Abe’s CSD Report and the Political Agenda

The Advisory Panel on the Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security (安全保障の法的基盤の再構築に関する懇談会; hereafter the “Panel” or kondankai) has delivered its report to Prime Minister Abe and the NSC. The main focus of the report relates to whether the Japanese government can and should allow itself to exercise the right to collective self-defense currently considered by the Japanese government to be a prohibited form of the use of force to settle an international dispute. I have outlined the general approach that might be used to reconfigure the current constitutional interpretation here.

The key thing to remember is that the kondankai’s recommendations do not carry any legal weight as they are essentially a private advisory body to the Prime Minister. Abe himself has said the report will point to the general policy direction that he intends to take, although the final decision on CSD and constitutional reinterpretation will be taken later. The report will serve, however, as a maximal point of reference for where Japan’s security policy and SDF activities might go in the near future.
For now, it seems Abe will use the report to assert that Japan cannot defend itself adequately or contribute to stabilizing the regional security environment without making certain changes to its security policy and current interpretations of Article 9. He will argue that such changes will be essential for Japan to continue to enjoy a stable regional environment, as this will help strengthen the US-Japan alliance and allow Japan to play a greater role in regional deterrence.
While indicating his support for many of the positions taken by the kondankai, the language used by Abe in the press conference after the report was released suggested that the changes proposed by the Panel were not a foregone conclusion. This was likely out of consideration for coalition partner Komeito. Abe also attempted to head off wide-ranging concerns among the public and many political elites about how far the changes would go by ruling out the proposal of the kondankai to allow unlimited Japanese participation in United Nations Security Council-sanctioned collective security actions undertaken by multinational forces seeking to restore international order. Abe also suggested that he would only pursue legislation to enable a partial or limited exercise of Japan’s collective self-defense rights. This is opposed to a reinterpretation that would allow the full embrace of the right to exercise collective self-defense, which could allow Japan to use collective self-defense rationales to justify military interventions such as those that took place in Vietnam and Afghanistan.
Even as he tries to present his reinterpretation plans in a moderate light, there are a few different “veto” points Abe will have to negotiate, however – both political and institutional – before this becomes full government policy.
Politically, Abe is to the right even for this rather right-leaning LDP. There are factions and groups within the LDP, including many in the House of Councillors, that are skeptical of the change, either on procedural and legal grounds (ie can political leaders really just “reinterpret” the constitution without Cabinet Legislative Bureau and/or Supreme Court direction?), or in terms of worries about public opinion and electoral backlash. Many less hawkish LDP members are closer to the Japanese public’s attitude in that they support the expansion of activities that the SDF can undertake, particularly in regards to regional security, but are reluctant for the SDF to be proactively engaged in combat overseas, particularly within another country’s sovereign territory.
This is very similar to attitudes within the New Komeito. In addition to a strong reluctance to see the SDF engage in overseas combat, the added complication with Komeito is that the party has symbolically been opposed to CSD since the party’s inception some 50 years ago. The Komeito’s core political support group, Souka Gakkai, is in particular against the change to this core identity for the party, and the organization has already made an official statement asserting that constitutional revision is required rather than reinterpretation. New Komeito MPs themselves are more pragmatic in the sense that they generally support the US-Japan alliance, and are not necessarily against all of the changes that Abe and the kondankai will propose. But the party really does not want to call whatever these changes will be “collective self-defense,” especially if it means they will run afoul of Souka Gakkai. Abe and his supporters, on the other hand, are highly invested in the historical and strategic symbolism around “collective self-defense,” so a lot of the tension between Abe and the Komeito will be focused as much on the language used in any collective cabinet decision, rather than simply being about what the SDF should be able to do.
Within this political context, two institutional checkpoints are important.
First, Abe is trying to rally Cabinet to sign-off as a whole on a new interpretation. This is harder than it might seem as every member of the cabinet needs to sign-off. Former Komeito leader Ota Akihiro is currently Minister of Transport in the Abe Cabinet. If Ota refuses to put his name to any Cabinet decision and Diet bills, Abe cannot proceed and would be basically forced to expel Ota (this would be similar to what happened between the DPJ and Fukushima Mizuho from the SDP over the Futenma relocation plan). That would obviously have significant implications for the coalition relationship which Abe currently relies upon for a majority in the House of Councillors. While they would be unlikely to oppose Abe directly, senior and influential cabinet ministers such as former LDP leader and Minister of Justice Tanigaki Sadakazu, and Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio, head of the less hawkish Kouchikai (宏池会) faction, are skeptical of Abe’s collective security agenda and may wield some influence inside cabinet.
Also, as much as he might want to, Abe can’t just turf out Komeito in favour of pro-CSD opposition parties with sufficient parliamentary strength to give the LDP a House of Councillors majority, even though this is a mathematical possibility. This is because Komeito essentially gives over their votes to the LDP at election time in Japan’s sometimes very close winner-take-all single member electoral districts, especially in urban areas. This is usually in exchange for the LDP not running LDP members in other seats, thereby allowing the Komeito to increase their seat total over and above what they would otherwise get through proportional representation. This relationship is essential for the maintenance of LDP rule, and LDP elders will be very reluctant to allow Abe to single out other parties in the opposition to replace the Komeito in order to  simply have the words “collective self-defense” emblazoned on the new policy. As it is, with the self-destruction of both Watanabe Yoshimi (Your Party) and Hashimoto Toru (Japan Restoration Party), the LDP now has no long-term prospects for collaboration, and in any respect, neither party can deliver votes in the disciplined and consistent way that the Komeito can. Komeito, itself, of course, will be very reluctant to break up the coalition for the same opportunistic reasons, and Komeito’s leader Yamaguchi Natsuo has already said that he has no intention of doing so. Abe and the LDP, however, would like a collective cabinet decision in the books before the end of the year as the US-Japan Revised Guidelines will be revised again.
Second, even if Abe manages to convince Komeito and Minister of Transport Ota to to sign off on collective self-defense and other proposals put forward by the kondankai, Abe still has to go to through parliament and attempt to make changes to anywhere between 10 and 18 laws, including the SDF Law, the UNPKO Law, the “Areas Around Japan” Law, and the Armed Attack Response Law. The two parties will undoubtedly have to make it through some pretty tough questions from the opposition. The opposition will also likely call in experts beyond those who sat on the Panel, and perhaps even former Cabinet Legislative Bureau officials, to contest the kondankai’s arguments. This might hold the legislative process up, especially if already skeptical public sentiment hardens against the proposed changes (with the electoral consequences that might have down the track). It isn’t impossible that some inside the LDP and Komeito get cold feet at some point, especially if the economy starts to stall, or the TPP or some other policy issue rises to trouble the current administration.
 In terms of the whole process of legislation surrounding the Panel’s recommendations, it could take up to 1 to 2 years more. The 1999 “Areas Around Japan” legislation took about two years to negotiate into legislation after the revised guidelines. Ishiba recently told a Washington audience something very similar could happen in this case. From Abe’s point of view, the longer he leaves things up for debate, though, the more politically tense things will become. This is because any controversy and delay will push the changes closer to elections, potentially leading to added caution within the ruling parties. This year is the sweet spot in the electoral cycle in terms of Abe probably not being penalized too much for unpopular policies. Currently, Abe is still in a politically strong position, and has arguably recovered a bit of lost ground since the Designated Secrets Bill and Yasukuni visit at the end of last year. His popularity does not seem to have been greatly harmed by the consumption tax increase last month, and he may be willing to spend political capital on this issue.
Komeito, on the other hand, wants to delay things as long as possible, as that will enhance its ability to extract concessions and compromises from the Abe government, and, they hope, help them avoid compromising on the more controversial elements related to the exercise of collective self-defense. In 2015, we have unified local elections in the spring, and then the LDP presidential elections later in the year. Then in 2016 we have both Lower and Upper House elections, unless current rumours prove true.
The controversy will be kept under wraps for a while longer yet, however. A meeting between the top executives of both the LDP and Komeito will take place on the 20th to discuss how to proceed on “gray zone” issues, relaxing some restrictions on SDF participation and the use of weapons to protect other countries’ militaries and citizens in UNPKOs and other joint operations, and perhaps legislation allowing the SDF to undertake operations to remove Japanese citizens from dangerous areas, as raised by the kondankai.  Discussions behind the scenes on the most controversial live issue of collective self-defense will also be started. What the Panel has to say about the exercise of collective self-defense, and its relation to the debate over its implementation, will be covered here as it becomes more salient over the next few months. For now, below is a brief discussion of the two broader issues of gray zone contingencies and the use of weapons in non-international conflict situations that the LDP and Komeito have already agreed to prioritize in order to essentially keep the political peace for the time being.
Gray Zone Contingencies 
Up until now the SDF has been highly restricted legally in regards to its ability to apply pressure through the threat of, or the use of weapons, even within Japan’s own territory, unless there is a direct and imminent “armed attack” on Japan underway and there is a government mobilization order (such as Defense Mobilization, Maritime Security Operations, or Public Security Operations Orders). There are no provisions that allow the SDF to immediately react to situations which may sit within the “gray zone” between peace and an “armed attack,” currently defined as an “organised and planned use of force against Japan.” The panel in particular has identified illegal and non-innocent submarine incursions into Japan’s territory, attacks on nuclear power facilities, as well as surreptitious paramilitary or guerrilla “invasion” of the remote islands (ie the Senkakus) for the purposes of exerting control over the islands, as three particular issues of concern. The argument is that such aggressive infringements, which could have implications for the security of Japan in addition to being infringements of domestic law, or could represent preludes to an organised armed attack, could best be handled through SDF deployment, rather than relying on the Japan Coast Guard and police through “law enforcement powers,” as has been the legal requirement up until now.
The political debate over better addressing such gray zone contingencies is generally uncontroversial. It was first mentioned in the 2010 NDPG released by the DPJ government as requiring addressing, and both the LDP and the Komeito appear to support adjustments to legislation.

The use of weapons in situations not considered the use of force

The kondankai identified two general situations, not considered to be the use of force in international law, within which the government has said it will consider relaxing restrictions on the use of weapons.

  1. 駆けつけ警護 (kaketsuke-keigo), removing obstructions to missions, protecting civilians

Currently the SDF is generally only allowed to use weapons in UNPKO missions to protect themselves and foreign civilian and military personnel under their direct supervision. 駆けつけ警護 (kaketsuke-keigo) missions, however, are emergency aid and protection operations that may involve the use of weapons to come to the aid of geographically distant unit under attack or personnel participating in the same UNPKO. Such personnel could include members of foreign militaries, members of NGOs or IOs or other cooperating civilians. The current constitutional interpretation regards such operations to possibly constitute a form of prohibited use of force overseas if the concerned personnel are being held or attacked by a quasi-national or state organization.

The Panel, however, argues that no other nation interprets the “use of weapons” within the context of the international standards set down for UNPKOs (which are generally post-conflict in nature) as being equivalent to the use of force, irrespective of whether the hostile party is a disorganized criminal group, a guerilla force, or a quasi-state organization. Furthermore, the panel argues that as UNPKOs are supposed to be carried out with impartiality, with the consent of the main parties to any conflict, and subsequent to a de facto ceasefire, any legal use of weapons within such missions to protect other civilian and military members of a UNPKO, or civilians in general in a sudden breakdown of peace, should not be considered the constitutionally prohibited “use of force to settle an international dispute.”

Based on similar logic, the panel also suggests that the SDF be allowed to, based on the rules of engagements and standards set down for UNPKOs, remove obstructions to UNPKO missions, and also to allow protection of civilians and the maintenance of security within the context of UNPKOs taking place in fragile states.

In addition to cooperation on gray zone contingencies, the Komeito appears in the last few days to have agreed to allow some relaxation of the use of weapons within UNPKOs might be justified since they believe public opinion is accepting of the use of weapons in such limited cases.

2. Protection and Rescue of Japanese Nationals Abroad

Citing the 2013 Algerian terrorist incident, the kondankai has also suggested the need to allow, within the limits prescribed by international law, for the SDF to come to the rescue and protect Japanese nationals abroad and, if necessary, use weapons to accomplish their missions beyond simple self-preservation. Until this incident the Japanese government had limited ability to dispatch the SDF to allow the protection of Japanese citizens abroad. The kondankai suggests that this is not sufficient and the SDF should be given greater powers. The panel argues that under international law the protection and rescue of nationals abroad is permitted if consent is given by the territorial state, therefore making them “efforts to supplement or substitute security activities of the territorial state.” They also argue that international norms, and previous statements by the Japanese government on these norms, allow the dispatch of military personnel to protect their nationals when another state does not have the will or capacity to protect them against severe attacks on foreign nationals, and could be considered the exercise of self-defense as the responsibility of the state.

The LDP and Komeito coalition will make these issues the top priority for collaboration in the new Diet session in the second half of 2014. It will be subsequent to this, likely in the autumn, that the debate over collective self-defense will heat up between the LDP and Komeito, although deliberations will start in the House of Councillors this month, as is the House of Councillors wont.

Pinning Down the LDP

What does the DPJ, and/or the opposition in general, need to do before the House of Councillors elections in the second half of the year to either have a chance of preventing the LDP gaining a majority in both houses, or, at least make it difficult for the LDP post-election to do as it wishes, potentially to the detriment of the nation?

Abe is off to a good start in terms of managing the narrative about his second stint in the PM’s chair, without having really done all that much, domestically at least. At least for now it appears that he has reversed the recent (or is it?) trend of prime ministers careening downhill in support ratings from day one (with only minor recoveries) in charge, although that may be a function of very low expectations, pessimism, and psycho-political exhaustion on the part of the Japanese citizenry. From the DPJ’s point of view, despite being punished and chastened, it is doing even worse in public opinion polls, which will likely lead to another thrashing in the July House of Councillors elections. The DPJ will have to be rather careful about the particular fights it picks, and arguably will need to cooperate on certain policy and legislative programs to gain any visibility. Being seen to be obstructive while Abe is on the upswing is, after the last two experiences of both obstructionist DPJ and LDP oppositions is going to test the public’s patience. At the very least, from the public’s point of view, the DPJ could assist in implementing policy in opposition, something which it failed to do, for reasons for which it is equally culpable, while in government.

However, the DPJ and others will be very aware that the LDP will try and only deal with the easy and/or the “popular” policy issues, or issues that make it look like it is being constructive (in contrast to the Tanigaki era), while trying to keep internal peace within the party and within the LDP-Komeito coalition until at least after 2013 HoC elections, something that the DPJ failed to do in the lead up to the 2010 HoC elections in terms of its issue selection and party management. The opposition will need to complicate this picture as much as possible, even if to save the country from a potentially rather extreme agenda.

The Abe administration has been evasive on a number of issues. Abe himself has only been prominent in foreign policy and has tightly controlled information and is managing access to  his person so as to avoid as much controversy as possible. So far his cabinet appears to have been reasonably disciplined in terms of (not making) gaffes. While Abe and his conservative proxies have sent out a number of signals regarding the more nationalist aspects of the agenda, Abe and top government officials have been saying very little about what Abe may or may not exactly do in regards to issues like changing the constitution and/or revising the constitutional ban on collective-self defense, and relooking at some of the issues and statement regarding Japan’s wartime behaviour.

The goal for the DPJ in particular will thus be to pin the Abe administration down on a variety of issues and ensure that it actually has to at least make clear statements about what it is going to do post-HoC election in terms of:

1) The TPP.

The administration has indicated that they will put off a decision until after the HoC election. It may be that the LDP is expecting that there will be realization that the TPP is too optimistic and that, after all, some “exceptions” will become allowable. There is a general sense that  2013 will probably be the last year where the different sides attempt to negotiate the most aspirational/ideal form of the TPP. Even alliance managers in DC have noted that it is unlikely the US itself will strike a free trade deal with no exceptions. Japan and the LDP will likely be ready to join if this realization does indeed come about. From the opposition’s point of view, however, letting the LDP have its own way in this regard is far too easy, especially given how much agony the DPJ suffered even just talking about maybe, possibly, joining the talks.* Pro- and anti-TPP forces will attempt to push Abe on this issue closer to the House of Councillors elections, even if just to stir dissent within the LDP itself.

2) House of Representatives Electoral Reform.

Abe made a promise to Noda when Noda called the election late last year that more thorough electoral reform would be considered in the next Diet session. Much like with Noda’s promise to hold an election “soon” around negotiations with the LDP and Komeito on consumption tax, the opposition will need to make this an issue of honesty and probity of the new government. If Abe takes up this promise AFTER the House of Councillors election, and after a majority has been secured in both houses, then it hardly needs to be said that the outcome is going to be very bleak for opposition government for some time in Japan.

3) The Murayama and Kono Statements, and the Yasukuni Shrine visit.

This is a really important issue that the DPJ in particular just cannot let the administration get away from in terms of committing decisively one way or another. Arguably this is not just to complicate things within the LDP itself, and to make the issue difficult for the Abe administration by putting some much needed daylight between the general public and the noisy revisionist base, but should be addressed as an issue of vital national importance. Japan’s competition for various nations’ affections, both in and outside Asia is going remarkably well while China is starting to make people, even former moderates and sympathizers in the region and beyond, more uncomfortable. A replacement in any way of either of the two statements, the Murayama one in particular, will eliminate almost all gains almost instantly. My personal theory is that the current talk about the various statements represents a form of “dog whistle” politics purposefully undertaken while the public is distracted during new years and by talk over “Abenomics” and the economy, that will not end up coming to anything substantial. This, other things being equal, should be mainly because Abe surely (?!) knows how bad such acts would be for Japan’s relationships with the very countries that are critical to its national interests, including his own foreign policy agenda. It may be that, irrespective of how much Abe himself would like to give this group what it wants, he will string the revisionist base a long for the meantime and give them hope – after all, who else but Abe and this particular cabinet would help them realize their dreams of “restoring Japanese pride” or whatever it is that they believe is so vital.  The issue for Abe is that the public will likely give Abe some leeway to address other issues for a period of time, but this will not last. And it would be unforgivable for the opposition to let the issue of absolute commitment (or otherwise) to the two statements slide before the July election, especially if I am wrong in terms of my personal theory. As for making an issue of a potential Abe visit to Yasukuni Jinja after the July election, this may have to depend on future events. It is likely that the direct fallout either way in the current environment domestically will be negligible, unless Abe jeopardizes an improvement in relations with China by visiting the shrine. If relations are still tense, and Chinese boats in and around the Senkakus come August, then the public may be rather unaccommodating in terms of concerning themselves with Chinese criticism on this issue. The implications for foreign policy management will be somewhat more challenging, of course, and may indirectly hurt Abe both at home and abroad, although not as bad as revision of the Murayama and Kono statements would be.

4) Constitutional Change, Security Policy, and Emergency Response.

This is a potentially complicated one for the opposition. There are first of all, actually areas of overlap in terms of what the various political groups would like to see in terms of changes to Japan’s security policy – as the Algerian disaster unfolds with a very likely high number of Japanese fatalities, this may further push the various groups together. This is one area where striking an inherently antagonistic pose to the LDP and Abe’s agenda may backfire, especially if he builds political capital through a successful, even if short-term, economic recovery and/or the implementation of a coherent (even if mistaken) economic plan and growth strategy. In order to moderate perhaps some of the more unwise elements of the agenda, the opposition may have to commit to working with the government in a proactive way and attempt to build a consensus around security policy and a timetable for constitutional revision, by embracing a process that appeals to the public in terms of it being sufficiently deliberative and not rushed, and moderate (AKA legitimate, cf. “constitutional reinterpretation”). It may be wise for the DPJ to get out ahead of the LDP and the public, which has, and may even more so, become more hawkish (but not necessarily “militaristic”) in 2013 regarding regional security. This is of course notwithstanding an unlikely turnaround in the Chinese approach to East Asia in general, and the policy of challenging Japan’s effective control over the Senkaku Islands in particular. I suspect here the key is to restrain, not to obstruct. While the Diet already has its own process for looking at the constitution and revision, it appears that it is treading water. Perhaps the DPJ should take the initiative prior to the election but with sufficient time for the LDP to commit or reject, and propose a multi-partisan commission of some sort that will also solicit the views of the public and other stakeholders. The Komeito (who really actually doesn’t want the LDP to do too well in July, but can’t really say so out loud) may be sufficiently concerned with its LDP coalition partner and could be open to backing such a proposal. If Ishihara can be sidelined even further in favour of Hashimoto et al, then the JRP may also be amenable to such a proposal as it would likely give them more visibility and not let the LDP have its way in terms of making the running around security issues within that proportion of the public interested in a stronger security policy.

One of the advantages of Noda’s “early” call for the election is that 7 months is sufficient time to allow the public to get to know the Abe administration, 2.0. If the public is still not one hundred percent sure of what Abe might do on some very important and consequential issues come July, they may be very reluctant to turn over both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors to the administration for potentially up to three years without a clear policy program. It is only fair to the public for the opposition to at some point start asking the right questions and to be relentless in doing so, but by also being constructive at the same time.

* One remembers that when Maehara Seiji, early on in the TPP talks during the DPJ era, came out and suggested that ultimately if the TPP was going to work against Japan’s national interests that Japan could, and should, withdraw from negotiations. Maehara was of course, 100 percent correct, even if saying so was very unwise. And indeed it was unwise – the DPJ and Maehara was assailed for being “naive” and “inappropriate” and all other manner of things. Perhaps fairly so. Nevertheless, fast forward two to three years and a top level LDP official said pretty much the same thing – to thunderous silence and a deafening lack of concern within the media.

Perspective on Japan from a Japanese Expert on the US

After an enforced holiday up in the Far North of New Zealand – a wonderful part of the world as I now know – and in the process of catching up on various events I want to point towards the second truly useful and insightful contribution (first being Professor Curtis’) from Shelia Smith’s overall excellent “Is Japan in Decline?”  series of articles at the CFR, this time from Toshihiro Nakayama. Again, in addition to reading the whole thing, two particular paragraphs are worthy of emphasis from this honest, and refreshingly neither reflexively defensive nor absurdly critical evaluation of what is happening in Japan at the moment in terms of the political discourse.

After describing the general sense of malaise in Japan of arguably the last twenty years (or if you like, the last 6 years and, frankly, the last 6 weeks respectively), Nakayama straightforwardly notes:

So, this is where we are in Japan at the moment. But is this sort of confusion a bad thing? Of course it is, if it continues forever. But democracy is also a system of managed confusion. We at least know we are confused. We may not have—or find—a single tidy answer, but if we can boil it down to several potential answers to the question of Japan’s identity as a nation, we may actually have a substantial debate. People are talking. The Twitterverse is filled with tweets on the issue. I believe that the implicit ban on nationalist discourse has disappeared, and that this is healthy. We are now free to choose who we as a nation want to be.

And then puts in straightforward terms what perhaps should already be obvious, but seldom is in the policy and academic echo chamber:

So my reply to my friends in America is, get used to our debate over who we are, and don’t overreact to it. Don’t pick up only one part of the noise in our debates and amplify it. This conversation will continue for some time. We know we don’t have much time to make our choices. We can come out strong from this state of confusion with a sense of purpose or not, but the choice is ours to make.

 

 

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?

Will Your Party-Japan Restoration Party Discord Swing the Election to the LDP?

The overlapping of Single Member Districts between Your Party and the JRP continues. As of late yesterday the two parties have fielded candidates in 18 of the same SMDs (日), including, somewhat inexplicably, overlap in 5 Kanagawa districts and 7 Tokyo districts. These districts would be ones ripe for the picking of a united third party, as Tokyo and Kanagawa have swung decisively towards the party with a reform mantra in previous years (such as Koizumi in 2005, and DPJ in 2009). The LDP will be most happy as apart the two parties will gain a lower share of the vote than they would united, liking tipping these districts to the LDP unless the public perceives that one of them (likely Your Party’s candidate in this case) is not worth voting for. It would seem the two sides are in a potentially disastrous game of chicken, although not yet close to being beyond salvage.

Interestingly, the perception in Your Party is that the JRP is speaking of collaboration but is really out to overwhelm Your Party nationally and regionally, thus making a “third pole” vote for the JRP a fait accompli by election day.  There is likely truth in this.

However this might be a little self-indulgent on Your Party’s part. The explicit reason why a deal has not been done is because the JRP rejected the “Your Party in the East, JRP in the West” division of labour proposed by YP. The problem is that the YP was always going to be the junior partner and an inability to comprehend that suggests that Watanabe Yoshimi’s ego may well be the biggest, and certainly the most fragile, of the three main third pole protagonists (as noted on this blog many times). The JRP ultimately has wider appeal, due to personnel, but also because, while reform-orientated, the JRP agenda is more pragmatic with distinctly non neo-liberal elements mixed in with the more obviously neo-liberal reform proposals. This fits with the Japanese public who want to see smaller government in certain places (construction, bureaucracy), but are not particularly doctrinaire about the small v large government issue. Furthermore, as Osaka Governor and JRP executive Matsui was right to note (and has again been emphasised on this blog on a few occassions), Watanabe’s political judgement deserves to be questioned given the complete and utter lack of accomplishments over the last three years by Your Party. This is despite being in the position to actually influence proceedings through a crucial number of Diet members in the House of Councillors (at least before the DPJ started shedding numbers). A pragmatic, intelligent leader would have reached across the aisle and perhaps made even one or two deals- for example an acceptable reform by the DPJ in exchange for a YP core reform. That this did not happen and Watanabe essentially whinged for three years, while taking occassionally witty potshots at the DPJ (while being unable to take them in return!), suggests that perhaps indeed Hashimoto and Matsui have the better political judgement in terms of staying aloof from YP. After all, Your Party’s support seems to have dipped over time rather than increased despite the ample number of non-committed/independent voters in Japan that may have been attracted to an independent party (between 50-65 percent depending on the poll). Ultimately, Your Party was unable to distinguish itself from the LDP in any meaningful way despite pretensions to do so (and probably also unable to get over the PR fail that is the Your Party moniker).

In fact, arguably Your Party’s existence, perhaps ironically, is owed to Noda. Only a matter of a month or so ago Your Party had suffered defections and there was internal disharmony around Watanabe’s leadership. It seemed that in the long-term Your Party would continue to bleed all their remaining support to whatever movement Hashimoto was trying to build over time. Without Noda calling a snap election then Hashimoto et al may well have had more time to build a nation-wide political machine without relying on the support of Your Party, or for that matter, Ishihara. Noda’s call essentially revived Your Party and forced Hashimoto to reconsider an alliance with the Watanabe et al.*

Nevertheless, while the JRP may be justified in thinking it has the upper hand, they still need to be smart. As I argued in the previous post, it is not so much about how many seats the JRP can get vis-a-vis the DPJ, and for that matter, Your Party, but what impact third pole parties will have on the likelihood of a LDP-Komeito coalition gaining the majority. With 300 SMD seats up for grabs, and the DPJ unlikely to get much more than 100 of them (at best), then there is still plenty of scope for the LDP, as a default, to gain the 150 or so SMD seats required to gain a majority, even if Abe Shinzo fails to inspire.

Perhaps more important than anything, is the media perception. The media is following closely the Watanabe-Hashimoto collaboration story, and while it has emphasized their cooperation (such as campaigning together and drawing a 1000 person crowd), it will also seize ruthlessly on any appearance of discord. Arguably it already is. Even if there is less than meets the eye in terms of conflict between YP and JRP, the Japanese media, as it is wont to do, will focus on the personal politics,  emphasize the petty aspects, and the conflict. That could will well give the public second thoughts about a vote for a third pole party.

*Noda would have seen that the third parties were vulnerable and calculated that now was the time to strike with dissension in the ranks. Where Noda miscalculated was that Ishihara and Hahsimoto would be pragmatic enough to join forces with each other and compromise on issues such as nuclear power and the TPP.

What Can Ishihara and Hashimoto do Together?

Two of the biggest egos in Japanese politics have found some room for compromise  (日) after weeks of dancing around the issue of working together. Ishihara Shintaro has recognized that Hashimoto Toru’s Nippon Ishin no Kai has the better political brand positioning and has decided to fold his party into Hashimoto’s for the upcoming election. However, Hashimoto has allowed Ishihara to take the lead (for now) and relegated himself to second position in the new collaboration’s set up. They have also managed to put behind them a few policy major differences and have announced a somewhat clear (relatively speaking) memorandum of agreement on what the party would actually initially focus on if it was in the position to affect the passage of legislation/policy-making in the next Diet.

What is notable is a failure to mention constitutional change. This is probably smart, as while no one will be confused regarding either man’s general orientation towards foreign affairs, issues of constitutional change, education and nationalism, and security policy, are things that the Japanese public has consistently indicated in polls are secondary to fixing the domestic political system, the economy, and other pressing social issues. The order of addressing these issues is important to the public, and it would seem that Abe and the conservative wing of the LDP are forgetting (日) this already.*

The document the two sides produced is reasonably short – a rough summary follows:

【1】 Breaking down the centralization of power

Establish a new tax collection system with increased local government responsibility for collection and deciding on its use- the consumption tax, to be increased to 11 percent, will dedicate five percent for fixed government financing and six percent for shared local government finances

【2】 Begin discussions around the doushuusei (a psuedo-federal) system for organizing regional governance

【3】 Initiate policies for the creation of an economy focused on successful small, medium and micro-business enterprise.

【4】 For funding the social security system, introduce appropriate insurance premiums, revise payment conditions, and remake the personal and asset taxation system.

【5】 Look towards participating in the TPP but in discussions ensure that the national interest is not harmed. [A well needed corrective, probably forced upon Hashimoto by Ishihara] In addition there is a need to introduce policies to enhance the competitiveness of the agricultural sector.

【6】 Establishment of a new energy distribution system

With regards to nuclear power, there needs to be (1)Construction of [new] rules regarding(a)safety standards(b)a new safety assurance system (c)processing of spent nuclear fuel(d)identification of responsibility; and(2)Liberalization of the energy sector [away from the regional monopoly system]

【7】 Regarding the Senkaku Islands dispute, push for China to go to the International Court of Justice to resolve the issue. If a case is brought against Japan by China, then Japan should respond in kind.

【8】 Ban party and Diet member donations from businesses and associations. Expand system for encouraging individual donations. As a transitional measure, have an upper limit for donations by businesses and associations

Afterword: The above list of objectives is a reasonably pragmatic, and frankly well needed, simplification of the various ideas floating around between the “third pole” parties. Perhaps Hashimoto in particular has realized that there were too many question marks over what he and his group would do with any power given to them by the citizens. It is also a response to recent criticism by both the LDP and DPJ who have suggested that deals made by the various small parties would be nothing more than “unholy alliances” (an ironic criticism to say the least). In any respect, the aggregated support rate for the various third pole parties (including Your Party and Tax Reducation Japan) still sits under ten percent depending on the opinion poll. A failure to improve on that figure, as well as to pool resources and field candidates in various SMD districts around the whole country, will not only curtail Ishihara and Hashimoto’s long-term ambitions by diluting their leverage, but given the electoral math,** would likely result in the LDP and Komeito coalition securing a majority on December 16th, thereby making the song and dance about the need for a “third pole” moot.

* The proposal is to remove the clause in the textbook certification process that requires consideration of the historic relationship with neighbouring countries. In fact they want to overhaul the whole system of textbook certification and design process, with its “masochistic tendencies,” as a way of making children appreciate ‘traditional Japanese culture’ and to regenerate the Japanese education system. Because that is obviously the main and most pressing problem with the Japanese education system…

** A subject for a post perhaps later next week if some useful opinion polls come out.

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.

 

The DPJ Submits the Electoral Reform Bill (and Noda Adds a Twist)

The DPJ submitted (日) the electoral reform bill to the House of Representatives today. It is apparently the same as the bill that was rejected in the last Diet session. This is the one where the single member district seats are reduced from 300 to 295, with the reductions coming in the least populated prefectures. The PR seats are to be reduced from 180 to 140, with 35 of those seats being apportioned in a way favourable to the smaller parties.

However, Noda has stirred things up by saying (日) in Diet question time that a 2012 election (or as the reports mentioned, a dissolution of the Diet on the 16th – meaning Friday!) is a distinct possibility if the LDP and Komeito pass the electoral reform bill (edit/correction: and promises (日) to cooperate on passing a bill reducing the number of HoR seats and cuts Diet member expenses by 20 percent in the next Diet session).

This puts the pressure on Abe for the time being and maybe buys Noda a little more time on the TPP- does Abe want the PM’s job so much that he will give the DPJ a minor victory just before the election? A victory that could allow them to go into an election arguing that they passed a new tax but also cut the salaries of bureaucrats, and extracted a promise that will result in the reduction of discretionary spending of Diet members, and also cuts the number of HoR members in (symbolic) recognition of the burden placed on citizens.* Along with a commitment to the TPP this would appear to be the narrative Noda would want to promote.

He may succeed not only because of the LDP’s and Komeito’s eagerness to get back into government but also because they may all be collectively mindful of the impact “third-pole” parties, currently amassing their troops, may have if the election is put off too much longer. Indeed it would seem that the three main parties are anticipating some kind of post-election collaboration as the DPJ, LDP and Komeito have come to an agreement on the rules for passing the issuance of deficit covering bonds until 2015, for the ostensible purpose of avoiding subsequent governments being held “hostage” to the issue of government finances. This has essentially been an issue since 2007 when the ‘twisted Diet’ became a regular feature of Japanese politics.

Nevertheless, the next move would seem to be Abe’s on the electoral bill** – there are signs that the LDP may be open (日) – then followed perhaps by a decision on the TPP by Noda going in to the Cambodia East Asia Summit meeting.

*”身を切る改革”

Edit: It seems that while Jiji reported that the DPJ submitted an electoral reform bill with both the constitutional correction and PR reduction elements, it seems the focus is on whether the LDP and Komeito will “promise” to have discussions (and eventually pass a bill) over reducing the PR and overall number of seats in the House of Representatives during next year’s Diet session (as well as reducing by 20 percent Diet member expenses)- after an election. (ie deal with the constitutional issue now but allow Noda to say he extracted promises regarding reducing the financial burden of Japan’s HoR)

Further Edit: The Yomiuri suggests (日) that although the constitutional correction may be passed the election will be held under the current demarcation. It is less than clear whether this 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 electoral reform later according to post-debate announcements. So it seems likely that we will have an election on December 9th or December 16th.

A Crucial Two Days for the DPJ

Apparently Noda had a discussion with Koshiishi Azuma last evening where he informed (日) the DPJ secretary-general of his plan for holding a TPP-focused election after the three bills (budget financing, electoral reform, social security commission) have been passed. Koshiishi, as the party-government go-between pushed back on both the idea of having an election soon and Japan entering the TPP given it would have implications for party unity. As mentioned in the previous post, this might not actually concern Noda.

Nevertheless, as MTC suggests, it may still be too early to get excited. My instinct is that this is real, if for no other reason certain statements by Noda and others sound close to electioneering, (日) but Wednesday should be informative in this respect. Perhaps more important than what Noda says during the November 14th party leaders’ debate is what kind of bill the DPJ submits to rectify the vote disparity. If, as is demanded by the LDP and Komeito, the issue of rectifying the vote disparity is separated from the issue of reducing the number of House of Represenatives PR seats, then this would indicate that Noda is likely to follow through on the strategy. If the DPJ submits a bill that both rectifies the vote disparity and reduces the number of PR seats in the HoR then this is a sign that Noda is still concerned with managing party unity (or has no other choice) and the political situation will remain stagnant. The other parties will likely not play ball and Diet discussions will likely drag on as disagreements over the bill continue. This is certainly what some in the DPJ, and others in the smaller parties, wish to see anyhow.

If it is the former then we can expect the LDP and Komeito to pass the bill rather quickly through both houses. Abe, who seemingly can’t wait to get back into the PM chair, has suggested that even a 24th December election is permissible. Seemingly this would be before any quick and dirty redistricting took place. A late November passing of an electoral reform bill where only five seats have to be adjusted could perhaps allow for a rather truncated and less precise redistricting process to be undertaken in time for a January election.

The timing regarding Noda calling an election/declaring entry into the TPP and when an election is held may well be a critical piece of the political puzzle. If Noda declares entry into the TPP during the Diet session (due to end November 30, but could be extended) then this raises the possibility of a HoR no-confidence vote by anti-TPP figures in his own party as well as those in other parties. If  either of these two calls take place after the Diet session ends then another intriguing issue then becomes whether Noda can actually make it to the election. Will there be enough time for disgruntled DPJers to campaign to remove him? Are there enough such members still left in the party? Will they leave without even trying? Is Noda actually committed to leading the DPJ into the next election and willing to stand aside for perhaps Hosono who has been getting much more media attention (日)* lately (both good and bad)?

Speculation on this may be able to start to take place on Wednesday, if we are mercifully lucky.

* Hosono in today’s HoR Budget Committee took aim at the issue of hereditary Diet members and the potential for nationalistic posturing by the LDP and Ishihara to cause trouble in and for Japan. Hosono also described Noda’s concept of a “healthy” nationalism being necessarily as potentially over optimistic. This may well have been a swipe at Noda as described by Jiji, but it may also be a sign that Hosono is on board with the idea of centering the DPJ as a non-conservative alternative to the ‘right-ward shift’ that Japan is apparently undergoing.

The TPP into the DPJ Manifesto?

The TPP/general political news is coming thick and fast today. After having heavily edited my previous post after first publishing it (may require a reread – apologies) Noda in making his way to Fukuoka to tout the DPJ’s achievements in government has seemingly raised the stakes by suggesting (日) that the DPJ would indeed put both the TPP, and the ASEAN plus 6 Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in its manifesto for the next election. Noda may have shown a taste of what kind of “centrism” he may show – today’s Fukuoka trip (日), looking like an early start to the campaign, was constructed to focus on Noda’s interaction with Japan’s important, successful, but unheralded SMEs, including with young entrepreneurs. *

Who needs the Keidanren?

*While cruising the wonderful Hakata area, Noda purchased two inscribed hats, one reading “responsibility for tomorrow” and another reading “decisive politics/politics that decides” (「明日への責任」and「決断する政治」). Hard to avoid the feeling the election season is indeed about to start.