Japanese Elections: “Least-hated” rather than Popularity Contests

A lot of Japanese opinion polls tend to be of limited analytical value – either the questions are too general, too focused on “political” rather than policy issues, or are simply obscure and give no indication about priorities. However, the Asahi Shimbun has released (日) a poll a few days after the election that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about Sunday’s election and what the public was thinking.

It is certain that LDP President Abe Shinzo will become the prime minister. Do you have expectations of Abe?

    Have 51%

 Don’t have 42%

This is actually quite low. It probably relates to Abe having already been PM. It is probably going to get lower if he appoints former PM Aso to the foreign minister position as is being rumoured- Aso’s perceived incompetence is one that only rivals Hatoyama, and in any respect such an appointment will raise the spectre of “Tomodachi Naikaku 2.0″ as Aso served as Abe’s FM first time around.

Together the LDP and Komeito have a super-majority of 325. Is this a good thing?

 Good thing 35%

 Not good 43%

Well…that is unfortunate isn’t it people…

In the last election we have returned to an LDP-centred government. Is this a good thing?

    Good 57%

 Not good 16%

So people wanted to get rid of the DPJ, but only vaguely wanted the LDP in, and certainly didn’t want them to have too much power…

Do you think the reason that the LDP was able to do so well was because the public supported its policies or because of disappointment realting to DPJ’s time in government?

 LDP policies 7%

 DPJ disappointment 81%

Wow. We already knew this, but this is about as decisive a result as you will see from the Japanese electorate on any issue. So very, very damning for both the LDP and the DPJ.

In the election the DPJ lost many seats and fell back into opposition. Do you want the DPJ to rejuvenate as a rival party to the LDP?

 Yes 53%

 No 38%

This is more than I would have expected. Maybe the two party system shouldn’t be written off just yet?

The JRP increased its parliamentary presence from 11 seats to 54 seats. Do you think this was a good outcome?

Good 56%

Not good 22%

This really suggests that the JRP is leaving a lot of “points on the field” so to speak. Consistently about half of the public before the election wanted to see the JRP have more influence. But relatively few could bring themselves to vote for them. Clearly Ishihara is part of that, but Hashimoto himself really needs to focus on the key issues that make him fleetingly popular.

The election resulted in the lowest postwar voting turnout. Why do you think this is so?

 No issues of interest to me 6%

 No party or candidates I wanted to vote for 29%

 Even if I vote nothing is going to change 51%

    The timing was inconvenient 8%

My interpretation: 80% alienation, and only 14% laziness.

What policy issues were of the most concern to you in the election?

 Economy and employment 35%

 Consumption tax and social security 30%

 Constitutional revision, diplomacy and security 12%

 Nuclear and energy issues 17%

S0 82% concerned with domestic issues – only 12% at most were interested in the “rightward” agenda of the LDP and JRP. No wonder the public was disappointed. We got a bit of talk on the economy, but most of the debate was taken up by foreign policy issues [not an issue for me personally of course] and pointless bickering regarding whose uninspiring energy/nuclear plan was more or less realistic.

In recent elections there has been a trend of parties gaining and losing significant amounts of seats. Do you think such large reversals are a good thing?

 Yes 27%

 No 57%

Interestingly, LDP SecGen Ishiba Shigeru has come out and suggested that the government look at this very issue in the context of electoral reform. But then again, Ishiba is known to speak sense from time to time.

Just How Convincing was the LDP’s Victory?

Very – but actually, not at all.

Some basic numbers.

Bear in mind that the DPJ received 308 seats in 2009, and received 42% support in the proportional representation component of the vote. In 2009 the LDP overall received 26. 7% of the PR vote and received 119 seats. The nation-wide PR vote average for the LDP this year is likely to be around 28% (update: confirmed at 27.6%), and the LDP will receive 294 seats in total.

It gets worse. As can be seen in the numbers for the 5 largest PR districts below (those that are significantly disadvantaged by the vote-value disparity in the SMD component of the vote), the LDP did only slightly better in this election than it did in the previous election. While there are certainly more parties competing for the party PR vote this time around, this nevertheless paints a bleak picture of the fairness of the current system when a party can claim an electoral mandate on the basis of little more than a quarter of the voting public seeing the party as their number one choice. The other thing to factor into this equation is that this election had one of the poorest post-war turnouts on record. Only 59% of the voting public turned out for this election, a significant 10 percent drop from 2009 (and 10 million people). In reality, the LDP received less actual PR votes, and in many districts did not do that much better in terms of actual SMD votes received compared to 2009′s decisive rejection of the LDP.

Tokyo PR 

LDP 2012: 24.9%

LDP 2009: 25.5%

DPJ 2009: 41.0%

Northern Kanto PR

LDP 2012: 28.1%

LDP 2009: 25.8%

DPJ 2009: 42.1%

Southern Kanto PR

LDP 2012: 26.4%

LDP 2009: 26.0%

DPJ 2009: 43.0%

Kinki PR

LDP 2012: 23.9%

LDP 2009: 23.2%

DPJ 2009: 42.4%

Kyushu PR

LDP 2012: 29.9%

LDP 2009: 28.1%

DPJ 2009: 38.1%

Michael Cucek states in a recent East Asia Forum article titled “Japan’s Nothing Election”:

“The Japanese electorate has been confronted with a nothing election: an election called for no reason, lacking attractive candidates or even fundamental legitimacy.”

It’s hard to disagree – but as seen above, it is even worse than that.

The LDP and Issue Avoidance

Michael Cucek, while agreeing with the general thrust of my previous post on the changing electoral composition in Japan, questions whether my suggestion is likely to implemented in reality. To be sure, the likelihood of anyone seeing sense as I described it is indeed small. Nevertheless, I think pointing out that when the Diet reconvenes early next year, taking an axe to the PR component of the current electoral system will be the exact wrong strategy for all parties except for the LDP, has some merit. One can only hope that the DPJ in particular realizes this, as ultimately Abe’s promise to undertake a fuller reform of the House of Representatives was made to the DPJ and it is up to them to make the running on this issue.

If the opposition parties collectively were more focused, then they could well force more out of the LDP than MTC lets on, however. If (that word again) Abe is smart he will spend the first regular Diet session of next year focusing on economic issues and avoiding any moves on the more controversial issues such as changing the constitution or the interpretation of the right to collective self-defense. Abe needs to build political capital before he can spend it. The issue of timing regarding pushing forward on constitutional reform is ultimately in Abe’s hands. The goal should be to make it to the House of Councillors elections with as little drama as possible and again use the House of Councillors electoral math to put the LDP in a strong position to take back the house as the uninspiring default option.

Two issues that will likely need to be progressed one way or another in the next Diet session are the electoral reform bill as promised to the DPJ, and a final decision on the TPP. A decision on the TPP will not wait much longer. First, the general perception in Washington according to one high-level proponent of the TPP in a conservative DC thinktank I spoke to last week is that the TPP will live or die in 2013 one way or another, in contrast to the RCEP, which will be slower but more “sustainable” in terms of the process. This seems like a reasonable insight. Another reason why Abe will be faced with a decision is that expectations are high in Washington itself that Abe will actually bring the Japanese electorate around and, in the words of the aforementioned thinktanker (not Michael Green), “betray the people” if need be in order to bolster the US-Japan alliance (that said, the public has been for some time somewhat in favour of joining the TPP).  There is a small chance Abe may be able to put off a decision until immediately after the House of Councillors election, where the vote disparity is almost 5:1 in favour of rural districts, but the window will be very small. This kind of thinking is probably optimistic on the part of DC crowd, but on the other hand I would not rule it out.

How Abe will deal with his promise to the DPJ will depend on how aware of its own viability the DPJ is in terms of its long-term prospects for political influence. The only hard and fast rule of the promise to Noda is that there needs to be a reduction in the number of Diet members in the Lower House. The issue of how they are elected was not directly touched upon although the DPJ could argue that as they included it in the bill that was rejected when Noda extracted the promise from Abe, then Abe implicitly promised to consider this issue as well. If the LDP takes not much more than 30 percent of the total PR vote, and wins as resoundingly as many are expecting in terms of actual seats gained – all on the back of an unconstitutional election which treats large swathes of the electorate as less than half a citizen – then the opposition parties will be more than justified making a lot of noise about how the HoR not only needs to be reduced, but also needs to be dramatically reformed. MTC may be right in pointing out that the LDP will be extremely hostile to any changes to the electoral system, but on the other hand, will it be the price for political peace in the lead up into the House of Councillors election? The opposition parties if they were smart, should make it so. Where I agree with MTC is that the DPJ probably has little awareness about what its actual interests are. Much like on September 16, 2009.

This could ultimately be all up to Abe. Will he learn the correct lesson from his first time in power, and for that matter from Hatoyama and from Kan’s strategic blunders in terms of issue selection, and choose the right issues to address first?

Is it Time to Start Thinking about 2013?

As was predicted here around the time of the dissolution of the Diet the mechanics of the current Japanese political system makes it likely that the LDP-Komeito coalition, if not the LDP on its own, will get a majority on December 16th. At the official start of the election season on December 4th most of the mainstream media outlets have started to predict this very outcome This is despite the LDP’s support rate under Abe being less than stellar, and there being almost no enthusiasm for the party. This seems to have been a (what should have been obvious) stimulus to the likes of the JRP who will now look to turn their undivided attention to attacking the LDP. JRP 2IC Osaka Governor Matsui has even come out groveling to Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi, saying (日) that he and Hashimoto were in hindsight “too cheeky” and insufficiently respectful of “Watanabe-Sempai’s (political) life experience.” With the LDP the default option, uninspiring to many as it is, nothing short of some grand gesture/announcement by the two “third pole” parties is going to change the the narrative and outcome of this particular election. It is possible that they may turn around what looks to be a fait accompli, just unlikely at this point in time. This is because it is unfortunately too late to offload Ishihara and the other retro-conservatives of the Taiyo no Tou, and make a play for Your Party amalgamation. With the LDP lurking at around 20-25 percent in the PR vote, it does not have to do much better in the SMDs, if at all, than it did in the last disastrous election for the LDP, to acquire a majority this time around, given the rest of the vote will be split in the SMDs between the JRP/YP, the DPJ, and the Japan Future Party (JFP). This will look like a comprehensive victory, but the deeper numbers, as we will all know, will suggest anything but a mandate.

Which raises some interesting questions about the Japanese political system going forward. There has been discussion about the current configuration, of the “conservative” LDP, the “whatever-you-personally-want-to-label-them” JRP, the centrist DPJ, and the “liberal” JFP, being representative of the true realignment of Japanese politics, as opposed to a seemingly “forced” two party British/Westminster system. I had this discussion with good friend Bryce Wakefield recently; and friend of Sigma1, Michael Penn at Shingetsu News Agency, has recently put forward the same hypothesis in last week’s subscription-only “Tokyo Diplomat.” [So credit goes to them].

Given the complexity of the Japanese political system and the difficulty in identifying what we Westerners tend to perceive as “left” and “right” in the Japanese ideological spectrum, then this seems a pretty solid hypothesis. We may have to give up on a two-party system – and that might be ok. As long as the parties themselves are somewhat internally coherent (not quite there yet of course) then having more than two (incoherent) parties may not be a bad thing.

If this is the case, then Japan clearly has the wrong political system. If as is predicted the LDP does go on to win quite convincingly on the back of 20 percent support in the Proportional Representation system (ie their “true” support level) then something is quite clearly wrong. First-Past-the-Post systems limit political representation for the benefit of simplifying the political system and promoting stable, but still democratic, governance. However, this is more for systems where two major political parties fiercely compete but are likely to fall a bit short of getting 50 percent of the vote from time to time on their own. However, not this short. 20 and even 30 percent “true” support translating into perhaps 60 percent of the number of seats seems absurd. It clearly undermines too much the “popular democracy” component of the democracy-governance trade-off of FPP systems (notwithstanding the PR component of the current Japanese system). Throw in the fact that rural votes are worth two times as much as urban votes (not to mention this being unconstitutional), then it becomes an absolute farce.

This is not to say that a return to the Multiple Member Districts (MMD) of old is desirable. That would be a step backwards. It does raise questions regarding Noda and Abe’s plan/promise to cut the number of seats during the 2013 regular Diet session, however. When you have four parties which all deserve some kind of voice, why cut the PR seats? Especially when they are the only part of the system that gives certain citizens an “equal value” vote. Cutting the seats to save on waste is noble enough, but doing so in a way that might enshrine permanent but unpopular LDP-Komeito rule in the medium-term will be undesirable, even for the DPJ. The DPJ is unlikely to ever again win the way it did in 2009. It may be able to gain in the 2013 House of Councillors election, but it will not be much. The truth is, the DPJ is not the “2nd party” that they think they are in a Westminster-style system. Neither will the JRP be. When we all come back next year and Abe is forced to consider his promise to undertake reform of the House of Representatives, reducing the PR seats will be exactly the wrong thing to do, unless there is some kind of realignment into two blocs.

At the risk of sounding parochial, there is of course a solution, one that may only have a six month window open for consideration if the LDP is mildly successful at governing.

It produces good, stable cabinet-focused governance based on coalition governments, and pretty good representation across the spectrum while still incentivizing centrist policy-making. It is not that different from the current Japanese system in that it has both FPP elements and PR elements. And if a party is genuinely popular then it doesn’t prevent them from claiming a mandate for reform.

Mixed Member Proportional representation (MMP).* It’s perfect for a natural four (or three) party system with a Westminster heritage. And, citizens are all enfranchised as both their party and their electorate vote are valued the same as anywhere else in the nation. Imagine that.

* With all of the necessary tweaks needed to make it work in Japan.

House of Represenatives Election in One Month (or less)

As noted in the edits on the previous post the situation appears to be that Noda is asking, in return for dissolving the HoR, for:

* The LDP and Komeito to not only pass the deficit financing bills (on track) but also to pass a bill to correct the individual vote-value disparity that has been ruled unconstitutional

* For the LDP and Komeito to also promise to discuss the reduction of the number of seats in the HoR in the next Diet session

* And also to go forward on a 20 percent reduction in Diet member expenses

The Yomiuri suggests (日) that although the constitutional correction may be passed before the Diet is dissolved on Friday (if it is), the election will be held under the current demarcation of electoral districts. It is less than clear whether this process will satisfy the Supreme Court. Abe and Komeito leader Yamaguchi appear to be open to the idea of passing the correction now and promising to deal with the other aspects of Diet reform later according to post-debate announcements. So it seems likely that we will have an election on December 9th or December 16th (日), unless a constitutional crisis is precipitated.

If Noda goes down the TPP road then next year’s government might have a few tricky issues to manage.


How unreasonable is Hashimoto?

This could apply to a lot of things, but for now I will look at the announcement that applicants to run for the Nippon Ishin no Kai (JRA) need to agree “100 percent” with the JRA platform.

This is perhaps not as unreasonable as it first looks. It will be unusual for Americans perhaps, and others from presidential systems, but in parliamentary party-focused systems, when you join the party you are expected to fall more or less in line with the policy direction of the senior leadership. Unless there is a conscience or individual vote, or there is a leadership change/battle (which happen much less often in parliamentary systems other than Japan), it is very seldom that an MP will publicly, at least, express an opinion contrary to his or her leader’s policy. Party discipline is important, along with discipline within cabinet (perhaps more important). This was part of the Ozawa “dream” to fully bring a Westminster style political culture and institutions into Japan’s parliamentary system. It is possible that Hashimoto might, quietly and perhaps unintentionally, succeed where Ozawa did not.

Of course, the key difference is that even if party discipline is important, usually the party’s policy is negotiated and a consensus arises at least among the top leadership, even if the middle and lower level MPs have to suck it in for the time being. In Hashimoto’s case, it is less than clear that such policies have been arrived at by any kind of consensus or process. Perhaps absurdly, while having made the public demand that 100 percent conformity is essential, the application form for running for the JRA in the lower house asks one their opinion on a range of issues, such as education, government, diplomacy and social security. Given that Hashimoto just last week published the answer book policy program for the JRA, I wonder what these politically ambitious people are going to write?

Just to give the applicants more help with filling in the forms, Hashimoto has come out in support of Japan embracing the right to collective self-defense. Not surprising or stunning, and probably no where near as controversial as it used to be. He mentions that it would be wise to still have restrictions on its use, suggesting that even Hashimoto would not support a complete elimination of Article 9.* His statement however seems to open the door to change by interpretation rather than constitutional change, which he had shied away from before. If so, this is a problem. If Japan really is the “the most mature, democratic nation in Asia” then it is necessary that the constitution, and its protector, the Japanese Supreme Court, are taken more seriously (or the SC is made to take itself seriously!). He states:

“The right has been recognized also by the U.N. Charter. Why can’t we exercise this right that we have…That does not make sense logically and linguistically.”

To be sure, I personally think that the current state of affairs is odd. But it makes perfect logical and linguistic sense. The right to collective self-defense is not a legal obligation in international law. It is  a right you can choose not to exercise. If one wants to use national constitutional law to restrain the exercise of this right, then what is there to understand?

* Actually eliminating Article 9 would be nonsensical. The first paragraph is more or less part of the UN Charter that most grown up nations have signed on to and agreed to. Few nations’ constitutions recognize this, but it would look odd going out of one’s way to eliminate it.


Which Party Will Sit Out 2013?

It is generally accepted that we are moving closer to an election, but that is all we know. In fact, we may not even know that. Noda has been at his evasive best saying one thing (yes, yes, election soon), but intimating another – at the recent APEC he said to Putin that he was keen to visit to discuss issues of “historic” importance. My rational side says nothing much will come of it, but sounds like as good a reason as any to put off an election. Who knows – maybe Noda has a “Nixon goes to China” card up his sleeve.

Nevertheless the punditry has begun, mainly because we now know that Hashimoto Toru’s party (Japan Restoration Association (Party) or JRA) will be competing in the next lower house election, and has secured seven current MPs, thereby allowing the JRA to run candidates in the regional PR blocks as well as the Single Member Districts. We also have a fair idea of what his policies will be (another post).

So it is about time I put in my almost certainly overvalued two cents.

Jun Okumura says that incentive is for Hashimoto’s JRA to stay out of any post-election coalition – to let the DPJ-LDP-Komeito marriage of ill-repute come together with extremely low expectations, and to fail to even meet those. All the while the JRA will be ready to pounce,  having acquired for itself some basic party funding, in the 2013 House of Councillors election and the likely snap election that would probably take place soon after. A recent Asahi Shimbun poll (日) supports such a view – even before discussions about a grand coalition 43% are against the idea of three-way cooperation versus 38% for a grand coalition. Such numbers will only drop once “deals” are done and the sausage factory is opened to the public. The same poll also asked people who were well disposed to the JRA having influence after the election which party the JRA should cooperate with after this election. 54% of those people said there was no necessity for the JRA to collaborate with any of the existing parties, corroborating Okumura’s view.

Michael Cucek suggests on the other hand that the incentive is actually for the DPJ to stay out of any post-election coalition, utilizing an ‘excuse’ of having essentially “lost” the faith of the people, to take advantage of a likely LDP-Komeito-JRA train wreck. If there is a formal or semi-formal arrangement – perhaps the LDP-Komeito forming a minority government, with the JRA providing confidence – Cucek predicts that such an arrangement falls apart due to countless skeletons coming out of the JRA amateurs’ (in the non-critical sense of the word) closets and various other iniquities and incompetencies. Even if the arrangement is very loose, it is hard to see collaboration surviving beyond the first budget – the LDP has promised to essentially bring back the “construction state” while the JRA’s continued existence will depend on it not being seen to support such an outcome. The DPJ will, with new leadership and after a period of reflection, be able to make up some ground in the snap election that would come from this,  and will ultimately be in a better position to finally implement, along with the JRA, some of the administrative reforms it originally wanted to.

Where do I stand on this?

I say it depends on how who is left standing in the DPJ after the next election. My issue with Cucek’s scenario is a simple one – I can see his logic, but is the collective leadership of the DPJ that smart…or more so, that brave?

Cucek is correct when he states that Ozawa, and the DPJ in general, had brought in good talent to man, and importantly, woman its middle and junior ranks. The greatest tragedy would be that such talents would go to waste while the ancien regime of the Cold War left and the now compromised senior leadership squeak on by. The party has over time brought in many centrists with real world experience outside of politics, and with a genuine interest in policy. If these talents are wiped out completely then the DPJ will have nothing to rehabilitate and may as well join in on the grand coalition. If the party can affect true “generational change,” perhaps under a humble but young leader like Hosono (who tactically and symbolically did the right thing by not running for the DPJ leadership), then Cucek’s strategy may be plausible. So can a decent size rump of the “next generation” survive 2012?

Depending on who the LDP selects as its leader, the DPJ will probably as the polls show finish second or third in the PR – they will be lucky to get much more than 20%. This will likely rehabilitate the current leadership through PR lists but not much more. So it will come down to   the 300 (or 295) SMDs whether the DPJ can find any salvation. The DPJ “kanban” is certainly not of any help. However much of Ozawa’s recruited talent have been squirreling away and paying attention to their constituencies and their stakeholders over the last 3 years. Those in urban areas should do better than the DPJ’s PR vote. It is likely Rengo, as well as some of the other stakeholder organizations that crossed over to the DPJ in 2009, will still get out significant votes for the DPJ. At least, the LDP has not really given them any reason to go rushing back. Should the JRA eat into the swing against the DPJ, thus depriving the LDP of the former DPJ votes they would have been expecting, then it is possible that the DPJ might do ok in some urban SMDs in a three or four way race. Nevertheless, you would expect some tactical deals to be struck between the JRA, Komeito, the LDP in particular. Already the JRA and Komeito have struck a deal in the Kansai region to lend each other support, but what deals are going to be struck in the rest of the country? Can the DPJ get in on any of these deals?

In terms of the calculus, Hashimoto is losing a little of his shine. Recent opinion polls have asked the question of whether people would want to see Hashimoto having influence in the next government. Previously the numbers had been closer to 2 to 1. Now they are evening up – I recall one recent poll having it at 50% in favour of post-election Hashimoto influence vs 43 % against . A recent NHK poll (日) has 54% as having expectations for Hashimoto’s party, while 42% not having these expectations. In the aforementioned Asahi poll, with the more exact question of “would you like to see Hashimoto’s party take enough seats in the election to have influence,” the number is 50% for the proposition versus 36% against, meaning that the JRA’s ability to take out a large number of SMDs on its own may be compromised if these numbers head further south. Indeed if the above Asahi poll is anything to go by, where only 5 percent said at this point they would vote for the “Osaka Ishin no Kai” then it seems the public’s support of the Hashimoto zeitgeist is not automatic – they may like many of his policies but that is not going to automatically translate into votes. I am not sure I buy the 5% as being representative, but nevertheless the party will still have some work to do and who it puts out as candidates, and what they say will be important. Perhaps Noda’s desire, having now lured Hashimoto to reveal his strategy, is to lengthen the time until the election precisely to allow for as much time for mistakes and disclosures, as Cucek has predicted, to take place.

In any respect the DPJ, if it is concerned with its own long-term survival, should be doubling their efforts to put a wedge between the LDP and Komeito on any issue possible, particularly electoral reform. The DPJ will still likely lose big, and even some notable party names may be knocked off, but if the party is smart or lucky then in the urban centers a number of the younger, centrist Diet members can survive the next election.

However I have my doubts if the senior leadership of the DPJ is that focused, or that considerate of those that they are leading. We can see this is in party elder Sengoku Yoshito’s recent statement that the DPJ would likely, if it had to, settle for the simplest solution to the unconstitutionality of the vote disparity in the House of Representatives of only reducing the number of SMDs by five seats. The rank and file of the DPJ should be under no illusions – if Sengoku represents the party leadership’s feelings, then Sengoku essentially wants to hasten the transition to the grand coalition as soon as possible, but on the most favourable terms for traditional LDP interests, something unforgivable from both an emotional partisan and a rational actor’s point of view.

Ozawa Leaves the DPJ: A Minor Victory for Noda

Or at least a more favourable development for Noda’s quest to extend his already somewhat unlikely administration’s longevity.

There were three numbers of primary importance that would have concerned Noda in regards to Ozawa’s expected resignation along with his most loyal members.


The number of House of Representatives members that would need to leave to reduce the DPJ-PNP coalition to a minority government. The implications of this would be that this coalition would not be able to defeat a no-confidence motion without support from outside parties, or would be able to pass the budget.


The number of House of Representatives members that would need to leave to give the new Ozawa party the right to put forward a no-confidence motion. The assumption here is that the 9 members of the Kizuna party of Ozawa-ites who had already left the party would join the new party.

So how many did House of Representatives members Ozawa manage to convince to leave the party?

40 (日)

This will enable Noda to breathe a little more easily. Not only can the Ozawa party not bring down the government but they cannot submit a no-confidence motion. The LDP could still of course bring such a motion, but its leaders will be mindful of  the passage of the LDP-DPJ-Komeito negotiated consumption tax/social security bills. The public may not appreciate the LDP both cooperating with and seeking to bring down the government at the same time, despite that being exactly what they have been trying to do, quietly. It would have been so much better if disgruntled members of the ruling party were the ones to bring such a motion. The Ozawa party will likely collect the necessary members at some point in the near future to enable it to submit such a motion, but it takes away the immediate risk.


The other number, which they were unlikely to get in any case, relates to the House of Councillors. This would have reduced the DPJ to being the second largest party in the House of Councillors, and led to the loss of the associated procedural privileges and control of the agenda. Ozawa managed to convince 12 House of Councillor members to leave.

There is however one other interesting number – 6 – that may be more consequential. The DPJ-PNP and Komeito will not be able to pass legislation on their own. This most likely will have consequences for the DPJ’s planned electoral reform mentioned previously, which is part of an attempt to drive the LDP and Komeito apart in terms of electoral cooperation. Furthermore, if a lower house election was to be held before July 2013 when half of the current House of Councillors members’ terms are up, then the DPJ and the Komeito, if they had such an option based on the results of such an election, would not have control of both houses of the Diet.  Any such government could potentially spend time spinning its wheels until the July 2013 upper house elections.

The other main reason for Noda to be not completely unhappy with this outcome is that he does not have to dirty his hands publicly doing what he may have been pressured into doing anyway – ‘dealing’ with ‘Ozawa’ once and for all. There was internal and external pressure for Noda to cast off Ozawa, and while Noda was none too happy himself with Ozawa’s defiance, a combative threat of expulsion for Ozawa specifically or long-term suspension of all those who went against the party could have led to a much larger exodus of party members that he would have wanted (as per the numbers above). A bitter and protracted “fight” over the appropriate level of punishment could have broken out, especially given the quite reasonable criticism that Noda administration had betrayed the DPJ’s original manifesto, and lost its electoral mandate in pushing forward with the consumption tax rise.

Now Noda can be strategically lenient towards those in his party who did vote no or abstain on the consumption tax bill without necessarily being seen to be taking a “weak” stance on party unity and discipline. He can also go to the LDP with a request to quieten down on DPJ internal issues now that Ozawa is “gone,” as the LDP has been demanding for some time. They will still make some noise – as they were an hour after the announcement (日) –  about needing to go to the public to “ask for the citizen’s trust,” but it is likely to be less enduring than it would have otherwise been given the exit of Ozawa. This removes one more issue for the opposition to use in regards to maneuvering around legislation and the timing of the next lower house election. This by no means means that Noda is safe until the September end of the parliamentary session, but it may give him some space to implement a political strategy for further extending the life of his cabinet.

Is a Hashimoto-Koizumi connection likely?

Speculation on my part to be honest, although not exactly speculation of the ‘wild’ sort. Hashimoto has already stated that his model for a politician is Koizumi Junichiro. Koizumi 2.0 (Shinjiro) has become increasingly disgruntled with his own party recently, stating that the LDP does nothing but “oppose.” In today’s news he has come out and gone against what is the LDP’s true feeling and said that the potential rise of new parties will be good (j) for both the LDP and the DPJ, as it might well force them to take reform more seriously. Anyhow something to keep in the back of the mind for a few months later when things will likely heat up if the mainstream parties fail to make progress on the various issues up for debate now.

And indeed Hashimoto is not holding back in pushing the mainstream parties to take this challenge seriously (j). following on the post a few days prior we now have a few more details about some of the broader issues and intentions of Hashimoto’s “party.” The first thing to point out is the tendency over the last few weeks for Hashimoto to talk about publishing a 船中八策 (senchuu hassakku). Senchuu hassaku is Sakamoto Ryoma’s reform treatise (literally “Eight Point Program Composed Abroad Ship”), which in the dying days of the bakufu in 1867 was presented as the ideal way of reforming the national administrative structure of Japan, in order to save it. While Sakamoto himself did not live to see the program come to fruition, most of what was in the document was taken forward by the other revolutionary elites. The significance of this is possibly not lost on Hashimoto – he has come out and said he would not become a MP in the next election so perhaps he is content to let others take it forward.

To take his place however he has received 2750 applications to join his juku, where he hopes to recruit 300 people to run in the next election. The successful members will pay (j) a sweet 120,000 yen a year for the privilege. Apparently he has managed to attract a number of former parliamentarians (no surprise here), but also a number of current bureaucrats.

So it has been clear that Hashimoto’s intentions are national, and in today’s news there is a rush of reporting about the soon to be published senchuu hassaku manifesto.

Following on from the previous post, I will start with a few details about foreign policy.

First of all, Hashimoto states his support in principle(j) for the TPP. He notes that in terms of overall economic growth Japan needs to start to think about how to benefit from the transnational nature of human, trade and financial resource flows across borders, by looking to add value. Here he notes a need for a change of awareness about the nature of Japan’s connection to the global economy. He addresses the issue about Japan’s agricultural sector and the TPP by saying that sometimes painful adjustments are necessary, but also in the long-term he expects that with reform, trade opening will be a big plus for the agricultural sector. I assume under this mantle he will pursue one of his favourite projects which is preparing young Japanese through education to adequately compete internationally by giving them the adequate skills.

In terms of national security, Hashimoto’s views do indeed seem to approximate the Koizumi line. He states the need in the short term for Japan to rely on the US security alliance give Japan’s lack of independent defense capabilities, and while he does not explicitly state the need for more autonomous defense capabilities the nuance seems to be very much along those lines. In reality this is not much of a game changer – the evolution of Japan’s defense policy seems very much one of “keep close to the US while you build yourself up so you have options later on.” He mentions (j) Australia also as a defense partner, very interestingly.

On the Futenma issue he states that while he has his own views, it is indeed a delicate issue, and that he would consult more fully with members of his party executive on how to resolve it. My guess is that Futenma is such political poison that he is hoping in the next few months some progress will be made. Recent moves are bringing everything to a head, and it would be very wise for Hashimoto to say nothing very concrete in this regard.

There are few points of minor controversy here perhaps, but nothing that will greatly scare the general public.

In terms of administrative reform there are a few interesting nuggets.

In terms of education reform, Hashimoto’s pet project in Osaka, he has suggested pushing forward on to the national level with his plan to sack teachers who do not meet basic standards of competence.1 He has also suggested reforming education administrative structures by getting rid of the “Board of Education” (教育委員会) structure. Not surprisingly the Sankei was all over this (j) – anything that hurts those “lefty” teachers must be a good thing. Nevertheless, in my own personal experience the boards of education don’t appear to add much other than bureaucratic difficulty and really function more as place to distinguish (and perhaps, indoctrinate) those teachers who will go on to become elite administrators. The quality of teaching at the lower levels in Japan, especially among the older generation, is in many cases very poor and very few people will shed tears over some of these people being effectively retired early. Nevertheless Hashimoto will need to be careful in this area. While he has advocated for some interesting programs in Osaka, he could lose a lot of support among Japan’s notoriously demanding parents should he try to do too much too quickly in this area. This is perhaps why he has avoided touching on what is really the big problem with the Japanese education system – the all or nothing examination system, with all of the adverse incentives it drives.

In terms of broader governance changes, he has unsurprisingly come out in favour of introducing the 道州制 (doushuusei) which involves the rearrangement of Japan’s prefectures into larger sub-national units. This has been discussed in Japan for quite some time given the perilous fiscal situation of some prefectures, and the inability of some smaller prefectures to do much strategic planning, especially vis-a-vis the bigger political players. This will also be accompanied by a change to the way taxes are collected and distributed from central government to regional governments, likely giving these sub-national units more power of the purse.

One more surprising suggestion is the abolishment of the Upper House. Hashimoto correctly identifies (j) that the sangiin has become a shell of its former self and no longer performs much of a coherent political function. He has also questioned the practice of losers in lower house elections being revived in the subsequent upper house elections and merely reinforcing party partisanship. One wonders however how serious he is about this particular policy. It may be a starting position for the purposes of bargaining with the upper house itself for its own reform should his party have significant success in the lower house. There is also the small matter of the sangiin being specified in the Japanese constitution as, well, essential. To change this it will first of all require a 2/3 vote in favour in BOTH houses, not just the lower house. Already we can see the problem. And while the law is now in place to allow an amendment of the constitution through referendum, the second step in the amendment process, the fact that this step has not been taken before will give any constitutional revision quite a bit of salience and symbolism. If this is attempted then it is very likely that all sorts of “other” constitutional issues will arise and will “need” to be addressed, particularly ones related to Article 9. This will all be very interesting but one wonders if it is a massive distraction from Hashimoto’s overall plan. Reforming the upper house would seem to be a much more sensible, and probably publicly popular. Would the public, despite its desire to see a reduction in government “waste” and spending, really vote for outright abolishing the upper house? After all, in a country the size of Japan having just one house would be quite a political risk, unless any constitutional revision also included the articulation of increased “states rights” (or in this case, doshuu).

Overall, the manifesto is while quite bold, is not particularly controversial.2There will certainly be elements of the public that will be vigorously against some aspects, but a number of the provisions have actually been floating around for a while as topics of discussion for reform. Hashimoto seems to have so far neglected to touch some of the more controversial issue that would almost automatically derail his success. For example, raising the consumption tax or not (Hashimoto has slyly said that this is a topic for discussion after administrative reform), Futenma, and the role of nuclear energy in Japan’s power mix.

The same cannot be said for one of the other parties trying to occupy the “reformist” space in Japan’s politics. The other famous political mini-dynasty in Japan is not doing itself any favours at all. First of all Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro has come out and criticised the idea of having a citizen’s referendum on nuclear energy in Tokyo, dismissing it as “sentimentality.” While the public has been generally forgiving of Ishihara while his statements don’t touch on the issues he is directly responsible for, it will be interesting to see Ishihara dig himself further into a hole on this one in the next few days. For someone who has designs on being in a position of national responsibility, rather than making the trains run on time, this was a very ill-advised statement – being both tin-eared and undemocratic at the same time. He has also come out and stated (j) that his son Ishihara Nobuteru should quit his job as the Secretary General of the LDP given the party is good for nothing. Son will not be pleased with dad, and son’s party will be even less pleased with father and son than they were before. Anyway, we can see why Hashimoto has been keeping his distance from the new conservative party. Hashimoto, like probably many of the reformist members of all parties, including the LDP and DPJ, will let the senior leaderships of their parties, and the likes of Ishihara et al occupy as much of the controversial political space as possible until it becomes clear how things will go down in the lower house election, if and when it does come about.

1 Basically his plan is to rank teachers into 5 groups, and if someone is persistently in the lowest rank then they will be penalized or potentially fired.

2 With the exception of his strange proposal to deny the rich access to pensions despite their paying premiums. This must be a very clumsy attempt to pave the way for discussions about a income-tested pay-as-you-go pension system, which has considerable support among the younger generation and according to my research younger MPs in particular.

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.