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?

Ozawa’s “soft” support base

It now appears that NHK has retracted their statement that Mabuchi and co. went for Noda’s group and in fact Mabuchi himself voted for Kaieda while seemingly the rest of his supporters voted as they wished. It also appears that Kano, Maehara and Noda had struck a rough agreement that the 3rd and 4th place getters would support the 2nd place getter in a strategic arrangement made before the first round of voting. Apparently Kano and his group, and a few of the younger cohort in the DPJ eventually baulked at the pressure applied to them by Ozawa, were concerned at the inelegance of Ozawa’s manoeuvring, and decided to throw in their lot with the mainstream group. According to this (jp) Nikkei article, Kano, after finishing fourth and being eliminated in the first round, took off his suit jacket to indicate to the 30 or so members most loyal to him that he was going to go with Noda and that they should follow his lead. Along with a few Mabuchi followers defecting to Noda this would bring Noda up to the 215 votes or so that he received, if some of Maehara’s votes defected to Kaieda out of concern for Noda’s tax rise friendly platform. It is still possible that Ozawa threw a few votes Noda’s way in round one for insurance but there was probably already a strong sense that, in addition to their not getting anywhere near 199 in round one, they were also likely to lose in the run-off as well. The scenario identified two posts before of Ozawa’s support base softening seems to be the most appropriate interpretation of yesterday’s events.

If the Nikkei’s summary of yesterday’s events (table -jp) is roughly accurate then this is bad news for Ozawa’s strength within the party. First of all, Okada has claimed that events proceeded as exactly as he (and Sengoku) expected. This suggests they have a good understanding of internal party relationships, something which Ozawa is increasingly losing. Furthermore, if we subtract the roughly 40 or so that we know are loyal to Hatoyama from Kaieda’ first round vote, then we can conclude at the very most we have 100 members inside the Ozawa “clique.” A far cry from the much larger 150 plus commentators were ominously talking about soon after the 2009 election. The strength of loyalty of even this 100 is probably suspect and as argued without a strong hold on the Secretary-general job Ozawa’s ability to command loyalty is going to decrease. In addition the Japanese media is already talking about “3 consecutive defeats” for Ozawa, with some glee to be sure, and those loyal to him are likely to going to see the writing on this particular wall. The way Ozawa played with even some of his most loyal supporters in the run up to the election is also going to leave a particularly bad taste in many mouths when the post-mortems are conducted today.

Kano for his sins, along with Koshiishi Azuma, is also featuring in talk regarding the important DPJ Secretary-general role. This might not only be some kaeshi for helping out Noda but both are seen to be quite middle of the road members within the DPJ. As opposed to Okada, Sengoku, Maehara or Edano, the selection of either of Koshiishi or Kano would be a signal to other DPJ members that appeals to “party unity” are not the empty slogans that they were perceived to be under Kan. Already some who supported Kaieda have approved of the possible selection of these candidates, and even Ozawa himself has been quoted as saying that he would support Noda if his appeals to party unity do indeed turn out to be more than empty words. Of course we will believe that when we see it but yesterday’s events seems to confirm that Ozawa may have little choice in the matter if Noda takes a pragmatic approach to selecting party personnel and focuses on manageable policy outcomes.

In this respect Noda will still have to act decisively in the short-term to ensure party divisions do not break open into a full internal civil war. However the election of Noda over either Maehara or Kaieda may help to avert an immediate breakdown of the DPJ, although Noda’s popularity, and thus to a substantial degree, ability, to navigate the domestic political situation will be the more important long-term challenge.

On Money

An interesting article on Asahi today. Apparently the average value of assets held by lower house members has dramatically decreased since the previous election. The main reason of course is due to the influx of new DPJ party members.

The numbers do not include “normal” bank accounts ie everyday transaction accounts, or assets under family member names, or assets “on hand”.

Overall the average lower house member asset base has decreased from 49.84 million yen to 31.51 million yen. A decrease of about 40 percent. (very approximately US$500,000 to $300,000)

Party by Party:

LDP down to 50 million from 57 million (12.5%), DPJ down to 26 million from 41 million (36.5%) Komeito 11 million from 12 million (8%). SDP 17.5 million from 18 million (3%), Peoples’New Party 45 from 51 million (12 %). Communist party members on average were the only ones to have gotten richer (??!!) increasing their asset wealth in the last four years from an average of 5.39 million to 6.79 million (26 percent increase) yen.

Update:

Another related article here. With so many new members for the DPJ there was a significant amount of new information which had to be announced on the 140 new odd new DPJ lower house members. Notable points:

One Kayoko Isogai, who made a bit of a name for herself for taking care of her parents and featured in magazines talking about the experience was revealed to have a few more assets than people expected. (27 million yen – $270,000).

Our friend Mieko Tanaka reported in as having zero assets. 3 of the new members had fortunes surpassing $1 million (100 million yen) and 7 reported as having more liabilities than declared assets.

Edit 2: One particular interest fact in the Kyodo English version is that first time law maker assets dropped from 28 million to 12 million yen in only 4 years.

里帰り

I see the polls suggesting that Japanese are ultimately not optimistic about the DPJ making any changes floating around the internet a bit, and given the history of political failures this country has endured recently then that would be fair enough. However, speaking to people about the issue and whether politics will change, I do not get the expected “It would be great if they did…..but I doubt they will” but a “It will be great if they did…….” and a pause, maybe a brief pause of hoping to dare???

With the Hatoyama love fest on the media with his extremely ambitious speech regarding reducing emissions, it does not appear to me as if the country, both rural or otherwise seems to be overcome with a strangling sense of apathy. It would not surprise me if many watching the Hatoyama speech did not feel a bit of sense of pride at seeing him deliver in pretty good pronunciation wise, if stilted English, a speech that raises expectations that will probably not be met – but signals a potential leadership role for a country responsible for only 4% of these emissions and is already a leader in efficiency. It would be interesting to see where this goes. Sometimes being unrealistic (but not stupid) about important things ends up in some pretty interesting outcomes. I see this in my job every day.

Watching TV, they chose an interesting person to represent the “critical” view, with the Sudanese representative demanding that “words be translated into action”. Notwitstanding this response is almost as hollow as the words sometimes assailed by such a response in this day and age, I did have a WTF moment. Yes the General Assembly is a 1 vote 1 country “democratic” organisation, but can I get a “hey guy from a country where genocide and mass rape is a big issue – maybe you are not the best person to demand action on a “tricky” issue” over here.

Big day

Problem with living in a small country with low levels of corruption, high degrees of political transparency, a reasonably moderate electorate and a political system dedicated to forming consensus on key issues that everyone already knows 90 percent of the populace agrees upon within some reasonable bounds, is that elections tend to be dull – in terms of both controversy and debate, but also in terms of the actual real outcome. So I love nothing more than sitting down and watching democracy in action in countries of say, 100 million or more. As a “Political Scientist” in NZ I am starved of the excitement that any analysis you can offer on elections etc might be meaningful, no matter how nuanced or insightful it is. Opportunities like this provide an opportunity for me to at least pretend for a moment that my pet hobby is, after all, meaningful and important. Too bad it will not be covered on NZ TV like the US election was – cannot really justify ordering in pizza and sitting around with the computer next to me checking results/exit polls every three seconds. May have to be content with intermittent internet updates and looking at some rudimentary materials on East-Asian regionalism…..

自己紹介

Greetings all.

Until I take up my opportunity to focus seriously on the subject (see right) at hand I will, as suggested, post in perfunctory manner. When I first read his blog I loved the modesty Tobias Harris uses when describing himself as a Japan finger. I had delusions of describing myself in kind as Japan fingernail, but really, but a more accurate representation would probably be the cuss that comes off when one files their nails.

I am a policy analyst at a central government agency in New Zealand here, but until I make my intention obvious to my employers to move on to other things, I will remain anonymous. Nothing special about this, I just wanted to set up the blog as things start to heat up for this incredibly interesting, and likely to be incredibly important election. You know, as a, “I was there” kind of thing. Also, it is very likely that this election will have some impact, post-expected re-alignment on my topic due to possible (but optimistic) changes to how much effect certain interest groups have on trade policy etc.

Anyway, to start on a completely different note, from my own personal view, I found this interesting today:

民主党の衆院選政権公約(マニフェスト)の全文が25日、明らかになった。

 税金の無駄遣い根絶を掲げて予算配分の優先順位を改め、中学卒業まで1人当たり月額2万6000円支給する「子ども手当」など、生活関連の施策に重点配分することを打ち出した。

So using taxpayers money more effectively, no surprise, we have been through that here in NZ lately too, probably “save”a little bit more in Japan as we all know. Will be more interesting to see what they do in the broader context of administrative reform.

However, the “child allowance” is of some reasonable interest. A similar sort of allowance (called Working for Families), and level of reimbursement is actually what attracted me, after doing all of the relative sums and cost of living calculations, with wife and child in hand, back to New Zealand in the first place after being in Japan.

In addition to possibly, just possibly lightening the financial burdens on couples in Japan to make the idea of procreation attractive (sic), I wonder if there is any possible attraction in this for overseas Japanese. For those more knowledgeable than I on the Japanese diaspora and its demographics, I would be interested if such an incentive might also be of interest to overseas Japanese families to incentivize successful returnees and whether it would help drive against the current demographic trend.

A little bit matters when you have children and one has to make the sacrifice, and at least in NZ a decent child allowance gives the NZ diaspora, which is of the age desired to offset some of the aging population problem, an incentive to come back (usually from places like the UK where so many young kiwis are). According to OECD figures I came across recently NZ has the second largest per capita diaspora, and perhaps more interestingly, the most educated per capita diaspora. You would think it is a horrible place to live.

One interesting thing about this proposal is that it does not seem to be salary-tested in anyway. While on the face of it this might seem odd to a lot of people, and maybe the policy will change post-election, it might actually make sense for it to remain exactly as stated.

1) It cuts down on bureaucracy and the transaction costs involved in trying to figure out who deserves what relative to income etc, especially in my case where the government pays me (salary), I pay the government (tax), and the government pays me back (tax credit).

2) Perhaps more importantly it will take away what I think is one of the most unusual things about NZ’s “Working for families” tax credit which is a sort of enforced middle “classedness” for single income families.

3) It is a nice sum of money – if saved and compounded monthly at 5% over 15 years (easy to do if invested as part of a suitable insurance plan in Japan, with some tax exemptions to benefit from also), plus the final amount compounded monthly again at 5% for the next 3 years with no additional payments, we come out with an approximate value of 8,000,000 yen, which will go a considerable way to any child’s education, especially if good enough to get into a public university.

(Re: point 2) In my case there is a $20,000 yearly salary band where it makes little sense for me to actually get a pay rise, due to losing entitlements such as this and a few others (especially when considered in the context of a progressive tax system). At this point in my career, for every additional dollar in pay increase I receive, I only receive 20 cents in the hand a week for my efforts. And obviously it also does not provide an incentive for a partner to “ease” back into work after childbirth unless they can get a full-time job straight out, which may not be preferable for a lot of people for various reasons.

Now any semi-intelligent person in a professional job is not going to stop working hard and stop trying to get promoted because it makes only marginal financial sense, but I do believe that across the population and in the long-term these kind of perverse incentives do have an effect.

A perhaps even more interesting difference with the NZ Working for Families is the fact it does appear to discriminate between those who work a certain amount of hours, and the entitlement does not decrease as the number of children increases.

If implemented as it stands it would be a good start in altering demographic trends- 3 children (safely over the magical 2.1 number) adds to a not unreasonable 78,000 yen a month. A decent incentive if one of the partners is working in a low-paying job or starting at the bottom of the salaryman ladder. I do have some concerns that it may reinforce gender roles at at time when things were just starting to (perhaps) change, but hopefully the DPJ in emphasizing this as one of their priorities does not forget that there is more to addressing the procreation issue than offering financial handouts.

Then again, my expertise is not social policy.