One of the things that the Japanese media is expert in is distracting the public from the real issues of significance in its political coverage. Thus we are plied with continuous stories of interpersonal politics and intrigues and often policies are only covered in so far that they reveal differences between politicians, not as inherent issues of importance in of themselves. This approach has been very successful in dividing the Japanese electorate over time, undermining governments, and ultimately maintaining the status quo.
The most recent example of this is the coverage of all things Kamei, Shizuka. Whether it is the internal conflict he is involved in within the government’s coalition partner People New Party, Kamei’s desperate attempts to hook up with Hashimoto Toru or convince Hiranuma Takeo and Ishihara Shintaro to form a new conservative party, or claims that he might be able to take 40 or 50 DPJ members with him into a new party and bring down the government, the Japanese media has been faithfully reporting every bob, weave and punch, irrespective of credibility or relevancy.
Less attention is however paid to important signs that suggest political incentives are starting to shift. Even if Kamei (or Ozawa for that matter) does somehow manage to draw 40 members of the DPJ away at some point, the significance of such a move may be considerably less consequential than less reported stories such as the resignations of relatively obscure DPJ politicians such as Nakajima Masaki and Takatane Kiuchi over the last few months, or now Hirayama Tairo (日).
Kamei is likely only going to attract PR “fillers” who will not have any chance of winning in the next general election although they may be able to bring him useful electoral funds depending on the timing of the next election. However when we see younger members from progressive constituency seats starting to leave the party then this is a sign that those with serious long-term ambitions are starting to see the political terrain shifting rapidly, and no longer perceive that the party can help them in any consequential way. The media of course has focused on the fact that these are all people close to Ozawa and this is part of a grand political battle. This however might be of less relevance than the fact these members were elected on their own steam, have been cultivating a relationship with their electorate only to be burdened with their DPJ membership, and have interests, ambitions and beliefs that extend beyond simply supporting the Ozawa line. In fact Ozawa seems to have counselled many of the defecting members to act less rashly and stay within the party – Ozawa’s own strength in his battle with the DPJ leadership is after all also being gradually undermined with these defections.
Striking out on their own means that they could at some point join up with a party or movement that allows them to have a vague chance of winning their seats back and implementing the reformist agenda many of the younger DPJ members were elected to pursue. Staying too long with the DPJ, leaving with Ozawa, or joining up with Kamei or the Kizuna party all seems to lead to electoral extinction for these members.
It is a high risk strategy but it may be their only one. The best scenario for many of the anti-consumption tax DPJ former and current members would be for Noda to succeed in convincing the LDP and Komeito to pass his bill (likely in return for a dissolution of the Diet). This would leave room for the anti-tax group to abstain or vote against it thereby allowing them to again symbolically regain the reformist ground at the same time that the Diet is being dissolved. Even if the LDP – fearing Hashimoto et al’s ability to eat into the electoral support that would allow it to reclaim its divine right to rule – lets the DPJ to put this off for a period of time, anti-tax reformers may be able to force a political crisis that would likely end in the dissolution of the Diet anyway. Of course under normal circumstances the opposition, smelling blood, would be unlikely to pass such a bill and just let the government wallow in its own futility. Except the LDP has just come out in favour of raising the consumption tax at the same time they are refusing to cooperate with the government on raising the consumption tax. This is going to be difficult to explain as MTC nicely elaborates on.
In regards to the latest defection, Hirayama Tairo, Mutant Frog conveniently has a couple of posts that provide useful background of Hirayama and his 2009 election. In the meantime I will only say that as a vote on a consumption tax draws near it will be interesting to see if and how many more DPJ members who fit the profile I have described jump ship.