Sunday, February 19, 2012

So Far, No Disaster

Just give me what I want
And no one gets hurt.

- U2, Vertigo (2004)

So far the release of Hashimoto Toru's Ishin no kai's radical campaign manifesto has not seriously damaged the credibility of the proto-party. So far the number of defections from the front of allies, friends and wannabee friends has been limited.

Hiranuma Takeo of the Sunrise party, who has been discussing with Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro and People's New Party leader Kamei Shizuka the founding a new, broader-based "true conservative" alternative to the Liberal Democratic Party, said the document demonstrates "a lack of sense of the nation." Hiranuma continued, "This requires all kinds of changes to the constitution; I had been wondering whether or not he [Hashimoto] really thinks this way, a thing I sensed."

Perhaps more painful for Ishin no kai's spiritual leader is the loss of the former unswerving support of former bureaucrat and prolific author Sakaiya Taiichi. Sakaiya's appearances at Hashimoto's side has given Hashimoto's brute populist movement a sheen of intellectual legitimacy. Sakaiya has shaken his head in wonder at the manifesto's radicalism, calling it a plan for the distant, distant future. As for the promise to abolish the House of Councillors, he has called it "incredible." (J)

However, Hashimoto still has on board some important allies and potential allies. By showing a thumbs up signal on the Ishin no kai manifesto, Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi kept sensible members of his party from voicing any skepticism over the document. Ishihara has stayed fully in support, making such encouraging statements as, "There are parts with which I am totally in agreement" and "As for the other things, they resemble the kinds of things I myself was saying long ago, so they are really all right." (J) Kamei has remained silent about the manifesto, even though it declares support for Japan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a rise in the consumption tax, two Kamei no-nos.

An aside, but all of the above prompted a senior member of the LDP to remark that if the planned party led by Hiranuma, Ishihara and Kamei goes forward and links up with Ishin no kai, the result will be "an unholy alliance." (J)

No polling data yet exists to show whether the manifesto has affected the public's view of Hashimoto and the Ishin no kai as standard bearers for a viable political movement. The relatively low-level coverage of the Ishin no kai manifesto's contents on television, however, indicates that the release of the document is not seen to be a front burner issue. We will have to see if coverage picks up after all the brouhaha over the emperor's bypass surgery dies down.

If the more radical elements of the manifesto are brushed off as adolescent blowing off of steam, as Ishihara would want us to do, and the Hashimoto-led populist movement still represents a looming threat to the established political parties, then we can expect more cooperation of the sort we saw on Friday, when the policy research council chiefs of the three major parties signed off on an agreement to pass a bill cutting the salaries of national bureaucrats by an average of 7.8% (J). The bill was drafted by the New Komeito and was opposed by the Rengo national labor union organization, the political ally of the Democratic Party of Japan (J). However the cutting of the cost of government is an essential building block for the DPJ public relations effort to swing the public opinion on the divisive and unbeloved bill raising the consumption tax - a bill the prime minister wants passed in this Diet session.

Keeping the main national political parties in a state of terror promotes Hashimoto's immediate goal of transforming Osaka Prefecture into a metropole like Tokyo. Hashimoto needs revisions to the laws concerning municipalities before his vision can be realized. He will need the cooperation of the parties currently dominating the Diet to pass these revisions. Since members of the Diet would under normal circumstances either tell Hashimoto to go take a hike or let the revisions die in committee from neglect, the fear factor the Ishin no kai engenders will encourage the national political parties to pass the required revisions and thereby keep the man-in-an-awful-hurry happy.

Or so the national parties hope.

Image courtesy: The Sanyo Shimbun

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