Friday, November 16, 2012

Into The Cage With You

The Emir ordered that all the young, unmarried men of his land to assemble in the square before the palace. All obeyed. When they arrived at the square, they saw at its center a huge iron cage with a great iron key in the lock. From a balcony overlooking the square, the Emir called out:

"Out in the desert there is a lion of immense age and strength, Asad the Golden. He has devoured many farm animals and too many poor villagers to count. I will grant the hand of my daughter and make my heir the man amongst you who captures this lion and puts him inside this iron cage."

The young men were amazed. Some ran off in search snares and spears. Most wandered off, muttering, returning to their homes.

Soon the square was empty except for one young man, standing still, looking at the cage. It was the son of the Court Astronomer. The young man strode up to the cage and opened its massive door. He then walked in. He turned and, slipping his arms in between the bars, turned the great key, locking the door.

He then cried out:

"I take, as my first proposition, that I am outside the cage."

The Court Astronomer's son and the Emir's daughter lived happily together until the end of their days.

Or you could admit that you were simply wrong.

-- Anonymous commenter, "From Mr. Watanabe's Sandbox"

Or, I could confess to have been unwilling to go deeper into the cage.

In October 2010, I tried to splice together two givens. The first was that redistricting was a big deal, vital to the interests of the Democratic Party of Japan. The second was that the DPJ’s promise to eliminate 80 of House of Representatives proportional seats and 40 of the House of Councillors proportional seats posed an existential threat to the New Komeito. The outlook I offered was that the New Komeito and the DPJ would realize they had the makings of a fine quid pro quo, with the New Komeito dropping its alliance with the Liberal Democratic Party, allying itself instead with the DPJ, giving the DPJ-led government a majority in the House of Councillors. In return, the DPJ would say, "Cut 80 seats in one House and 40 in the other? Oh, that was just crazy talk. Why would we want to limit the participation of small parties in the national debate?"

It was a solution that would have had the country moving again

It did not happen.

I assumed that the news media would tire of simply regurgitating LDP talking points, reducing themselves to the role of parrot in the face of an orchestrated campaign of hatred against Ozawa Ichiro (aided and abetted, of course, by Ozawa’s insecurity and cowardice). I had assumed, incorrectly, that some media organizations would either start giving Prime Minister Kan Naoto some credit for his brave and divisive de-Ozawafication program or start wondering if the charges against Ozawa could hold water (as the double refusal of the Tokyo Prosecutors' Office to prosecute and two trials with court appointed lawyers as prosecutors have shown, they could not).

As the breakup of the media's unified front did not occur (as Keynes says, "The Market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent"), the DPJ and the New Komeito never got to even the starting line as regards the discussion of a mutually beneficial quid pro quo.

I also overestimated the ability of party leaderships to accept change. The New Komeito had invested a great deal of effort to convince its voters that an alliance with the LDP was advantageous. Despite the potential for further erosion of the New Komeito’s position following the rout in August 2009, the leadership, having forced it decision down the New Komeito machine’s throat, was understandably loathe to say, "That LDP thing? That was a mistake. What we really want to do is to be allies of the DPJ."

So what does this all have to do with the present situation?

Noda Yoshihiko, in twice winning the leadership election of the Democratic Party of Japan, twice promised to be a leader for the party as a whole, a "no sides" (no saido) leader, as he put. Twice after making this pledge, he cobbled together Cabinets with representatives from all the different factions inside DPJ.

Looking at the lineup for Noda's first Cabinet, LDP stalwart Oshima Tadamori remarked, “What a trip down memory lane! That's the way our party used to pick its cabinets!"

Handing out Cabinet positions along internal group lines rather than in line with actual ability blew up in Noda's face during his first year in office. Despite the experience, Noda filled out his most recent Cabinet according to the same formula, with the almost inevitable subsequent implosions, this time from the two Ministers Tanaka.

Given a stubborn propensity to show deference to party unity, even in the face of derisive laughter ("Tanaka Naoki?!?" one Ministry of Defense official posted to Facebook at the announcement of that appointment) it was not unreasonable to assume that Noda would continue to work with the goal of party unity in mind.

On Wednesday, he threw the principle of party unity into the fire – which was unfortunate, as it was the only principle he and the rest of the DPJ had left. Oh, he had taken up support for the Trans Pacific Partnership as a new standard for the DPJ (Link). However, Noda seems to have done this without asking anyone else in the party whether or not he or she supported this reflagging.

Noda's sudden shift also trashed another not unreasonable assumption: if the popularity of your party has plateaued, admittedly at a low level, while your popularity keeps dropping month by month, you cannot blame your party for your problems. You have a difficulty getting your message out that is all your own.

I have offered an explanation for Noda’s cheek-to-cheek cha-cha on Wednesday (Does anyone, anyone believe the two men did not know in advance what the other was going to say?) just when Noda and the DPJ were gaining traction with their argument that the fiscal health of the nation should not be held ransom by the opposition: that the conservatives in the DPJ looked across the aisle and saw politicians like themselves, then looked around them and saw nobody they would want to go out for drinks with (Link and Link). It is not hard to see the Matsushita Institute grads saying, "Why not hold an election then? If all the first-termers and lefties fry, so what? We will just take our place at the table as the Noda Faction of the LDP."

To this should be added the certainty that distraught or disgruntled legislators will not defect, in part because of the money they will receive from the DPJ for their reelection campaigns, but mostly because the by-laws of the DPJ make it impossible to leave the party, even with empty pockets (Link). That only six (seven?) have taken the drastic step of submitting letters of resignation, declaring allegiance to other parties, or both since Tuesday indicates the hideous strength of the By-Laws.

We will see that strength tested after December 4, when the parties submit their final candidate lists. It would not be surprising for a number of candidates to repudiate their affiliation with the DPJ after being formally listed as a DPJ candidate, so tarnished is the brand right now.

Finally, I assumed that the constitutional issue would stay the hand of the prime minister, all other things being equal. It would be catastrophic for Japan to have legislature of questionable legality, as will be the case in a few hours' time should the Emperor agree with the PM's request to dissolve the Diet.

I did not see, and I admit it was for a lack of imagination, that the illegitimacy of the next Diet might be a goal of Noda and company. The 1947 Constitution is for all practical purposes impossible to amend, due to the high bar it puts in the way of amendments. How then can one revise the Constitution, if not by legal means? How about dissolve a constitutionally acceptable Diet and replace it a constitutionally suspect one?

I had always thought that political realignment would take place within the framework of the 1947 Constitution -- when conservatives (a misnomer there) were always going on and on about revision of the constitution! Ha!

I have to agree with you: I cannot believe I defended Noda (Link) either.


sigma1 said...

You have some delightful commentors :-) Anyway, it may be even more simple than that - is Noda, knowing he won't be around to face the wrath, loading Abe et al down with some potentially tricky issues. The TPP will be one. Also the issue of cutting the seats will likely stray into territory regarding a full scale revision to the way the house is elected. The Komeito for example suggested as much. In their eagerness to get Noda to agree to the dissolution they may have set themselves up Abe for a rather tricky conversation between themselves, Komeito and whoever party three is at the coalition table. Third, based on previous litigation, it seems to have taken about a year for the Supreme Court to rule on constitutionality. It may take less but if the SC was, as a long-shot, to grow a pair, it could come at a rather inconvenient time. Plenty of time for the Noda-less centre-left to goad the SC into declaring itself relevant.

As for the self-interestendess of Noda and the Matsushita crew - sure - but as Noda challenged Koshiishi in the meeting - what is the evidence that waiting longer will actually lead to an improvement in fortunes? I personally think there is a good case to argue the opposite. Either way, Koshiishi had no answer to that and as such Noda proceeded. Aside from the constitutionality issue, it may not be a bad decision.

Greg said...


Very much enjoying reading these posts. Given the situation at the moment, it seems the height of folly for any political party to attempt to secure seats while the constitutional basis of those seats is in doubt.

Unless Noda has someone managed to secure LDP and New Komeito support to ram electoral district reform through the House of Reps and Counsellors in record time, we may witness something that has never before happened in postwar Japanese politics - the refusal by the Imperial Household to agree to a dissolution until the question of districts is resolved.

If this does not happen, and the Emperor does agree to an election, then as soon as the result is declared it will be subject to legal challenge. As such, any guesses for who might be the first to stick up their hand and voice their objections? Maybe there will be a class-action suit on behalf of disgruntled minor parties facing elimination from the electoral roll.

As for a change in government, perhaps Noda is hoping that an Abe win, followed by a constitutional challenge, might put some heat back on the LDP and increase the bargaining power of the opposition parties. We can only wait and see.