Maehara is indeed, back.

The Yomiuri believes (jp) that at a meeting tonight with members of his group Maehara Seiji will officially announce that he will run for the position of the President of the Democratic Party of Japan. Despite at one point tending towards not running, Maehara has, in the official narrative, been unable to fend off calls for him to run, given he is seen to be a candidate that might be able to retain popularity with the public should he be elected to Prime Minister. Thus, he is about to throw his hat into the ring “for the nation.”

The first implication of this is that it effectively kills off the chances for the LDP’s and Finance Ministry’s  initial frontrunning candidate, Noda Yoshihiko. As suggested in earlier entries Noda was always going to be a hard sell. With Noda subsequently coming out in favour of a tax increase, and also standing by a statement he made six years earlier about Japan’s convicted war criminals not being ‘real’ war criminals, he pretty much ensured his candidature was not going to get off the ground, despite the best efforts of the media and various other interests to legitimate it. At the very least the DPJ needs someone to come out of the party election with a modicum of public popularity or else their ability to convince any of the opposition parties to cooperate, even for a short period of time, will be greatly diminished right from the start. Realising this, in the last week or so the “mainstream” faction group (主流派) in the DPJ has shifted quite discernibly from supporting Noda to supporting Maehara, mainly facilitated through former Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshihito’s manoeuvring. Maehara was sensible to keep a low profile earlier on in the campaign and come out sceptical about immediate tax increases, and now has considerable flexibility in articulating a policy platform.

However it cannot be taken for granted that Maehara will be victorious. This election will not poll DPJ party members, party officials, or local DPJ public office holders, where Maehara likely holds the strongest support. Maehara will likely gain the support of the “mainstream” group of the DPJ but this group is not a majority of the party. His chances are good but not guaranteed. With so many candidates in the running it is very likely that this election may proceed to a run-off and while Maehara is a good bet to make it to the run-off stage, from that point on much will depend on his ability to make good with other groups within the the party, including the Ozawa group. Maehara has come out in the last few days against suggestions made by Kaieda Banri and Mabuchi Sumio that a more relaxed line towards Ozawa’s suspension be taken, but it will be interesting to see how this position evolves or stands up in the coming days if Maehara is unable to acquire enough support from the non-Ozawa groups.

If he is unable to consolidate his support base he could be vulnerable to the party rallying around a figure such as Mabuchi, Kaieda (to a lesser degree – I suspect his candidature is more an Ozawa bargaining chip) or, even someone like Kano Michihiko, as curiously suggested by party elder Watanabe Kozo here (en).1

Personally I think a candidate like Kano would likely engender the opposite reaction. It may be true as Watanabe argues that he is relatively inoffensive in personal political terms, but his anti-free trade agenda, and Kano being the Ministry of Agriculture’s candidate extraordinaire, will likely be an issue for those concerned about the party’s longevity and public image. The Japanese public is not exactly enthusiastic about the free trade agenda and has – in some cases quite reasonable – concerns about the TPP in particular. But, as many opinion polls have suggested (jp), neither are the Japanese public keen to stick their heads in the sand and let nostalgia for some long gone past prop up the moribund agricultural industry to the detriment of the other industries that make up the overwhelming majority of the Japanese economy. It would be hard for a Kano-led DPJ to shake off the image that the DPJ is a “left” party as opposed to a “centre+left” party as Richard Samuels rightfully labels them here (en). It would certainly undermine the reformist credentials of the party – even more than their actions in government have up until now. But of course this logic may not necessarily make its way into the thinking of the power brokers within the DPJ, so all I can say is that stranger things have happened.

1 H/T to Ampontan

Maehara in 2011 or 2012?

Reading this weekend’s Japanese media reporting on the next DPJ election would lead one to believe that the establishment had already chosen their candidate, and were already in the process of legitimating the (neither popular nor unpopular) Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s run for the DPJ President and thus Japanese Prime Minister. As mentioned in the previous post he even got a curious helping hand from the leader of the opposition. There was much talk about “Grand Coalitions,” “National Unity/Salvation Cabinets,” “New Political Structures,” and all various other coded strategies to avoid deliberating on legislation in the open forum that is parliament. The newspapers in their editorials waded in on what this next cabinet must do, although some (en) of them were probably as profound as the analysis one would expect from an above average 12 year old.

Now what happens next is by all means up for grabs but it certainly seems Noda’s election prospects have strengthened considerably. Perhaps the main reason for feeling Noda has the inside running is due to the likely non-candidature of Maehara Seiji.  It appears that Maehara if he runs is likely to put it off until the compulsory DPJ presidential race in September 2012. Now if the next PM is an improvement of any kind over Aso, Hatoyama and Kan in terms of leadership then this could be a strategic blunder. However it is worth reflecting on why Maehara may think waiting for his chance may actually be a better choice.

Noda and Maehara first of all are as mentioned previously not too far away in terms of political lineage, support bases and policy proclivities. In terms of the intra-party blocs that support them, a run-off between these two candidates could well split the only significant non-Ozawa faction’s unity and thus influence within the party. This faction loosely conforms to the support base around the “seven magistrates” (en) group. Furthermore, when Maehara previously ran for the DPJ’s presidency in 2005 Noda stepped aside for Maehara, so some kaeshi may be in involved here.  This could well be the most important factor.

But it also appears that Maehara perceives that the next PM’s life-span may, like his predecessors, be similarly short. In addition to the obvious precedent, Maehara may think this either because the same politics that brought down Kan will also complicate the job of the next PM, or that the next PM, if leading a unity government of some kind, or even a grand coalition, will likely be constrained by the longevity of any such arrangement. If such an arrangement does come about then it is likely that it will not only have to expedite reconstruction but also will likely have to make some unpopular decisions on social security reform, and fiscal reconstruction. Whether it is raising taxes, or cutting spending, (and likely it will be both) it is going to be unpopular and the joining of forces to do this by the senior leadership of both established parties could well make it all the more galling for the public. And if the arrangement breaks down before anything of consequence gets done then again the next PM will take the blame for that. Maehara’s one cited flaw (I’ve only ever been in the same room with the man once so I am going from public record here) is that he is not the type to toughen it out, and as such the above analysis is consistent with this stated  aspect of his political personality.

However there are some other strategic reasons that Maehara may be waiting. It is worthwhile bearing in mind that the upcoming election this month will be one that only polls the DPJ members of parliament and not local DPJ chapters or DPJ party members. Given that such a quick turn around advantages candidates like Noda who appear to be backed by the DPJ’s senior leadership, the winner of this month’s election will likely lack a degree of legitimacy which will make them vulnerable to challenges in the full election in 2012 should they make any egregious mistakes/fail to deliver in the mean time. There will also not be any consequential campaigning on the basis of policy. Maehara is most popular with the public and as such would probably do best in the 2012 format should he be able to stay on the right side of the policy issues, which he has demonstrated a good eye for up until now. It might explain why Maehara has publicly expressed (jp) some discomfort with the idea of raising taxes for the reconstruction at this point in time, despite that likely being a strong part of Noda’s policy platform.

Furthermore the winner of the 2012 election will likely be the one that leads the DPJ into the national general election. If the sausage-making (successful or otherwise) of any “National Unity Cabinet” does discredit the participants and the senior leadership of the two established parties, an untainted and uninvolved candidate may be well placed to benefit from any political fall-out. They may even be well placed to work with those in the LDP who would also distance themselves from such an arrangement, and other parties likely to purposively avoid such entanglements, such as Masuzoe Yoichi’s and Watanabe Yoshimi’s parties.

Interestingly Maehara has come out tonight in support of a grand coalition of some kind. However he strongly suggested (jp) it be time limited, “for example, for a year” lest it become like the Imperial Rule Assistance Association that administered Japan with no opposition during the years 1940-1945.

If indeed this is all part of the rationalization for Maehara’s inaction right now, more than Machiavellian it would all be very Tokugawa-esque (Ieyasu).

That said Noda et al might, in the interest of party unity rather than personal self-interest, be using talk of a grand coalition as a strategy to keep New Komeito close knowing ultimately that the LDP would find it difficult to realistically join such an arrangement given divisions in the party on the issue of working with the DPJ. As I argued in a previous post, these are the kinds of political fault lines a successful DPJ leader is going to have to manipulate in order to be successful, while keeping his own house and party in order. The DPJ right now is so dysfunctional that party unity and the self-interest of almost all of its members right now are closely aligned.

Maehara is due to make a final decision later this week after discussing it more with those who are making a push for him to run this time around. Assuming that he does indeed not elect to run, or does not come forward as a consensus candidate later on in the election (which I wouldn’t rule out), it will be interesting to see where Maehara fits into the post-election political arrangements and how close to the political administration he gravitates.

Tanigaki: Killing with kindness

Well what a difference 48 hours makes.

I appended my previous post with a few extra developments, as below:

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The PM has come out in no uncertain terms (jp) in the lower house and said he will quit once the three bills are passed. The word is it might all be done by the 26th with the 28th being the DPJ’s presidential election to select Kan’s replacement.

Ishiba Shigeru of the “hardline” LDP faction has now softened his stance and said (jp) that if the DPJ puts in someone competent there is no reason why the LDP can’t work with the DPJ “for the benefit of the nation.” Interestingly he said that “it is up for debate within the party whether we can work within the cabinet or outside the cabinet but if it is for the nation we must do what we must do.” A curious statement, particularly the first part.  Is the LDP trying to one up New Komeito here in terms of friending the soon to be Kan-free DPJ?1 Subsequently Tanigaki did rule out an official grand coalition but nevertheless was making positive overtures towards cooperation (jp). But what happened to Ishiba’s defiant attitude of a few days ago?

Maybe Edano is thinking about a run for the DPJ presidency?  In response (jp) to Minna no Tou’s Eguchi Katsuhiko’s question on the Senkaku Islands, Edano was quoted as saying: If another country invades the Senkaku Islands (which we exercise effective control over) then we would exercise our right of self-defense and remove (the offending nation) at any cost. ( 我が国が有効に支配している尖閣諸島に対して他国が侵略してきたら、あらゆる犠牲を払ってでも自衛権を行使してこれを排除する) There was apparently an indication that the SDF would be used as part of this recovery mission. For many this might not seem like a particularly controversial statement but this is uncompromisingly tough language for a Japanese politician.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Perhaps reading Machiavelli’s The Prince all those years ago left too much of a mark on me, but LDP President Tanigaki’s favourable comments on likely DPJ contender Noda Yoshihiko strike me as going a little bit too far in this new spirit of cooperation.

Tanigaki in an internet interview over at nico nico douga described Noda as someone who is a steady hand and is not prone to flights of fancy (jp). As far as things go, this is about as good a comment one could expect from an opposition politician in Japan. Is Tanigaki, who would be his main future rival, trying to influence the election in some way or form by trying to legitimize Noda’s candidacy, given the public has not yet been taken with his candidacy? Is it simply because the LDP believes they can work with Noda as opposed to anyone else and likes his policy program better? Or are they wanting to avoid a more popular candidate coming to power? Do they think in the long-term Noda may be the most likely to go the same way as Kan and Hatoyama, neither of who were particularly popular or commanding when they came into power?  Is there something hidden that the rest of us don’t know about the relatively “clean” Noda?

Or am I just being silly? I am certainly open to that possibility.

1 Yes the first sentence of that link my contain my name and a link back to my previous post, but to be honest MTC as usual lays it out more clearly than my convoluted mind usually allows.

Update: Maybe there is more to the Tanigaki-Noda love-in. Noda responded (jp) to Tanigaki’s comment by saying Tanigaki may have acquired a good impression of Noda when Tanigaki was the finance minister and Noda was the DPJ’s finance spokesperson. It is in line with MTC’s statement about the next DPJ as being one where candidates represent ministry interests.

Round 3 for the DPJ?

The last few weeks has been trying to say the least for anyone thinking about the Japanese political situation. Normally the Western press is pretty superficial in its coverage of Japanese politics preferring to focus on changing prime ministers, ministerial gaffes, and all other signs of political absurdity. However for once the tone seems justified.

In the last few days there are signs however that, in the short-term at least, there may be some cooperation that will lead to resolution of the Kan issue, and the enactment of the 2nd and 3rd pieces of legislation that Kan set as the 3 conditions for his resignation.

Since the no-confidence vote and the “threat” of a grand coalition rose to the surface, Komeito in particular has been making some vague noises about further cooperation, especially if it should lead to Kan’s removal. Overall the Komeito, unlike the LDP, is less strategically antagonistic to the DPJ, even if it on a personal level abhors a number of its members. New Komeito also wants to avoid an early Lower House election and wants to work with the DPJ if for no other reason than to negotiate when to call an election. According to media reports (en) the Soka Gakkai, Komeito’s biggest backer, wants to avoid a general election any time soon.

Thus we have New Komeito’s Secretary General Inoue Yoshihisa saying:

“It’s important for policy chiefs and secretaries general of the DPJ, LDP and New Komeito to hold discussions and come to a conclusion,”

And New Komeito leader Yamaguchi Natsuo saying:

“At present, the Diet should focus on rebuilding the disaster-hit areas and avoid using up its energy on when the prime minister will resign.”

Other factors motivating the New Komeito are that it is in favour overall of the renewable energy bill, something that they may not be able to pass should the LDP come storming back in a general election. This points to the fact that at this point in time the current political situation is not actually all that bad for New Komeito in terms of its overall political influence, as it may be able to play the two off against each other should a new, and more acceptable to its supporters, DPJ PM come to power.

Since the initial murmurings the LDP has also softened its stance and it looks likely that the bond-issuance legislation as well as the renewable energy legislation will pass. In order to get this the DPJ had to relent (en) on its child allowance policy and also had to promise to more or less rip the heart out of 3 other policies that were prominent parts of its manifesto – something that will have grave consequences for many potential DPJ candidates in any presidential election. The LDP is also concerned about looking like the sole remaining party pooper at an already very bad party should the Komeito take a softer approach.  There are however even more pressing motivations for this DPJ-ward shift, as Michael Cucek says:

“Perhaps a little matter of a global financial market meltdown convinced the LDP and New Komeito that now was not the time to be playing hacky-sack with the national government’s funding mechanism.”

Indeed as much has been confirmed by LDP President Tanigaki, who intimated a fear (jp) that the LDP might be blamed for a further credit downgrade or further stock market losses, such as we have seen in Japan and worldwide in the last few days. The Mainichi in an editorial (jp) also strongly encouraged the LDP to support the bills in order to ensure economic stability and expedite Kan’s resignation, saying that the LDP had extracted sufficient concessions for the time being. It suggests that if the LDP continues to take a hard line against the DPJ then the public would see through their current strategy as one of only pretending to compromise while really pushing for the dissolution of the Lower House in order to get back into power.

Indeed. And for once Japanese politics is looking considerably  more mature than US politics (had to be said, my friends).

While the conservative press has been obsessing over the idea that Kan will never willingly give up power, being the unelected dictator he clearly is, Kan has also over the last week softened his stance (jp), even telling Okada that an election for DPJ president could take place within the month if all goes smoothly with the conditional legislation. As of last night it seemed that in addition to the bond-issuance legislation which is now a certainty to pass (the second of Kan’s three conditions for resignation after the already passed budget bill), the prospects for the renewable energy legislation passing sometime this month has improved, which would fulfil the third condition for Kan’s resignation. In relation to negotiations between Komeito, LDP and the DPJ, Kan told the press that he planned to take responsibility on the basis of what he had already laid out, and resign (jp).

As always it is important to append all of the above – and all that follows- with a “caveat emptor,” but what might happen from here on in?

The two key questions are “who?” and “will it make a difference?”

Who?

Already Ozawa Sakahito and Mabuchi Sumio have definitely thrown their hats into the ring (en). Agriculture Minister and anti-TPP Kano Michihiko had previously suggested he would run and may be still considering. All three have tried to be pro-active and get out ahead of the media – mainly because their chances would be nil otherwise. But all three have their problems, ranging from unfortunate names to lack of experience, having been previously censured, to bad policy fit. Other potential candidates that have been mentioned in Japanese news media gossip, such as Okada, Kaieda, and Gemba, have been tainted with recent events, namely, being involved in government. It is likely they will not be seen as viable candidates by their party. Likewise it is hard to see Ozawa Ichiro supporter Haraguchi being given much attention other than by the media. Edano Yukio still rates reasonably well in public opinion (all things being relative of course) but he has hardly been mentioned as a possible candidate or has intimated his own ambition at this point in time to run for DPJ president. Like Mabuchi, he is seen as being too inexperienced although given the current situation one would have to wonder if experience is such a prized asset.

Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko would appear to be the candidate with the inside running at this point in time. However his strong stance on fiscal reconstruction, namely tax increases, could be a problem and may breath life into a candidate like Mabuchi who hopes to garner the votes of the younger and anti-tax rise DPJ members. Also, while he has been Finance Minister, and his name has been out in the open for a couple of months now as a possible candidate, he continually performs poorly in public opinion polls. At 54 he hardly fits the profile of the “next generation” leader that Kan and others have said should succeed him.

So how about the man who generally comes out tops in DPJ preferred PM polls and usually is up there with Ishiba Shigeru in overall preferred PM polls? That Maehara Seiji quit his foreign minister role only 5 months ago would in normal times rule him out of contention. Furthermore, Maehara’s DPJ and policy lineage is very similar to Noda’s, both being graduates of the elite Matsushita Institute (en), and both having negotiated about who would run in DPJ presidential races before. Would their respective support bases risk undermining their influence by having two candidates run campaigns against each other?

But there are reasons to justify speculation that Maehara will run. His support has remained relatively high despite his recent issue with political donations (en). He has been quietly working away behind the scenes in Japan’s political circles, untainted by post-tsunami politics, with some suggesting that he may have even been making arrangements with former foe Ozawa, who apparently wants “anyone but Kan.” He has sensibly stayed off the record in terms of putting forward definitive policy positions he can’t really take back. He has been burnishing his image by re-engaging with his major area of policy expertise, security issues, and has been working on gaining US support, which always plays well with the public in terms of legitimating a candidate. He even became the first former foreign minister to visit one of the Northern Territories which are disputed by Japan and Russia  (en) and are under Russian control . For the last month he has been gradually increasing the volume of his calls for Kan to step down and  a few days ago when asked if he would run, he only answered with that he was a “blank slate” (jp- “全くの白紙だ” lit. a perfectly white piece of paper).

I would not be surprised if in a tense run-off between Noda and a candidate like Mabuchi who gains the backing of the younger DPJ members  Maehara emerges as some kind of consensus candidate. He has certainly positioned himself that way, and has the flexibility to mould his candidacy as he wishes unlike his opponents. However he may be keeping a low profile because he perceives that the next PM may also become nothing more than an opposition punching bag who will suffer the same fate as Hatoyama and Kan. Interestingly Mabuchi has been trying to goad Maehara into the race by saying that waiting until next years compulsory DPJ presidential election, as some have suggested he do as being inappropriate.

This leads to the “will it make a difference?” question.

The cautious and sensible answer, frankly given all of the evidence, is no. Recent opinion polls have suggested that the distraction and delay tactics are ultimately working for the opposition.

However, this is all taking place within the narrative of a inconsistent and inelegant Kan prime ministership. A prime ministership, much like Hatoyama Yukio’s, was high on drama and own goals, and low on leadership. The question is how will the delay tactics play-out within the narrative of a more consistent and less reactive leadership. An additional question is whether Komeito will maintain a softened stance after the new PM comes in and reconstruction proceeds. While the current global economic situation may have decisively pushed the parties to soften towards the DPJ, as I have pointed out there are other reasons to believe that Komeito might work with the DPJ to some degree when Kan leaves. After all, the LDP, not Komeito, is more likely to get the support of voters abandoning the DPJ. Those who would have ever considered voting for the Komeito have surely already gone sprinting back to the party, if they ever left.

In this sense Sengoku Yoshihito is performing a valuable role by continuing (jp) to raise the spectre of a “grand coalition” which could freeze the Komeito out of the legislative process. From a purely tactical point of view, Sengoku should continue doing this for as long as it works, as the idea gives the Komeito some pause. It also has the additional effect of strengthening the antagonism between the younger members of the LDP, who want an election now and thus favour an even harder line against the DPJ (so that more of their own kind will fill parliament and strengthen their hand within the LDP and in government), and the senior leadership of the LDP who want to return to power any way they can. Indeed more conflict between Ishiba and Ishihara has arisen in the last few days leading Ishihara Nobuteru to say that Ishiba “doesn’t get the political situation,” and for once Ishihara may be right (stopped clocks anyone?). Furthermore despite extracting considerable concessions from the DPJ there is still discontent (jp) within the LDP, with some members wanting the LDP to go even further and have the DPJ renege completely on its manifesto, and call an election.

Discontent in the LDP, or between the LDP and the Komeito, offers the DPJ some opportunities to exploit, which may make the post-Kan political situation more manageable. Whether they can do this relies on two things the DPJ has struggled to find since its coming to power last year: decisive and consistent leadership, and party discipline/unity. As potential candidate Kano himself has pointed out (jp), the LDP is also a shambles, and thus it becomes a battle of wills in terms of who can contain the political fissures the best.

The first two rounds have brought out the worst in both the DPJ and the LDP, harming both. Will round 3 enable the DPJ to paint a more positive narrative about itself in relation to the LDP? 1

1 A: I really don’t know.

NB: To clarify the Maehara visit, he was not there (jp) to rouse tensions but to encourage mutual economic cooperation etc for the inhabitants of the islands.

Extra points:

The PM has come out in no uncertain terms (jp) in the lower house and said he will quit once the three bills are passed.

Ishiba Shigeru has now softened his stance and said (jp) that if the DPJ put in someone competent there is no reason why the LDP can’t work with the DPJ “for the benefit of the nation.” Interestingly he said that “it is up for debate within the party whether we can work within the cabinet or outside the cabinet but if it is for the nation we must do what we must do.” A curious statement, particularly the first part.  Is the LDP trying to one up New Komeito here in terms of friending the soon to be Kan-free DPJ?

And maybe Edano is thinking about a run for the DPJ presidency. In response (jp) to Minna no Tou’s Eguchi Katsuhiko question on the Senkaku Islands Edano was quoted as saying: If another country invades the Senkaku Islands (which we exercise effective control over) then we would exercise our right of self-defense and remove (the offending nation) at any cost. ( 我が国が有効に支配している尖閣諸島に対して他国が侵略してきたら、あらゆる犠牲を払ってでも自衛権を行使してこれを排除する) There was apparently an indication that the SDF would be used as part of this recovery mission. For many this might not seem like a particularly controversial statement but this is uncompromisingly tough language for a Japanese politician.

Ishihara Nob(uteru)

Self-awareness has never been a strong point for any of the Ishiharas but this Yomiuri article was special.

It appears that Ishihara Nobuteru, after utilizing and exhausting all of his available neural complexity, has figured out why the LDP can’t catch any of the many breaks that DPJ rule has offered them. It is the media’s fault. And he wants to establish “a unit to monitor media coverage of the LDP, with a view to lodging objections in response to reports seen as inaccurate or unfair.”

This sentence was most mirthful:

Ishihara, who was the driving force behind the creation of the new unit, apparently considers media criticism of the LDP a key reason for the party’s low support rate, despite the fact that the approval rating for Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s Cabinet is also languishing.1

This is certainly a possibility. There is also another one. Academics and specialists in electoral politics have called this the “you suck so, so bad the public would prefer a tranquillized hedgehog” effect.   Consider that the media has had it in for Kan and the DPJ, as has the bureaucracy in Kasumigaseki since day 1. That the DPJ and their cabinets seem to alternate between periods of incompetence and incomprehensible party disunity, especially for a first time ruling party. That both the Chinese and the US have not exactly made things easier in terms of diplomacy for the DPJ. And that economic recession and horrifying natural disasters have characterized the time the ruling party has spent, “ruling.” Despite all of this, less than 20% of the population want to see you and your like return to power.

But, it could be the media.

1 I think this also offers a very telling insight into the minds of many of the LDP’s senior leadership. They must have figured that the public had simply misunderstood them and only through a bit of bad luck were they turfed out (perhaps they believed the bad luck was the recession). Thus, all they had to do was undermine the DPJ and make them look incompetent for long enough and all of a sudden everyone would remember the good old days and come running back to the LDP of old. Such is their belief in their entitlement to rule. So entitled they are some believe, the only possible explanation for the current state of affairs is that something like the media must be at fault for their conundrum. Even if the reality of the situation is completely at odds with a “DPJ-bias” in the media. 

Who the Japanese public want (and likely won’t get) for the next PM

Ishiba Shigeru, Edano Yukio, and Maehara Seiji are still the top three in the preferred next PM stakes according to this jiji article (jp), at 10.6%, 9.6% and 9.3% respectively. How about the two leading old guard members of the LDP, current leader and President Tanigaki Sadakazu and Secretary-general Ishihara Nobuteru? How about Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko, who many in the DPJ were touting as Kan’s replacement?

They are all much less popular than the kindly fellow below, who is about to go on trial:

The supposed PM-in-waiting Noda doesn’t even break half of Ozawa’s 5.7%.

My latest post on South Sudan and Japanese editorials at Japan Security Watch.

If you are wondering about Ozawa’s “limpet-like attachment” to the DPJ, this is as good a place to go as any.

Japan to start exporting arms by 2012?

I have a post up at Japan Security Watch looking at a report that was released yesterday that argues for a relaxation of the current arms export restrictions Japan has.

In other news, go here for a good concise run down of ex-Reconstruction Minister Matsumoto Ryu’s weirdness.

For those who are not well disposed towards reading, here is PressTV’s report on the situation. Includes Koizumi Shinjiro FWIW.

The LDP’s least insufferable member Kono Taro has been suspended from all executive LDP party positions for about one year. The LDP senior leadership has been suggesting again the possibility of a “grand coalition,”  with the DPJ to extend its life, which along with the situation around the Hamada expulsion, and the suspensions/punishment of those that voted to extend the Diet session like Kono, is likely to lead to tension in the party.  As suggested before, the LDP could be in for a rough period – discussions about party reform, including the killing off of party factions for once and for all, has seemingly stalled and senior party officials nixed the idea. The party has committed to reconsidering its policy on nuclear power, but who knows if that is genuine or a temporary measure to placate the public and/or those interested in renewable energy within the party.  Time will tell. In fact the party couldn’t even come to an agreement on whether to make the LDP building a no-smoking area – an internal party decision was overturned by its Vice-President Oshima who was having none of that.

It would be worthy of derision, if it wasn’t for the equally sad and significantly more consequential problems the ruling DPJ is facing as a party.

Update: Japan has indeed since subsequently relaxed the restrictions on arms’ exports. Please see here for detailed background, and here for translation of, and commentary on, the document.

Constitutional change in post-3/11 Japan.

The Asahi Shimbun has released the 2011 version of an ongoing survey they have been conducting. Of course the recent natural disasters are probably weighing heavily on people’s minds when answering these questions, however the results are worthy of further commentary.

One set of questions is always of interest for analysts of Japan’s foreign and domestic policies- those on the constitution.

When asked if, in general terms, Japan should change its constitution, 54% of the those survey responded in the affirmative while 29 percent said it was not necessary to change the constitution. This has changed from 47% in favour versus 39% against in 2010.

However, among the 54% in favour of amending the constitution only 14% pointed to the need for Article 9 revision, and 9% believed that amendment should take place for the simple reason that Japan needed to symbolically ratify its “own” constitution. What is significant about this is that two of the old reference points for symbolic politics in Japan – ie the need for an indigenously ratified (non-American) constitution and the need for Japan to free itself from Article 9 in order to “regain its sovereignty,” do not appear to be particularly compelling reasons for constitutional adjustment in the 21st century. Academic and media claims that Japan is becoming more nationalistic and/or more “realistic” (in the strict IR theory sense) therefore need to be taken with a grain of salt. To be sure, there has always been a need to take these conceptualizations with a grain of salt and this is not a new dynamic as such.

What is compelling however it seems is the need for political reform – in particular the need for new rights and a new political system to be enshrined in the constitution. 74% of the affirmative respondents pointed towards this as being the reason for constitutional revision.

As for the 29% who indicated there was no pressing necessity for constitutional revision, 45% (13% of all respondents to the question on constitutional change) did point towards the need to protect Article 9.  35% of this group agreed that there were no pressing problems and that the constitution had become entrenched in political life (ie even if American ‘imposed,’ the Japanese have entrenched the spirit of the constitution in its society), with 15% saying that it served its purposes in guaranteeing freedom and the rights of the public.

This result also suggests that entrenched anti-militarism or pacifism, or the population wishing to keep “their head in the sand” on foreign policy, are not in themselves convincing explanations for Japan’s constitutional reticence.

In a straight yes or no on Article 9, only 30% pointed to the immediate need to adjust Article 9 while 59% think it is still better to maintain Article 9. This changed from 24% and 67% respectively. When interpreted in the context of the previous results, while it seems that an absolute commitment to the “Peace Constitution” above all else is no longer (if it ever was) the major factor in Japanese constitutional politics, it seems as if the public is still relatively unconvinced about alternative visions for Japanese security policy and its military posture. There is often a very black and white thinking in discussions on Article 9 in foreign media and academic world- a thinking that seems to subtly imply that Japanese either completely adhere to the principles of pacifism (and thus not touch Article 9 at all), or they must want to embrace either “realism” (ie a “normal” Japan) or “nationalistic militarism,” and thus want Article 9 completely removed. I think the reality is more that Article 9 is not just a buffer against militarism but also against foggy strategic and visionary thinking on Japan’s security. It is completely possible that if Article 9 was to be amended, it could be amended in a way that does not fit in with any of the mainstream expectations of analysts focused on the explanatory factors of  “pacifism,” “realism,” or “(conservative/militaristic) nationalism.” However, as nothing appetizing currently exists (and may never do perhaps),  for the time being slow and steady on security policy evolution is both, from the Japanese point of view, pragmatic and democratic.

Given the strong sense of the need for constitutional revision for the purposes of political reform, the results to other questions in the survey are probably not surprising.

Japanese are very concerned about the vote discrepancy between voters in different regions in Japan (一票の格差). 64% of respondents said they were either greatly concerned or concerned about the issue, while 34% said they were either somewhat unconcerned or not at all concerned with the issue. However, most admitted that for depopulated regions it was inevitable that some kind of discrepancy would endure – 51% said it was inevitable (and thus acceptable to some degree) while 35% said that all attempts should be made to rectify the discrepancy. When quizzed on how much an acceptable discrepancy was in the Japanese House of Representatives,  34% said about as close to 1:1 as possible was preferable, 40% said under 2:1 was acceptable, and 10% said that more than 2:1 was ok.

The survey also asked whether members of the Diet should represent all Japanese citizens or should be representing their electorate’s constituents. 42% responded with “all Japanese citizens” and 52% responded that there were representatives of their electoral district. This would be an interesting question to compare over time but it seems they did not ask this particular question last year.

Recently the Japanese Supreme Court handed down a ruling that said that a 2:1 voter discrepancy in the House of Representatives was unconstitutional and also provided commentary to the effect that mere adjustment by means of redistricting was insufficient and that the method of apportionment of seats to prefectures had to be changed. Namely, there was a need to abandon the practice of allocating 1 seat to every prefecture first and then assign the remaining 253 House of Representatives seats on the basis of population. This was seen to be the main structural driver of vote discrepancies given demographic changes in Japan.

A question was asked to whether this was a reasonable method of apportionment (without the context of the Supreme Court decision provided). 57% agreed with maintaining this method of apportionment while 22% were against it.

It seems that respondents probably were not provided with sufficient information to make a good judgement on this one however. Given that respondents believed that political reform of some kind was necessary – perhaps even constitutionally necessary – and specifically that the vote discrepancy was worthy of concern, then considering this is the most significant mathematical driver of inequality in the House of Representatives this seems like an odd response. Especially given the answer to the next question.

In response to the question as to whether voters would mind if the House of Councillors elections combined some prefectural districts into larger electoral districts for the purposes of lessening the vote discrepancy, then 49% of respondents said this would not be an issue for them, while 34% said they supported individual prefectural units maintaining their distinctiveness.

When considered in the context of the previous question as well, one explanation for the discrepancy could be that while respondents do not want local voices completely snuffed out of the process and guaranteed to some degree in the electoral math, they are somewhat more open to the idea of larger regional blocs representing their interests if this allows greater electoral (and thus in this case constitutional) equality overall.

The Japanese article is here.

A bolder approach to electoral reform?

Discussion of electoral reform was not something I expected to see just a few weeks after a devastating earthquake and tsunami, and in the midst of a nuclear incident. However the Japanese Supreme Court has handed down an interesting and challenging decision which will further complicate matters for opponents of electoral reform in Japan (jp).

The DPJ, having only, somewhat inexplicably, meekly pursued electoral reform up until this point has been effectively forced to change tack again. Now they are looking at the big prize – the House of Representatives.

Until now most of the focus was on reforming the upper house/House of Councillors – certainly the more unfair of the two institutions with a “vote disparity”「1票格差」of 5 to 1 in some places (ie how many votes it takes to send an MP to the HoC in one place versus another). A variety of complicated proposals were ventured, including one that would turn whole regional areas into multi-member electoral districts. In recent years there have been more and more court decisions stating that vote disparities had brought the electoral system into a “state of unconstitutionality.” No elections were overturned but one had to wonder how long this could be put up with without making a mockery of Japan’s political system and the operational significance of having a system built on a separation of powers.

Now there is a “legal” need to look at the House of Representatives. The manner in which it is  elected has also been ruled to not be entirely constitutional in the past, although not as often as the House of Councillors. Already there was a process in place for re-districting the House of Representatives based on the recent census. As required by law after every census a commission of inquiry is set up to look at ways that the vote disparity between the two most extreme districts can be brought back under 2:1. They then report back, this time it was due to be February 2012, to the Japanese Prime Minister on their recommendations for demarcating single-member electoral districts. This commission had already reported based on preliminary census results that to do this 4 prefectures would have to receive additional seats while 4 districts would have to lose one. A full-sitting of the Supreme Court however on the 23rd March recommended that the current 2.3:1 ratio should be rectified as soon as possible – but not by simple redistricting.

The DPJ has released a new proposal that would do two things in addressing the above decision – and it looks to be taking the courts seriously this time.

1) It would abandon the special method of apportioning seats [1人別枠方式] that was introduced in 1994, which takes the 300 single member districts and distributes one seat to every prefecture in Japan as the starting point. This leaves 253 seats remaining which are then allotted to each district on the basis of their population. In the most recent Japanese Supreme Court decision this particular method of apportioning seats came in for special criticism. Essentially, distributing all 300 single member district seats on the basis of population is the fairest outcome based on the Supreme Court’s ruling. Every prefecture would still have at least 1 seat – with Tottori being the only prefecture to have only a single seat. 10 prefectures would gain 21 seats while 21 prefectures would lose a single seat. No one loses more than 1, according to Jiji’s calculations (jp). Notable is that Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo and Kanagawa, gain 13 seats between them. Breakdown is at the end of the post.

2) The DPJ, in line with their manifesto would also seek to look at the proportional representation system in the House of Representatives and reduce the number of PR seats from 180 to 100. According to previous statements by party members, this is for the purposes of not just saving money but for the purposes of supporting more coherent policy divisions, or ideological choice, by enabling a two party system to take hold – or at least increase the chances of it doing so. Essentially it would reduce the strength of parties who rely exclusively on the PR system for their representation in the House of Representatives. PR seats would in this set up make up 25% of all seats in the House of Representatives, rather than the 37.5% that they do now.

The implications, and thus the likely discontents will be obvious here – regional voices will lose some of their strength in a House of Representatives elected in this way. Of course, some may say they will only be reduced to an equal voice and thus there is no basis for complaining; notwithstanding concerns about the ‘tyranny of the majority’ scholars of US political history will be familiar with.

Perhaps a better way to frame this however, as I am now probably at risk of belabouring, is in the synergy between the houses by way of differentiating the functions of the two houses more clearly. The House of Councillors, while likely to undergo some reform given the 5 to 1 ratio is bordering on scandalous, will still likely disproportionately advantage rural and regional interests to a degree where these interests could become a check on power, and thus on some expressions of the ‘tyranny of the majority.’ If the vote disparity can be reduced to something along the lines of the 2,3:1 range then that may be acceptable if absolute equality is guaranteed in the House of Representatives. Which after all is probably where absolute equality should be observed given the additional, “last resort” powers that the HoR holds (ie 2/3rds majority override and the automatic passing of the budget in cases of conflict between the two houses). PR parties would still likely be well represented in a HoC that is elected through large multi-member districts. And they would not cease to function in the HoR either.

Of course this says nothing about whether this is likely to pass despite the Supreme Court’s criticism of the current system. They can probably count out support from the SDP, JCP, PNP etc. The LDP’s increasingly rural profile will also at this point in time make it cautious towards such a plan, even if in the long-term it advantages big parties. Komeito & Your Party as medium-sized third parties seem more open to the idea at this point in time. And of course there will be plenty of discontents in the DPJ itself.

There may have to be some concessions in terms of the delegation of certain functions and powers to regional municipalities to attract support for the plan- something strongly recommended to Kan by Igarashi Takayoshi, one of his cabinet advisers, in the wake of recent events. In fact, this sort of compromise would likely achieve the best of both worlds – central government would not be able to interfere so often with process-related policy making and delivery in the regions, that creates so much tension. On the other hand regional concerns and interests would not “interfere” as violently with the long-term strategic policymaking that central government and political administrations are ideally supposed to engage in, and that Japan needs more than ever in the wake of recent tragedies. Nevertheless, the Japanese Supreme Court has handed the DPJ a difficult one – full scale reform as suggested by the Supreme Court will require that the Tohoku region be further emaciated at the national level  given that depopulation was already in full swing in the area even prior to the triple disaster.

都道府県 現行定数  試算結果  増減
北海道    12    13  +1
青森県     4     3  -1
岩手県     4     3  -1
宮城県     6     5  -1
秋田県     3     2  -1
山形県     3     3   0
福島県     5     5   0
茨城県     7     7   0
栃木県     5     5   0
群馬県     5     5   0
埼玉県    15    17  +2
千葉県    13    15  +2
東京都    25    31  +6
神奈川県   18    21  +3
新潟県     6     6   0
富山県     3     3   0
石川県     3     3   0
福井県     3     2  -1
山梨県     3     2  -1
長野県     5     5   0
岐阜県     5     5   0
静岡県     8     9  +1
愛知県    15    17  +2
三重県     5     4  -1
滋賀県     4     3  -1
京都府     6     6   0
大阪府    19    21  +2
兵庫県    12    13  +1
奈良県     4     3  -1
和歌山県    3     2  -1
鳥取県     2     1  -1
島根県     2     2   0
岡山県     5     5   0
広島県     7     7   0
山口県     4     3  -1
徳島県     3     2  -1
香川県     3     2  -1
愛媛県     4     3  -1
高知県     3     2  -1
福岡県    11    12  +1
佐賀県     3     2  -1
長崎県     4     3  -1
熊本県     5     4  -1
大分県     3     3   0
宮崎県     3     3   0
鹿児島県    5     4  -1
沖縄県     4     3  -1

Maehara quits, will be back.

This story sure developed fast! (Details here). Maybe this post will reveal more about my cynical way of thinking rather than sophisticated analysis but bear with me. While I am sure Foreign Minister Maehara was not looking for a way to quit (although Maehara was very quick to pursue the option), how bad will this be for Maehara himself long-term?

First we have to note the political situation that he is leaving behind – while many have said that Maehara is likely to be the next in line in the DPJ, and in relative terms he is one of the more popular political figures right now, one wonders how meaningful such a position is in the current political situation.  First, Kan is unlikely to quit without calling a general election – in the last few days he has made more allusions to such a course of action in order to keep his DPJ enemies in line – it would hurt Kan deeply and he would almost definitely not be PM, but it would hurt his detractors, on both sides of the house, more.

Furthermore, if Kan was to quit over an inability to proceed with the budget-related bills it is highly unlikely that the political situation would improve. In fact the opposition parties have said as much. Even if a deal was worked out along the lines of  Kan quitting in return for the budget-related bills being passed, it would still be very likely that Maehara would be leading a government into an election sometime within the year which would likely make him one of the shortest lived prime ministers in recent history. In terms of his own personal appeal he would be burdened with the DPJ’s reputation as their lead man. Now, he has temporarily removed himself from an extremely poisonous political situation. Better to be one of the shortest tenured foreign ministers than prime ministers perhaps?

In fact Maehara in the last year or so has always had a knack for staying on the right side of political issues, and has generally been perceived to have done a competent job. Given that he only last week instructed his people within the DPJ to be prepared for an election, Maehara and his group now have plenty of flexibility which may come in handy in any post-election manoeuvring.1

Then there is the atmospherics of the resignation. The decisiveness of the decision looks positively noble in comparison with the other resignations (Sengoku et al) and other ongoing money “scandals” (Ozawa) plaguing the political world and the DPJ. Maehara, saying:

But regardless of the amount of the donations or the fact that I was unaware (of them), I must seriously accept the fact that a politician who was (appointed) foreign minister accepted donations from a foreigner

looks rather calm and reasonable. He, in a clear manner admitted (j) that his actions “hurt the national interest.” And given that he likely was unaware of the donation, that this does not appear to part of a systematic funds scandal, and the amount of money is pitiful anyhow, Maehara looks rather stoic, maybe even pitiably so. As Joe Jones points out, the nature of the foreign donation itself is about as non-threatening as they come.

The following quote does not do him any harm either:

But the prime minister ultimately understood after I explained that the budget for fiscal 2011 (was in the midst of deliberations) and that there shouldn’t be a diplomatic vacuum

Maehara seems confident enough in his long-term political prospects that he will have another chance, likely a much better one, at becoming PM. Maehara may also be privy to knowledge that, with a decision on the TPP coming up in June it is less than clear that Kan will be able to sign Japan on to negotiations given dissent in the DPJ – this will make all of those in the cabinet who supported the TPP look extremely impotent given this was and continues to be the Kan government’s main ongoing political theme.

The picture painted by the media of the ‘foreigner’ having “influence” is also not particularly harmful – the lady in question has talked to the media, corroborated Maehara’s explanation, and has expressed remorse for her actions. Accompanied by tears for a kid from a poor family who she treated like her own child and just wanted to help however she could, (j) her pain is clear. However, she also intimated her hope that Maehara would be strong enough to be back again, calling his decision to take decisive action in resigning “manly.”

The image of Maehara vis-a-vis the opposition in this case is one of a hard-working, sincere and stand-up politician yet again undermined by his “weak flank,“(j) while the opposition looks, on the back of continued intransigence, petty by comparison, especially since it looks as if they may push for his resignation from the Diet as well. The fact that the Chinese also seem (j) happy with his resignation and more keen than usual to learn of his replacement probably does not hurt the atmospherics.

How this in reality will play out in the media is unknown – I have offered one possibility above. I want to be clear that I am not saying that this was premeditated or that Maehara or the “foreigner” in question’s pain is somehow less than sincere. I am sure it is genuine. Rather, given the specifics of the incident in question, the general attitude of the opposition camp, and the political situation, the decision to quit in the way Maehara has is strategically robust.

1 Of course another explanation for this is that there are more revelations to come and that indeed the law-breaking has been systematic. One could never rule this out but I would have thought a detractor if aware of these would have piled it on a little bit more at first.

Edit: This article quotes a family member of the Korean lady who made the donation who raises an interesting point:

A member of her family said the woman ‘‘paid money in good faith as she didn’t know (foreign people) are not allowed to politically back (Japanese lawmakers) even though South Korean residents of Japan can become public servants.’‘