So, what next?

I have a couple of reasons for being quiet. One is that fulltime research, part-time work, and trying not to be a rubbish husband/father takes up quite a bit of time in itself. I have also shied away from commenting too much on 3/11 and the anniversary. As a Christchurch native and having the Tohoku area as my second home, I have to admit to having natural disaster fatigue. Everyone else is doing such a great job anyway in saying and reflecting upon what needs to be said. The other is that we have entered the realm of the surreal in Japanese politics – which as we all know is really saying something.

So back to Japanese politics I go.

On the one hand we have the dynamic of the three mainstream parties starting to actually work together out of blind fear of what new, more revolutionary parties might do to their long-term political interests should there be an election sometime soon. The surreal part of this is that they think it will make all that much of a difference and that the public will not see through this. The one interesting development however is that Noda appears to have adopted a psuedo-Koizumian approach (we could call it the Que Sara, Sara strategy) to his desired consumption tax rise by implying that he will push forward with it no matter what. This will force his own party, as well as the other two, to vote one way or another. The implications for Noda’s leadership will, unlike for Koizumi, likely be fatal one way or another, but it will also box in his enemies.

However, at the same time that this more collaborative approach is in train these same parties are increasingly looking  like they are going to fall to pieces. Even the Komeito is having some internal strife, although frankly it is surprising how long this took given how far the Komeito’s loyalty to the LDP is dragging it away from its preferred policy worldview.

But the big development is that Ozawa is “back” with his impending acquittal greatly emboldening him to go as far as suggesting that the “mainstream” group in the DPJ should be the one to leave the party (j), not himself et al, given their support for the outright contradiction of the original DPJ manifesto. MTC expounds on the latest in this series of events. While it is doubtful that the public really was endorsing that manifesto at the 2009 LH election, Ozawa’s point is not without some legitimacy. The LDP is also continuing its slow but steady descent into chaos and disunity (j) and has its own share of surreal drama.

For the longest time it was assumed that LDP leader Tanigaki was a placeholder, and that the likely replacement for him was like to be either Ishiba Shigeru, Ishihara Nobuteru, or even at a pinch Kono Taro. Ishiba is generally out – too much sense of moderation it would seem, and Kono Taro was always a long-shot, especially since 3/11 with his anti-nuclear credentials being burnished, but also being a threat to one of the LDP’s main sources of funding. Ishihara has thus been for the last year or so the assumed heir to the crumbling throne.

Well, when your father is Ishihara Shintaro then nothing can be taken for granted and “dad” is doing all sorts of unsavoury things to Ishihara’s hopes of leading the LDP, let alone becoming Prime Minister. With the LDP election coming up in September, and Tanigaki in place merely to do any dirty work that needs to be done before then, the timing could not be worse. And thus on cue we see some of the LDP’s best and finest come out of the woodwork to put their names forward. Machimura Nobutaka, leader of the one of the largest factions in the LDP is very likely to run in the election (j). A former chief cabinet secretary and foreign minister Machimura has not yet had his turn at the top and this might be his  last chance. Abe Shinzo is also staying mum about whether he will run, but insiders believe that he very much wants to if the opportunity arises. This may surprise some readers considering how his last attempt at leadership went. Abe, like Maehara Seiji, is a politician who fancies himself as a charismatic leader but has a potentially fatal glass jaw. Abe, unlike Maehara however, has always lived in a very carefully fashioned social and political world and likely believes that if it was not for the pesky pension scandal he would have gone on to have a glorious, maybe even “beautiful,” reign at the top. The fact that the retro-conservative brand  (Machimura could also be tarred with this brush), much like the ideological socialist one, is compromised in post-Cold War Japan, is of course surplus to discussion.

One of key antagonists for all of this turmoil within the established political order, Hashimoto Toru, is going further and stepping into the realm of super-surreal. That Hashimoto would have some missteps and his emotions would sometimes get the better of him was taken for granted when he started making his mark on the national stage. For example, his demand that Osaka city employees disclose their political activities (incorrect) had to be walked back in favour of checking their official city email accounts for evidence of using their positions for political purposes (correct). As if compelling (and receiving some degree of constitutional support for the stance) Osaka teachers to stand for kimi ga yo during graduation did not signal his dominance and victory over teachers and bureaucrats in general, Hashimoto has now admitted (j) that  the city checked not only whether the teachers stood or not, but whether, I kid you not, their mouth was moving during the singing of the national anthem.

Now a large number of Japanese parents do not necessarily share the same political values as the supposedly leftist teachers’ organisations and certainly are far less ideological about them if they do. Rather than necessarily supporting a rightist agenda in schools, most parents likely see teachers more as behavioural role models for their children than as ideological gatekeepers as such. Thus Hashimoto’s initial stance did not necessarily rub the public up the wrong way, even if some thought the punishments were more extreme than they should be (there was likely some Schadenfreude mixed in there also, as anyone who has spent enough time in Japanese schools would understand). However this latest revelation reeks of the kind of outright absurdity that will if continued turn off a lot of potential voters.

Pro Tip: Hashimoto-san, you have bigger fish to fry.

10 thoughts on “So, what next?

  1. This is all very well and good, but choosing just about anybody will make a difference to the chances of the LDP. Tanigaki has been such a wet blanket that nobody has really paid any attention to the LDP except, from time to time when they have acted as spoilers in a crisis. Nevertheless, Ishihara doesn’t seem to have much of his Dad’s populism in him, and I don’t think he’d turn many heads. Abe has his grand ideas, but like Hatoyama and to a lesser extent Aso, his “born to lead” attitude (not to mention his general nuttiness) just turns a lot of voters off. Kono would be the most appealing option to voters, because he has a sense of where to take the country and he manages to present himself with confidence (rather than entitlement), but I doubt his fairly cosmopolitan ideas about what is good for Japan match up with what most of the LDP think.

    Actually, I just think the best thing for the LDP to do would be to disappear.

    • Well Ishihara jnr. has come out as a decidedly anti-populist figure so yeah I think he would fall down in this respect 🙂

      I also agree that Kono would be a good choice strategically, but as we are seeing the factions have not yet been completely killed off. I liked your point about the difference between confidence and entitlement, too.

  2. It really is becoming steadily stranger, isn’t it? It’s like one of those British comedy sketches that start out normal enough, then gradually devolves into dadaist absurdity. I half-way expect John Cleese in a WWII era officers uniform to eventually jump into the Diet and stop deliberationas as it “has become just too silly, don’t you know?”

    • Too right. I’m starting to make my peace with it all and have learned that scratching my head and shrugging my shoulders is perfectly justified. I mean, it is going to have to blow up at some point in time so might as well just wait 🙂

      • I’ve basically stopped writing about the current situation. I don’t even have a coherent opinion on it any more. Hashimoto sending out people to graduation ceremonies to check for mouth movement and all I manage to think is “Huh?”

        It will blow up eventually. I am quite happy knowing that we do have another country to relocate to in case it blows up in a very bad way. Most people here don’t have that luxury, of course; on the other they have legal means of affecting the final outcome that I do not.

      • I’m not so sure about it “blowing up.” You now have a crazy opposition party that is increasingly driven by an ideology that turns voters off, and you have a boring gentleman in charge, surrounded by other boring gentlemen but challenged every now and then from within by those who think the true mission of the ruling party has been betrayed. Things seem to be returning to stable old type for Japanese politics.

      • I see your point, but at the same time with 70% of the electorate not favouring any of the mainstream parties the incentives for electoral adventurism have seldom been higher. DPJ at 9% and LDP still also trending down at 11%. Maybe it will not happen but it seems under the current circumstances actions could have considerable and interesting – and possibly unintended consequences.

  3. True. What the system lacks, which it didn’t before, is barrels of pork to dole out to people who, understandably, given the incentives, did not need to worry that their party was an ideologically inconsistent mess. Nevertheless, even without the pork, here you have the DPJ without a consistent message and the LDP arguably reverting to the goals it established at its foundation, and despite voter dissatisfaction, both survive simply because they are the established parties, thus staving off the political realignment that everyone seems to be hoping for. If this isn’t an argument for the strength of institutionalism, I don’t know what is.

    I think we should forget this grand coalition nonsense than Noda is running. While it is somewhat ironic that the anti-Ozawans seem to be adopting Ozawa’s political tactics, there are better ways to do things. Namely, what the two major parties should do is merge. That way they can figure out who believes what and split later along ideological lines. And just imagine the fun the foreign media could have in the meantime comparing the new merged party with the taisei yokusankai.

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