Friday afternoon news.

Wow, it is all coming thick and fast today off the Japanese newswires. GRU Minister Edano and perhaps damningly, supposed ally Kan Naoto have come out suggesting that Ozawa’s recent additional troubles will have a negative impact on the HoC election and that he should perhaps consider explaining some things.  Transport Minister Maehara Seiji has taken some time out of his Washington trip to reflect likewise on the issue. Which should not be surprising really the antipathy between the two.  On top of all of this U.S. Ambassador Roos has been called back to the U.S. for a chat it would seem, suggesting movement on the Futenma issue. And Cabinet has decided to go through with the Postal Privatization rollback and a bill has made its way through Cabinet – due to come into force October next year. With May being, well tomorrow, the intrigue looks set to begin.

Oh, and there is an arrest warrant out for Paul Watson of Sea Shepperd fame.


Tobias Harris has posted an excellent dissection of the contours of the Futenma issue over at Observing Japan. I will offer a couple of reflections of my own.
Mr Harris makes an interesting and very valid point that if Hatoyama and the DPJ were really acting in bad faith vis-a-vis the US relationship, the situation would look very different. To quote:
That the Hatoyama government is searching so hard for alternatives — including alternatives within Okinawa — is evidence of its desire to maintain a constructive relationship with the US….not evidence of its desire to undermine the relationship

This is often forgotten I feel – although I guess it depends on your reading of how much the Japanese public “values” the US-Japan alliance.

If Hatoyama was decisive about the issue in an “anti-American” way (or more appropriately for Japan “standing up to the bully” kind of fashion), the very same people who currently are having misgivings about the damage to the US-Japan relationship from a purely calculating point of view might have found some satisfaction in the identity/symbolic politics of this, which has its own kind of benefits.

Basically, the public might have been willing to “sell” off a bit of short-term good will in terms of the US-Japan relationship in order to buy a little bit of long-term “realism” to base the relationship on in terms of communicating to the US the rules of engagement for the development of the relationship in the future. This battle may well have to be fought another day – possibly in less US friendly terms.

That Hatoyama has not indulged in this kind of politics has been to his own detriment  – he may well be appearing to be compromising the relationship for no “good” reason.

Which we can connect to another point Mr Harris makes about Hatoyama being boxed in by the US  on this issue and the US escalating the issue. Here I have to wonder, overall, how much damage long-term this may do to the US-Japan relationship – to the detriment of the US more than Japan perhaps. Hatoyama’s own deficiencies on this will be patently obvious to the public (which is detailed well in the post) but the public is probably also fully aware of the role US influence has played in this. This perception, especially if an out-of-Okinawa solution fails, will be fodder for symbolic politics for any subsequent cabinet/government.

Furthermore, if the US is seen to be “hard to work with” on these kind of issues, does this not provide an incentive for future Japanese politicians to avoid taking the “good faith” angle? The case and the fate of the curious Hatoyama Yukio may well be a textbook example for future budding Japanese politicians.

Possibly US alliance managers thought they could embarrass the DPJ out of government?
If so, this looks decidedly ill advised as not only electorally speaking with all of the most US-friendly politicians comfortably tucked away in the increasingly irrelevant LDP, but a pretty bad reading of the public mood. I wonder how much will be learned from this however – it will be obvious to many that the public does not approve of Hatoyama’s handling of Futenma.  But for the reasons that the alliance managers think? I doubt it.

Aside from Hatoyama’s secret Futenma plan…..

It seems that yesterday’s question time in the Lower House was a somewhat despairing affair, but I see something interesting has come out of it which might be of tactical interest.

Komeito’s Yamaguchi Natsuo went to town on the Hatoyama cabinet and came out in clear opposition to Hatoyama’s acquiescence to Kamei Shizuka’s plan to double the ceiling on postal deposits.

So potential pre and/or post election partner Komeito pretty much thinks the Hatoyama Cabinet is hopeless, in both the literal and commonly used sense of the word. Nevertheless, if there was a group of people, say, in the DPJ, who would like to get rid of Hatoyama, at the very least stabilise postal reforms if not push them forward, and get rid of the PNP’s influence in government – this would sound not exactly like the worst overture (J) in the world……

Even the DPJ’s previous chief adviser has raised concerns (J) about Hatoyama & Tanigaki and their respective parties’ less than stellar performance –  suggesting that a true political reorganisation and a two party system will not come until after the House of Councillors election and one assumes with both of these two out of the way – basically the two parties as they are currently constituted do not represent (he hopes) the two parties that will make up a predictable two party system. Revisiting Masuzoe et al’s seeming decision to remain with the LDP in this context it probably makes some degree of sense if we assume that Masuzoe is thinking longer term – while he is more or less effectively ruling out any role in government in a post HoC election world, one assumes that he will be around to pick up the pieces of the LDP in the wake of the HoC elections. He would inherit the party with a crystal clear mandate to reform it, with the possibility of always inviting back those who have departed in the last couple of years back into the party, thus consolidating its strength. This reformed party may well be in a good coherent place, ideologically speaking, come around the time of the next Lower House election. Given the likes of Koike and Yosano are unable to leave the party (at least with no electoral risk) until the next Lower House election in a few years time, this is probably all the better for Masuzoe given their political value.

The risk he takes of course, is that the DPJ may enhance their performance in anyway, and  perhaps even more problematically, develop its own coherent ideological outlook, which might infringe upon some of the areas Masuzoe himself may be interested in. Obviously the governing party would probably have the advantage – especially with time on their side and the potential for it to wash away some of the, uh, public confidence problems the DPJ has been having of late.

That said, two-party systems do not always require large contrasting ideological differences  – just enough to campaign on, with added personal elements mixed in for good effect. And there is enough detectable space between DPJ and LDP reform minded candidates – and certainly a fair amount of personal animosity for this to be possible. And even if the two parties’ platforms did coalesce around certain principles, and this was to represent a new ideological consensus on some of the issues, domestic and foreign, that beguile Japan today, Japan will still be all the better for it with two parties fighting over a consensus, rather than one.

Lazy Speculation

Assuming Masuzoe’s promise to play nice (J) within the LDP is sincere, then I think this simplifies the potential outcomes for the House of Councillors election later this year.

I am going to make a few assumptions.

That Watanabe’s party continues to make a few strides, but nothing like what they might do with the money of Hatoyama and the appeal of Masuzoe and his study group, and perhaps most importantly, the STV electoral seats Hatoyama/Masuzoe would bring – thus picking up a fair amount of the undecided proportional vote (potentially 37%) and a couple more STV seats but not enough to swing the electoral math oneway or another.

That without the above “energizing factor” that a lower turnout will advantage those parties that tend to have faithful followers and do well on PR- such as Komeito, Socialist Party, and the Communists. SDP and the Communists look like they may do worse than previous years, but let’s assume they hold. Komeito might be able to pick up a couple with the excitement or possibility of going into coalition again and thus galvanising what is already a reasonably galvanised support base.

That independents retain seats. That PNP retains their seats. Also that the DPJ will find the PNP ultimately more trouble than its worth.

That the LDP gets a few reactionary votes.

So, my highly scientific prediction based on a few scribbles and a lack of information (namely the exact percentage of STV seats vs PR seats each party’s allocation is made up of, and, the STV seats actually in play!):

DPJ et al: 114

LDP (&kaikaku?): 79

Komeito: 22

Minna no Tou: 10

Communists: 7

SDP: 5

Independents: 5

I can see that the DPJ as the government is in the best place to improve their situation through policy victories. However, that is somewhat murky. Futenma and postal privatization would seem to be the big ones in the immediate future.


* Biggest win would be an out of Okinawa solution by May. But this seems most unlikely. No justification for Hatoyama to step down and perhaps party gets support.

*Weak “in” Okinawa solution – Hatoyama looks more incompetent but party replacing him could lead to lost votes due to not strong enough justification for PM to quit, given the disgust at the recent past history of short-term PMs beseiged by scandals and/or scandalized Cabinets.

*No Okinawa solution by May (perhaps “engineered”?) – Hatoyama must go, justifiably so. Okada to lead, may gain some votes but not as much as would under a “win” on Okinawa

Postal Privatization: In this part, majority management rather than public perception management is key here as I think the public is itself ambivalent about postal privatization.

Concede to Kamei: Risk rebellion in own party. Status quo in terms of election outcome will probably continue – but bad for “Japan”. Hopefully some DPJ members (“the seven magistrates?”) will not allow this, emboldened by the seeming weakening power of Hatoyama and Ozawa.

Don’t concede: Have to throw him out of Cabinet before July. Normally this would be were I could see a place for some of the Minna no tou like parties – but in a strange and slightly nonsensical effort to burn their bridges with the DPJ, a pre-election deal would not happen on non-postal privatization legislation- and I am sure Watanabe et al would be very happy to let the current plan stay just where it is which is all that is going to happen if Cabinet cannot agree (and some may so good).

I personally would have thought that an ambivalent but pragmatic message about working with the DPJ would actually be a better electoral strategy to pick up the undecideds – “a vote for me because I will keep the b*****ds honest” kind of approach. I am not sure what is to be gained by outright alienating the DPJ and give the public the impression that you would rather use the likeness of Koizumi as fumie than cooperate with those who have forever corrupted Japanese politics (sic).

Which leaves us with Komeito, who from what I can tell have a similar approach to postal privatization as the DPJ – privatization with a smile. In the past the Komeito have been concerned (such as during the 2005 lower house snap election and in the wake of the 2007 HoC elections) with electoral stability as much as specific policies so they may be able to lend a helping hand on majority issues in the upper house – and perhaps beyond. Actually a minority government with an agreement with Komeito on specific issues of cooperation (but not a full Cabinet centred coalition), and the ability to use either of the two potential partners to go to on any given issue could well be quite stable. In NZ, where we also have a mixed PR system and also a Westminster style democracy, this is actually the modus operandi and it is pretty stable. As it is, with control of the lower house, the DPJ does not require even a confidence and supply agreement.

Furthermore, a minority government rather than a full coalition represented in Cabinet might be the best way for any Japanese government to establish some “constitutional norms” around Cabinet and party discipline and agreement and disagreement, issues Tobias Harris very ably touches on in the last couple of posts here (with bit contributions in the comments from Michael Cucek and I).

A loose agreement with probably Komeito might be a good way to open up the debate within the DPJ also – allowing members to occasionally vote with their “conscience”  as we call it, on certain issues without either jeopardising electoral stability, or the person objecting’s good name on the issue they feel passionate about. The upshot of this is that the DPJ would feel less compelled to exert a strong whipping influence over every single vote and some idol chatter from backbenchers on issues they feel passionate about would hopefully become uninteresting to the national media – they would not want disagreement to happen too often, but it would be tolerable as long as the fundamental basis of the party’s existence or nature was not challenged at the same time – which is what is effectively happening now. I don’t see any of this being that problematic AS LONG AS DISAGREEMENT STOPS HAPPENING IN PUBLIC BETWEEN MEMBERS OF CABINET!!! The latest example of this mess being here (J). Seriously, the debate that is going to happen – that is what Cabinet is actually for! If the important people or a large majority agree, then those that disagree either shut up, or leave Cabinet. If the right people do not agree, you either agree to go away and work on the policy more, or you leave Cabinet. I cannot honestly figure out if it is just complete incompetence (and in the case of Kamei, outright insolence) on the part of Hatoyama, or if the concept of “Collective Responsibility” of Cabinet is just completely alien to Japanese politics. If it is, then fine. I guess time will tell.

Anway, since, given the “electoral math” provided above, Komeito are only one of two possible coalition partners, Jun Okumura’s claimed prescience would indeed seem to be just that. Perhaps the “Seven Magistrates” understand all this and are lying in wait for the opportune moment – of course, let’s just hope the likes of Hatoyama, Kamei, and Ozawa do not stuff it all up one way or another before then.

3 years of an Okada lead minority government (in the strongest sense) with support from Komeito and a reformist “third pole” when needed could well be best outcome out of all of this!