Not too early to start thinking about the 2016 election?

Overall, I generally agree with MTC and Tobias Harris that while this election looks like a thumping victory, it may not necessarily enhance Abe’s ability to implement the third arrow of Abenomics and national security and constitutional changes. It will, however, have a positive short-term impact upon Abe’s ability to continue to implement the first two arrows of Abenomics relating to fiscal spending and changing the basis of taxation (particularly the corporate tax), and the continuation of BOJ-led monetary easing.

I perhaps differ a little with MTC in that I would say that the gamble has paid off, although only just. If nothing else, Abe has two more years, which if he uses it wisely and patiently (a big assumption in itself) in terms of issue selection, could result in eventual success.

He is also less likely to face a challenger in September election. A poor result in the election would have made that almost inevitable, and he has avoided this humiliation.

Now, an even more disastrous downturn in the economy or demonstration of administrative incompetence is probably required in order for a genuine challenger to emerge. Prior to Abe calling the election, the simple eating away of Abe’s support rate ahead of the 2015 LDP presidency election (as was already taking place), and the prospect of a 2016 HoR-HoC double election, would have been enough to stimulate significant concern within the LDP and a challenger. Now the House of Representatives members of the LDP will be somewhat calmed. But nine months is still a longtime, and Ishiba Shigeru waits in the wings should something unexpected take place.

I do feel, given expectations around an even more dominating victory, that Abe may have lost a little bit of momentum, nonetheless. While much has been made of the low turnout rate, it is also important to note, as MTC does, that the LDP’s PR percentage was merely a third of all votes. Expectations were that the LDP would get around 40 percent of the vote in PR at the very least. Also important to note is that the LDP’s victories in the single-member districts (SMDs) were even more dependent on the Komeito than was previously the case, which will give LDP leaders pause.

Indeed, the real winners of the election were:

Komeito

While Komeito increased the number of seats by four, compared to a LDP three-seat loss, more important was the effective elimination of two alternative parties (Your Party and the Next Generation Party) that Abe would most likely use in any intra-coalition power play to chasten a recalcitrant Komeito on security issues in particular. Furthermore, MTC estimates in the context of low voter turnout that the LDP may have been reliant on Komeito for up to 25 percent of its SMDs’ votes. If low voter turnout is going to be the new norm in Japan, then attempts to bludgeon Komeito into submission through threats of coalition dissolution will have even less credibility.

The Japan Innovation Party

In its former incarnation, the JRP was also a party that Abe could use in the manner articulated above. However, with the separation from Ishihara and merger with Eda Kenji’s Your Party offshoot, the party has embraced a more moderate, reform orientated and urban-focused party image and policy platform not so dissimilar to the original DPJ. While Hashimoto still sees areas of cooperation with Abe, incentives point in the opposite direction (as discussed below). In any respect, Hashimoto declining to run in this election enhances Eda Kenji’s leadership of the party in the Diet. With the arch-conservative Party for Future Generations being essentially obliterated, and the more moderate JIP holding its own in the PR segment of the vote, then this election may well have consolidated JIP’s electoral relevance and pointed the way to a sustainable strategy for political positioning. And as one of Abe’s ulterior motives for the election was the effective elimination of the electoral relevance of other non-left parties, then victory can be declared in the JIP only losing one seat overall.

The Japan Communist Party

The JCP came close to tripling its representation. While it may be tempting to portray the JCP as really being a principled social democratic party with an unusual relic of a name, until we see any sort of engagement with policymaking, and cooperation and compromise (god-forbid) with other non-LDP parties, then I am reluctant to ascribe much relevance to this development. But 13 more communists will collect a solid salary than prior to the election. That said, the JCP will now be able to submit non-budgetary bills to the Diet, so maybe they will prove me wrong. In any respect, a win for the communists (a phrase one does not hear often these days).

The 6人衆

(rokunin-shu – formerly known as the nana-bugyou 七奉行)

The leaders of the so-called “mainstream” of the DPJ not only see Kaieda Banri fail for the second time, leaving the way open for one of their ilk to take over the DPJ leadership, but also lose his seat. This in theory makes realignment much more manageable as members of this grouping (Okada Katsuya, Maehara Seiji, Azumi Jun, Edano Yukio, Gemba Koichiro, Noda Yoshihiko), along with Hosono Goshi, have increasingly been putting out feelers to the JIP after Ishihara and Hashimoto split the JRP.

Implications for realignment

As noted by CFR’s Shelia Smith, this election was a lesson in why it is important for the opposition to present itself as a genuine alternative with its own ideas. This rings especially true when we consider how little success the DPJ and JIP had in Tokyo’s SMDs despite some degree of cooperation and favourable electoral dynamics. Nevertheless, it would surprise me if DPJ-JIP realignment or a merger took place soon, although a Hosono Goshi or Maehara Seiji victory in the January 2015 DPJ elections might change the dynamics somewhat. Currently, I would say Edano and Hosono have the inside running, but the current leadership vacuum in the DPJ could result in almost anything happening.

While the JIP has moved more closely to the mainstream of the DPJ than many have perhaps realised, there is still a key sticking point around labour legislation and labour unions. The fact that the JIP did better than many expected on the PR ticket suggests that the more moderate strategy has the potential to work, and also means that it will likely not be absorbed into the DPJ as a rump party. Hashimoto was disappointed by the election result, but his political relevance has not been obliterated by the election as many expected. In fact, with the 2016 House of Councillors election, there is an even greater chance that the JIP can establish itself as a genuine political force. Not only can it represent itself as the non-Rengo beholden alternative to the LDP and eat into the LDP’s base, especially if third arrow reforms stagnate ahead of 2016, but the JIP has a great chance to radically eat into the DPJ’s House of Councillors seat tally. In 2016, 41 out of the current 58 DPJ House of Councillors candidates will be up for election. Remember, the DPJ lost 27 out of the 44 seats it had up for election in the first post-DPJ government election in 2013, with many going to the JRP, Your Party, and some going back to the LDP. Furthermore, the electoral system for the House of Councillors (as it currently stands) provides less incentive for a formal amalgamation or even cooperation between the two parties in urban areas compared to a House of Representatives election with many SMDs. In 2013, 42 out of the 73 non-PR seats up for grabs were in more urban or suburban multi-member districts, with a further 48 seats distributed on the basis of proportional representation.

If such realignment is going to take place, current logic would suggest the JIP would do well to hold out until after the 2016 election and see where things stand after the dust settles. It may even be able to negotiate realignment from a position of strength without as much consideration of the still electorally influential Rengo. Either way, while one election outcome is that Abe (potentially) has four more years of rule, the opposition has fewer players and four more years to sort itself out.

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Is it Time to Start Thinking about 2013?

As was predicted here around the time of the dissolution of the Diet the mechanics of the current Japanese political system makes it likely that the LDP-Komeito coalition, if not the LDP on its own, will get a majority on December 16th. At the official start of the election season on December 4th most of the mainstream media outlets have started to predict this very outcome This is despite the LDP’s support rate under Abe being less than stellar, and there being almost no enthusiasm for the party. This seems to have been a (what should have been obvious) stimulus to the likes of the JRP who will now look to turn their undivided attention to attacking the LDP. JRP 2IC Osaka Governor Matsui has even come out groveling to Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi, saying (日) that he and Hashimoto were in hindsight “too cheeky” and insufficiently respectful of “Watanabe-Sempai’s (political) life experience.” With the LDP the default option, uninspiring to many as it is, nothing short of some grand gesture/announcement by the two “third pole” parties is going to change the the narrative and outcome of this particular election. It is possible that they may turn around what looks to be a fait accompli, just unlikely at this point in time. This is because it is unfortunately too late to offload Ishihara and the other retro-conservatives of the Taiyo no Tou, and make a play for Your Party amalgamation. With the LDP lurking at around 20-25 percent in the PR vote, it does not have to do much better in the SMDs, if at all, than it did in the last disastrous election for the LDP, to acquire a majority this time around, given the rest of the vote will be split in the SMDs between the JRP/YP, the DPJ, and the Japan Future Party (JFP). This will look like a comprehensive victory, but the deeper numbers, as we will all know, will suggest anything but a mandate.

Which raises some interesting questions about the Japanese political system going forward. There has been discussion about the current configuration, of the “conservative” LDP, the “whatever-you-personally-want-to-label-them” JRP, the centrist DPJ, and the “liberal” JFP, being representative of the true realignment of Japanese politics, as opposed to a seemingly “forced” two party British/Westminster system. I had this discussion with good friend Bryce Wakefield recently; and friend of Sigma1, Michael Penn at Shingetsu News Agency, has recently put forward the same hypothesis in last week’s subscription-only “Tokyo Diplomat.” [So credit goes to them].

Given the complexity of the Japanese political system and the difficulty in identifying what we Westerners tend to perceive as “left” and “right” in the Japanese ideological spectrum, then this seems a pretty solid hypothesis. We may have to give up on a two-party system – and that might be ok. As long as the parties themselves are somewhat internally coherent (not quite there yet of course) then having more than two (incoherent) parties may not be a bad thing.

If this is the case, then Japan clearly has the wrong political system. If as is predicted the LDP does go on to win quite convincingly on the back of 20 percent support in the Proportional Representation system (ie their “true” support level) then something is quite clearly wrong. First-Past-the-Post systems limit political representation for the benefit of simplifying the political system and promoting stable, but still democratic, governance. However, this is more for systems where two major political parties fiercely compete but are likely to fall a bit short of getting 50 percent of the vote from time to time on their own. However, not this short. 20 and even 30 percent “true” support translating into perhaps 60 percent of the number of seats seems absurd. It clearly undermines too much the “popular democracy” component of the democracy-governance trade-off of FPP systems (notwithstanding the PR component of the current Japanese system). Throw in the fact that rural votes are worth two times as much as urban votes (not to mention this being unconstitutional), then it becomes an absolute farce.

This is not to say that a return to the Multiple Member Districts (MMD) of old is desirable. That would be a step backwards. It does raise questions regarding Noda and Abe’s plan/promise to cut the number of seats during the 2013 regular Diet session, however. When you have four parties which all deserve some kind of voice, why cut the PR seats? Especially when they are the only part of the system that gives certain citizens an “equal value” vote. Cutting the seats to save on waste is noble enough, but doing so in a way that might enshrine permanent but unpopular LDP-Komeito rule in the medium-term will be undesirable, even for the DPJ. The DPJ is unlikely to ever again win the way it did in 2009. It may be able to gain in the 2013 House of Councillors election, but it will not be much. The truth is, the DPJ is not the “2nd party” that they think they are in a Westminster-style system. Neither will the JRP be. When we all come back next year and Abe is forced to consider his promise to undertake reform of the House of Representatives, reducing the PR seats will be exactly the wrong thing to do, unless there is some kind of realignment into two blocs.

At the risk of sounding parochial, there is of course a solution, one that may only have a six month window open for consideration if the LDP is mildly successful at governing.

It produces good, stable cabinet-focused governance based on coalition governments, and pretty good representation across the spectrum while still incentivizing centrist policy-making. It is not that different from the current Japanese system in that it has both FPP elements and PR elements. And if a party is genuinely popular then it doesn’t prevent them from claiming a mandate for reform.

Mixed Member Proportional representation (MMP).* It’s perfect for a natural four (or three) party system with a Westminster heritage. And, citizens are all enfranchised as both their party and their electorate vote are valued the same as anywhere else in the nation. Imagine that.

* With all of the necessary tweaks needed to make it work in Japan.

LDP Support Takes a (Mini) Dive

The Asahi and Yomiuri newspapers’ opinion polls released this morning would seem to portend bad news for Abe Shinzo and the LDP. According to the Yomiuri poll (日) in the last week LDP’s PR vote support has dived from 25 percent to 19 percent which is more than just a sample error. The DPJ and Your Party have been the beneficiary of this, increasing slightly from 10 percent to 13 percent (DPJ) and from 2 percent to 5 percent (YP) respectively. The new “Mirai no Tou” or “Future Party” makes a minor dent at 5 percent which will only bring back about 10-15 of their current 60 odd MPs at best. The JRP vote is holding constant but does indeed seem to have peaked at 13 percent.

The Asahi poll (日) shows some similarities. LDP support is down from 23 to 20 percent, and the DPJ is up from 13 percent to 15 percent. Again the JRP is holding constant at around 9 percent in this poll (10 percent previously). The poll also reveals a lack of expectation for the Mirai no Tou and Ozawa’s involvement in particular.

To be sure this is an interesting development. Abe’s perceived flip-flopping on the BOJ issue and the attack from all sides, including the LDP’s New Komeito partner, on issues relating to defense such as the collective self-defense and changes to Article 9 regarding the SDF name and its legal constitutional basis, are likely to been a factor in this decline.*

It is too early to predict a change in the outcome of the election, however. The Yomiuri poll shows that while the PR vote for the LDP is less than impressive, the LDP is likely still to do better in the SMDs. 22 percent of people will vote for the LDP in their SMD (down from 27 percent to be sure), 13 percent for the DPJ (up from 9 percent), and 12 percent for the JRP (down from 14 percent). Of course that is less than 50 percent of the vote, but it (superficially) shows how the split in the non-LDP vote might just put the LDP ahead in many of the 300 First-Past-the-Post SMDs, which are already tilted in the LDPs favour due to the vote-value disparity amplifying the voice of rural areas. Furthermore, unless the DPJ (3 years of troubled rule)** and the JRP (bickering with Your Party, and now seemingly internally between the Ishihara and Hashimoto factions over the nuclear issue)*** can relieve themselves of the political media burdens that they are currently carrying, then much of the remainder of that 40 to 50 percent undecided vote will probably default to the LDP.**** In fact, this should be the LDP’s general strategy – the default party. In this sense Abe, with his various visions, might well turn out to be the wrong guy for this kind of strategy.

* The Asahi poll also reveals some opposition to Abe’s proposal to change the SDF’s name to that of “National Defense Military” (国防軍). 51 percent are against and only 26 percent are in favour. The rightward shift is palpable! Technically this name change would be rendered as “National Defense Force” in English but the name change is more significant in Japanese due to the presence of the 軍 character, hence my translation. The Asahi poll indicates that candidate/party positions on Article 9 are important in the final voting decision for 68 percent of respondents.

** Are the North Koreans going to influence this election by giving a helping hand to Noda by launching a missile right before the election? A solid performance by Noda might reinforce the narrative that, while not a popular or attractive candidate, he is a steady hand on foreign policy, unlike his “weak” DPJ predecessors or his potential “Hawkish” LDP replacement in Abe. Of course, on the other hand, any scent of mismanagement in the response will have quite the opposite effect.

*** Why is the JRP even talking about the nuclear power issue (or for that matter weapons)? It is not going to win them any votes either which way because those who are concerned with nuclear power issues were not voting for them anyway. The discussion only highlights internal disagreement on the issue, something that exists along the political spectrum. As long as they don’t take an obviously pro-nuclear power, or immediate, “Nuclear Zero” position to close down the reactors then discussion over this is a distraction from what should be a relentless and single-minded emphasis on administrative reform and decentralization.

****Still no good polls from swing SMD blocs or a general regional bloc-by-bloc breakdown of the PR vote thus making more specific conclusions inappropriate. The Kyodo poll from the same time period shows that there has been virtually no change in the last week. 18 percent for the LDP, 10 percent for JRP, and 9 percent for the DPJ. They show about 3.5 percent for the Mirai no Tou.

Will Your Party-Japan Restoration Party Discord Swing the Election to the LDP?

The overlapping of Single Member Districts between Your Party and the JRP continues. As of late yesterday the two parties have fielded candidates in 18 of the same SMDs (日), including, somewhat inexplicably, overlap in 5 Kanagawa districts and 7 Tokyo districts. These districts would be ones ripe for the picking of a united third party, as Tokyo and Kanagawa have swung decisively towards the party with a reform mantra in previous years (such as Koizumi in 2005, and DPJ in 2009). The LDP will be most happy as apart the two parties will gain a lower share of the vote than they would united, liking tipping these districts to the LDP unless the public perceives that one of them (likely Your Party’s candidate in this case) is not worth voting for. It would seem the two sides are in a potentially disastrous game of chicken, although not yet close to being beyond salvage.

Interestingly, the perception in Your Party is that the JRP is speaking of collaboration but is really out to overwhelm Your Party nationally and regionally, thus making a “third pole” vote for the JRP a fait accompli by election day.  There is likely truth in this.

However this might be a little self-indulgent on Your Party’s part. The explicit reason why a deal has not been done is because the JRP rejected the “Your Party in the East, JRP in the West” division of labour proposed by YP. The problem is that the YP was always going to be the junior partner and an inability to comprehend that suggests that Watanabe Yoshimi’s ego may well be the biggest, and certainly the most fragile, of the three main third pole protagonists (as noted on this blog many times). The JRP ultimately has wider appeal, due to personnel, but also because, while reform-orientated, the JRP agenda is more pragmatic with distinctly non neo-liberal elements mixed in with the more obviously neo-liberal reform proposals. This fits with the Japanese public who want to see smaller government in certain places (construction, bureaucracy), but are not particularly doctrinaire about the small v large government issue. Furthermore, as Osaka Governor and JRP executive Matsui was right to note (and has again been emphasised on this blog on a few occassions), Watanabe’s political judgement deserves to be questioned given the complete and utter lack of accomplishments over the last three years by Your Party. This is despite being in the position to actually influence proceedings through a crucial number of Diet members in the House of Councillors (at least before the DPJ started shedding numbers). A pragmatic, intelligent leader would have reached across the aisle and perhaps made even one or two deals- for example an acceptable reform by the DPJ in exchange for a YP core reform. That this did not happen and Watanabe essentially whinged for three years, while taking occassionally witty potshots at the DPJ (while being unable to take them in return!), suggests that perhaps indeed Hashimoto and Matsui have the better political judgement in terms of staying aloof from YP. After all, Your Party’s support seems to have dipped over time rather than increased despite the ample number of non-committed/independent voters in Japan that may have been attracted to an independent party (between 50-65 percent depending on the poll). Ultimately, Your Party was unable to distinguish itself from the LDP in any meaningful way despite pretensions to do so (and probably also unable to get over the PR fail that is the Your Party moniker).

In fact, arguably Your Party’s existence, perhaps ironically, is owed to Noda. Only a matter of a month or so ago Your Party had suffered defections and there was internal disharmony around Watanabe’s leadership. It seemed that in the long-term Your Party would continue to bleed all their remaining support to whatever movement Hashimoto was trying to build over time. Without Noda calling a snap election then Hashimoto et al may well have had more time to build a nation-wide political machine without relying on the support of Your Party, or for that matter, Ishihara. Noda’s call essentially revived Your Party and forced Hashimoto to reconsider an alliance with the Watanabe et al.*

Nevertheless, while the JRP may be justified in thinking it has the upper hand, they still need to be smart. As I argued in the previous post, it is not so much about how many seats the JRP can get vis-a-vis the DPJ, and for that matter, Your Party, but what impact third pole parties will have on the likelihood of a LDP-Komeito coalition gaining the majority. With 300 SMD seats up for grabs, and the DPJ unlikely to get much more than 100 of them (at best), then there is still plenty of scope for the LDP, as a default, to gain the 150 or so SMD seats required to gain a majority, even if Abe Shinzo fails to inspire.

Perhaps more important than anything, is the media perception. The media is following closely the Watanabe-Hashimoto collaboration story, and while it has emphasized their cooperation (such as campaigning together and drawing a 1000 person crowd), it will also seize ruthlessly on any appearance of discord. Arguably it already is. Even if there is less than meets the eye in terms of conflict between YP and JRP, the Japanese media, as it is wont to do, will focus on the personal politics,  emphasize the petty aspects, and the conflict. That could will well give the public second thoughts about a vote for a third pole party.

*Noda would have seen that the third parties were vulnerable and calculated that now was the time to strike with dissension in the ranks. Where Noda miscalculated was that Ishihara and Hahsimoto would be pragmatic enough to join forces with each other and compromise on issues such as nuclear power and the TPP.

Key Factor for Determining the Election Outcome

Assumption: The Liberal Democratic Party is likely to get 60 seats in the various local Proportional Representation blocs – It is hard to see them doing worse than they did in 2009, their worst defeat ever, even if they fail to get back a lot of the pre-2009 vote. The Japan Restoration Party (JRP) will instead likely eat away at those who would have swung back from the DPJ to the LDP in this election if the JRP was not contesting the local PR blocs. If there is evidence of the JRP eating into core LDP support then this prediction will change, but I have yet to see this evidence.

However, that Ishihara is running in the Tokyo PR bloc, and Higashikokubaru (probably) in the Kyushu bloc, is smart and enhances the ability of the JRP to do this by freeing these two prominent individuals to campaign across these broad districts without engaging in a Single Member District (SMD) race. The main areas to prioritize for the JRP in terms of going for the PR vote would be Hokkaido, Tokyo, Southern Kanto, Kinki (of course) and Kyushu. Right now the opinion polls are all over the place regarding how much support the post-merger JRP actually has, so I will refrain from a prediction on the JRP’s likely PR seat haul for now.

New Komeito is however likely to improve on its 21 seats from 2009 as it regains some PR vote back from the DPJ from those who would  not vote for the conservative LDP or populist JRP. It is also likely, in deals with these two parties, to pick back up a few SMD seats from the DPJ in Kinki and Tokyo. With 30 or so Komeito seats and the LDP’s likely 60 PR seats, the key to the LDP-Komeito getting a majority (241) would be the LDP getting 150 of the 300 SMD seats. If this was a straight LDP-DPJ election then this would be very likely, and in fact the LDP gaining 170-180 seats or more, and perhaps even getting a simple majority on its own without the Komeito, would be plausible.

Thus the JRP’s entry into the election, and particularly the alignment with other “third pole” parties, is critical for changing this dynamic. First, Ishihara, Hashimoto and Noda are all arguably better campaigners than the sometimes prevaricating (and often too talkative, as noted by Jun Okumura) Abe. Abe has already seemingly backtracked on his BOJ statements as well as his TPP statements. This may have an overall effect in terms of bringing the LDP brand down by complicating the narratives around who is responsible for whatever it is someone needs to be responsible for in modern Japan. If Abe could focus just on Noda and the DPJ then these prevarications might no be so much of an issue given the DPJ’s own track record, but with the media focusing on the enigmatic third pole candidates the construction of a coherent and winning narrative is going to be more difficult. Also, with this prominent JRP presence, and potential threat,  Abe and the LDP will be forced to attack, rather than ignore this grouping and focus on the DPJ, as they would have otherwise done.

However more important than this is the strategy towards the SMDs the JRP in particular is going to adopt. An important part of making strategy for the JRP in this case is balancing short and long-term objectives. It would seem obvious that the objective for the JRP is to gain as many seats as possible. However, arguably preventing the LDP (and Komeito) from regaining a majority should be given even greater priority, although the two objectives are not mutually exclusive.

What I mean by this is that, in terms of how to focus its resources, the JRP should concentrate on the SMDs where its presence can turn the race into a genuine three way contest. In other words, those electorates where the LDP won in 2005, lost in 2009 to the DPJ, and would be likely to swing back to the LDP in 2012 without a third option. There is likely to be around 120 or so of these type of seats. They will not win all of these or even most, and they may even throw a few to the DPJ, but if they manage to deprive the LDP of the magic 150 SMD seats, then that would be the price to pay for relevance and influence in 2013. In this sense, getting 30 seats is as good as 100 if the LDP will be forced to rely on another party. If they compete in what would otherwise be safe DPJ districts in a two-horse race, and only succeed in turning over the SMD to the LDP, they will be further from what should be their objective. Of course, in their campaign rhetoric the DPJ will probably be the easy target, but ultimately it is the LDP that is the true “enemy” for the JRP and others in terms of electoral strategy.

The JRP also needs to vigorously court LDP votes in the SMDs and not just focus on picking up some of the “easy” votes leaving the DPJ. To do this however the JRP will need to work with Watanabe Yoshimi’s Your Party by not overlapping in SMD districts, even if they compete for regional PR votes. Voters will need to be convinced that a vote for a third party will not be a wasted vote.

There are some signs that the JRP and YP are coordinating in this fashion. On the 19th November Your Party and the JRP endorsed their first mutual candidate (日), Your Party’s Ishii Ryouma, a candidate interestingly enough running in Osaka #12 inside the JRP’s home base. Originally Ishii was going to run in Osaka #2 but was moved out of consideration for the JRP candidate. The JRP also went back on their initial plan to run a candidate in every PR bloc’s symbolically important number one district, out of consideration for YP who announced (日) they would run candidates in 10 out of the 11 #1 SMDs. However the next day it became clear that the two were also overlapping. When YP announced their initial tranche of candidates they named a candidate to run in Hokkaido #2 where the JRP is also running a candidate. Your Party did however postpone a decision on Tokyo #23 where the JRP is also running a candidate, but followed it up a few days later by announcing a new face to run in Tokyo #23. Tokyo #4 also seems to overlap. In the YP and JRP’s respective announcements of their third trance of candidates, the Kanagawa area, an area where the LDP is likely to do well compared to 2009, is notable in that both sides have committed candidates to the same five SMD districts. One has to question the wisdom of this.

Anyhow, I will be keeping an eye on this particular facet (coordination between the YP and the JRP) as events unfold over the next few weeks, and hopefully some consistent opinion polls with a regional breakdown will appear allowing more informed decisions. After the election season officially starts on December 4, I will also highlight some key SMD races and whether the YP/JRP is likely to to deprive the LDP of 150 SMD seats.

What Can Ishihara and Hashimoto do Together?

Two of the biggest egos in Japanese politics have found some room for compromise  (日) after weeks of dancing around the issue of working together. Ishihara Shintaro has recognized that Hashimoto Toru’s Nippon Ishin no Kai has the better political brand positioning and has decided to fold his party into Hashimoto’s for the upcoming election. However, Hashimoto has allowed Ishihara to take the lead (for now) and relegated himself to second position in the new collaboration’s set up. They have also managed to put behind them a few policy major differences and have announced a somewhat clear (relatively speaking) memorandum of agreement on what the party would actually initially focus on if it was in the position to affect the passage of legislation/policy-making in the next Diet.

What is notable is a failure to mention constitutional change. This is probably smart, as while no one will be confused regarding either man’s general orientation towards foreign affairs, issues of constitutional change, education and nationalism, and security policy, are things that the Japanese public has consistently indicated in polls are secondary to fixing the domestic political system, the economy, and other pressing social issues. The order of addressing these issues is important to the public, and it would seem that Abe and the conservative wing of the LDP are forgetting (日) this already.*

The document the two sides produced is reasonably short – a rough summary follows:

【1】 Breaking down the centralization of power

Establish a new tax collection system with increased local government responsibility for collection and deciding on its use- the consumption tax, to be increased to 11 percent, will dedicate five percent for fixed government financing and six percent for shared local government finances

【2】 Begin discussions around the doushuusei (a psuedo-federal) system for organizing regional governance

【3】 Initiate policies for the creation of an economy focused on successful small, medium and micro-business enterprise.

【4】 For funding the social security system, introduce appropriate insurance premiums, revise payment conditions, and remake the personal and asset taxation system.

【5】 Look towards participating in the TPP but in discussions ensure that the national interest is not harmed. [A well needed corrective, probably forced upon Hashimoto by Ishihara] In addition there is a need to introduce policies to enhance the competitiveness of the agricultural sector.

【6】 Establishment of a new energy distribution system

With regards to nuclear power, there needs to be (1)Construction of [new] rules regarding(a)safety standards(b)a new safety assurance system (c)processing of spent nuclear fuel(d)identification of responsibility; and(2)Liberalization of the energy sector [away from the regional monopoly system]

【7】 Regarding the Senkaku Islands dispute, push for China to go to the International Court of Justice to resolve the issue. If a case is brought against Japan by China, then Japan should respond in kind.

【8】 Ban party and Diet member donations from businesses and associations. Expand system for encouraging individual donations. As a transitional measure, have an upper limit for donations by businesses and associations

Afterword: The above list of objectives is a reasonably pragmatic, and frankly well needed, simplification of the various ideas floating around between the “third pole” parties. Perhaps Hashimoto in particular has realized that there were too many question marks over what he and his group would do with any power given to them by the citizens. It is also a response to recent criticism by both the LDP and DPJ who have suggested that deals made by the various small parties would be nothing more than “unholy alliances” (an ironic criticism to say the least). In any respect, the aggregated support rate for the various third pole parties (including Your Party and Tax Reducation Japan) still sits under ten percent depending on the opinion poll. A failure to improve on that figure, as well as to pool resources and field candidates in various SMD districts around the whole country, will not only curtail Ishihara and Hashimoto’s long-term ambitions by diluting their leverage, but given the electoral math,** would likely result in the LDP and Komeito coalition securing a majority on December 16th, thereby making the song and dance about the need for a “third pole” moot.

* The proposal is to remove the clause in the textbook certification process that requires consideration of the historic relationship with neighbouring countries. In fact they want to overhaul the whole system of textbook certification and design process, with its “masochistic tendencies,” as a way of making children appreciate ‘traditional Japanese culture’ and to regenerate the Japanese education system. Because that is obviously the main and most pressing problem with the Japanese education system…

** A subject for a post perhaps later next week if some useful opinion polls come out.

Hashimoto Digging Himself into a Hole with Japan’s Conservatives?

While the recent Chinese protests against Japan did very little for China’s image as a country ruled and inhabited by rational and well-informed people, in terms of the public relations war over the Senkaku territorial dispute itself, and regarding drawing attention to China and Taiwan’s dangerous attempts to undermine Japanese effective administrative control, Japan has been faring badly.

The main problems have been the combination of Japan’s unwillingness to admit that there is a territorial dispute, combined with simplistic understandings of the historical context of Japan’s acquisition(by both sides of the argument, actually), which has made it look less than reasonable, especially as critics have pointed to Japan’s WWII-related territorial disputes with other nations. The recent prominence of hardline conservative voices regarding the Senkaku Islands dispute has also raised suspicions elsewhere. While Japan has proposed taking the ROK to the ICJ over Dokdo, has emphasized the “rule of (international) law” in the UN, and has criticized the ROK for not recognizing the dispute, it has been too timid to also adhere to the same exact logic regarding the Senkaku Islands, which drastically undermines its credibility.

At the same time the Japanese government has also been unable to articulate to the international community that any Chinese attempt to undermine effective control, is, irrespective of historical and legal dimensions of the dispute itself, invalid and dangerous. Essentially there is a difference between being pigheaded and committing violence against the international order. The principle of respecting effective control must be adhered to, especially given the serious limitations of international law regarding dealing with historical territorial claims. However, if Japan admitted that there was a territorial dispute, was open to taking it to the ICJ, perhaps in exchange for China recognizing Japan’s administrative control and not challenging it, then perhaps China’s actions would be regarded as every bit as provocative as the Japanese believe they should be. This is the jist of former ambassador and head of the MOFA Treaties Bureau Kazuhiko Togo‘s argument to deal with the situation, anyhow. There is certainly something to it.

It is of great interest in this context of territorial and international law disputes, security tensions, and “hardliner” Abe Shinzo’s ascendance to the LDP throne, that Osaka mayor Hashimoto Toru has chosen this time to pick a Twitter fight with conservatives over territorial and history issues. I have reproduced selected elements of the discussion below with commentary. While there is a lot to deconstruct and challenge regarding his own view of history and past and current conflicts, the below conversation shows why it is too soon to lump him in with populist “nationalists” like Ishihara Shintaro, or for that matter, conservative “nationalists” like Abe Shinzo and Koizumi Junichiro (as people who walked out of even a reasonably mild Diet resolution on Japan’s war responsibility and defunded the secular alternative to the Yasukuni Shrine).

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Hashimoto had earlier suggested that Japan propose dual administration of Dokdo, or the area around it, which is arguably a more moderate proposal than the current government line and certainly more so than calls to “punish” the ROK with sanctions or whatsoever. He had already had media criticism. The storm that this touched off led Hashimoto to confront his interlocutors regarding what they perceived to be “weak-kneed” diplomacy regarding South Korea (on his part and of the current Noda government).

He pointed out the most important point – that South Korea has clear and effective administrative control over the islands. He accused past administrations going way back of having done nothing about the ROK’s acquisition of the islands, but he suggested that this was ultimately Japan’s own “fault” and that they had to accept the cruel facts of life – Korea is not going to give up Dokdo, and like Japan with the Senkakus, it has administrative control. While Hashimoto’s own plan of dual administration will be considered for all of a single second in Korea, Hashimoto felt the need to ask his assailants what they would otherwise do to rectify the situation.

Were they actually saying that they wanted “to use force against Korea to take back the islands?” “No” they said – of course not. “But that is basically what you are arguing for” Hashimoto replies. “What about economic sanctions?” some suggest. “Go back and do so more study! How is that going to work?” Hashimoto accurately notes.

Indeed. Hashimoto seems to at least understand that you can’t take one stance on one territorial issue and then self-indulgently take another stance on another conflict.

This morning Hashimoto is at it again, but this time with the Senkakus. What is that retro-conservative saying now?

Japan should admit that there is a territorial dispute and should be willing to go to the ICJ!

Hmmm…that isn’t going to sit well.

Translation:

Between sovereign states, claims should be settled by reference to principles of law and justice. The rule of law should be respected. While continuing to adhere to such a stance, it is also a reality that a certain degree of one’s own force needs to be maintained. We must face reality while also adhering to the rule of law.

Thus, in regards to the Senkakus, we should stop with this kind of bureaucratic “there is not territorial dispute” stance. If we are so confident in our convictions we should say to China that we are willing to go to the ICJ. This is our chance – actually China is not too keen to go to the ICJ. International society is neutral in regards to disputes. Even the US does not recognize Japan’s sovereignty and is keeping neutral. If we are willing to resolve through the ICJ, we will get considerable support from international society. Even if Korea and China are reluctant, they will have to explain to the international community their position. Likewise with Russia. We should however also increase our national strength. In regards to defense spending, we should not limit it to 1 percent. We should acquire the level of defense strength that we need. As a maritime nation, including the JCG strength, this is a particularly important topic. We need to embrace collective self defense. And strengthen the US alliance. While leading on the promotion of the rule of international law through the ICJ, we should also strengthen ourselves (militarily).

Regarding Japan’s past war deeds, we should recognize our wrongness [literally “that wrong things are wrong”]. However, in regards to the (unchangeable) circumstances of that era, we should also at the same time[as recognizing the bad things] identify the constructive aspects [likely referring to Taiwan and Korea’s economic growth, or Southeast Asian independence?] and correct global perceptions. All of the thinking (statements) about this period is foggy. This fogginess is the main cause of problems. We cannot just say that everything we did was justified or that we are simply being masochistic [by not recognizing positive aspects]. If we admit to the bad things [atrocities] more specifically then we can also talk about the circumstances of the time [perhaps the reasons for the war] and also our contributions. We can push back against mistaken perceptions. This should be made more clear in our government statements on these issues [the bad things should be detailed more as well as “good” things ie the current vagueness is preventing the recognition of either].

We should admit the wrong things, have sympathy for others, and continue to be cautious [about war?]. But, we should push back against unreasonable criticism. Being able to be proud of what we did is directly connected to our recognizing the injustices.

Hashimoto’s point regarding China and Japan having a “chance” shows a good understanding of the situation. China would certainly hesitate to take the Senkaku Islands dispute to the international court, having built it up into a big deal and emphasizing the “unmistakeable” justice of the Chinese claim. In reality, the historical evidence and justifications are foggy at best, and Japan’s continuous administration and lack of Chinese protest before the 1970s could be fatal for China’s case in a court of international law. Certainly ignoring such a risk would be unwise.

Any Japanese administration that lost the Senkakus would be finished to be sure – but what is a Japanese Prime Minister and a new party in government worth these days anyway? The consequences for the Chinese Communist Party would be much more severe. They may ignore the ruling and take on the nose the possibly irreparable harm done to China’s international reputation – significant all the more because they would have agreed to abide by the ruling by going to court. The other issue is that if Japan received a ruling in its favour then it would almost certainly strengthen further its administrative control over the islands and would feel good about doing so. Would China continue to contest this control? Would it launch a military strike?

Conventional logic would suggest no, given the economic, military and diplomatic losses it would incur. But, the CCP’s legitimacy, especially now that the economy is faltering and social instability is rising, is increasingly based on a perception of it being a hardheaded and effective manager of international relations and of China’s rise, and in particular one that would ensure that the historical traumas inflicted by the West and Japan are not repeated. If the CCP just meekly accepted the ruling, the chance of popular anger rising could well lead to the party’s downfall, or certainly end quite a few political lives. Either it would be accused of having been too soft regarding Japan and/or the international community, or it would be accused by others of deceit and manipulation surrounding the Senkaku Islands.The CCP has recently effectively dealt itself “all in” on this dispute.

So Hashimoto probably calculates that Japan being open to taking the dispute to the ICJ is a low-risk, high-return proposition.

In any respect, Hashimoto was not finished there on Twitter and took a few responses. A few other tidbits that won’t endear him to either the left or the right in Japan:

Interlocutor 1:  If we adhered to the 1 percent cap on military spending then Japan would still be 3rd the highest military spender in the world, and that there is still waste in defense spending – 1 percent should be enough.

[Japan is no where near 1 percent right now FWIW]

Hashimoto: I am not necessarily advocating for going beyond 1 percent…just simply that we should start from the point of view of what we need, and we can take the conversation regarding money from there.

Interlocutor 2: The US and Europe never bother to apologize for their colonialism… and there is no way that they could compensate for hundreds of years of colonialism

Hashimoto: There is no need for us to imitate Europe and America’s bad points. We should recognize the violations and we should also note clearly the constructive actions.

[Fun fact just to stir the pot with my American readers: Until 2009 in the US there was no official apology for black slavery or for the treatment of Native Americans/First Peoples – and the resolutions of 2009 explicitly identified that there would be no compensation]

Interlocutor 3: Maybe you want to abandon the [1965] Japan-Korea Treaty on Basic Relations? [Which resolved the legal issue (for the ROK at least) regarding compensation].

Interlocutor 4: Many [Japanese war criminals] were executed, money was paid, and a treaty was agreed to, don’t you think this has been resolved? Are you saying even though reconciliation money was paid and documents exchanged then this is insufficient?

Hashimoto: Yes, legally speaking. But problems of the spirit [lit. heart] are different from legal issues.

An additional comment to No.4: “Could you say the same thing [directly] to the bereaved families of those caught up in “gratuitous” internal incidents?