Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Energy And The Future Of The DPJ

There have been so many issues raised that have been purported to be the mark of death for the Democratic Party of Japan at the polls.

The first and least plausible was a lousing up of the Japan-U.S. alliance over the government taking a less antagonistic stance toward China and rethinking the Futenma-to-Henoko plan -- a plan which at present looks deader than the Okinawan Sho Dynasty.

The second was the raising of the consumption tax from 5% to 10%. Prime Minister Kan Naoto's simply talking about the tax was supposedly a main cause of the DPJ's poor (but not horrific performance) in the House of Councillors election of 2010. The explanation might be plausible had former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro not handed Kan a severely skeptical electorate, enervated by both Hatoyama's inability to know his own mind and Ozawa's putting on a show of seizing dictatorial control of the nation's policy making apparatus -- neatly fitting into narratives of DPJ amateurishness cultivated by the party's enemies in the bureaucracy, the press, the permanent commentariat and the opposition alliance of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

In any case, the collapse of consumer spending after the imposition of the first step toward 10%; the opposition of Ozawa Ichiro, Yamada Masahiko and others in the DPJ leading to a schism of the party; the violation of the campaign pledge to immediate take a tax rise to the voters to seek their approval -- any and all of these were to doom the DPJ at the ballot box.

The third spine breaker was supposedly Kan's enthusiastic support of the country's becoming early participant in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a program taken up, as in all things, wearily by his successor Noda Yoshihiko (seriously, is therei nothing that Noda does with zest out of joy, rather than out of what seems a resentful sense of duty?). Trying to play catch-up on the TPP is a supposedly transparent attempt to curry favor with the still pro-LDP Nippon Keidanren, Keizai Doyukai and the multinationals at the expense of Japan's parasitical farmers and protected insurance and healthcare giants, with those groups joining to paint entrance into the TPP as the end of Japan as we know it. Hysteria whipped up by these presumed losers in a post-TPP accession economy would doom the DPJ in rural areas and among elderly voters, ensuring a wiping out of the party.

However, what is going to kill the DPJ -- or appears to be killing it -- is none of the above but an entirely new and unexpected phenomenon: a mass rejection of the restart of Japan's idled nuclear power plants. The prefectural governments are up in arms (as I noted in passing, the government of Shiga and Kyoto prefectures had severe reservations regarding the restart of the Oi reactors. Yesterday, they made their demands public (J). Local communities are in seemingly unflinching opposition; the DPJ is split (E - did I not say that everything Sengoku Yoshito touches turns to mud?) and the electorate has switched to being largely for it to being largely against it - by a margin of nearly two-to-one. (J)

As a result of the nation's new nuclear antipathy, the popularity of the Noda Cabinet and the DPJ have plummeted into the Death Zone, with support for the Cabinet dropping over 5 percentage points over the last month (J). The entity most likely to profit from these falls are not necessarily the current opposition the LDP but the Ishin no Kai, which, along its pie-in-the-sky political program is likely to absorb the anti-nuclear power plant restart stance of its leader Hashimoto Toru. (E)

All of which is of particularly morbid interest as Japan's power and energy positions are likely not nearly as dire as the conventional wisdom holds. Todd Kreider of Kanazawa University, who can be "difficult" in discussions, has a crushing April 13 post to the NBR Japan Forum claiming that contrary to the hype, energy-security-wise, this blessed land is in pretty good shape. (E) *

Ironic it would be for the DPJ to go to its Waterloo over a problem that might not even exist.

Later - The raw results of the Asahi Shimbun poll on energy attitudes are what most everyone is talking (J). Interestingly, the Asahi poll gives support levels for the DPJ double those of the Jiji Press poll above -- and more importantly for the DPJ's fortunes, above those for the LDP.

* As for all links to individual NBR Forum posts, if you cannot access the page directly, go to the main page, scroll down to the "Join the Forum" section and click on the link "Visit the Japan Forum's online message archive."


Anonymous said...

Futenma is too difficult so on the back burner.

If TPP did not carry with it the excess baggage of unreasonable rent seeking structures by finance and intellectual property hoarders, big pharma, uninspected meat and other GM goodies, privatization of everything under the sun agenda, and tasers, instead resembled the Econ 101 model of efficient widgets being traded for efficient but tasty sacks of potatoes, I'd support it. TPP is too invisible and unknown to make a difference one way or another to DPJ's prospects.

As the survey you referenced indicates, DPJ stands at a point to make something of the nuclear issue. I understand they just took away the issue from the party as matter only for the government. This is a lost opportunity to coalesce the party around something that should be obvious to all and is not faction dependent. If Angela Merkel can, on basis of the vicarious experience of the German populace, make a retreat phase out of nuclear appear as an immediate cure from its poisons, it should be very easy to formulate a position that is roughly similar to the public sentiments. Clear thinking may be in order but that is probably what is lacking.

Instead we have nascent right wing populism trying to ride the wave of anti-nuke feelings. Because the prospects of the energy picture is pretty much defined by circumstance at this point, the only worry I have is the really stupid stuff. Teachers who refuse to mouth the words of the national anthem are a dying breed of harmless 日教組 who I think should be preserved as important cultural artifacts instead of being fired. I think as someone who has sung it in school, that musically the song (while pretty)is more appropriate as a zombie theme song and should be avoided where possible. Bringing personal emotions about stray tatoos visible on public workers who may have washed their feet already and the general warfare on public employees all strike me as the wrong kind of guy to form alliances with.

Any incumbent political party that has the main opposition agreeing in substance of a tax increase. should not be having difficulties in coming up with strategies. Unless they are disunited beyond all salvation.


The Chrysanthemum Sniffer said...

Of course, the Germans can just buy raw energy from other countries with nuclear power plants. Japan does not have that option.

MTC said...

The Chrysanthemum Sniffer -

Did you read the Todd Kreider NBR Japan Forum post of April 13? Energy supply does not appear to be a problem, except in the imagination.

Anonymous said...

Energy knows no economic borders in Europe and fall-out will respect political borders until the wind gets up. I don't follow Germany, but there must be some grumbling about the trust they are placing on not-Germans on matters of technical competence in safety.