Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hatoyama Steps Down In Anger

A long, long time ago I listened to a rambling lecture by a famed professor of African Studies. Almost nothing remains of that lecture (my notes vanished long ago). I cannot even remember the name of the course.

All has evaporated save one phrase. The professor had interviewed insurgents who had fought the British colonial establisment in the Mau Mau Rebellion. He had asked them what they had thought they were doing, killing so many of their own. "We were just purifying the tribe," one informant responded.*

Noda Yoshihiko has been peacefully Mau Mauing the Democratic Party of Japan, purifying it of its anti-market liberalization, anti-contractionary policy dissidents. Yesterday the purification drive bagged its biggest target yet: former Prime Minister and DPJ co-founder Hatoyama Yukio.

Out of preening arrogance and an inability to sense a change in the political winds, Hatoyama had expected to run as a dissident. The second-generation DPJ leaders currently in control of the party told him that there was no way they could allow him to run as a non-adherent to the party's platform. They insisted that he, just all the other candidates, keep a pledge to the party manifesto ("How about you? Do you promise to follow the party manifesto for as long as your term lasts?" would be a proper smart-aleck response).

Hatoyama has balked. His former political secretary Nakayama Tomoyasu (Link – J) a DPJ member of the Hokkaido Prefectural Assembly, denounced the DPJ leadership's enforcement of a loyalty oath, saying:
When was it that the DPJ turned to the politics of terror? It is normal that a person cannot not become a candidate, when confronted with a fumie-like request. (Link – J)
Calling something a fumie is a provocation of the first order. The practice of ferreting out Christians during the Edo Period by having suspected believers step on images of Christ or the Virgin (or both, as is the case of the Pietà fumie above) is code for the worst sort of repression of freedom of conscience -- the Meiji to Early Showa Eras' ferreting out of Communists, Socialists, Sokka Gakkai and other unapproved religious organization believers being still largely off-limits as a source of political metaphors for oppression (though "just like the Kempeitai" seems to be an acceptable construction).

Expect Nakayama and the DPJ to part ways soon.

The departure of Hatoyama Yukio was not inevitable, of course. He had founded the party with Kan Naoto in 1996. It was his money and the money from his mother, heiress to the Bridgestone Tire fortune, which had bankrolled the party in its early years and kept the wheels greased until the party's big electoral win in 2009.

If Hatoyama had kept his mouth shut, signed the pledge, only to repudiate it after the election, he would have had seniority and history backing up his wish to have a say in the selection process of Noda Yoshihiko's successor.

Indeed, waiting to pick up the pieces after an electoral wipeout seems to be Kan's strategy. Having indicated that he did not support an early dissolution of the Diet prior to Noda's taking the plunge during the Diet Party Leader debate, Kan has remained out of sight and out of hearing.

Hatoyama has sworn he will not run for reelection (Link – J). Given his record, chance are good that he will reverse himself in a few days' time, saying that he cannot not abandon his political support group (koenkai).

Prime Minister Noda's rapid fire announcements of a DPJ commitment to Japan's entering into negotiations for accession into the Trans Pacific Partnership and a Diet dissolution without the DPJ winning a deal on electoral reform has driven out prominent dissidents like Yamada Masahiko (Link – J and Ozawa Sakihito (Link – J).

The departure of a double handful of lawmakers from the DPJ since the TPP announcement has dropped the DPJ-People's New Party alliance below the 50% mark in the House of Representatives even before the expected electoral drubbing. It has also destroyed, as the Nakayama Tomoyasu quote above indicates, the image of the DPJ as the big tent party of the center-left, an electoral counterweight to the big center-right tent of the LDP.

"Purifying the tribe" – forcing out those who would oppose the leadership's sharpening of the DPJ’s policy message – may bear electoral fruit, especially as LDP leader Abe Shinzo flounders in his defenses of his party's promises (Link). Though the final LDP manifesto has yet to be uploaded to the party’s website, the details that have leaked out so far are sure to be sending shivers up the spines of voters (See the first footnote to Corey Wallace's post on the Japan Restoration Association/Party of the Sun merger agreement -- Link).

With the dissidents gone, Noda can offer a believable pro-market liberalization/strong defense/reinforced social safety net policy platform in contrast to an unrealistic (and lengthy) LDP wish list.

Noda has another reason why he should choose unity of message over unity of party: the House of Councillors. As Shingetsu News Agency head Michael Penn pointed out in his Monday report to clients, in response to my predictions of a post-election LDP-Third Pole tie-up:

In a 242-member chamber, it takes 122 seats to pass legislation...On their own, the LDP and New Komeito, even should they win big with a majority in the House of Representatives, will still be a minority of roughly 103 seats in the House of Councillors.

If they tie up with the "Third Pole"—including both the JRP and Your Party—they would reach the agonizing number of 121 seats, meaning that they would still need to cobble together some support from a microparty like New Party Daichi or Green Wind in order to pass legislation. **

Noda has most likely been looking at this arithmetic and concluded that the LDP will have to come knocking at the DPJ's door. Having a unified party will strengthen his hand (or the hand of a successor, should DPJ losses be so great that Noda’s position becomes untenable) in negotiations with the LDP over a common policy program. LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru confirmed yesterday that his party's plan is to work with the DPJ for at least the first few months of next year, until the run-up to the House of Councillors election ends their collaboration (Link – J -- this link comes courtesy Michael Penn)***.

The math is indisputable. It is not clear, however, that the LDP has the flexibility to enjoy a temporary dalliance with the DPJ. True, the parties post-Noda announcements and post-resignations are close in terms of core policies – if one ignores, of course, what the crazies seem to have produced as an LDP election manifesto. An NHK poll over the weekend furthermore found that of all the post-election arrangements, an LDP-DPJ grand coalition was the most popular choice (Link - J). Nevertheless, it would seem easier for the LDP leadership to explain a hook up with a plethora of mini- and micro-parties and independents than the party's choosing its primary rival as a partner.

What the voters think of all these expulsions and extended hands depends a lot on the messenger -- and this election is notable for the lack of a single likable party leader.

Later - A more discombobulated view of the above, from the Yomiuri Shimbun, coincidentally using the same language. (Link)

Even later - Hatoyama has had a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Noda announcing his retirement from politics. (Link - J)

We are being asked to believe that the two spoke thusly to each other:

Hatoyama - "At the end of a long process of reflection, I have decided to not be a candidate in the upcoming election. I wish to withdraw from the political world and begin my walk through the third stage of life."

Noda - "I wish to express my heartfelt thanks for the numerous contributions you have made."

I would prefer to believe that the pair reenacted Art Buchwald's version of the note exchange in between JFK's French White House chef René Verdon and President Lyndon Baines Johnson:

Verdon - Mr. President, I am leaving (Je m'en vais).

LBJ - I am so sorry to hear this (Je m'en fous).


* The "purification" did nothing for the Mau Mau in terms of winning themselves or their sympathizers power in post-colonial Kenya. Even though the first president Jomo Kenyatta had been falsely accused and tried for being a leader of the Mau Mau, his government was comprised largely of persons who had collaborated with the British authorities. A ban on public discussion of the Mau Mau in Kenya remained in place until 2003.

** Since New Party Daichi and Green Breeze (Midori no Kaze) are left-wing micro-parties, Penn is being facetious.

*** As predicted Ishiba and Abe have been talking at cross-purposes. We shall see how long it is before Abe offers a revised version of Ishiba's statement as regards a grand coalition.

Image courtesy: Kyushu National Museum (Kyushu Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan)

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