Saturday, November 19, 2016

Trust Is A Word I Believe In, Yes

First off and foremost, my utter admiration for Prime Minister Abe Shinzo for making his lightning, naked visit to the Trump residence to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. The usual mechanisms of managing the asymmetric Japan-U.S. relationship were broken -- the U.S. Japan Hands were all violently pro-Clinton (for good reason, mind you) leaving Japan with almost zero contacts in the Trump organization post-election. Abe himself, on the advice of the relationship managers, had doubled down on the mistake, meeting Clinton but not Trump during the campaign. By going into a one-on-many meeting with the Trump family brain trust with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs kicking and screaming at him not to (read Yuki Tatsumi's post for a taste of the toned down version of this kicking and screaming) Abe personally rescued Japan's place in the U.S. orbit and possibly put in a few good blows for a rule-based, rather than a power-based, world order on the side.

Now about Abe saying that he has established a relationship of trust with Trump, as many in the non-Japanese speaking news biz have reported, it is important to know exactly what the prime minister said after his meeting with the Trumps.

In prepared introductory remarks, the prime minister said this about trust:


That we together could build a relationship of trust, we had a conversation that could confirm this. As for the internal details, he let me relate to him my basic way of thinking. I talked about a range of subjects.

In this opening statement Abe does not say that he trusts Trump. What he says is that he went into their conversation with a purpose of building a relationship of trust and that the president-elect allowed him to express his own views. As to what he thought of what Donald Trump said in the meeting, nothing.

It was in response to a reporter's question (smart reporter) that Abe had to make a second, unprepared statement about trusting Trump:


I cannot answer your question concretely as regards the views of each but without trust an alliance cannot function. As for me, as for whether or not President-Elect Trump is a leader one can truly trust, I was able to confirm this.

For me, the intrusion of the adverbials masa ni ("truly, really, actually") and kono yo ni ("in this manner") makes this response sing. These phrase hint that Abe is making a case rather than responding in earnest.

Thanks to the vagaries of Japanese sentence structure the PM never says he trusts the President-elect. What he says he has confirmed is whether or not he can truly trust him -- to which the answer is yes, he has confirmed it -- it being "whether or not he can truly trust him."

To which, if Abe is asked later by someone interested in what transpired in that first meeting, he can in all honesty reply:
Oh yes, I did confirm whether or not I could truly trust him, and the answer to that question was, "No, I could not."

So yes, Abe did confirm something about Trump and trust. But the door is open on just what that something is.

And that ambiguity is in everyone's interest right now.

Later - In comment, David Littleboy offers a possible and highly likely explanation of kono yo ni that would strengthen the case of those saying that Abe has declared Trump trustworthy.

The Japan News, which is translated from the pro-government Yomiuri Shimbun's reports, takes the circumspect route (Link).

The always problematic official-yet-only-provisional Prime Minister's Residence translation is, by contrast, emphatic (Link).

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Consider My Mind Blown

Just in case anyone is missing the significance of Abe Shinzo's sudden rush to meet with Donald Trump, try recalling who Abe is, or at least who is supposed to be according to his domestic critics and elements of the international news media and non-Japanese academia.

Come with me on a short walk-through what seems to be Ultimate Irony Town:

Abe Shinzo
Is traveling to the United States
To plead with the incipient leader of the United States
To foster and preserve a liberal, rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific
And ask him to not indulge himself in facile, nationalist posturing,
Lashing out based on a dated and embarrassing worldview.

Do you need to hear that again?

Abe Shinzo
Is traveling to the United States
To plead with the incipient leader of the United States
To foster and preserve a liberal, rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific
And ask him to not indulge himself in facile, nationalist posturing,
Lashing out based on a dated and embarrassing worldview.

Now some links to commentary by folks I admire:

On the Trump victory’s implication for American leadership in East Asia, Daniel Sneider

On the importance of TPP, Mireya Solis

James D. J. Brown on the implications of the Trump victory for Japan-Russia relations

On the Abe visit with Trump, Robert Dujarric

As I have been saying for a long while, though hardly believing it myself:

Abe Shinzo = liberal icon

Later -

I would endorse Funabashi Yoichi's op-ed for The New York Times but the judgmental "should" appears too often for my tastes. Perhaps others would benefit from reading it, nonetheless:

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Three States Solution - an immoderate suggestion

Shisaku readers: This has little or nothing to do with Japanese politics. However, this is my blog and I needed to get this off my chest. Thanks.



The Three States Solution

People of the United States of America: there is a way out of this.

Imagine if in the first week of January in 2017, newly elected and returning members of Congress gather as they do in Washington. However, in an agreed-to change, the Representatives and Senators of the North Atlantic and Pacific Coast states are not present. Instead the members of Congress from those regions gather elsewhere – the members from the North Atlantic states in Boston and the members of Pacific Coast states in Salem, Oregon. They all swear oaths to uphold the Constitution. However, in Boston and in Salem, the name of the country is changed. The Boston group swears allegiance to the Union of North Atlantic States (Nordlantica). The Salem group swears allegiance to the Union of Pacific States (Pacifica).

On January 20th, three presidents are sworn into office. In Washington D.C. President Donald Trump is sworn into office without incident. In Boston President Hillary Clinton is sworn in (as is Vice-President Bernard Sanders). In Salem Hawaii-born President Barack Obama takes his third oath of office as president.

The divorce is peaceful: there are no border fences; commercial, transportation links stay open. The U.S. dollar remains the common currency for the interim as the New York and San Francisco Federal Reserve banks take over the role of central bank for the two new countries. Persons and corporations in the two new nations receive instructions on where to send their Internal Revenue Service checks by April 15. Elements of the Federal Government in each region remain in place and functioning, with the photos on the walls of the president and vice-president being the only initial indication of the new situation.

In security and foreign policy, the new states divide up the assets and responsibilities of the pre-2017 United States of America. The tanks, planes, aircraft carriers and submarines are apportioned equally. Nordlantica automatically becomes a member of NATO and takes up U.S. responsibilities there. Pacifica similarly takes up all current U.S.A. alliances with Asian countries – allowing President Trump and members of his administration to decide whether to involve their nation in world affairs or not.

Another major change comes in the matter of nuclear weapons. In order to maintain world balances and in line with the presumed preferences of their publics, Nordlantica and Pacifica turn over all nuclear weapons in their possession to the U.S. of A. (the new formal acronym, to distinguish the remainder state from the pre-2017 U.S.A). They join the United Nations and the world community as declared non-nuclear weapons states.

In time, the physical differences between the three countries emerge. New passports and currencies are issued, new national anthems and national flags are chosen. The G7 becomes the G9. Pacifica joins the TPP; Nordlantica the TTIP; the U.S. of A. joins neither. Instead, U.S. of A. commentators weigh the pros and cons of their nation joining OPEC.

To be sure the divorce may not be painless. Post-breakup Nordlantica and Pacifica may face a surges in residency and citizenship requests, even refugee flows, from persons seeking to flee an unhealthy human and civil rights climate in the U.S. of A. Presidents Clinton and Obama may be calling on the citizens of their respective nations to be as inclusive toward immigrants as they currently claim to be. 

* * *

Too fanciful? The Soviet Union broke up peaceably. The Czech Republic and Slovakia divorced without acrimony. Trying to hold culturally and politically divided countries like Yugoslavia and Russia, by contrast, led to catastrophic human/civil rights abuses and war.

A common theme in recent years is how divided the U.S.A. has become. Indeed, like the War of the Roses or the Gempei wars, the division is color-coded: Red America versus Blue America. The mystery is why Americans keep trying, election after punishing election, to stay together. Certainly they live with the legacy of the Civil War, with a stern marble Abraham Lincoln and his “A House divided against itself cannot stand” looming over their heads. However, the current situation – of mutual loathing, street protests, alliances of convenience with foreign powers, plotting and counterplotting to game the Electoral College, depression and anger -- cannot stand either.

So as regards the "united" part of the United States of America, why not, as a rather popular tune of recent years advised, just let it go? As three nations, indivisible, Americans would be a lot happier.

Monday, August 15, 2016

On The Meaning Of Yasukuni Today

Over the next few hours a herd of Diet members will march through the confines of Yasukuni Shrine, participating in an annual political and personal rite. The march will offend many inside Japan and many outside of it. The governments of China and South Korea will offer critical comment.

One focus of attention attention today will be on the number of Diet members who show up (we should expect an uptick from last year's numbers as newly elected members of the House of Councillors make their debuts). Another will be a will she/won't she as regards newly-elected governor of Tokyo Koike Yuriko, whose heretofore staunch nationalist posture now clashes with her task of leading a cosmopolitan metropole.

The greatest emphasis, however, will be on visitations by members of the Cabinet. One, Minister of Reconstruction Imamura Masahiro, already paid his visit to the shrine on Thursday the 11th. Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Takaichi Sanae has vowed to pay a visit today. Minister of Defense Inada Tomomi, who leads a special group within the LDP dedicated to visiting Yasukuni, was suddenly dispatched a study tour of SDF operations in Djibouti. Her gleeful departure from the airport on Friday left little doubt that the purpose of of her trip was the government's trying to keep her away from the shrine on the end-of-war day.

In light of Minister Inada's bubbly egress from Japan it is not inappropriate to revisit a point I have made previously about the August 15 Yasukuni sampai.

For some of the 210,000 or so who visit the shrine on a typical August 15, a visit on the end of war day is an act of REVERENCE, a time to reflect upon and pay tribute to the sacrifices of those died in service to the nation.

For many, including those who arrive in various kinds of dress up – black suits and ties, phony military uniforms or Hawaiian shirts (a favorite of gangster bosses) – the visit to Yasukuni on August 15 is an opportunity to TRANSGRESS, to engage in an activity notable only for being in very bad taste. It is the same delicious sense of being stupid and bad in public, of violating the rules of good society along with one's equally transgressive peers, which is the foundation of the current political support for Donald Trump or the hero worship of Vladimir Putin.

The qualitative difference between the two can be summed up by the difference, in English, between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is (and for this definition, I am indebted to my TUJ Summer Semester student T. S.) when one loves one's country enough to die for it. Nationalism is (and for this definition, I am indebted to my TUJ Summer Semester student L. K.) is when one loves one country so much one one hates others for it.

For too many showing up today at Yasukuni today it will be nationalism, not patriotism, which propels them through the torii.

Friday, August 05, 2016

The Grand Illusion

Dr. Noah Smith has been one of the great defenders of Abenomics, that amorphous mass of Keynesian stimulus, Friedmanesque monetary policy and Nice Words About Structural Reform, particularly changes in work-life balance allowing women greater access to executive and management positions.

Dr. Smith, however, seems to have undergone a change of heart about the economics of the prime minister. Either that or he has a particular onus against one particular recent seemingly huge announcement: a 28 trillion yen stimulus package, the details of which will be examined in the Diet this Fall (the overal plan received Cabinet approval this week).

Japan's New Stimulus Is Just the Same Old Thing

Japanese growth is still sluggish. Consumers aren't consuming much, and businesses aren't investing. The government doesn't have many options to remedy this, and the Bank of Japan, which has sent both long-term and short-term interest rates into negative territory, has basically no more room to maneuver.

The dreaded Zero Lower Bound is starting to bite. The BOJ is buying more stocks, but this too has its limits -- eventually companies become de facto nationalized, as the government becomes the majority shareholder. That's scary both because it would affect corporate governance, and because it would be politically unpopular. It's also unclear how much of an economic boost the stock-purchasing program has given the country anyway. The BOJ could resort to policies like a higher inflation target or the much-discussed "helicopter money" approach, but so far it has been afraid to take these steps.

With the BOJ seemingly out of the game, demand-side macroeconomic policy is up to the parliament. So this week the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed a new fiscal stimulus package. It is moderately sized: about $45 billion in U.S. dollars this year, and about $60 billion in low-interest loans, to be followed by slightly less next year.

That move might win a few halfhearted cheers from Japan's battered consumers, but it's unlikely to have much of an effect...

(Click here to read more)

Later today (inshallah) Langley Esquire will be posting to YouTube a conversation Timothy Langley and I had yesterday on exactly the same subject.

(For the Langley Esquire YouTube channel, click here)

What should be setting everyone's teeth on edge about both the stimulus package and Abe's recent Cabinet picks, aside from the knowledge that both are in-your-face I-got-mine-suckers giveaways to cronies, is that with majorities in both houses of the Diet, a prostrate opposition, an emasculated bureaucracy, a totally compromised bond market, increasingly compromised equities markets and no rival power centers within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the Abe government has failed to pass a single fundamental structural reform of consequence. No other G7 or OECD leader enjoys the freedom and dominance of Abe Shinzo and his LDP. Abe & Friends nevertheless remain timid and/or clueless.

Amaterasu Omikami, save this blessed land from these poseurs and legacy turkeys.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Friends Of Shinzo Cabinet, Take Two

For the first three years of his second premiership, Abe Shinzo surprised many with his restraint and balance. His Cabinets, with a few exceptions, displayed with a mixture of scandal-free operations, diligent policy implementation and submersion of factional and personal rivalries. A deft hand at personnel and calendar management was evident.

Which is what is making the runup to today's announcement of a new Cabinet lineup such a downer. There are too many returnees, too many members of the Seiwakai (Mr. Abe's own faction), too many non-experts being placed as window dressing in posts requiring expertise and too few unfledged MPs getting their first shot at leading a ministry. Most of the first timers will be doubly hobbled because they will not even have a ministry behind them. Instead they will be state ministers shepherded around by the Cabinet Office.

Staying in place are Suga Yoshihide at Chief Cabinet Secretary, Takaichi Sanae at General Affairs, Aso Taro at Finance, Kishida Fumio at Foreign Affairs, Shiozaki Yasuhisa at Health/Pensions/Labor and the Komeito's Ishii Keichi at Infrastructure & Tourism.

Suga Yoshihide is the heart and soul of the Abe administration. Lacking the prerequisites for leadership of the modern LDP and without a thirst for the premiership, he returns to 1) being charge of the bureaucracy, including the recruitment and advancement of the top 600 bureaucrats, 2) being in charge of the Cabinet's work flow and 3) being the chief government spokesman.

Enough for anybody, really.

Takaichi and Shiozaki are Abe loyalists. Both served Abe as cabinet ministers in his first term (2006-07). Aso is something an Abe frenemy. He needs to be kept close even though 1) he cannot fundamentally be trusted and 2) his tongue repeatedly creates controversy.

Entering the Cabinet are Inada Tomomi and Seko Hiroshige. Both are more than mere Abe loyalists: they are sycophants. Seko indeed has played Mini-Me to Abe these past three years (Link), traveling with him around the world, making a particular spectacle of himself in dealings with Vladimir Putin. Both are largely amateurs in the policy areas they will be managing.

The inclusion of Inada and Seko in the Cabinet, combined with the retention of Takaichi and the rumored slide of Abe personal retainer Furuya Kenji into the vacant party post of elections chairman sends a distrubing message -- that Abe, post-House of Councillors 2016, is not in a mood to share with other factions and forces within the LDP. Closeness or service to the party president will be rewarded; all others will just have to lump it.

Loyalty is of course important for rulers. However, so are knowledge and perspective - neither of which sycophants and/or personal debtors can provide. Leadership demands that one restrain oneself, not take all one can, convincing those not in the inner circle that the system has rewards, not just humiliations, for them.

Abe's seeming abandonment of magnanimity and restraint has me worried. Abe put together a similar team of loyalist and fellow travelers in 2006, one which the news media dubbed the "Friends of Shinzo" Cabinet. Their calamitous performances individually and as a Cabinet make me worried about their echo today.

[For my earlier take on the proposed new lineup of the LDP secretariat, click here.]

The New Abe Lineup At Party Central

In few hours Prime Minister Abe Shinzo will unveil his new lineup for the top party posts of the Liberal Democratic Party and a new Cabinet. From hints that have been leaked to the new agencies so far, Abe seems to be proceeding on the assumption that loyalty and closeness to him, not competence, experience or judgment, should be his main selection criteria.

LDP Party Secretariat

Replacing the seriously injured Tanigaki Sadakazu at Secretary-General will be Nikai Toshihiro. Leader of a medium-sized faction, Nikai was long seen as a potential rival of the Prime Minister. During his stint as chairman of the Diet Budget Committee Nikai was extremely solicitous of opposition members pounding away at the Abe government and the prime minister himself. In the last year or so, however, Abe has made a special effort to woo Nikai, kicking him upstairs into the special post of Chairman of the General Council and visiting him in his home district. The Wakayama legislator has reciprocated with pledges of loyalty and friendship, the most dramatic of which was his recent post-election expression of support for an extension of Abe's presidential term past the party rules-determined 6 years.

[For those with issues as regards Japan's killing of cetaceans, it's panic time. The whaling fleet's mother ship is homeported in Abe's district. The Taiji dolphin-killing "cove" is in Nikai's.]

The appointment of Nikai means that once again the LDP's day-to-day management will be in the hands of a politician with links to China. Tanigaki's ties were largely emotional, his affection for Chinese poetry being one of his remarked-upon traits. Nikai's ties, however, are much more nuts-and-bolts. He is probably the active legislator with the deepest and broadest network of ties with officials and politicians of China. His appointment will likely both please and pain the CCP. If Nikai asks to come across the water and meet with a few old friends, how can the Chinese government refuse?

Ostensibly keeping an eye on Nikai will be Hosoda Hiroyuki, who will take over Nikai's chairmanship of the LDP General Council. Hosoda is the leader of the Seiwakai, the largest faction and the faction to which Abe belongs. It is a measure of Abe's respect for and wariness of Nikai that he has asked his faction leader to step in and run the party’s main meetings.

Moving out of her party position of policy chief and into the Cabinet is Inada Tomomi, a protégé of the Prime Minister's and a fellow Seiwakai member. She will be taking over the defense portfolio – a symbolic, not substantive choice, as Inada has heretofore not been seen as taking a particular interest in defense issues (her own interests can be gleaned from the name of her personal Diet member group, "The Tradition and Innovation Association"). She is also something of an arriviste in party circles, having only served four terms in the Diet. She will be leapfrogging over some 70 LDP legislators who 1) have more elections to the Diet than her and 2) have never served in a Cabinet post.

Taking over her spot as chairman of the Policy Research Council and rising ever so slightly in party rank will be Motegi Toshimitsu. Motegi was the chairman of the party's elections strategy committee and thus nominally the architect of the party's wins in the Hokkaido #5 by-election and the July 10 House of Councillors election this year. However, since the LDP is fighting what is still a prostrate and disarmed opposition, Motegi's actual motivational and organizational strengths remain in question.

Motegi seems to be one of Abe's most important cultivated allies. The Harvard master's degree holder and former McKinsey consultant is a frequent guest and golf partner of the PM. He also has as many elections to the Diet (8) as the PM. Motegi would seem a possible a dark horse candidate to step in to the premiership, should the PM need to suddenly step down. However, Motegi did not start out his political career in the LDP, having first won his seat as a member of the opposition Japan New Party (Nihon Shinto).

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Tokyo Gubernatorial Election 2016 - A Last Look

In a few minutes voting starts for the governorship of the Tokyo Metropolitan District(1). Twenty-one names are on the ballot but only a few are worth mentioning. Even fewer have a chance at making a splash.

The prize is a heck of a job - essentially the presidency of the world's 16th largest economy -- the part of Japan that generates, rather than immolates, revenues.

At this writing it looks like Koike Yuriko's Big Decision -- to defy the Liberal Democratic Party's national and Tokyo establishments by offering herself as a candidate -- will pay off with a big electoral win. The Iron Butterfly - my name for her given her hardline realist security policy views and her penchant of flitting from party to party as political expediency dictates -- is leading in the polls. Her main rivals -- former newscaster Torigoe Shuntaro and former Iwate Governor Masuda Hiroya -- have been trying to keep up with on the one hand crippled and the other tepid campaigns.

One has to be appalled by the Torigoe situation. A last minute choice of the four party electoral alliance of the Democratic Party, the Japan Communist Party and micro-party twins the Socialists and Livelihood (made after an inexplicable second-to-last minute dalliance with Abe Shinzo critic and major fruitcake Koga Shigeaki) Torigoe's hopes for victory were immediately torpedoed by tabloid tales of his having seduced an innocent 20 year old a decade ago. Torigoe did what his lawyers told him to do -- say nothing, prepare to sue, threaten with a police complaint of obstruction of an election -- which made him look like he was trying to bury the story. He had an obligation to save himself from extortion and possible prosecutorial misconduct over an incident he thought resolved years ago. Trying to run for governor – and get others excited about his run for the governorship -- at the same time has proven a titanic struggle.

LDP and Komeito's candidate Masuda Hiroya is probably one of Japan’s top thinkers on local administration. He has competently run Iwate Prefecture, shaking off the influence of his mentor Ozawa Ichiro in the process. He has been Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications. His May 2014 report on immanent catastrophic population declines in rural areas shook off decades of complacency about the "genteel decline" of Japan exurban environment.

Which is why it is both terrible and wonderful that his candidacy has failed to catch fire even with The Establishment. Terrible in that of all the persons seeking the governorship Masuda is the only one with even an inkling of how local administration works, what it is good at, what it must abandon and what, if anything, Tokyo can do to help revive the rest of Japan. Wonderful in that failure will mean that the poisoned chalice of the Tokyo Governorship will not devastate the career and reputation of a third of Japan's reformers. The snakepit of Shinjuku Ward devoured and then spat out Inose Naoki and Masuzoe Yo'ichi for non-criminal financial indiscretions. Losing Masuda as well to local Tokyo's politics would be Brechtian farce.

Down the ticket, the Tokyo election has attracted this year more than its usual share of right wing nut jobs courting the Empire Should Strike Back vote (a not-to-be ignored and not insignificant constituency, given soon-to-be-felon General Tamogami Toshio's stunning capture 600,000 votes in 2014). Chief among these awful crackpots is Sakurai Makoto (not his real name) the former chairman of the anti-Korean, anti-Chinese hate group the Zaitokukai. One hopes (OK, I hope) the plethora of wacky alternatives and a cooling of Sino-Japanese tensions over the Senkakus (credit to both Abe Shinzo and Xi Jinping for this) keeps him below 100,000 votes.

Turnout is expected to be light. Normally, low turnout would favor the LDP/Komeito candidate, backed as he is by the political machines of both parties. Not even low turnout, however, looks to derail Koike Yuriko’s bid to become the first woman to lead Tokyo.

1) a neologism - the actual English name of Tokyo-to is "the Tokyo Metropolitan Government." I will try to convince the new governor to change the name as calling a geographical area a "government" makes zero sense.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Explaining The House Of Councillors Election - On The Lack Of A Viable Centrist Opposition

In the most recent set of public opinion polls, conducted over the weekend following the Ise-Shima G7 summit, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its leader Abe Shinzo had much to smile about. Most polls showed a leap in Cabinet approval ratings of about 5%, adding on to what are at historic levels of public acceptance of a Cabinet, at least for a prime minister in his fourth in office (not that there have been, historically, many of these creatures). The ruling party's dispiriting four-to-one advantage in support over its centrist rival, the Democratic Party remained unchanged or improved.

Certainly the atmospherics of President Barack Obama's visit to Hiroshima, which pleased an astonishing 98% of respondents in the Kyodo poll (the first time I have ever seen such a polling number anywhere outside the DPRK) have added to the luster of Prime Minister Abe and his government.

Nevertheless, the public's attitude toward the policies of the Abe administration and the LDP remains at best grudging and at worst hostile. A majority of the population does not believe the government's economic policies are a success or likely to succeed. A majority of the voters do not want the government to consider a revision of the Constitution. A majority indeed do even not want the ruling coalition to win the necessary number of seats giving it the potential to alter the Constitution.

So what is going on? Why has the opposition been unable to translate the public dissatisfaction with the current policy directions or potential policy directions of the LDP and the Cabinet into support?

A considerable amount of the blame for the Democratic Party's inability to capitalize on a favorable policy environment has to be laid at the door of party leader Okada Katsuya. He is a bland and earnest individual with poor charisma and paltry appreciation of the value of political symbols. With his wooden speeches and leaden demeanor he practically begs the news media to belittle him. That journalists are recording his words and his image not because he has anything to say but because he is the leader of the opposition bothers him not enough. If not for the sheen of the leadership post, the news media and the public would ignore him.

However, it is facile to attribute the major part of anti-LDP opposition's unpopularity to the current leader of DP. Replacing Okada with someone else (a prospect the DP faces following the drubbing they will receive in July) cannot fix the fundamental problems of the opposition, even if the opposition were to recruit a magnetar like Koizumi Shinjiro, the only current rival to Prime Minister Abe.

For a viable opposition to be both viable and an opposition it has to 1) oppose and 2) have a place upon which to make its stand.

In the current political environment, both internal and external, neither is possible.

In terms of policy stance, the LDP is incorrectly classified as a center-right party. It is in fact a center-left party or even leftist party, with a nationalist/patriotic veneer of ersatz, sheepish rightism. The LDP's current economic policies are the interventionist dreams of European and North American liberals, with not a shred left of the small-government and market-driven drives of the Hashimoto and Koizumi (pere) eras. As for security policy, Japan's politico-military establishment under Abe is as cautious and rule-bound as it has ever been, at least as compared with counterparts in other OECD countries. As for its promises of constant expansion of social spending, only the Japan Communist Party holds a candle to the LDP.

So where is Japan's so-called "liberal" opposition to stand? Yes, it can oppose last year's security legislation on procedural grounds. However, if one looks for concrete difference, one finds that when the DPJ, the precursor to today's DP, was in power, its security plans were identical to those of the current government. On the economy and social welfare, to the immediate left of the LDP is the JCP, with only a micrometer of space between them.

Rob the electorate of the illusion that a change in political parties will in and of itself better Japan, as the DPJ's turn in power did, and you have an impossibly narrow base on which to build a challenge to the current ruling coalition and its leader.

Later - For a review of the latest polling numbers, check out the most recent Sasakawa Foundation post by Tobias Harris (Link)

Friday, April 01, 2016

Some Nice Things About the Minshinto

This past weekend the Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) and the Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) merged, forming a new named party, the Minshinto (which in English could be "the Democratic Progressive Party”but in order to avoid confusion with the Taiwan ruling party of the same name is being called the "Democratic Party"). The so far mild public reaction to the event has prompted the small English language Japan commentariat to offer only a tiny burst of mostly negative reviews. Yuki Tatsumi at Stimson is the most scathing, dismissing the new party as merely the old party, with all the same negatives as before (Link1). Tobias Harris, writing for the Sasakawa Foundation, is a bit nicer but still dwells upon the lack so far of a positive public reaction to the new party’s formation. (Link2)

As hard as it may be to believe, there are some nice things one can say about the Minshinto.

1) DP leader Okada Katsuya headed off a potentially catastrophic split of his own party prior to a House of Councillors election. DP conservatives/Matsushita Seikei products (often both) like Maehara Seiji, Nagashima Akihisa and Hosono Goshi are unhappy at the Okada secretariat's steps toward electoral collaboration with the Japan Communist Party. They have been threatening to leave, joining members of the rump Ishin no To in a new conservative opposition party. With brought their JIP conservative buddies now in their party, the DP conservatives are less likely to depart. The price for this unity was accepting a stupid name change.

2) Japan's largest opposition party got larger, not smaller. That alone is something. DP has 96 seats in the House of Representatives; 60 seats in the House of Councillors. Not bad.

3) The party secretariat is the DPJ's secretariat with a few tweaks. Tatsumi sees reappointment of the DPJ leadership as a weakness, with too few new faces to generate excitement (the one new face in the bunch, attack dog Policy Research Chair YAMAO Shiori, has been slapped back with a financial scandal). One could also turn the analysis around and see a merger where one team's members kept all the important posts and the other team's members, including some with titanic egos (Eda Kenji) got essentially nothing as a pretty sweet deal for that first team.
OKADA Katsuya (DPJ)

Acting Representatives
EDA Kenji (JIP)


Policy Research Chair
YAMAO Shiori (DPJ)

Elections Council Chair
GEMBA Koichiro (DPJ)

Diet Affairs Council Chair

House of Councillors Chair
4) With the Will They/Won't They/Why Don't They phase completed, the opposition can now turn to the important business of coordinating Diet and electoral actions against the still immensely powerful but increasingly less likable Liberal Democratic Party of Abe Shinzo.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

On A House of Representatives Election in April

I hate writing about stupid things...and a Diet dissolution after the passage of the Budget is a very stupid thing.

However, everyone is speculating about an early House of Representatives election, how it will allow Prime Minister Abe to take advantage ofhis  excellent Cabinet and party support poll numbers, how it will allow him to renew the employment contracts of his HoR colleagues well before the next rise of the consumption tax, how it will set up a knockout blow to the opposition in the mandated Summer  2016 House of Councillors election.

Assuming he and his party win big...which is an assumption.

The issue is turnout...and holding a snap election in April could increase turnout -- which could lead to a reversal of fortune (though probably not a loss of the majority) in the currently very accommodating House of Representatives.

Losing seats in a House of Representatives election could set up a reversal in the current scenario for the House of Councillors. The operative plan is to ride the current popularity of the Liberal Democratic Party (it is outpolling the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan 4 to 1) to a repetition of the wholesale larceny of seats seen in 2013, driving the DPJ to marginal status and possibly securing enough seats for an assault on the Constitution -- though that latter goal may require the cooperation of Hashimoto Toru's Osaka Ishin no Kai seat holders  -- and who in his/her right mind wants to associate/negotiate with the volatile Mr. Hashimoto?

We have to remember Fall 2014, when Mr. Abe blew everyone away with his sudden, duplicitously packaged (Reed, Pekkanen and Scheiner called it a "bait-and-switch") dissolution and general election. The DPJ was caught flat-footed in that instance by the dissolution (as was yours truly). It and the other opposition parties never really got a campaign going before the election day was upon them. Nevertheless, the DPJ managed to claw back seats it had lost in 2012 to Hashimoto's Japan Innovation Party and Watanabe's Your Party, while LDP stayed stuck in place.

This time:

1) the DPJ is not waiting for Abe Shinzo to surprise it: the party apparatus seems to have selected House of Representatives candidates and seems to be sending them out on pre-emptive, campaign-like encounters with the voters.

2) Unlike in 2014, Abe does not have a clear referendum issue in his docket, as he had with delaying of the rise in the consumption tax. Discussion of Trans Pacific Partnership legislation will take months, not weeks. Meanwhile, the shock of the Bank of Japan's latest extreme gesture of imposing negative interest rates seems to have already worn off.

Abe could, of course, announce a further delay of the rise in the consumption tax and make that his new referendum issue for an April dissolution. Somehow the adage "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me" pops into the head when I think of Abe trying to pull off the same trick twice.

If we could add to this 3) a return to some of the enthusiasm the electorate used to have for gleeful punishment of the LDP for being the LDP -- an springtime dissolution could be disastrous for Abe Shinzo's hopes of climbing past Nakasone and Koizumi in the list of longest-serving prime ministers.

However, considering the contempt Abe is displaying toward the opposition (check out his introductory paragraphs of his Policy Speech on January 22 or his smart ass replies to question in the Diet regarding a revision of political donation laws), maybe he really is prepped and primed to pull the plug on this Diet come April Fools Day.