Kan’s strategic stubborness

As the story says: “The ruling Democratic Party of Japan lost in seven of 10 mayoral elections Sunday in which its candidates effectively faced off with those of the Liberal Democratic Party in the second round of local-level polls.”

I guess this could be “the” news coming out of round two of the united local elections. It is pretty representative of most English and Japanese media reporting on Japanese politics – certainly little discussion of the implications for policy and what the public might be saying they want. But here (ja) is something that sneaked through:


55 out of the 88 mayoral elections were won by candidates who did not receive a recommendation or support from one of the established political parties. This comes to 62.5%, a 10.4% increase from previous elections, suggesting the further weakening of party identification at the local level.

This was already evident at the national level but the disease is spreading fast.

As an aside, PM Kan is certainly a glutton for punishment and is showing that one thing he does not lack is stubborness. But, stubborness without a plan does not seem to be particularly useful to anybody. Now that consideration of the TPP is likely going to have to be put off for the long-term, and even the few election promises the DPJ has acted upon are being scaled back due to the need to finance  Tohoku reconstruction, one could reasonably question for what purpose, other than stability while the nuclear incident is ongoing, Kan is sticking around given he is being attacked from the political left, right, and center with no hope of being able to push forward on a policy program.

Perhaps Kan is holding out for the the Reconstruction Design Council‘s recommendations. If they can get to Kan’s table in time, perhaps Kan thinks he can use the reconstruction plan as non-partisan “mandate” to go to the public. Afterall, the original DPJ mandate is dead, and the subsequent Kan “vision” is a political non-starter, and pretty much everything else that has been touched or will be put forward by a political party is going to inevitably smell… it was not just short-term DPJ political information mismanagement that was responsible for the nuclear incident, afterall.1

Therefore, is this a race against time inside his own party? Perhaps against  Hatoyama- Ozawa jumping ship into a “grand coalition”?

Once Kan has hold of  the recommendations then they can be presented – either the opposition agrees, Kan pushes forward  and perhaps there can be some respite for Kan. Perhaps he thinks he can build his way back into the heady heights of a 30% approval rating.  Or if the opposition (or his own party) disagrees with the/a reconstruction plan, Kan may be able to make the best of a bad situation by forcing the opposition, or a breakaway DPJ clique, to face the public in their disagreement on the plan, rather than allow them to focus on Kan’s leadership. Because right now, if Kan was to use the nuclear option of heading off an internal DPJ challenge or a no-confidence motion from the opposition by calling a snap election, he only has his own native cunning and reputation to rely on and, well, basically his stubbornness is all for nothing.

The key question is whether Kan is willing to make good on his previous threat to call a snap- election. He may well do many people a favour if he headed off a challenge from the politically de-legitimized Ozawa-Hatoyama combo by using this weapon – or alternatively if he uses it to snuff out an even more incoherent coalition between the LDP and DPJ remnants (than what the DPJ as a party represent).  But there is always the possibility that he will step aside meekly and let his head be the price for inter-party cooperation. But given his stubborness, and his famously unpredictable temper, perhaps he will not go the way of Hatoyama. And thus, everything that happens from now on is a matter of timing.

1 One of the sometimes humorous, sometimes galling, always just plain sad things reading about why Kan should step-down over the nuclear incident is the number of politicians who think just by removing Kan things would magically get better. Koike has said as much. Bunmei Ibuki labelled the Kan Cabinet itself the “great disaster,” and Ozawa has implied that he could get things under control. It may well be the case that Kan and co. erred in their information management, or PR,  in letting TEPCO run the show in the initial stages, or the million other things that Kan has supposed to have done – but in all seriousness it just shows how detached from reality so many of the old guard actually are.

4 thoughts on “Kan’s strategic stubborness

  1. A much-needed assertion to the oblivious that 1) Kan intends to remain prime minister until at least the next DPJ leadership election and 2) poor results for the DPJ in the unified local elections were a vain, last hope for Kan’s enemies to unseat the man.

    As for what the public thinks of all this, I wish the polling companies combined their popularity/suitability questions and framed the whole historically in this manner:

    Whom would prefer were running the country at this time
    a. Aso Taro
    b. Hatoyama Yukio
    c. Ozawa Ichiro
    d. Tanigaki Sadakazu
    e. Kan Naoto

    The answer to this question would most likely shut up the commentariat, which is in dire need of shutting up.

    • That would certainly be a revealing poll. I suspect Kan would score higher in that poll than he would in the general poll. Of course Kan would not be the first politician who does better in a real world match up with other politicians than in the generic current leader vs person who does not actually exist match-up. yes, no-one is indeed often more popular 🙂

  2. Corey:

    Naoto Kan, currently Japan’s prime minister, is not exactly my favorite politician, but surely he deserves some credit for what he is trying to do. He does have a policy agenda that is relatively coherent and more consonant with the pre-Ozawa manifesto as well as the post-3.11 realities. Moreover, the opposition parties as well as Ozawa’s allies in the DPJ are not well-positioned to force him out. That doesn’t mean that he’s in the clear until the DPJ leadership election in 2012, but I think that reports of his imminent demise are very much premature.

    • Jun, it’s not clear in the post but I agree that Kan has some options and his opponents are not as formidable as they might seem. I was, somewhat clumsily perhaps, trying to work through how, given the current situation, how he might navigate through to some more profitable end.

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