Is a Hashimoto-Koizumi connection likely?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2 thoughts on “Is a Hashimoto-Koizumi connection likely?

  1. Koizumi Junichiro frequently made noises that sounded like he would bolt the LDP, but he never did and ended up as Prime Minister. His son may turn out to be a chip off the old block in this regard.

    • Good point. The possibilities are endless in terms of what might happen in the next wee while. What I do know is that there are as many smart operators out here as there are blabbering buffoons!

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