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. 

The DPJ’s Third TPP Attempt? (Edited)

President Putin was unable (日) to juggle his schedule and his aides had become concerned about his “condition.” A December meeting between Putin and Noda was suddenly put off until January at the earliest. Noda was apparently also concerned about how the Russia meeting was going to affect plans to deal with the domestic political situation.

Probably. It is also likely a sign that negotiations are not progressing as well as had been hoped.

Either way, an important date was cleared from Noda’s December schedule, begging some questions regarding his strategy around calling an election.

Wasting no time, it was also revealed that Noda was now considering calling an election after all. Of course this is after having cowed the opposition into doing what they were always going to do anyway – agree to pass the budget financing bills – and got the bleating about the need to call an election stopped for one day (日). It seems that Noda has decided that the time is right to consider (after caving (日) in on the bill that would superficially fix the lower house vote disparity) dissolving the lower house in late November/December (election then likely to actually take place in January).

There has been talk in the last week of the DPJ actually already engaging in preparation/constructing an “environment” friendly for calling an election. The DPJ is going around the country over the next week to talk (日) to the public about what they have actually achieved in the last three years. Articles appeared in newspapers calling for “fresh ideas” as an implicit form of apology for the DPJ not having lived up to the manifesto and reform expectations. The party has identified that it needs to run in the election as the centrist party option and sole remaining bulwark against the “conservative” forces of Abe’s LDP, Ishihara and Hashimoto. And Noda has now dangled (日) in front of the media the idea that the nation will officially enter TPP negotiations, seemingly more plausible now that Obama has been reelected (meaning he can discuss sensitive issues regarding Japan and the TPP without worrying about the impact on key battleground states like Ohio, Michigan, etc).

The strategy, according to media reports (日), is for Noda to commit Japan to enter the TPP, and then soon after that call an election.

Let’s be sure of a couple of things.

First, Japan announcing that it will enter negotiations may not result in much progress actually being made. Whether Obama can realistically hold back US auto industry demands for “prior concessions,” which makes it close to impossible for Japan to enter the TPP, is less than clear and will require leadership/bravery on his part. In fact one source (日) suggests that the US has no intention on going back on the requirement for “prior concessions” due to the importance the Obama administration has placed on saving the auto industry in his policies and then in his campaign rhetoric against Romney. Japan will also still need to get the agreement of all of the other nations involved before actually entering negotiations. Also, now with Canada involved, which has its own protectionist interests in the agricultural sector, gaining this permission to enter negotiations is going to get somewhat harder. Obama will also have to think carefully about how discussions about Japan joining the TPP will affect any attempt to gain “fast-track” authorization for the TPP negotiations from Congress, which is a subject than cannot be put off for too long – although the slow progress, and apparently deadlocked negotiations, may provide some breathing room in terms of urgency.

Second, it may ultimately not save Noda. The LDP will likely still gain the highest number of seats in the next election. But such a strategy could have an interesting impact upon the way an election, and its immediate aftermath, unfolds, that could benefit some in the DPJ.

First, depending on the order of events, it may well enhance Noda’s ability to construct a truly “centrist” party in terms of both narrative and personnel management. Either the remaining anti-TPP advocates (日) in the DPJ will have to leave before an election will be held, or vote along with the LDP on a no-confidence motion regarding the TPP (if announced before the end of the current Diet session on November 30), which will result in the same outcome.  One less problem (日) for Noda, and he can reward those reformist, pro-TPP loyalists, with a more likely chance of being reelected.  It could even be a “less is more” outcome as a DPJ unencumbered by worrying about alienating certain interests may perversely be more electable.

If these anti-TPP DPJ members (along with – or initiated by – Ozawa’s separatists) specifically sponsor a no-confidence motion for the purposes of assailing Noda on the TPP, then the LDP will have to be careful to manage the atmospherics around this. The LDP will have to condemn Noda for making such an important, but “illegitimate” decision without consultation just before an election he had already promised to call “soon.” But the LDP will also have to articulate their own view on the TPP for electoral consumption. If Noda calls an election without even waiting for the no-confidence motion (or calls it after November 30), thereby turning the election into one about the TPP, which Abe himself is against, this to be sure will not gain the DPJ anything close to a majority, and will probably not save Noda…but it could still play well enough in public to give the DPJ a chance to gain more than they would likely right at this moment, based on this new, more coherent and “centrist” branding. With the consumption tax and the entering of TPP negotiations under his belt Noda may well be able to pick up a few votes due to an emphasis on “decisive politics” ( or “politics that can decide” if you like), no matter how unpopular the policies may be (also if Noda holds strong and calls the election “when he wants to”, this will only enhance this narrative).

As noted it will force Abe et al to make a decisive statement themselves. If they also come out in favor of the TPP then they jeopardize their ability to retake the rural seats that the DPJ managed to divert  from the LDP in 2009 and will almost certainly lose as they did in the 2010 House of Councillors election. Abe will also be mindful of under-performing in an election given that he was not even his party’s no.1 choice in the first place.  I would put my money on an anti-TPP line prevailing especially given Abe’s preexisting proclivities. If they do come out against the TPP  they will have to make a decision on just what they will do with Noda’s TPP “present” if they get back into government.

Perhaps along with the nuclear power issue, this may be the DPJ’s equivalent of the Futenma ‘leadership opportunity’ which the LDP lovingly left the DPJ to deal with along with their conflicted coalition partners in 2009. If Abe and the LDP still gain the largest number of seats in a TPP-centered election (with the LDP on one side and the DPJ on the other), and has to forge a working relationship with the likes of Hashimoto, Watanabe, and Ishihara (who all have various opinions on the TPP), then this could be a ticking time bomb that could destroy an Abe administration. Even if somehow Abe manages to avoid this and his minority government manages to preserve a likely anti-TPP line, then (as Noda has already committed Japan to negotiations) this will require Abe, one of the DC establishment’s favorite sons, to burn a few bridges. Either the Abe administration will have to drag its feet on the TPP with the long-term intention of failing, or it will have to decisively pull out of negotiations. Either option will likely greatly complicate Abe’s management of its relationship with the US, and will also likely hurt him greatly at home where there is an even split in regards to whether Japan should join TPP negotiations or not. Abe may just as quickly lose the Keidanren’s endorsement that was picked up after his election to LDP presidency. * And voters may quickly remember why they turfed out the LDP in the first place.

While the situation will have become more complex for “PM Abe” et al,** the DPJ will potentially for the first time become a coherent opposition, possibly behind a new, likely younger, leader. In theory. If this all transpires before next year’s House of Councillors election then the DPJ may well manage a mini-comeback.***

This could all be another trial balloon/political diversion for the LDP and Noda’s opponents, which could force themselves in compromising themselves. One hopes not – this is a strategy that is becoming more obvious and less effective over time and is actually now hurting the DPJ more than anyone else. To be sure the TPP “nuclear” option is also still only being “investigated” as an approach to resolving the current political deadlock – many in the DPJ still want to hang around and play a part in drafting the next budget.

But it could also be a good sign that Noda has realized there is very little to gain by loitering and being timid at this point in time, and is grasping the situation by the horns. It will also be very obvious to Noda that the “third pole parties” are precisely at this point unclear about how to deal with each other (日) and forge the common front essential for any reasonable electoral success and after election influence. Waiting too much longer may give them the time they need (and seemingly, want (日)) to iron out the differences.

We may know more about this on Wednesday, November 14, when Abe and Noda go head to head (日) in parliament. Noda, now having the LDP’s explicit support in passing the budget related bills, and implicit support on the other requirements (日)  for a lower house dissolution he had previously articulated (the fixing of the constitutional vote disparity and the establishment of a national commission on social security), will struggle to avoid being more specific on the issue of when a lower house election will be held.

* The Keidanren has essentially said (日) that this month’s East Asia Summit in Cambodia may well be a “last chance” for a meaningful TPP announcement for Japan.

** Remembering the LDP will be almost more certainly anti-TPP after the election than it will be even before it irrespective of Abe’s own views.

*** There is always the (very hopeful) possibility that the LDP will be so compromised and mismanage the situation so badly that an effective double election will be held anyway in late 2013 and that the “new” DPJ and some collection of third pole forces will be in a position to align themselves on issues of reform and have control of the lower house.