a view quite oblivious to the reality, well documented in the public opinion polls, that the public was simply tired of the LDP-New Komeito coalition and were willing to give the DPJ its shot at power. The kodomo teate, with its promise of covering the monthly childcare costs (child healthcare to age 5 is already free) of all Japanese families, regardless of income, and the elimination of fees for high school students supposedly bought the votes of the urban and suburban middle classes. The promise to eliminate tolls on the expressways bought the votes of the trucking industry and its unions. The extension of the farm subsidies program from full-time farmers bent on expanding their production acreage to all farmers no matter what the size of their farms naturally bought the rural agricultural sector votes. Without these four, budget-busting programs, the LDP and New Komeito members argue, their parties would not have suffered the complete electoral washout they suffered in 2009.

The great irony of the fight over the remaining of the “Ks” is that the current leadership of the DPJ and the Cabinet are none too thrilled about them either. The elimination fight has proceeded in the wrong direction: the current DPJ leadership, eager to curry favor with the first termers in the party who were elected on the 2009 platform, deeply desired to keep the kodomo teate program intact, arguing that it represented a birth encouragement program and an economic stimulus program (though the evidence of its efficacy in either department is nearly impossible to find, either in the literature or in the statistics). As for the tolls abolition, the fees abolition and the payments to farmers, these the current DPJ leadership would be in agreement that they were structured as pure giveaways, Ozawa Ichiro’s way of transforming the budget-conscious DPJ he inherited into an “ice cream for everyone” election machine.

Something will have to give if the bond issuance bill is to get through the Diet before a) the government runs out of money and b) the DPJ loses its collective mind over the continued premiership of Kan. The DPJ has vowed to push the bill this week through the House of Representatives, daring the House of Councillors, controlled by the opposition, to either reject the bill or sit on it until the end of the current extended Diet session. Inaction on the bill means that Kan will remain prime minister, a situation the LDP and the New Komeito, after arguing so forcefully for his resignation, now perversely wish to prolong, forcing the DPJ’s younger leaders to mark time twiddling their thumbs.

The key player in all this is public opinion. If the recalcitrance of the LDP-New Komeito alliance on the bond bill leads to an erosion of its current high levels of support among the voters, the LDP and New Komeito will likely fold on the remainder of the 4Ks, knowing as they do that the remaining three programs, at least the abolition of tolls and the farm subsidies, are slated for cuts in the budget of the next DPJ prime minister. If public opinion shows no erosion of support for the LDP and the New Komeito, then it will be the DPJ that will have to take another hit, scaling down or even eliminating the three programs – with the added bitter pill that even then, the LDP and the New Komeito can double cross the DPJ and vote down the bond bill.

Unfortunately for the DPJ, most of the major news organizations run their public opinion polls at the end of the month – which is when the current Diet session is scheduled to end. Unless some unit of the press breaks ranks and publishes a poll mid-month, the DPJ may be ahead in the fight to win the argument over the passage of the bond bill, and yet not be able to prove it.

* Calling the four diffences of opinion the 4Ks echoes the so-called 3Ks of undesirable jobs, those jobs that are kitanai (dirty), kitsui (exhausting) and kiken (dangerous). The implication is that like the 3Ks, the 4Ks are intolerable.