Preliminary Results from the LDP Presidential Election: Ishiba Triumphs…in the regional chapters

As of 12.45 Japan time the counting of the LDP presidential contest’s regional chapter votes continues (日). Ishiba has acquired 157, Abe 84, and Ishihara 34.There is only 16 left to apportion. So this means even before they move to the LDP Diet members voting portion of the first round (in an hour or so), this is going to be a two-horse race.

The question now becomes whether those who would have Ishiba (or Abe) as their second choice after Ishihara, Machimura, and Hayashi, are going to switch their votes to him now or only vote for their man in the run-off. Ishiba will probably need about 85 votes to avoid a run-off. If he doesn’t it could bode very badly for Ishiba in a run-off vote, where there is a possibility that for the first time in 56 years the second place getter in the first round will defeat the first place getter in the run-off. The decisiveness of Ishiba “popular vote” victory, gaining over half of the 300 regional votes for himself, (and especially considering there was 5 people in the race), would for all common sense mitigate against such an outcome. But, factionalism could still rear its head in the LDP. This morning there was much talk about this being the last chance for renewal for the LDP. While I have my doubts if Ishiba will represent renewal as such, an Abe victory, when seen in the view of the regional chapter votes and his own biography, would certainly suggest that the last chance for renewal has definitely been missed.

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.

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.