Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Japan's Politics Stomps On The Accelerator

In The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens entitles one of the chapters "TOO FULL OF ADVENTURE TO BE BRIEFLY DESCRIBED."*

I feel the same way about events in politics these past few days.

-- Liberal Democratic Party president Tanigaki Sadakazu faced reality yesterday, giving up on even running for reelection (E). That he waited so long, forcing his second-in-command Ishihara Nobuteru to forego advance preparation for his own bid for the presidency, either represents faith triumphing over observable fact, or payback for Ishihara's only half-hearted expressions of support for Tanigaki's running for a second term.

Though Ishihara appears to be on course for a victory in the presidential race, and, after the next House of Representatives election, the premiership, it bears noticing that historically his presidential bid is an aberration. Only two secretary-generals have taken over as president since the peaceful, negotiated transition from Nakasone Yasuhiro to Takeshita Noboru in November 1987.

The first was the closed-door, five person negotiated agreement for Secretary-General Mori Yoshiro to take over the premiership from the brain dead but still on life support Obuchi Keizo, three days after Obuchi suffered his fatal stroke.

The other instance of a secretary-general succeeding a party president was Aso Taro taking over for Fukuda Yasuo when Fukuda suddenly resigned on September 1, 2008. Aso had only been in office a month, having been named secretary-general in a leadership shakeup on August 1.

The Aso case points out the main reason why most secretary-generals cannot usually make the direct transition from the party #2 position to the presidency. Under normal circumstances, the secratary-general has been the right-hand man to the president, as much responsible for the daily decisions, right or wrong, as the man in the #1 spot. The secretary-general has also always been seen as bearing ultimate responsibility for the LDP's performance in elections. Many a leadership transition was triggered by the party having a poor showing in an election, mandating that the secretary-general resign and serve a brief stint in limbo.

However, in this instance, the abrasiveness and shallow party roots of Ishihara's main challenger, foreign and security policy specialist Ishiba Shigeru, seem to be showing a green light for Ishihara's election, possibly even in the first round vote of the LDP local chapters.

The other challengers in the LDP race -- former prime minister Abe Shinzo, Machimura Nobutaka and Hayashi Yoshimasa -- seem to be in the race for tactical or public relations reasons.

Hayashi is the Washington think tank candidate -- fluent in English and a familiar face in Washington. He is, however, a member of the House of Councillors -- whose members are seen as not having a personal investment in the party's performance in the House of Representatives.  Hayashi is seen as being only technically available to step into the position of prime minister.

Machimura is the faction head candidate, participating so that the list of candidates has at least one faction head in it. Machimura's candidacy presents another hurdle for Machimura faction member Ishihara, as he would normally count on the votes of his faction as the core of his support in the Diet members' round of voting.

Abe is entering the race for purely tactical reasons. He used to be both the ultra-conservative and Washington think tank candidate. His breakdown while in office, unsurprisingly cooled most Washington and national interest. He does remain, however, the most recognizable of the unapologetic, fantastic history-believing nationalists. He is thus probably running in order to play the part of kingmaker in between Ishiba and Ishihara, extracting a promise of accelerated militarization and anti-Chinese and anti-South Korean stances in return for the votes of his supporters.

-- The window for declaring oneself a DPJ leadership candidate closed yesterday. With Hosono Goshi having been talked out of running on Friday last, a field of four candidates-- deridable as "Noda Yoshihiko and the Three Dwarfs" -- now are set for a whirlwind campaign ending on September 21. (E)

As Okumura Jun has noted, the explosion of interest in a Hosono candidacy last week was prima facie evidence that the three remaining Noda challengers -- Haraguchi Kazuhiko, Akamatsu Hirotaka and Kano Michihiko -- do not inspire. In speeches yesterday, each of the candidates, whilst criticizing the prime minister and his policy of accommodation with the LDP-New Komeito alliance, revealed his particular weakness. Haraguchi fulminated about the public's loss of faith in the party due to the abandonment of the promises in the 2009 manifesto. Haraguchi seems unaware that 1) manifesto author Ozawa Ichiro and his most of his acolytes decamped a few months ago, leaving a very small audience, at least among Diet members, for the "we have forgotten our roots" message.

Akamatsu's and Kano's candidacies seem more tactical, given their comparatively advanced ages (Akamatsu is 63; Kano 70). Akamatsu represents the potential votes of the party's under-appreciated socialists, while Kano can offer the votes of his own group and the votes of the members with a visceral hatred/fear of a DPJ commitment to participate in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Kano already has a history of vote trading, his support having been a crucial component of Noda Yoshihiko's victory over the Ozawa-supported Kaieda Banri in the 2011 leadership election.

Both Akamatsu and Kano railed against the three-party agreement that made the passage of the social welfare and pension reform bills possible. Noda defended it, and defended the extension of the three party agreement into the fall extraordinary session. Both sides are just blowing smoke, however. The three party agreement has falls into abeyance with Tanigaki's withdrawal from the LDP presidential race and the automatic evaporation on Spetember 8 of the bond issuance bill and electoral reform bill.

-- Osaka City mayor Hashimoto Toru on Sunday hosted a symposium (E) introducing the ideas that will vault his regional movement into a national political party, the Nihon (or Nippon) Ishin no Kai (the Japan Renewal Party or Japan Restoration Party. By the way, forget about running a search on 日本維新の会 -- what you get is the Facebook page of a Haraguchi Kazuhiko study group of the same name). At the seemingly interminable meeting (five hours in real time) Hashimoto introduced the seven members of the Diet who will today (Tuesday) tender their resignations from their current parties in time for the the JRA's coming out reception on Wednesday. That three of the seven are House of Councillors proportional seat members of the Your Party indicates the prescience of Michael Penn's private circulation article, of August 27, "Yoshimi Watanabe's Your Party in Terminal Crisis."

Of the remaining four defectors, three come from the DPJ and one from the LDP. Matsunami Kenta of the LDP is a proportional seat member of the House of Representatives, and from the Kinki bloc where Osaka is located. That the majority of the JRA's Diet members are proportional seat members indicates the cautious attitude district seat holders are taking with towards to Hashimoto's leap into national politics. That the majority of the defectors are also from the House of Councillors, rather than the more volatile and politically significant House of Representatives, indicates a further lack of certainty among those dissatisfied with the status quo that Hashimoto has coattails.

Also attending and speaking at the meeting were the usual suspects of devolution of power to local governments: former comedian and Miyazaki governor Higashikokubaru Hideo and two of The Three Hiroshis: former Kanagawa Yokohama pretty boy governor mayor Nakata Hiroshi and former revisionist textbook inceptor and Suginami City mayor Yamada Hiroshi, whose Spirit of Japan Party (Nihon soshinto) went nowhere. (J)

That Hashimoto featured these pre-August 2009 election retreads at his talk fest, and indeed wants them to run as Nihon Ishin no Kai candidates, indicates that for all the media interest and public opinion poll enthusiasm for the new party, there is little meat yet on the bones.

-- The deployment of MV-22 Osprey aircraft to the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa received what was ostensibly a significant blow on Sunday from a mass protest (E). Organizers claimed 101,000 persons participated in the rally. Aerial images on television seemed to indicate the size of the crowd was closer to 20,000, though it is possible thousands were, like crowd at the July 16 nuclear protest, hiding under the trees from the blazing sun.

Given that signing off on Osprey operations is electoral poison, it is likely that the final OK will be given by a lame duck Cabinet after after the results of a House of Representatives elections are in. That the U.S. Marine Corps generally gets what it wants means that the effectiveness of the protest is about as doubtful as its crowd numbers.

-- The purported suicide of Financial Services and Postal Reform Minister Matsushita is still the top of the news -- as a such a rare occurrence should be.

I loathe conspiracy theories and theorists but the official narratives so far regarding this case do not hold together. We are supposed to believe that a man found toppled over had hanged himself, or strangled himself with cords of some kind. We are being asked to believe that his security detail did not have a key to his condominium, having to use Minister Matsushita's wife's key to open the condominium front door. We are being asked to believe that he left goodbye messages to his wife, Prime Minister Noda and the Cabinet. We are being asked to believe that the imminent publication of a Shukan Shincho expose of a purported mistress may have pushed Matsushita to take his own life. (J)

As to the last claim, when you are seventy-three, recovering from prostrate prostate cancer and are revealed to have engaged in extra-marital shenanigans, you are well past the "this will ruin my career" stage.

Next up should be revelations of the content of the purported three goodbye notes.

Do I expect to be seeing the actual texts, ever?



* Demonstrating that British comic writing has been in the dead-pan, self-referential subversion of the narrative voice business for a very long time.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your posts: always spot on.
Re "the three Hiroshis" - I believe it's Hiroshi NAKAta, and that he was mayor of Yokohama,not Kanagawa Prefecture governor.

MTC said...

Anonymous -

Thank you for your close reading. The errors have been corrected.

wataru said...

You really did write prostrate cancer.

MTC said...

Wataru-san -

Thank you for your readership and catching the typo.

The proper word is in the proper place, now.

Steve McClure said...

Thanks very much for your as-always thoughtful analysis. Here is a semi-rhetorical question for you: how do you define "conspiracy theory"? The reason I ask is that I think this term is overused, if not misused, in popular discourse.

Steve McClure said...

"Under normal circumstances, the secratary-general has been the right-hand man to the president ..."

NB: "secretary"

Also, at the risk of sounding totally pedantic, the correct plural form of "secretary-general" is "secretaries-general." I know it sounds weird, but: http://www.wordhippo.com/what-is/the-plural-of/secretary_general.html

MTC said...

Steve McClure -

A conspiracy theory is an explanation of an event requiring the collusion of a number of individuals/organizations whilst denigrating the existence of a spectrum of interests and incentives.

Anonymous said...

Factual errors should be flagged, but let's cut the author some slack for typos, shall we? I think the readers of this blog appreciate his timely, astute analyses,so typos should not be blown up into such a big thing.

Steve McClure said...

Strictly speaking, a conspiracy theory posits that two or more people have "combine[d] privily for unlawful purpose," as the Concise Oxford Dictionary puts it. In contemporary usage, however, it implies an unnecessary multiplication of entities in explaining a given phenomenon, a la Occam's Razor. I thinks this use of the term "conspiracy theory " is incorrect. My (pedantic but I think relevant) point is that this misuse of the term serves to demonize non-mainstream/alternative explanations of historical events, etc., and restricts debate to within ideologically acceptable parameters.

Steve McClure said...

I agree with the spirit of what Anonymous says regarding typos, but in my defence I would say that the high standard of the analysis on Shisaku makes one expect similarly high standards of English. That said, allow me to draw attention to the egregious typo "thinks" in my last comment. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black ...

Meanwhile, I like the sports metaphor in the latest column. My question is, who's the umpire in this ridiculously petty spat over these islands? Uncle Sam? And are the bases loaded at the bottom of the ninth?