First, a trickle…

One of the things that the Japanese media is expert in is distracting the public from the real issues of significance in its political coverage. Thus we are plied with continuous stories of interpersonal politics and intrigues and often policies are only covered in so far that they reveal differences between politicians, not as inherent issues of importance in of themselves. This approach has been very successful in dividing the Japanese electorate over time, undermining governments, and ultimately maintaining the status quo.

The most recent example of this is the coverage of all things Kamei, Shizuka. Whether it is the internal conflict he is involved in within the government’s coalition partner People New Party, Kamei’s desperate attempts to hook up with Hashimoto Toru or convince Hiranuma Takeo and Ishihara Shintaro to form a new conservative party, or claims that he might be able to take 40 or 50 DPJ members with him into a new party and bring down the government, the Japanese media has been faithfully reporting every bob, weave and punch, irrespective of credibility or relevancy.

Less attention is however paid to important signs that suggest political incentives are starting to shift. Even if Kamei (or Ozawa for that matter) does somehow manage to draw 40 members of the DPJ away at some point, the significance of such a move may be considerably less consequential than less reported stories such as the resignations of relatively obscure DPJ politicians such as Nakajima Masaki and Takatane Kiuchi over the last few months,  or now Hirayama Tairo (日).

Kamei is likely only going to attract PR “fillers” who will not have any chance of winning in the next general election although they may be able to bring him useful electoral funds depending on the timing of the next election. However when we see younger members from progressive constituency seats starting to leave the party then this is a sign that those with serious long-term ambitions are starting to see the political terrain shifting rapidly, and no longer perceive that the party can help them in any consequential way. The media of course has focused on the fact that these are all people close to Ozawa and this is part of a grand political battle. This however might be of less relevance than the fact these members were elected on their own steam, have been cultivating a relationship with their electorate only to be burdened with their DPJ membership, and have interests, ambitions and beliefs that extend beyond simply supporting the Ozawa line. In fact Ozawa seems to have counselled many of the defecting members to act less rashly and stay within the party – Ozawa’s own strength in his battle with the DPJ leadership is after all also being gradually undermined with these defections.

Striking out on their own means that they could at some point join up with a party or movement that allows them to have a vague chance of winning their seats back and implementing the reformist agenda many of the younger DPJ members were elected to pursue. Staying too long with the DPJ, leaving with Ozawa, or joining up with Kamei or the Kizuna party all seems to lead to electoral extinction for these members.

It is a high risk strategy but it may be their only one. The best scenario for many of the anti-consumption tax DPJ former and current members would be for Noda to succeed in convincing the LDP and Komeito to pass his bill (likely in return for a dissolution of the Diet). This would leave room for the anti-tax group to abstain or vote against it thereby allowing them to again symbolically regain the reformist ground at the same time that the Diet is being dissolved. Even if the LDP – fearing Hashimoto et al’s ability to eat into the electoral support that would allow it to reclaim its divine right to rule – lets the DPJ to put this off for a period of time, anti-tax reformers may be able to force a political crisis that would likely end in the dissolution of the Diet anyway. Of course under normal circumstances the opposition, smelling blood, would be unlikely to pass such a bill and just let the government wallow in its own futility. Except the LDP has just come out in favour of raising the consumption tax at the same time they are refusing to cooperate with the government on raising the consumption tax. This is going to be difficult to explain as MTC nicely elaborates on.

In regards to the latest defection, Hirayama Tairo, Mutant Frog conveniently has a couple of posts that provide useful background of Hirayama and his 2009 election. In the meantime I will only say that as a vote on a consumption tax draws near it will be interesting to see if and how many more DPJ members who fit the profile I have described jump ship.

A little bit of this, a little of that

The opposition LDP’s dream of a March election is starting to look all the more unlikely, however there have been some worthwhile movements/developments in the Japanese political world worthy of commentary.

The first is the ongoing saga of the new Defense Minister, Tanaka Naoki, who seems to be doing his best to bring about an early election through even more bizarre behaviour than his predecessor. I wrote a post over at Japan Security Watch titled “Meet the new Japanese defense minister, probably worse than the old one.” It now seems that such a title was far too generous and it should have read: “definitely worse than the old one.” Consult Michael Cucek’s recent post for why the latter would have indeed been more apt.

Second, while many expected it to happen at some point, Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and co. have brought local politics on to the national stage in a big way, assisted of course, by a media that has nothing better to do now that Ozawa is in limbo. This has lead to a lot of manoeuvring, some of it very craven.

The best place to start is with Ozawa. But since opportunism and Ozawa are synonymous, it is probably not worthwhile discussing Ozawa’s overtures towards Hashimoto. So, the second best place to start is with the ever-present and increasingly desperate Kamei Shizuka. The postal “reform of the reform” bill has been looking incredibly unlikely ever since the 2010 Upper House elections but Kamei has been alternating between hopelessly trying to convince his coalition partners in the government to pass the bill and hunting around for a new political Raison d’être ahead of the next election. At first he moved on from postal reform to the increasingly popular local political autonomy cause, but no one took him seriously – mainly because everything Kamei has stood up for up until now goes against the causes championed by Hashimoto, Osaka governor Matsui, Aichi governor Omura, and Nagoya mayor Kawamura. Kamei decided instead that there was a sudden desperate need for “conservative” third pole in Japanese politics and decided to enrol the help of tachiagare nippon leader Hiranuma Takeo and Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro. And so “jii-santou was born.”1 The plan here it would seem is that in order to capitalize on Hashimoto’s current popularity, the combination of old school conservatives with one credible local autonomy champion (Ishihara) would lead to this new party being seen by Hashimoto et al as the natural vehicle for their entrance on to the national political stage.

They underestimate Hashimoto’s political instincts. While a reform fundamentalist Hashimoto is ultimately a political pragmatist. In terms of “conservative” credentials, while he has supported the punishment of teachers who do not stand up for the national anthem, and makes occasional but inconsistent hawkish comments on national security, Hashimoto is unlikely to support a retro-conservative policy platform if it would undermine his overriding reform goals. As such Hashimoto and Osaka Governor Matsui have been more open to Watanabe Yoshimi’s Your Party’s similar attempt to capitalize on Hashimoto’s energy. They have been much more reluctant to extend the same warmth to Ishihara’s new party.2 Matsui has gone on record as saying that such discussions have not been held between the two groups, and Hashimoto himself has said that much will depend on Ishihara getting his own thoughts in order.

Your Party has also put out the welcome mat for Hashimoto, and has forcefully suggested that unlike with Ishihara’s party, there would be no policy discord between a Hashimoto focused party and Your Party. Together, so the hope goes, they could field enough candidates to perhaps even gain a majority in the next general election. While Your Party has made interesting progress in the Kanto region, both locally and nationally, the Ishin no Kai would be the natural extension southward of Your Party’s agenda; although the Ishin no Kai is probably more of a threat to Your Party’s goal to becoming a true national party.

Although Hashimoto has yet to put out a comprehensive platform for a new local autonomy party, (expected mid-February), there may be truth to Watanabe’s argument. However there are reasons for Hashimoto et al being somewhat cautious towards Your Party. First of all, in order to push through his intended reforms in Osaka, Hashimoto’s Ishin no Kai has formed an alliance with the local Komeito group in order to achieve what is his primary goal. It would be unusual, although not impossible, for him to work with YP on the national level, and Komeito on the local level. Secondly, Your Party has obviously gained itself a bit of reputation for being a do-nothing party that while not responsible for the “problem” of dysfunctional national politics, has certainly been involved in the maintenance of such dysfunction. Your Party’s popularity has only decreased since its good showing in last year’s Upper House election. Hashimoto et al might see at some point later on down the track allying with Your Party as a drag on his popularity rather than useful support. Hashimoto in particular  certainly has the opposite reputation and locally a lot of people supportive of his reforms in Kansai think he might have the tendency to get too carried away with his plans. Hashimoto’s positive response to PM Noda’s warning to Hashimoto to be careful of the “termites” in Nagata-cho and Kasumigaseki is highly suggestive that Hashimoto is taking the cautious route for now.

The “termites” comment also brought out into the open what everyone always suspected Your Party was all about – they can dish it out, but they can’t take it in response. Noda has actually used the term before in reference to the recipients of bureaucratic amakudari, but in this context it was probably also directed towards the political manoeuvrings of Ishihara, Ozawa, and Watanabe. Noda hedged his bets in terms of exactly who he was directing the criticism towards, but Watanabe has since came out and said that if the comment was directed at him it would justify an upper house censure motion. Pathetic, considering everything that Watanabe has directed towards his opponents over the last few years. Part of the problem, indeed.

Interestingly the mainstream party most concerned with Hashimoto’s rising prominence and possible participation in the next election is not the governing DPJ, but the LDP. Once you get out of the muck of the DPJ senior leadership, who like all other political operators would like to capitalize on Hashimoto’s popularity, there are actually a number in the DPJ who are quite supportive of his overall policy platform, assuming it stays focused specifically on local autonomy and administrative reform. On the other hand, the LDP, who have come out recently and told everyone what everyone already knew – that their single-minded goal for this year would be to “recover the ruling mantle,” are particularly concerned about the implications of an alliance between Hashimoto’s Ishin no Kai and pretty much anyone else.3 It is not implausible that in an election featuring Hashimoto or agents of Hashimoto, the LDP might lose even more seats than they currently now have. Certainly the fantasy that they now labour under – of coming back into power in the same decisive way that they lost it in 2009 – would have zero chance of coming to fruition. The DPJ seems to have already accepted its fate, but the LDP still has not come to grips with its status as a party that is expendable to the Japanese public like every other party.4

Which has led to another interesting debate taking place within the LDP at the current time – over reform to the electoral system. What has transpired is that the DPJ’s has shelved more expansive plans to redesign the electoral system in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling of unconstitutionality, and has submitted to the LDP’s plan of only reducing by five the number of seats in prefectures most advantaged by the current system’s vote disproportionality. Of course, the LDP rejected their own proposition, for a reason I remember reading, but am ill-inclined to look up, mainly because it was lame. Not sitting back the DPJ has pushed forward and proposed a deal with all of the other parties, particularly the Komeito, to cut the number of Lower House members by 80 (thus, they believe,  giving the DPJ the minimal amount of “reformist” credentials) in exchange for a form of electoral system that advantages minor parties. Essentially the system would be one that looks like the current system in terms of overall structure, which could be described as a “Supplementary Member” (並立制) system, but in  but in the apportioning of votes from the PR lists has outcomes more closely resembling the New Zealand and German MMP systems (併用制), but without the “overhang.” This system does not have an English name (that I can find) but comes from a proposal put forward and considered in 1993 but ultimately not adopted by the non-LDP government of the time. For those keeping score in Japanese, the system is called 小選挙区比例代表連用制, and essentially instead of using the d’Hondt method for apportioning the PR seats,  a formula that privileges those who have less constituency seats than others is used in the calculations. Ask me in the comments if you are so inclined and sufficiently nerdy. But basically all of the smaller parties would have gotten more seats based on the last elections results, and the Komeito in particular would have increased their quota from 22 to 33, even with the 80 PR seats taken off from the 180 total there is now in the PR allotment. The knock on this system is that it would make it difficult for mainstream parties to achieve outright majorities. This may of course not be a) necessarily a bad thing, b) looks likely to persist under the current system anyway, and 3) those countries that have such systems don’t do that badly.

Well it seems that most of the parties were on board. Except for the LDP. First Tanigaki rejected it. Then another party member on national TV tentatively agreed to it, but only if about 30 of the PR seats were worked out by the proposed method, and 30 continue to be worked out by the current method. This would mean 100 seats would be taken off the PR quota of 180. There is also another LDP plan floating out there which only reduces the PR allotment by 30, and puts aside PR seats only for parties that earn under 20 percent of the vote.  All quite bizarre really – even Your Party is starting to wonder what on earth they are talking about. The Komeito must be very tempted to leave the LDP to their well deserved fate and abandon them on this point alone.5  The war of attrition in terms of party unity between the DPJ and the LDP continues.

1 I can’t take credit for coining this – recently Ishihara got into a scrap with one of the recent winners of the Akutagawa Book Prize, and in response to Ishihara’s describing his work as rubbish along with most other recent winners, the author went on television and suggested that Ishihara focus on his new party. Ishihara is 79, Hiranuma a young 72, and Kamei Shizuka is 75.

2 To be sure Hashimoto will work with them – but will discard them as is needed.

3 Indeed it has been reported that LDP general secretary Ishihara Nobuteru is quite concerned at dad’s recent prominence.

4 Recently Koizumi Jnr has come out and criticized the LDP for being nothing more than a party that “opposes things.”

5  Of course there are PR representatives within the DPJ, who are obviously concerned about any reduction in the PR seats, although their fate is probably sealed either which way.

All on track for Hashimoto?

At 1pm today the voting participation rate in the Osaka City mayoral election was a full six percentage points up on the equivalent time in the last election, at 23.94% of eligible voters. (ja)

One would assume this bodes well for Hashimoto Toru and his plan to create a more streamlined and stronger “Osaka-to” region. If I was to hazard a guess it might be on the back of an increased youth vote as Hashimoto had very vigorous youth participation in his supporter groups. Polls close at 8pm. The youth participation rate was only 20% total in the previous election.

In other news Kamei turned out to be as deluded as expected. Not only did Hashimoto dismiss the idea without a second thought but Hiranuma Takeo, who Kamei assumed he could count on for his retro-conservative grand plan to create a third pole, humiliatingly dismissed the idea ridiculing Kamei as marching to his own tune. The smell of desperation is really stinking up Nagata-cho.

Update: At three pm the rate was 32%, an almost 9% point increase (ja)

Kamei Shizuka and the knife-edge of WTF?

Kamei Shizuka’s proposal to create a third “pole” in Japanese politics, as so many have tried over the last few years, should be praised – if he can gather enough of the fossilized political retro-conservative retreads into one party then that would be a valuable indication of who not to vote for in any future election. Meaning people could vote without fear of electing some throwback along with, er, ‘normal’ politicians. Now if we can only get someone like Matsumoto Ryu to form a party of retro-socialists we could be in business.

I have thank Watanabe Yoshimi for so quickly confirming (ja) that I hadn’t been misreading the local politics scene over the last year. Apparently in addition to Ishihara Shintaro, and Tachiagare Nippon’s Hiranuma Takeo, and a number of others, Kamei had his sights on recruiting possibly soon to be Osaka Mayor’s Hashimoto Toru. From what I understand Hashimoto does not exactly have liberal views on some issues, security ones in particular, but joining up with that lot smelled too much of “dumbest political move ever” for my liking. As Watanabe points out, Hashimoto’s confidence that Japan can and should openly compete in a globalized world kind rules him out as a retro-conservative.

Light entertainment from Fukushima Mizuho

Leader of the Socialist Democratic Party, and one of Sigma1’s 3 favourite “are you kidding me?!” politicians, Fukushima Mizuho (along with Ishihara Nobuteru and Kamei Shizuka) had some stinging things to say (jp) about three of the main candidates for Prime Minister.

Describing Noda Yoshihiko, Kaieda Banri, and Maehara Seiji as the “three yes-men” she explains:

Noda is the Ministry of Finance’s yes-man、Kaieda is the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s yes-man、and Maehara is the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign affairs, and America’s yes-man” (sucks to be you, Seiji-san). I am surprised her next words were not “who’s next?”

Apparently she fears that Kan’s replacement will be even worse than Kan. I’m surprised that she didn’t mention ultimate yes-man Kano Michihiko as the Minsitry of Agriculture’s, but maybe he is the good kind of yes-man.