Is this the End for Yoshihiko Noda?

57 against. 16 no shows or abstentions. This has made things somewhat more difficult for the Noda administration.

As explained the dilemma will now be that the application of strict penalties could lead to the DPJ losing its lower house majority and make it vulnerable to losing a no-confidence vote, while a soft application of penalties could be used by Noda’s political enemies in other parties against him in political posturing.

Ultimately Noda and the senior leadership should come down on the side of softer/delayed penalties. While the LDP in particular will try and herd Noda into undermining his own government by taking a hard line, it will be a dangerous game for the LDP to play out too publicly. If the LDP president Tanigaki plays games in the upper house around the tax/social security bills trying to force Noda to cut loose Ozawa and the 57, it may help him achieve his goal of forcing an early election but it will not do the LDP any favours in that election.   Tanigaki and the LDP voting against the tax bills on the basis of another party’s internal affairs will be too much for most to stomach – particularly because they themselves have argued the reforms are necessary for Japan’s fiscal future and have already voted in favour of them once. I suspect the DPJ will figure that out in due course and in the mean time will try to drag out the punishment process as long as possible.  I would expect the bills to pass the upper house in September as planned.

On the issue of a supplementary budget or other legislation however then it may be another matter. While Noda was able to successfully maneuver the LDP into voting for the tax bills without having  to give up his trump negotiating card, a negotiated election set for after the next LDP and DPJ party elections in September may well  be the pound of flesh extracted for any further cooperation on legislation. Komeito has expressed a preference for an election in the second half of this year as well.

If Noda can make it until August however without too much political damage then there may be another factor he could exploit – that of what could turn out to be desperate maneuvering for the role of LDP president. We may see all sorts of actors come out of the woodwork due to the, perhaps dubious, assumption that the next LDP president will be Japan’s next prime minister. In reality no one in the LDP wants to see Tanigaki succeed, and LDP hopefuls will want to be the ones to take credit for bringing down the DPJ government.

On the DPJ leader elections, under normal circumstances it is difficult to imagine the September DPJ election going against Noda unless he handles things badly in the next two months- the most likely candidates  have been prominently co-opted into either the consumption tax process (Maehara and Okada) or the restarting of Japan’s nuclear reactors (Edano or perhaps as an outside “election face,” Hosono). The one extenuating factor in this case is that the next DPJ election will allow DPJ party executives, regional politicians, and paid-up DPJ members to vote, which could be exploited by someone running a more populist campaign.

The other thing to watch for is the election reform bill. While the fuss over the tax bill was being played out the DPJ submitted to the relevant parliamentary committee its bill which it is hoping will eventually be backed by the Komeito. The DPJ has said that it is going to go ahead with a vote on the bill one way or another, so unless the Komeito party reacts strongly against it the LDP will also have another difficult choice to make – go against the bill but risk ‘splitting’ the LDP-Komeito relationship of convenience (some in the Komeito have come and said that the DPJ bill would lessen the incentives for the Komeito to cooperate with the LDP in the next election) or go along with a bill the party does not like. Noda may be able to use  this bill as leverage to fend off LDP demands on other bills.

Finally it seems that Hashimoto is on the move again – and his timing was good – perhaps too good. Just  a few days before the tax/social security bills passed the lower house Hashimoto came out all guns blazing against the betrayal of “manifesto politics.” He argued that, given the original DPJ pledge not to raise the consumption tax for at least four years, the DPJ was in passing the tax bill taking the concept of pragmatism far too far, and that actions such as the DPJ’s are the reason that Japanese do not have trust in the public. He makes a good case that will be hard to deny. Of course for Hashimoto the timing was good because the bills were a fait accompli. Hashimoto has in the past been reluctant to state his explicit view on the consumption tax rise, saying that a reorganization of the Japanese administrative structure would be required before making such a decision. He was over the last few days very careful in his words to not attack the consumption tax rise directly but rather the DPJ’s style of politics around it. The reality is that the DPJ seems to ahve done the dirty work for more populist parties campaigning on the basis of fiscal and administrative reform. That the DPJ has brought the LDP along with them is all the better. It is very unlikely that any party is going to roll back the consumption tax rise if it claims power. Even if such a party(s) was earnest in its attempt to cut spending and weed out waste in the political and bureaucratic system, there will still be a hole. This will help them reduce this somewhat and may make it easier for them to keep a hold on power. That may be the important long-term consequence of Noda’s success, even if in the short-term it has made things considerably more difficult for the DPJ and himself. 

Towards tomorrow

The general consensus amongst analysts and bloggers seems to be that Kan will hold on, although Jun Okumura does allude to a possible “sokagakkai effect” that might make it closer than many imagine. One certainly gets the feeling from various analyst and Japanese media sources that some of the young and first year DPJ members are starting to question Kan’s sense of direction, and perhaps more so, sense of conviction on a lot of the issues that they were brought to power on.

So, should there be an Ozawa win (as unlikely as it still seems), will it be the final decisive blow to “regime change” as some are arguing?

First of all, PanOrient News offers an interesting perspective on a recent attempt at a “hatchet job” by the Washington Post in regards to Ozawa’s candidacy. Certainly worth reading.

The East Asia Forum website contains two strong, conflicting perspectives on Ozawa. One suggests that:

His decision to challenge Prime Minister Kan Naoto for the presidency of the DPJ reflects the grimness that has crept into Japanese politics, disfiguring those who seek real reform, and an almost metaphysical need by Ozawa to defend his legacy and previous ambitions.

His challenge can be seen as a metaphor for what has gone wrong with the DPJ since its moment of triumph, and Ozawa’s last fateful chance to redeem himself and his party.

And

Ozawa’s challenge to Kan represents the apogee of the ‘Ozawan Moment’ in Japanese politics. It is a moment characterized by deep immoderation for power and by the overwhelming hubris of Ozawa himself. The decline of the DPJ, and even of Japanese politics, results at this moment from the failure to reconcile the fundamental tensions of political purpose with Ozawa’s great ambition to rule. His concern with the legacy of the DPJ emerges finally as nothing more than an expedient to secure the presidency of the party. His famed political maneuvers and brilliance, and his insistence that such brilliance entitles him to power, appear now with all the subtlety of brutal force.

While another, quite astutely IMHO, makes another quite different point:

Certainly, there are modernising reformers strewn across the political aisle. Yet neither party’s modernisers have the votes within their own party to guide reform policy through the Diet, and cross-aisle cooperation among modernisers is an idea whose time has not yet arrived. And so for political programs to see light of day, they must necessarily be grafted onto the preferences of traditionalist politicians.

Ozawa gets this. He understands that, unless you are a mercurial character like former Prime Minister Koizumi, able to appeal over the heads of your own political establishment to drive reformist legislation, you have to roll up your sleeves and get down to the dirty job of legislative sausage-making. Ozawa understands, too, that traditionalist constituencies are less fickle in their voting patterns than the median urban voter, a lesson the DPJ greenhorns should have learnt (but did not) when Koizumi maintained power on the back of these constituents in the 2005 general election.

Make up your own mind I guess.

Japanese Election and Policy Coalitions

Based on the statements of various non-LDP parties and the election results it looks like we are going to have to forget about political coalitions, of formal or informal kinds, at least for the time being. This is ok – no time to panic just yet.  (For more articulate counsel on the lack of need to panic just yet, see Peter Ennis here.) I am sure many foreign interests will be very interested to see what the implications are for foreign policy. But one take away I think from this election is that while the public holds a complex view on some of the foreign policy challenges Japan faces, they felt that the DPJ concentrated far too much energy on it when in reality it was domestic issues that the populace wanted to see addressed first – in a responsible and considered way of course (cf. consumption tax).

Anyway, back to the point at hand, we should now turn our attention to potential “policy coalitions” that might enable the DPJ to manage the passage of legislation through the Upper House.

As I have said on a number of occasions, a minority government need not be a bad thing – while it lacks formal stability, it can free both the ruling and non-ruling parties to be very strategic and flexible – for the 3rd parties in particular. They can continue to retain their distinctive identity by opposing certain types of legislation while taking credit for others – and thus reinforce the desired image they want to communicate with more precision. Even the ruling party is somewhat freed from having to overly concern itself with the sometimes idiosyncratic whims of its coalition partners. This of course makes for good copy for newspapers, but creates troublesome press for the government, even if in reality if the coalition dynamics are not always that consequential.

The kind of minority government that Japan is going to face for the next wee while is, by minority government standards, not all that bad –  the DPJ will still retain a huge majority in the Lower House. The ruling party knows it does not have to worry about confidence and supply issues, and thus retains control over prominent cabinet roles. Smaller parties on the other hand do not need to face the inevitable question of: “Well, we elected you – now try and govern (or something) and show us what you have got”. Essentially, they can be very particular about how they hone their message over the next 1-3 years.

The current situation may well indeed not only enhance the likelihood of a political realignment in the Japanese political world, but may well make it much more precise if it does happen. After all, political parties will be compelled to explain themselves to the public much more in terms of policy rather than relationships of convenience. Realignment, that is into distinct ideological and policy camps, might become a very transparent process in this kind of scenario.

That said, what are the likely policy coalitions that are likely to have an influence on the passage of the bills through the Diet?1To be sure, below is a very perfunctory and somewhat superficial analysis for now – and it assumes that the parties will act pragmatically – something that may come through post-election but was not necessarily demonstrated in abundance during the election period.

Economic “Left” issues

I am sure the dominant theme that will come through the media, and one Your Party will be eager to emphasise also, is that this election repudiates the DPJ’s “big government” agenda. Leaving aside the veracity of such an insight, it is certainly true that big government is not likely to have  a smooth ride for the remainder of the current Lower House term.

We have the DPJ (106+1 independent), the (more pragmatic?) Communists (6), the Socialist Democratic Party (4), and the PNP with 3 in this category. This totals 120. This is only two votes off the majority number of 122 needed to pass legislation. However, while only two votes, these will be a very hard two votes to come by – I can hardly see who they could persuade to support or jump ship in aid of such an agenda.

This has dire consequences for issues such as the postal reform rollback. The Komeitō could come to the party if the focus was not necessarily on rolling back privatization but say for providing subsidies for rural communities to retain postal services by way of direct transfers to municipalities. Anything else, by my reading of Komeitō’s previous stances on this issue, would greatly disinterest them (and I would say so it should), and would also probably lead to other potential policy partners on other issues becoming inconsolably (as opposed to opportunistically) outraged.

Cultural “Left” issues

The situation here is a little bit more promising for such an agenda. First we can take the PNP out of the equation here – they tend to be quite conservative on cultural issues while being quite partial to big government initiatives. If we include together the DPJ, the SDP, and Komeitō (on some issues), we come to approximately 130 votes. Add in the Communists, who some have read as becoming more pragmatic, this goes up to 136. This might have implications for laws such as local suffrage for foreigners, proposed human rights legislation, and various other policies.

Civil Service Reform/Fiscal Spending

The obvious coalition here, despite many protestations to the contrary, is between the DPJ and Your Party. We could also throw in the likes of Shintō Kaikaku (Masuzoe Yoichi’s party), and perhaps even the two votes from Sunrise Japan (Yosano’s party).  Here we come to approximately 122 votes. Even if we take out Sunrise, there is also the likelihood of the DPJ, or more likely, Your Party, being able to pinch a few reformist LDP members. Especially if they become frustrated with the lack of reform in the LDP (and entrenchment on the periphery of Japanese politics). These issues well get some traction.

As an aside, while many parts of the political spectrum are keen to label the DPJ as false reformers, in reality the types of reforms the DPJ and “anti-DPJ” 3rd parties are keen to see are two sides of the same coin. Your Party is rallying against perceived entrenched interests in the bureaucracy, as well as in terms of special interest groups dominance (labour unions, teacher’s unions). The DPJ on the other hand wants to undermine entrenched interests in the political system, including  some parts of the bureaucracy, but also including the media, and other cultural institutions. I guess the DPJ is fundamentally concerned that without what it sees to be a level playing field, the Japanese public may well rush back to the LDP at the next opportunity. Obviously there are many areas where the strategies and interests of the two parties will overlap. This also leads to the next potential policy coalition.

Electoral Reform A

A switch from a more equitable relationship between urban and rural electoral districts, will be in the interests of parties such as the DPJ (107), Your Party (11), Shintō Kaikaku (2), the SDP(4), the Communists (6), and probably Komeitō (19). This gives a healthy number of approximately 149 to play with. This change is more or less “mandated” by various supreme court rulings as constitutionally justified, so will be interesting to see if anyone takes up the opportunity.

Electoral Reform B

This is electoral reform to reduce the number of MPs, especially in the Upper House (Yes, a little bit unusual given it is the Upper House that will exercise restraint over the current government!). Related to this, the DPJ wants to reduce the number of PR seats available as a proportion of the overall total of seats – in both houses I suspect.  I think that this reform, even despite the constitutional considerations that should be borne in mind, is much less likely to proceed.

Certainly, the DPJ would be suspicious of the former (simple reduction in seats) if it didn’t include any PR seat reductions. And almost everyone else but the LDP and the DPJ would be suspicious of any reduction in PR seats. Possibly the only compromise that may be acceptable would be a combination of making the Upper House districts based on population proportions, while also at the same time being “multi-member” – as suggested by Takenaka Harukata here on Japan Echo’s website. This would make the electoral math not completely antagonistic to smaller parties, and would also give a more urban flavour to the electoral map. You could also dramatically reduce the numbers – perhaps to something like 100.  It is worth bearing in mind that Your Party in particular did quite well and snuck in with 3 seats in the multi-member electoral districts of Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa – it was not purely a PR vote victory for Your Party. In fact, such a change might well only need the support of the DPJ, Your Party, Masuzoe and friend and perhaps a few LDP recruits who have made it on their own name and fame.

Short of this kind of change, perhaps a reduction of the PR seats available would only be possible if the DPJ and LDP colluded in the run up to the elections in 2013 and rammed it through over the protests of the smaller parties. I suspect they probably will not do that.

Tax reform A: consumption tax increase

The consumption tax rise is dead to at least 2013 it seems. Only the DPJ and perhaps the Sunrise party (2) are likely to want to tackle this during the current Lower House term – although much less likely now than before. The general lesson seems to be “try a little bit harder with reforming fiscal spending first please, then come back to us”.

Tax reform B: Corporate tax decrease

The prospects for this are much better as you could add Your Party and any LDP defectors into the midst. However, as the DPJ, and I assume Yosano’s Sunrise, might be of the view that corporate tax reductions and an increase in the consumption tax are part of the same package, it might well give them much pause. Certainly very very consequential fiscal spending savings will need to be found, if they exist, to offset such a move in the short-term.

Cultural “Right” issues

The prospects for any such policies or change in government orientation here are slim. Even while Your Party have a slight bent to the “right”, as do Shintō Kaikaku, the PNP and certainly Sunrise (and the LDP), together these votes only come to about 106 votes in my estimation, far short of the 122 needed. Likewise for a rapid turn to the “right” in foreign policy, although I am not necessarily convinced that the whole of the LDP is neo-conservative in disposition (cf. the realism of the likes of Ishiba Shigeru).

Foreign Policy – of any kind

It is hard to discern exactly what might happen here. As suggested above, that might well be the way the public wants it for now – ie the status quo. Certainly, it is less than clear – with the DPJ being what it is, and with Komeitō and Your Party not having  a very strong foreign policy identity – what kind of foreign policy will be pursued, other than perhaps that of familiar, careful MOFA diplomatic management.

Of course, that will not necessarily mean nothing much will happen and that there are no foreign policy consequences. The US is likely to want to push forward with Futenma and any other force transition/realignment plans. Any hesitation could incur further US wrath. This may not necessarily work well for the US or Japan – and is likely to really focus the Japanese population on the “US” problem, given that everyone’s favourite punching bag Hatoyama Yukio has already been done away with.

Furthermore, Armchair Asia points out an interesting dynamic in regards to US politics and Japanese history that might come into play as Japan courts the US for high-speed rail contracts. If Japan was perceived to be knocked back because of legislation such as this, I can imagine that it would certainly have implications for the alliance in general. And even if as is hoped over at Armchair Asia, the Japanese see both “moral”, and “self-interested” sense in addressing issues such as these (important in their own right to be sure), this will not strip the issue of its political meaning back “home”, and for long-term strategic thinking on the wisdom of being dependent on the US for security.2 It might not even be this issue that brings things to a head – but it is an example of something that might become all the more difficult, given yesterday’s election results, for the government to manage in any sort of proactive way.

1 It is worthwhile saying here that with the government now realising the full seriousness of its predicament, this will also have a strong impact upon legislation going through the Lower House as they will not want to be knocked back too much. I anticipate the government will work away very quietly on what it can in the short-term and only in the lead up to the election put forward more controversial bills to demonstrate where they stand, and by contrast, show where the other parties do not.

2 Ultimately, a morally logical and consistent Japanese government and populace may not necessarily be what the US would want in the long run, given the Japanese perception of its (the US’) own tendency to be selective in its application from time to time. As someone from another somewhat isolated island country, with a strange chip on its shoulder in regards to other global powers, they wouldn’t be the only one!

And a mess it is.

Looking likely that the DPJ will end up with a final tally of somewhere in the 110-112 range. Your Party looks like it might end up with 9 seats. The LDP have already surpassed their pre-election total representation and are sure to pick up more in the single-member rural constituencies.

However, before the LDP gloats, one thing that should give them pause is that they have not really performed all that well in the proportional representation ticket. Indeed on Yamamoto Ichita’s Twitter, he suggested that the LDP should not get carried away as its numerical support is still inferior to the DPJ’s. He called for being more vigilant in regards to reform to the party given this outcome – and indeed as Tobias Harris has already suggested, the result of this election could give Tanigaki a reprieve and impede any reform in the party. More so, as Okumura Jun predicted the LDP looks to be (re)-entrenching itself in the “periphery” – those areas which are generally over-represented vis-a-vis the urban areas of Japan in terms of MPs in the Diet.

Watanabe has already come out saying that while they will not go into coalition with the DPJ, and has also suggested a Lower House election take place next year, he might be open to working on a few issues such as reform of the bureaucracy. The postal reform bill is certainly dead.

But, I also wonder, given that both the DPJ and Your Party are parties that seem to do well in urban areas, might look at some strategic electoral reform to tip the electoral math more in favour of urban voters. The Japanese Supreme Court has on many occasions ruled the difference in the “value” of rural voters’ votes when compared to urban voters’ votes, to be unconstitutional.

As borrowed from Shisaku:

Greatest voting disparity (ippyo no kakusa) between two districts = 5.01 times
in between Tottori Prefecture (487, 893 voters – 1 seat) and Kanagawa Prefecture (7,328,018 voters – 3 seats)

After all, upholding the constitution is a pretty handy way of escaping  charges of barefaced opportunism. And Yamamoto Ichita will certainly then have the reform of the party that he desires.

The election of the House of Councillors (not the House of Councillors election)

With less than a week to go until the House of Councillors election, needless to say there is a significant amount of analysis of the potential outcomes on many informed blogs (see the links to the right). I cannot substantively add any more to this. It does look however, that the situation could well be a bit of what we call in politics, a “mess”. Even if in my opinion the most likely option eventuates, with the DPJ just getting around 54 seats, this could lead to at best a protracted negotiation with one of either Komeito, or Your Party, or worse, a stable, functioning government – with Kamei’s PNP in it.

Against this backdrop a number of proposals have been put forward regarding the fate of the House of Councillors. Watanabe Yoshimi from Your Party has suggested eliminating the House of Councillors due to it tendency to hold up the decision making process. There has also been a number of suggestions, some emanating from the DPJ itself, floating around about reducing the number of PR seats up for grabs for similar reasons.

Here is a another, quite different, take on the issue from Takenaka Harukata at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies who has written a book about the House of Councillors. The first 3-4 pages or so are a good summary of the role of the HoC, current dilemmas and a little bit of useful history. The second half goes more into some specific possibilities.

The main insight that the author offers is that until recently the House of Councillors has, whether it be outwardly known or not, performed reasonably well in its role as a check on the tighter relationship between the Cabinet and the House of Representatives typical in parliamentary systems. Essentially, it is an additional “mirror of public opinion” and builds into the system a little bit of that US style legislative “inefficiency” to ensure legislative decision making is more deliberate and considered.

Takenaka does however go on to make a further interesting point – that the House of Councillors has only started to become more of a problematic institution in terms of ‘unnecessarily’ holding up legislative change since the evolution towards a genuine two party system began. Essentially, as two major parties consolidate their hold over the House of Representatives, the same is likely to happen in the House of Councillors. The major issue here being that the two houses’ electoral logic is similar enough so as to encourage this dynamic. While we may accept this “fate” in the case of the House of Representatives, and in fact laud it as a dynamic expression of political debate and democratic evolution, it may not be a good idea for this to become the case for both houses.

We can indeed look to the US for a good example of a differentiated two house system where both houses are considered important (cf. House of Lords) – after all, by Takenaka’s logic, although he does not specifically say so, the Japanese system is a parliamentary one with an American concern for legislative checks and balances thrown in. Essentially the Senate differs from the House of Representatives in a number of key ways – elections are held every 6 years for an individual seatby way of a state-wide vote, and every state irrespective of its population has two members so as to ensure smaller states’ rights are somewhat protected legislatively in addition to judicial protections. The last aspect of this may not be so important for Japan – indeed provincial and rural areas are already unconstitutionally overrepresented in Japan. But the first part is of interest, as it has an impact on the makeup of the membership of the US Senate.

In general, US Senators tend to be less focused on the permanent election cycle due to the longer terms (so far so good for Japan), and because they are elected on a state-wide basis, are less likely to represent specifically local concerns. Senators also tend to vote more independently of the party and the machine that got them elected in the first place – they often feel that they owe less to their respective parties than do HoR members. As the elections for the Senate are staggered, with only 1/3 up at each election, the Senate as a body is a little bit more resistant to the “national mood” and a large proportion of its membership is less likely to be swept away in a fit of electoral rage. This of course, may not always be a good thing, but either way, by historical standards, the partisanship shown in the US Senate these days is unusual. The partisanship in the US House of Representatives, is however, not all that unusual despite what many may think.

I am not yet convinced of Takenaka’s suggestion to reintroduce “Multi-Member Districts” exclusively as the solution to this problem. But I do agree with what he is aiming for – that a less explicitly partisan Upper House, more resistant to local concerns but more responsible to a broader electorate, with more independents, both in individual and party name, could well lead in the long-term lead to genuine legislative oversight being exercised by the House of Councillors. This is rather than it slowly evolving into an outgrowth of the battles being fought in the House of Representatives. Certainly partisanship will always be a feature of electoral systems – it is in human nature. Even the Meiji oligarchs could not prevent the formation of parties in the Meiji parliament despite their suspicion of them. But it is not unreasonable to set up the House of Councillors in a way that does not directly encourage this dynamic, if we already have another body that does.

Given the recent voting history of the Japanese public, essentially in 2005 and 2009 giving two different parties two very clear mandates in the HoR, and in the intervening HoC elections, giving the losing parties an “in” to cause “trouble”, this is not tolerable in the long-term. To be sure, with the historical importance of the last 5-9 years in Japanese politics it is probably to be expected and perhaps every encouraging. The DPJ and other parties might be rushing to undermine the HoC in order to establish their permanency in both houses, but maybe these is justified reason for pause. The House of Councillors is more constitutionally relevant than we may think – and thus its fate is every bit as important as a sales tax, and should be thus left up to the public to make the final decision about its abandonment or neutering.1

Perhaps rather than changing (or not) Article 9 or a full scale overhaul of the constitution,2 House of Councillors reform could be an opportunity for invoking the new constitutional referendum law. Certainly in the long-term the only way politicians are going to agree on the rules for engagement in elections is if many of the rules are enshrined in the constitution itself – there is certainly a risk that with every change of government new rules will be proposed to make the system more “fair”. It may well be that until now that the rules have not been fair and that the 1993 changes and any subsequent ones are well needed- but with every electoral cycle and subsequent change that claim becomes all the more suspicious.

1 The existence of both houses and their names are mandated in the Japanese constitution, but the method of election and various other rules are said to be defined by law.
2 Notwithstanding some sudden change in the international system, these two related issues probably require a longer period of time to see them evolve into a functional consensus worthy of voting on.

The DPJ has no friends.

A number of the Japanese opposition parties, or more accurately, non-government parties, are doing it all wrong.

Looking at the Yomiuri today (jp) Kan has given a shout-out to potential parties in case of their not being able to secure the 60 seats for an outright HoC majority at the current election (or the 54 needed should they head back into coalition with the PNP).

Nothing surprising about this. Nevertheless, with the New Komeito having recently “ruled out” a coalition with the DPJ after the election, and with various other ‘3rd pole’ parties having more or less done the same over the months, this call becomes all the more meaningful. After all, it seems almost everyone has ruled out working with the DPJ. To be sure, this is politics, so who knows how true to their word they will be when faced with the prospect of power and influence. More so, some of the “ruling” out statements seem to be in the vein of “we will not just make up the numbers and mindlessly enter into a coalition with the DPJ” which seem rather obvious in their own way – but offer some wiggle room. That being said,  the leaders of the political parties have been straining a bit too stridently for what is sensible to me in making the point that the DPJ must change if they were to even consider working with them (ringing most hollow coming from New Komeito I have to say!).

I frankly don’t understand this dynamic, even if I was to accept that the DPJ was as bad as claimed. Two major reasons based on one incredibly obvious insight. You want to have influence. Especially if you are a young party.

At the end of the day, everyone loves winners, including voters. Also, I suspect the public are in no place to do anything more than kick the tyres of the current DPJ government, given concerns with electoral and societal stability going forward. By ruling out having a positive stake in power post-election you essentially cede ground to your fellow 3rd pole ‘partners’ who may well want to have a say. This is reason 1. Reason 2 is, that, while in some opinion polls or estimations the DPJ may not have enough to get past 60 seats (or 54) now, when push comes to shove as long as Kan et al show a steady hand, those wavering are very likely to on the day vote for stability. This might mean a large-scale deserting of voters from the moderate 3rd pole parties. It might mean the DPJ very well gets their 60 seats without having to break a sweat. It is a tough balancing act, but you could offer your voters principles, and influence, even if it is only a bit of each. Even a willingness to enter into an agreement, if not a formal coalition could do the trick here.

It is possible that I am completely missing something about Japanese political culture. In NZ, where we have a similar mixed voting system, in the run up to an election, all bets are off, even to a considerable degree amongst current coalition partners. The smaller parties have absolutely no qualms with criticizing either of the two major parties and appending their criticism with “and only with a vote for x party will you get a principled, party of conscience to keep the government honest”. From what I understand Japanese are no less tactical voters than NZers, so I do not see why this kind of tactic can’t work. Even if you do have this understanding, and are open to working with government after the election, to not allude to this is only to your party’s own detriment in situations like this. Perhaps this kind of thought process would be considered bad taste if put so forthrightly in Japan. Maybe. I do think in the long-term, especially if Japan continues to maintain a Westminster style system with mixed PR and electoral district votes, and especially if a bipolar party structure forms with a few “3rds” thrown in for good balance, that the electorate is going to have to drop their squeamishness about these discussions. If this is what it is of course, and not just political incompetence, or more likely, an inability to truly accept how the lay of the land has truly changed since August 2009.

Update: seems that the DPJ is taking matters into its own hands and told (jp) “Your Party” they are looking at them for help after the election. Your Party’s response was basically that their bottom line for any discussions with anyone was reform of the civil service, and reduction in the number of MPs. In fact I was reading earlier on today that YP’s long term goal is get rid of the House of Councillors. If the two parties respectively held this line -with DPJ stating that YP is the best of the non-DPJ bunch, and YP politely denying anything specific and staying on message with their core policy reforms, this could work out not so bad for YP, in my opinion at least.

Japanese PM resigns – South Korea (well one person at least) feels a bit sad.

While the initial Japanese reaction by some politicians and commentators seems to emphasize Hatoyama’s 無責任 musekinin (irresponsibility, lack of concern for responsibility) in resigning after only 8 months on the job, I believe that the domestic situation will not dramatically worsen because of it. In fact, if anything can be read into it, the Japanese sharemarket went up on news of Hatoyama and Ozawa’s resignation. Curious. This might have more possibly to do with Ozawa – it would take a minor miracle for Kamei Shizuka to get the much disliked postal reform bill before the Lower House given the opposition to it in the Diet, and the fact that an election for new representatives will take place on the fourth and an extension to the current parliamentary session will not be required.

Hatoyama is receiving some criticism in regards to Futenma still- one view seems to be that by walking away now he is somehow jeopardizing the Futenma relocation plan (and US-Japan relations). I doubt it. It would be difficult to actually implement the plan anyhow. It seems that there might also be something going on behind the scenes in terms of the US-Japan relationship- Jun Okumura posts an interesting comment here about the possibility of a Status of Armed Forces (SOFA) revision. On top of this we have an interesting article by new contributor at the Diplomat,  Takahiro Katsumi*, on some curious developments. I found the link to the YouTube conversation with Shelia Smith on Japanese TV particularly interesting (who the program describes as the/a brain in the Obama administration – I have no way of refuting or endorsing this as I am not aware of Washington’s dynamics).

We also has some interesting conversation taking place in the (soon to be former) Cabinet in regards to East Asian integration. It seems (jp) there will be an effort to clarify the specific content of what is meant Japan intends to get out of an East Asian regional framework, recognising that up until now it has been nothing much more than slogans, a novelty and a “mish-mash” of ideas. At the same time, there seems to be an explicit desire to re-emphasize the importance of the US relationship and the importance of the US to Japan and the region given worries about Japan and US drifting apart. If any of this is meaningful, it might indicate that Washington is starting to understand the political dynamics (and the fact the DPJ will be in power for a few more years yet) in Japan and the need to work with, not against them. And Japan will likely reciprocate by giving some consideration to the US in the development of any future East Asian regional architecture (it is an idea that has come too soon – worth continuing to work on – but as the article suggests not to the detriment of making no progress in other areas or in other forums.)

(At the same time Hatoyama in his resignation speech mentioned something about Japan not being able to depend on the US for even 50 more years, (indicating a Japanese desire for an  independent defense capability) which got Koike Yuriko a little bit excited on Twitter! **)

However, possible repercussions might come about in terms of the relationship between Japan and new “friends” in South Korea and China. Already there has been some consternation in Chinese internet forums (“Japanese Prime Minister changes again?” (jp)) – the Asahi reports (jp) that the Chinese government will be watching closely as to who will replace Hatoyama, given as I posted previously Hatoyama and Premier Wen came to a cordial agreement to speed up negotiations of joint East Sea gas field development. A top Korean official has apparently been reported (jp) as saying that they had “lost a friend” in Hatoyama. I guess the concern here is that irrespective of who is elected progress on some key issues will be held up. And there is always the risk (though not great with the DPJ) that a less East Asia friendly PM or Foreign Minister may come into the picture.

While I think things will recover if the same policies and approach to East Asian affairs persists, personal relationships do matter in international relations. It might take some time to rebuild these relationships – although given Hatoyama’s short spell, logic dictates not much longer than 8 months all going well.

*According to his bio: Takahiro Katsumi is Secretary to Sen. Tadashi Inuzuka, a Democratic Party of Japan member of the House of Councillors and member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. Katsumi is also Secretary General of the Japanese Network for the International Criminal Court.

** 鳩山、自主防衛の意志を強調

Towards a “coherent” opposition party

A story that has seemingly gone unreported or undiscussed in the English media that I at least think is interesting is the recent LDP proposal to submit a SDF General Measures Law (jp) [for the depolyment of the SDF overseas] to the Diet. At the very least it looks likely to be part of their Upper House election manifesto.

The law is designed to do a couple of things. First it would bring together and integrate a number of the ad hoc “special measures” laws that have been passed by the Diet in recent times such as the Anti-terrorism Special Measures Law and the Humanitarian Relief and Iraqi Reconstruction Special Measures Law. The General Law would be permanent and would reduce the barriers and need for significant case by case discussion in the Diet, especially if there is a UN resolution. Note this would not mean that Diet approval would not be needed in advance however for any SDF operation to go ahead.

Dispatch of SDF forces would be acceptable under these circumstances:

(1)  When there is a United Nations Resolution;

(2) A request by an international organisation;

(3) a request by one of the parties involved in a dispute/conflict; and

(4) When it is judged necessary in order to contribute to the wellbeing of the international community.

Perhaps more interestingly, the law clarifies the use of weapons – essentially Japanese troops would be able to use weapons to defend other troops and assumedly themselves. This was obviously a big point of contention in Iraq where Japanese SDF forces needed armed escorts from other countries as they were not permitted to use weapons unless fired upon first.

However, the law is meant to ‘reinforce’ the constitution and civilian control over the military. The Diet will still need to approve the decision to deploy SDF units overseas in advance. While I am not a law expert (at all) I believe this means that the decision to deploy or not will be the main focus for Diet deliberations, rather than the exact scope of how the forces are deployed which has been decided on ad hoc basis up until now. I assume the final version of the law would make the necessary distinctions in order to remain constitutionally robust.

Importantly, the activities of the SDF would be limited to “non-International Armed Conflict” which according to international law is conflict between a state actor(s) and a non-state actor(s), or between two or more non-state actors. An “International Armed Conflict” is one that takes place between two or more states. Given the “the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputesportion of the Japanese Constitution, the deployment of weapons in any sort of way overseas will mean this distinction is very important. So armed SDF intervention in Somalia would be justified given its failed state status, but not in North Korea, although like in Iraq one assumes that supporting “non-armed” roles could be justified in the case of “International Armed Conflict”. As a reminder examples of such activities were:

(1) to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance;
(2) to support US and other forces to ensure security; and
(3) to assist in the dismantling of weapons of mass destruction.
There was also much discussion over whether Japanese troops could be deployed in “combat zones” in Diet deliberations on Iraq. This law would mean after direct state to state hostilities have ceased, Japanese troops could be deployed for the purposes of peacekeeping even in “dangerous” areas.

So why do I think this is important or interesting? Afterall, the LDP is a party that looks to be self-destructing and even in the best case scenario will not be in power for another 3 years.

I think there are a few noteworthy things here:

(1) It is interesting to see LDP put forward a security policy prescription without the day to day exigencies of the Japan-US alliance constraining choices.

(2) The fact that such a law can be proposed with little fan fare. This is not to suggest the Japanese public would automatically support it (although I see no reason to state emphatically that they wouldn’t) but that such discussions of Japan’s security role and the exercise of Japanese military power overseas are becoming more mainstream.

(3) I have mentioned previously (somewhere) that for a vibrant two-party system to work in Japan there does not necessarily have to be a significant and clear ideological divide between the parties – at least in terms of the Western concept of Left-Right wing politics. But obviously there will need to be some sort of party identity. I wonder if security issues such as these are going to be the ones that come to define the LDP’s party identity, or at least that of a “consolidated” 2nd “pole”. For the 2013 double election I can imagine, assuming the Japanese economy is back on track, the issues of the Sales Tax and Japan’s security posture, or even constitutional revision, could be significant issues that parties are going to have to stake their reputations on. And winning a double election after hopefully a more stable (than now) period of an alternative government would be a legitimate opportunity to claim a mandate for changing or not changing the constitution. While some may deride the DPJ’s 2009 victory as one borne of apathy and disgust with LDP rule,  if there is some consolidation around a second pole (we will see how “3rd pole”-like parties currently claiming “3rd pole” status really are after the July elections), then the voters will have a legitimate choice.

Why necessarily constitutional change? After all, the LDP is looking to cooperate with the DPJ on the current proposal for a general law – and there is no reason to believe that the DPJ would find anything greatly problematic in this – they have been merely disinterested in security issues such as this rather than hostile to them. Well, a month ago the LDP were considering including legitimizing the use of “Collective Self-Defense” ( 集団的自衛権 shuudan-teki jieiken) in the manifesto for the upcoming election (jp). This would be constitutionally significant and could well be something that could drive an interesting identity wedge between the LDP and the DPJ – especially with the likes of security hawk Koike Yuriko (who has been making a rather silly IMO song and dance in international media about [Chinese] foreigner suffrage undermining Japan’s security)  and security policy wonk Ishiba Shigeru in the LDP  likely to feature strongly after the 2010 election. And let’s not forget the old guard of ‘Beautiful Japan’ers who are sure to exert influence behind the scenes.

Ozawa’s Children II

In a timely follow up to this post, the Asahi Shimbun is reporting on a meeting (jp) of 27 1st time Lower House DPJ members at a Japanese Hotel. Facilitated by Genba Kouichirou (from around Fukushima way – my “home”), who is the Lower House Financial Affairs Committee chairman, the article mentions that the group was not set up to be an explicitly “anti-Ozawa” faction but merely wanting to explore future possibilities if there was an internal DPJ election. Of course, the two things are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The group is also quite concerned with financial matters and regional regeneration/delegation. Genba is also one of the “seven magistrates” and is close to Transport Minister Maehara Seiji, and supported Foreign Minister Okada against Hatoyama in last year’s election for DPJ leader.

Whatever this might suggest about the possibilities for a “double step-down” later on this month, it seems increasingly likely that rational self-interest, if not good policy sense, is proceeding in the fashion I expected. The “hope” of a split apart, and the imminent “self-destruction” of a party that has 300 plus LH seats (!) that we see in much Western commentary on Japan is becoming less likely.

Ozawa Appreciation Society?

Seems Ozawa has changed his tune and will front up to the Deliberative Council on Political Ethics, to “explain” himself as many have been calling for. The timing is interesting. Also, what an interesting man – according to this article (jp) he adds with some delicious irony “I’ll front up to the council any time – I was the one who created the council, ya know.” And indeed it appears that in 1985 as Lower House Steering Committee chairman that he did.

I think my point is made.

Also, it seems that Masuzoe has figured out before everyone else that there cannot be too many “third pole” parties. He has thrown down the gauntlet in front of Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi suggesting that he believed that Watanabe along with himself  were clear on who was “the no.1 enemy” (Ozawa – that man again).  He then slandered Watanabe’s good name by casually alluding to the fact that some people have suggested that Your Party are “DPJ II”. I am sure they will be now!!

To be sure Watanabe had a pretty sensible comeback  saying that they would not be any pushover in any coalition and in fact they could exert some positive pressure by being the “casting vote”. He did make sure to suggest that while the DPJ were imitation reformers, YP is the real thing, and that Masuzoe and he would be better off if they did not go into battle against each other. Apparently Masuzoe was also probably alluding to history between Watanabe’s father and Ozawa around about 1993 – Watanabe Michio (who was a Minister of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Vice PM in his time) was thinking of leaving the LDP in 1994 and apparently was considering an offer from the at the time shinseitou boss, who went by the name Ozawa Ichiro. After failing three times to get the LDP presidency, his interest was piqued by a possible prime ministership.

Update: The timing is indeed interesting. Shisaku explains why.