Kan’s Strategic Stubbornness II

Much has already been said about the remarkable turn-around in yesterday’s events where, within the space of a few hours, the DPJ went from death’s door to the LDP and the opposition being the ones  in for some tough times in terms of party unity. It seems likely that the LDP senior party leadership will be roundly criticized, with Tanigaki, Oshima, and Ishihara Nobuteru likely to be in the firing line.

Not only was the LDP embarrassed by the outcome of yesterday’s events,  but it could well be one of the final few nails in the coffin of the old guard of the LDP. For the first time since the 2009 election it was starting to look as if the LDP was starting to pick up votes due to DPJ blunders. Now having completely misread public sentiment (which while disapproving of Kan was against such a cynical political exercise at this point in time), and having Tanigaki on record not ruling out a grand coalition with Ozawa (who is still considerably more unpopular than Kan), then it may well have snuffed out continuing such a comeback. While the opposition will accuse the DPJ of playing politics with peoples’ lives and engaging in nothing more cynical political and party shenanigans (and they may well be right), it is they who come out looking like they have politicized the recovery for self-interested gain.

Not only have they lost the main weapon for removing Kan, (a no-confidence motion can only be submitted once during a parliamentary session according to parliamentary custom) they are now in a position where they will likely be compelled to cooperate with some of the government’s policy programme. Now that Kan has indicated that he will likely step down around December and/or January, should the recovery programme proceed, the opposition now have little choice but to work with the DPJ if they want to see the back of Kan. A nice little outcome for such a curious promise – a promise, to be sure, so vague it could only convince the likes of Hatoyama Yukio. The 22 or so LDP members (which is one-fifth of the current LDP’s strength) who participated in the “minji-ren” meeting last week, will have their position within the party strengthened – or ignored at the party’s peril.  This group wished to see more focus being placed on cross-party approaches to the recovery effort, as well as accelerate generational change in politics (and thus escape the personal politicking they saw being pursued by the LDP senior leadership, the Kan group, and the Ozawa group)- something that Kan himself alluded to when indicating he would step down at some point. Kono Taro was one of the main LDP sponsors of this grouping.

At least, this is what one would think the logical outcome of all of this would be. Already there is talk about the LDP submitting a censure motion in the Upper House, although as this Yomiuri article points out, some might well be tiring of this kind of approach. The Reconstruction Design Council will present its findings this month and Kan is well positioned to take ownership of them. Of course what happens from here is anyone’s guess. But whether by design or not, it seems that Kan’s strategic stubbornness has paid off for him. And this war of attrition seems to be applying ever more pressure to the back of the old establishment.

1 Ishihara not helping himself by equating Kan to Hitler in the lead-up speeches. Yes, they are just that simply out of touch with the public. Kan has certainly not been a star and has certainly been frustrating. But the opposition had been framing the no-confidence motion as the choice between Hitler and FDR…and no-one, including the public, was going to be fooled by this. 

Constitutional issues to be relooked at by the DPJ

I am making some connections between what are likely unconnected dynamics here, but there may be a future confluence of the strains of political and constitutional activity discussed below.

The first is that the DPJ is going to relook at the party’s policy on the constitution (jp). The party’s executive has convened the party’s investigative panel on the constitution – the first time it has done so in four years. While saying that the current policy on the constitution is still the party’s policy, given that many of the people involved with crafting the party’s constitutional policy in 2005 are no longer with the DPJ it is imperative that the party takes another look at its vision for Japan’s constitution. Crucially, former Foreign Minister Maehara has been made the panel’s chairman, which suggests that foreign policy may be the focus of the panel’s investigation.

That said, it should not be taken for granted that this will be the focus. There are certainly a range of other issues, mostly domestic ones, that should be considered by the panel. After all, as I argued in the previous post, the public is much more concerned with the relationship between the domestic political situation and the constitution than it is foreign policy at this point in time (and as it has arguably for quite a while). The previous DPJ constitutional proposal certainly did not only focus only on security affairs.1

Osaka Governor Hashimoto Toru is first up with his criticism (jp) of the current political situation and the need for a constitutional solution. Hashimoto addressed a conference dedicated to the anniversary of the implementation of the Japanese constitution by saying that there was a need for the public to take back from the parliament the right to elect the country’s leader through a constitutional revision. Claiming that this is the most important political concern for the country at this point in time, he argued that the public should be able to directly choose the Prime Minister. This is not quite a vote for a presidential system – according to the article Hashimoto has said in previous interviews that the popular candidate for Prime Minister should be limited to members of parliament. He has reservations about politicians having a “free-hand” in the election of the country’s ultimate leader. On its own the policy is not likely to get much traction but if Hashimoto can somehow connect the logic (and the details of how it would work electorally and institutionally) it to his decentralization campaign, it might well gain more discussion space than it otherwise would.

Not unpredictably the The Reconstruction Design Council (en) will likely give a boost to Hashimoto’s decentralization crusade at the end of June. They are looking to publish the initial recommendations from the first four meetings and subsequent observations of the disaster area, and their discussions with important stakeholders. The guiding principles have already been published (jp). The first official report back will focus on the regeneration of regional economies and regional communities, which will obviously have some impact on the debate about decentralization in Japan. From mid-May four working groups will be convened under the Council and will work on putting flesh on the bones of proposals related to disaster prevention and community development, local industries (mainly regeneration of farming and fishing industries), medium-term energy policy, and finally employment and social security.

It will be interesting to see if any political actor down the track makes any coherent connections between these discussions, hopefully with due consideration being given to the pressing electoral issues raised by the Japanese Supreme Court in recent times.

1 In general terms the DPJ’s constitutional proposal pointed to the need for Japan to consider its foreign policy more coherently and the constitution should reflect this need- in other words the current process of “ad-hoc” foreign policy making, proceeding through the process of constitutional reinterpretation by the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, was potentially hazardous. It argued that there was a need to better and clearly define the allowable extent of Japan’s use of force for defense, and in particular the use of force overseas. It promoted the concept of “limited” defense which would enable Japan to be more active overseas, and move from being a “peace-loving” country to a “peace-creating” country which would mean some allowances being made for the deployment of Japanese forces overseas. However ultimately the restrictions on the use of force would still be significantly stronger than those allowed in international law (and in a sense, argued for a weaker form of collective self-defense).

1 month, 1 day later

I have received word from HQ that a momentous event has taken place. Quakebook is now on sale. It is reasonably priced at$US 9.99 and it has submissions from Yoko Ono, William Gibson and Barry Eisler, some brilliant artwork, and submissions from a whole range of Japanese and Japan-interested folk who were blown away by recent events. Assuming it survived the editing process, I have a small piece on my experiences of viewing from afar the Christchurch and the Tohoku earthquakes (AKA my New Zealand and Japanese homes). Importantly, it has been an amazing experiment in the use of social media to do something important rather than indiscriminate rambling (which I am sure many of us will revert back to at some point). And, most importantly, every single cent will go to the Japanese Red Cross. None to Amazon or the books promoters or writers or anyone else.

It’s really all good and I hope you all feel generous.