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 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.

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