Ozawa Leaves the DPJ: A Minor Victory for Noda

Or at least a more favourable development for Noda’s quest to extend his already somewhat unlikely administration’s longevity.

There were three numbers of primary importance that would have concerned Noda in regards to Ozawa’s expected resignation along with his most loyal members.

55

The number of House of Representatives members that would need to leave to reduce the DPJ-PNP coalition to a minority government. The implications of this would be that this coalition would not be able to defeat a no-confidence motion without support from outside parties, or would be able to pass the budget.

42

The number of House of Representatives members that would need to leave to give the new Ozawa party the right to put forward a no-confidence motion. The assumption here is that the 9 members of the Kizuna party of Ozawa-ites who had already left the party would join the new party.

So how many did House of Representatives members Ozawa manage to convince to leave the party?

40 (日)

This will enable Noda to breathe a little more easily. Not only can the Ozawa party not bring down the government but they cannot submit a no-confidence motion. The LDP could still of course bring such a motion, but its leaders will be mindful of  the passage of the LDP-DPJ-Komeito negotiated consumption tax/social security bills. The public may not appreciate the LDP both cooperating with and seeking to bring down the government at the same time, despite that being exactly what they have been trying to do, quietly. It would have been so much better if disgruntled members of the ruling party were the ones to bring such a motion. The Ozawa party will likely collect the necessary members at some point in the near future to enable it to submit such a motion, but it takes away the immediate risk.

19

The other number, which they were unlikely to get in any case, relates to the House of Councillors. This would have reduced the DPJ to being the second largest party in the House of Councillors, and led to the loss of the associated procedural privileges and control of the agenda. Ozawa managed to convince 12 House of Councillor members to leave.

There is however one other interesting number – 6 – that may be more consequential. The DPJ-PNP and Komeito will not be able to pass legislation on their own. This most likely will have consequences for the DPJ’s planned electoral reform mentioned previously, which is part of an attempt to drive the LDP and Komeito apart in terms of electoral cooperation. Furthermore, if a lower house election was to be held before July 2013 when half of the current House of Councillors members’ terms are up, then the DPJ and the Komeito, if they had such an option based on the results of such an election, would not have control of both houses of the Diet.  Any such government could potentially spend time spinning its wheels until the July 2013 upper house elections.

The other main reason for Noda to be not completely unhappy with this outcome is that he does not have to dirty his hands publicly doing what he may have been pressured into doing anyway – ‘dealing’ with ‘Ozawa’ once and for all. There was internal and external pressure for Noda to cast off Ozawa, and while Noda was none too happy himself with Ozawa’s defiance, a combative threat of expulsion for Ozawa specifically or long-term suspension of all those who went against the party could have led to a much larger exodus of party members that he would have wanted (as per the numbers above). A bitter and protracted “fight” over the appropriate level of punishment could have broken out, especially given the quite reasonable criticism that Noda administration had betrayed the DPJ’s original manifesto, and lost its electoral mandate in pushing forward with the consumption tax rise.

Now Noda can be strategically lenient towards those in his party who did vote no or abstain on the consumption tax bill without necessarily being seen to be taking a “weak” stance on party unity and discipline. He can also go to the LDP with a request to quieten down on DPJ internal issues now that Ozawa is “gone,” as the LDP has been demanding for some time. They will still make some noise – as they were an hour after the announcement (日) –  about needing to go to the public to “ask for the citizen’s trust,” but it is likely to be less enduring than it would have otherwise been given the exit of Ozawa. This removes one more issue for the opposition to use in regards to maneuvering around legislation and the timing of the next lower house election. This by no means means that Noda is safe until the September end of the parliamentary session, but it may give him some space to implement a political strategy for further extending the life of his cabinet.

The DPJ after Today’s Consumption Tax Vote

After an initial delay the legislation has been submitted and the roll call for the first of the various bills that fall under the  “social security and tax reform” designation pushed forward by the 3-party DPJ, LDP and Komeito (non-)coalition is expected to take place around 2.20pm Japan time today.

The situation seems to be coming into focus and there is good news and bad news for the Noda administration. As predicted Prime Minister Noda seems to have been quite successful in convincing the “middle-roaders” to bite the bullet and vote for the bill(s). He has not been so successful however in picking off those less resolute Ozawa/Hatoyama group members by convincing them to abstain or not turn up to the vote. The media strongly believes that 57 DPJ lower house parliamentarians have resolved to vote “against” the bill. If it was somewhere in the 40s then Noda could deal with these members however he wished. However any number above 50, and then 54 if we include the DPJ’s now quite subservient PNP coalition partner, would mean expulsion would likely lead to a no-confidence vote against Noda actually passing. Noda will thus be forced to either be lenient on even those that voted directly against the legislation, or be willing to take the risks of operating a minority government where LDP outrage on any issue – faux or otherwise – could lead to the end of Noda, or if a replacement cannot acquire the confidence of parliament, lead to a general election.

The LDP, citing Koizumi’s actions after the postal reform bill was rejected the first time in 2005, will be pushing the DPJ to expel the rebels from the party. Of course. The difference  is however that these rebels will not have actually prevented the legislation from actually passing and thus not as spectacular a public challenge to Noda’s leadership. There is leeway – especially as there is no DPJ precedent for dealing with this kind of situation – for Noda to treat the rebels somewhat more leniently. Indeed it will likely be very much in his interest to do so.

And the good news on this front for Noda is that it seems that only about 36 to 40 of the most hardcore Ozawa-ites have determined to leave the party after the vote and to set up a new party. With the Kizuna party, they would form a bloc of roughly 40 to 50 or so parliamentarians. While there might be up to 70 DPJ members who will not vote for the bill, not all wish to leave the party. Hatoyama, curious as always, has declared that he will vote directly against the bill – but he will not leave the party and does not wish to break the party apart. Under normal circumstances such a statement would seem to be putting the cart before the horse, however Hatoyama understands that DPJ executives will ultimately be forced to treat those like himself more leniently.

The question will therefore be how lenient – and how will those who wish to stay in the party react to that? One suggestion has been the suspension of party privileges for a designated period of time. However if the suspension is three months or more, then this will prevent such members from voting in the September DPJ presidential election. This may be unacceptable to some and they may end up leaving anyhow. There are some calls within the DPJ for the application of any penalties to be “delayed.” One option here may be only applying the penalty closer to election time, where essentially the DPJ would withdraw official party endorsement for that members reelection campaign. This would probably be the expectation of anyone submitting a “no” vote anyway, and at least in the interim they could enjoy the benefits of being in the government party while they consider their next move.

The DPJ party executives will be working the phones up to the last minute. They have constructed a document ranking DPJ members in terms of their resoluteness in terms of voting yes or no. Noda himself has been calling around. Will there be any last minute deals struck that may get the straight no votes down to around the low 50s? Another interesting thing to watch out for will be whether party discipline holds for the LDP as well. We may know around 5pm today.

…and then we will need to start thinking about the passage of the bill through the House of Councillors. It will pass – but there will be implications for defections and subsequent treatment in this as well – especially since one way or another the House of Councillors is locked until July 2013.

Update: Hatoyama has just now thrown (日) up another option that may justify lenience- he is only going to vote against the specific bill raising the consumption tax, not the full suite of bills. He and seven others may do this. Could this be a last minute Hatoyama classic which undermines the resolve of other members to vote against the prime minister (ie safety in numbers)? Or simply a distinction without a difference?

A little bit of this, a little of that

The opposition LDP’s dream of a March election is starting to look all the more unlikely, however there have been some worthwhile movements/developments in the Japanese political world worthy of commentary.

The first is the ongoing saga of the new Defense Minister, Tanaka Naoki, who seems to be doing his best to bring about an early election through even more bizarre behaviour than his predecessor. I wrote a post over at Japan Security Watch titled “Meet the new Japanese defense minister, probably worse than the old one.” It now seems that such a title was far too generous and it should have read: “definitely worse than the old one.” Consult Michael Cucek’s recent post for why the latter would have indeed been more apt.

Second, while many expected it to happen at some point, Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and co. have brought local politics on to the national stage in a big way, assisted of course, by a media that has nothing better to do now that Ozawa is in limbo. This has lead to a lot of manoeuvring, some of it very craven.

The best place to start is with Ozawa. But since opportunism and Ozawa are synonymous, it is probably not worthwhile discussing Ozawa’s overtures towards Hashimoto. So, the second best place to start is with the ever-present and increasingly desperate Kamei Shizuka. The postal “reform of the reform” bill has been looking incredibly unlikely ever since the 2010 Upper House elections but Kamei has been alternating between hopelessly trying to convince his coalition partners in the government to pass the bill and hunting around for a new political Raison d’être ahead of the next election. At first he moved on from postal reform to the increasingly popular local political autonomy cause, but no one took him seriously – mainly because everything Kamei has stood up for up until now goes against the causes championed by Hashimoto, Osaka governor Matsui, Aichi governor Omura, and Nagoya mayor Kawamura. Kamei decided instead that there was a sudden desperate need for “conservative” third pole in Japanese politics and decided to enrol the help of tachiagare nippon leader Hiranuma Takeo and Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro. And so “jii-santou was born.”1 The plan here it would seem is that in order to capitalize on Hashimoto’s current popularity, the combination of old school conservatives with one credible local autonomy champion (Ishihara) would lead to this new party being seen by Hashimoto et al as the natural vehicle for their entrance on to the national political stage.

They underestimate Hashimoto’s political instincts. While a reform fundamentalist Hashimoto is ultimately a political pragmatist. In terms of “conservative” credentials, while he has supported the punishment of teachers who do not stand up for the national anthem, and makes occasional but inconsistent hawkish comments on national security, Hashimoto is unlikely to support a retro-conservative policy platform if it would undermine his overriding reform goals. As such Hashimoto and Osaka Governor Matsui have been more open to Watanabe Yoshimi’s Your Party’s similar attempt to capitalize on Hashimoto’s energy. They have been much more reluctant to extend the same warmth to Ishihara’s new party.2 Matsui has gone on record as saying that such discussions have not been held between the two groups, and Hashimoto himself has said that much will depend on Ishihara getting his own thoughts in order.

Your Party has also put out the welcome mat for Hashimoto, and has forcefully suggested that unlike with Ishihara’s party, there would be no policy discord between a Hashimoto focused party and Your Party. Together, so the hope goes, they could field enough candidates to perhaps even gain a majority in the next general election. While Your Party has made interesting progress in the Kanto region, both locally and nationally, the Ishin no Kai would be the natural extension southward of Your Party’s agenda; although the Ishin no Kai is probably more of a threat to Your Party’s goal to becoming a true national party.

Although Hashimoto has yet to put out a comprehensive platform for a new local autonomy party, (expected mid-February), there may be truth to Watanabe’s argument. However there are reasons for Hashimoto et al being somewhat cautious towards Your Party. First of all, in order to push through his intended reforms in Osaka, Hashimoto’s Ishin no Kai has formed an alliance with the local Komeito group in order to achieve what is his primary goal. It would be unusual, although not impossible, for him to work with YP on the national level, and Komeito on the local level. Secondly, Your Party has obviously gained itself a bit of reputation for being a do-nothing party that while not responsible for the “problem” of dysfunctional national politics, has certainly been involved in the maintenance of such dysfunction. Your Party’s popularity has only decreased since its good showing in last year’s Upper House election. Hashimoto et al might see at some point later on down the track allying with Your Party as a drag on his popularity rather than useful support. Hashimoto in particular  certainly has the opposite reputation and locally a lot of people supportive of his reforms in Kansai think he might have the tendency to get too carried away with his plans. Hashimoto’s positive response to PM Noda’s warning to Hashimoto to be careful of the “termites” in Nagata-cho and Kasumigaseki is highly suggestive that Hashimoto is taking the cautious route for now.

The “termites” comment also brought out into the open what everyone always suspected Your Party was all about – they can dish it out, but they can’t take it in response. Noda has actually used the term before in reference to the recipients of bureaucratic amakudari, but in this context it was probably also directed towards the political manoeuvrings of Ishihara, Ozawa, and Watanabe. Noda hedged his bets in terms of exactly who he was directing the criticism towards, but Watanabe has since came out and said that if the comment was directed at him it would justify an upper house censure motion. Pathetic, considering everything that Watanabe has directed towards his opponents over the last few years. Part of the problem, indeed.

Interestingly the mainstream party most concerned with Hashimoto’s rising prominence and possible participation in the next election is not the governing DPJ, but the LDP. Once you get out of the muck of the DPJ senior leadership, who like all other political operators would like to capitalize on Hashimoto’s popularity, there are actually a number in the DPJ who are quite supportive of his overall policy platform, assuming it stays focused specifically on local autonomy and administrative reform. On the other hand, the LDP, who have come out recently and told everyone what everyone already knew – that their single-minded goal for this year would be to “recover the ruling mantle,” are particularly concerned about the implications of an alliance between Hashimoto’s Ishin no Kai and pretty much anyone else.3 It is not implausible that in an election featuring Hashimoto or agents of Hashimoto, the LDP might lose even more seats than they currently now have. Certainly the fantasy that they now labour under – of coming back into power in the same decisive way that they lost it in 2009 – would have zero chance of coming to fruition. The DPJ seems to have already accepted its fate, but the LDP still has not come to grips with its status as a party that is expendable to the Japanese public like every other party.4

Which has led to another interesting debate taking place within the LDP at the current time – over reform to the electoral system. What has transpired is that the DPJ’s has shelved more expansive plans to redesign the electoral system in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling of unconstitutionality, and has submitted to the LDP’s plan of only reducing by five the number of seats in prefectures most advantaged by the current system’s vote disproportionality. Of course, the LDP rejected their own proposition, for a reason I remember reading, but am ill-inclined to look up, mainly because it was lame. Not sitting back the DPJ has pushed forward and proposed a deal with all of the other parties, particularly the Komeito, to cut the number of Lower House members by 80 (thus, they believe,  giving the DPJ the minimal amount of “reformist” credentials) in exchange for a form of electoral system that advantages minor parties. Essentially the system would be one that looks like the current system in terms of overall structure, which could be described as a “Supplementary Member” (並立制) system, but in  but in the apportioning of votes from the PR lists has outcomes more closely resembling the New Zealand and German MMP systems (併用制), but without the “overhang.” This system does not have an English name (that I can find) but comes from a proposal put forward and considered in 1993 but ultimately not adopted by the non-LDP government of the time. For those keeping score in Japanese, the system is called 小選挙区比例代表連用制, and essentially instead of using the d’Hondt method for apportioning the PR seats,  a formula that privileges those who have less constituency seats than others is used in the calculations. Ask me in the comments if you are so inclined and sufficiently nerdy. But basically all of the smaller parties would have gotten more seats based on the last elections results, and the Komeito in particular would have increased their quota from 22 to 33, even with the 80 PR seats taken off from the 180 total there is now in the PR allotment. The knock on this system is that it would make it difficult for mainstream parties to achieve outright majorities. This may of course not be a) necessarily a bad thing, b) looks likely to persist under the current system anyway, and 3) those countries that have such systems don’t do that badly.

Well it seems that most of the parties were on board. Except for the LDP. First Tanigaki rejected it. Then another party member on national TV tentatively agreed to it, but only if about 30 of the PR seats were worked out by the proposed method, and 30 continue to be worked out by the current method. This would mean 100 seats would be taken off the PR quota of 180. There is also another LDP plan floating out there which only reduces the PR allotment by 30, and puts aside PR seats only for parties that earn under 20 percent of the vote.  All quite bizarre really – even Your Party is starting to wonder what on earth they are talking about. The Komeito must be very tempted to leave the LDP to their well deserved fate and abandon them on this point alone.5  The war of attrition in terms of party unity between the DPJ and the LDP continues.

1 I can’t take credit for coining this – recently Ishihara got into a scrap with one of the recent winners of the Akutagawa Book Prize, and in response to Ishihara’s describing his work as rubbish along with most other recent winners, the author went on television and suggested that Ishihara focus on his new party. Ishihara is 79, Hiranuma a young 72, and Kamei Shizuka is 75.

2 To be sure Hashimoto will work with them – but will discard them as is needed.

3 Indeed it has been reported that LDP general secretary Ishihara Nobuteru is quite concerned at dad’s recent prominence.

4 Recently Koizumi Jnr has come out and criticized the LDP for being nothing more than a party that “opposes things.”

5  Of course there are PR representatives within the DPJ, who are obviously concerned about any reduction in the PR seats, although their fate is probably sealed either which way.

Time for a “death pool” on the DPJ?

If you come here for the foreign policy content I have a post on the ‘Three Principles of Arms Exports’ over at Japan Security Watch. They have, for those that are interested, changed. Here is a summary of the statement from the Chief Cabinet Secretary. I will be writing a little more on the changes later in the week.

Anyway domestically, it will by now be obvious that there is a little, perhaps unexpected, tension in and around Nagata-cho heading into the new year. I share with Michael Cucek a large degree of exasperation around what it is exactly the Noda Cabinet is trying to achieve. Noda has completely lost control over the narrative about what his prime ministership stands for. Cucek also provides some pretty good reasons here as to why the overall political situation has very quickly come to a head at a time of year when everybody should be taking a step back and reflecting on the events of the year. Jun Okumura as always provides some solid and sensible reasons for commentators to not get ahead of themselves in speculating on whether Japanese politics is about to undergo the now seemingly mythical political realignment (政界再編) that many have been predicting for a while. Like ‘regime change’ (政権交代) this almost seems to have become a meaningless phase despite the perhaps misplaced hope placed in it.

Nevertheless I will ignore Jun’s caution somewhat as I feel there is something a little different this time around. The party is much closer to splitting now than any of the other times when, according to the Japanese media and many foreign commentators, Ozawa apparently was threatening to tear the party apart, but suspiciously never really got close.

The reason why I say unexpected is that given how clumsily recent events have been handled it could be argued that this latest round of tension has surprised a number of stakeholders, including the Noda and his cabinet. Tension was expected over the TPP given what was (as I have argued, falsely) believed to be at stake. However it seemed that the one thing the Noda Cabinet was supposed to do was to promote party unity by giving a little bit to everyone, something the Hatoyama and Kan Cabinets did not attempt. A little bit to the Ozawa camp, to the differing camps within the “mainstream” group of Sengoku, Noda and Maehara, and then to some of the other factions-that-aren’t-really factions. Noda’s seeming comprehensive election victory seemed to suggest to Japanese commentators and media analysts at least that the issue of whether the consumption tax should be raised had been settled within the DPJ. Ozawa would hopefully be quiet.

And for the most part Ozawa has. He has even gone as far as to publicly state that now is not the time for DPJ newbies to jump ship. So that can’t be it. With Ozawa not being the current cause of tension, and no elections for the foreseeable future, the mainstream media seems to have no possible way to understand what is happening. So it is going (jp) with the Ozawa factor anyway in grappling for explanations. And this is precisely why the Japanese media, with its focus on personal politics and policy symbolism over the politics of policy making (reinforced to be sure by the actions and statements of the senior leaderships of all parties, big and small), struggles at times like this. Ultimately if this was all about Ozawa a much bigger split would have happened a longer time ago – recent differences appear to be very much over policy than personality.

So over and above the obvious and persistent reasons for tension in Japanese politics, I feel there there is an under-discussed aspect of the DPJ that need to be understood to truly make sense of the current situation.

That the DPJ is a party with no broadly uniting policy or ideology is already well-understood, and now that its reason for existence has vanished (removing the LDP), it is no surprise that it is violently thrashing around for coherence. From this point of view the fact that the party is split between old school socialists, social progressives, foreign policy hardliners, and experts in the cynical politics of patronage led by the likes of Ozawa, suggests that we can understand policy outcomes by reference to the machinations of various intra-party factions. And I in point this out I am not suggesting I don’t do it, to be sure.

The power of the factions however in the DPJ is only relevant when it comes to intra-party elections however. A problem this surely is, to be sure, due to the fact that the political situation has necessitated the need for so many of these tortuous exercises, but not necessarily the overall explanation for all outcomes related to the DPJ’s time in government.

The DPJ’s factions clearly play a role in these elections and in doling out the baubles of office by structuring election and candidate choices, and providing a ready made rhetorical frame for the public to understand the outcomes – and thus ultimately forces those outside of the various factions to go along with the prevailing politics of compromise in the short-term.

However, it does not necessarily apply to policy making, which is perhaps the major difference of the factions between the DPJ and the LDP, where in the LDP era policy conflict would be managed in order to mutually prolong the power of all of the respective power nexus. The TPP debate I feel showed this quite well – there was little factional coherence in terms of who came out for and against the TPP, or was lukewarm one way or another. Rather stakeholder interests, and election prospects and local considerations usually directed individual decisions. Furthermore, it is often forgotten however that there are well over 400 DPJ Diet members, and no where near enough factions to ‘contain’ all of them. As it was it took the LDP years, some would say decades to perfect its system of factional patronage and compromise.

In short, there is a large number of, often younger, DPJ Diet members who care not for factions, tolerate them to ensure they don’t unnecessarily make enemies, and whose personal political ambitions was initially forged upon the desire to actually be involved in reform of some kind, even if the exact contours of that reform were not ideologically and rigidly predetermined. They did not leave successful non-political careers where their talents were being put to productive use to waste time away in a do nothing parliament, and their support for Noda at the last party election was not simply a vote of confidence for party unity and/or simply for the consumption tax increase.

As has very much come to the fore in this latest round of tension, is that a consumption tax increase without either at least a symbolic cut in the number of Diet members (and therefore one assumes without reform of the electoral system of both the upper and lower houses), and preferably some kind of a start in administrative reform is a political disaster. Raising taxes without dealing with the oversized budget through actually cutting some of the shiwake programs, and/or dealing with other pressing drains on the governments fiscal health, like amakudari, would be simply unacceptable for these members if they had to go into a general election sometime soon under the DPJ banner. In this sense their thoughts would seem to be precisely in line with the publics’ general line of thought. Many politicians throughout the political spectrum still struggle to realize that the public’s lukewarm support in general for the consumption tax increase is intimately connected to some genuine political sacrifice being offered up, and then appear genuinely surprised when the public then comes out strongly against specific tax rise policies.

And thus many of the aforementioned DPJ members understood that Noda would push for the raising of the consumption tax and voted for him as the superior option over Kaieda Banri – if he would also take seriously the needed administrative reform, that incidentally Maehara Seiji discussed and recommended the party focus on in during the Noda era in his effective DPJ leadership  concession speech (well it was his appeal for votes but it more or less sounded like a concession speech).

Many of these aforementioned members have actually been deliberately been biding their time, knowing the current political situation is hopeless and not going to enhance their political ambitions or their policy agendas. Bold statements of symbolic value or on specific policies have not been in their self-interest, and ultimately in the interest of their policy aspirations. Many seemed resigned to venting their frustrations in private until the appropriate time.

However it seems that the restarting of the Yamba dam project, that was part a large symbolic part of the manifesto and seemingly a simple decision to make, and the pressure put on them to commit to a tax increase by the party leadership without making the necessary sacrifices, has really pushed the conflict to the core of the party.

There was already internal angst within the DPJ over the shiwake administrative review process. It yielded little by way of actual cuts to actual programs and more frustratingly, those programs that had been cut in this process arose in different ministries under different names. This was not lost within the party. A large number of DPJ members have become increasingly vocal at DPJ policy committees and combative towards what they see to be unresponsive bureaucratic advisers and party leadership, who appear to be ignoring their policy preferences and coming back to the committees with the same proposals with only cosmetic changes. It seems a lot of the rank and file of the DPJ which exist between the factional power nodes, have very little patience left.  It now appears obvious to them that Noda is not going to deliver.1

These members have been called “manifesto fundamentalists” by some, for example Watanabe Yoshimi, if they are not calling them Ozawa’s children. This view perpetuates the idea that Noda’s, or any PM’s deviation from the manifesto is the cause of intra-party tension. But this is not entirely accurate.  These members are realistic enough to understand that in a situation of political complexity stubborn devotion to a less than strategically coherent manifesto from a policy point of view was never going to be a winning strategy – and that the public would probably forgive some deviations if some other aspects of the manifesto, particularly the administrative ones, were executed.  But the Yamba Dam decision and the sacrifice-less tax increase proposal seems to have snuffed out any chance that these members, if they were to campaign as rank and file members of the DPJ at any future election,  would be able to appeal to the public’s sense of reasonableness. Now some will be asking, “what do we have left?”

So how is this different from previous intra-party eruptions? Aside from all fruitful avenues for burnishing one’s political and policy credentials being exhausted, I believe this time it is  unlike for example earlier this year when a group of strongly Ozawa affiliated DPJ members threatened to leave the party (sort of) around the time of the no-confidence vote against Kan. This eruption was easily understood – as the most loyal Ozawa-ites they were leverage for Ozawa in his battle with Kan at the time, and since all of them were elected on the PR system, and not particularly electorally attractive, (despite being described as “young politicians” when they were anything but) they had very little left to lose given that as Ozawa acolytes and PR Diet members they were doomed the moment Kan lost the Upper House election in 2010.

This time however the ones that are the cause of trouble for the Noda Cabinet were not solely elected through proportional representation. Saito Yasunori and Uchiyama Akira are leading this charge and are both representatives of their own constituencies. As I described of the pseudo-revolt earlier this year:

While they have at times, amusingly, been described as “young” by the Japanese press (若手 – only 3 of the 16 are under 45 ) they all are likely to suffer the most from an upcoming election under the DPJ banner, having not had even a local constituency to represent while trying to raise their personal profile in the last 2 years. A lot of the first-time candidates who were elected to local constituencies in 2009, under Ozawa’s direction took straight to using their new found status to raise their profile and have worked assiduously at a local level to consolidate their position, hardly touching 0n policy at all. These members in particular might find it most advantageous to distance themselves from the party at a later date – something they could well credibly do considering their lack of DPJ “institutionalization.”

For me, the movements of the likes of Ishizeki Takashi will be very instructive. Ishizeki recently came out in effective support of his Gunma counterpart (Nakajima Masaki), who perhaps initiated the recent round of defections (now reaching 9 members as I type – jp). Ishizeki said that he felt very much the same way about the party’s decision and wanting to break away. Ishizeki is young at 39 but has considerable political experience. A former government bureaucrat who graduated from Waseda and has spent time at the University of London,  he is very ambitious while at the same time has a strong belief in the need for reform in Japan in various forms. He is a ‘graduate’ of ‘Ozawa Juku’ and a part of the ‘Ozawa Group’ but has his own interests to look after as he was not elected on the PR block and represents Gunma constituency no.2. I would suggest that he, among many others dispersed throughout the party’s weak factional system,  is an appropriate weather vane of the mood of those I have described above within the DPJ. That he has echoed his displeasure but stayed within the party is suggestive. Noda et al will have to tread very carefully, which is exactly what he has done by putting off (ja) a decision on a specific percentage for the consumption tax increase, and a specific timetable for its implementation. But it may be close to all over for the party notwithstanding a miracle. It seems the issue is now really about the timing.

The rise of Osaka Mayor/self-appointed destroyer of vested interests in government (jp) Hashimoto Toru comes at a very interesting time for the DPJ members I have discussed in this post. Despite Kamei, Ozawa and other political opportunists’ nakedly transparent attempt to court Hashimoto, Hashimoto has kept his distance.2 And while I have all but given up on Watanabe Yoshimi and co. to contribute anything of value to the political process other than soundbites, there may be some chance for future cooperation. After all, there is almost no issue left for the government to address, even badly. That is, except for the growing unconstitutional affront to democracy that is the inter-regional vote disparity (一票の格差) that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications reported (ja) had grown in overall numerical terms in both houses of parliament, and crucially included a big jump in the number of electoral districts in the House of Representatives that passed the constitutionally acceptable 2 to 1 ratio. Ultimately I believe it is unlikely that too many DPJ malcontents will want to leave the party before this little issue is resolved – as long as it is unresolved they likely won’t have to contest an election and not knowing the outcome of this reform won’t help the formulation of future electoral strategy – nor would diminishing one’s influence over the singular issue that is left that would affect one’s chances of re-election.

1 Their existence also explains why Kamei Shizuka’s sought after reform to Post Office Privatization has not proceeded, even though all of the main factions aside from perhaps Maehara’s would gladly play political football with this issue.

2 Interestingly last Sunday Hashimoto and Maehara were on television together and were at great pains to not agree too warmly with each other – Hashimoto not wanting to be too close to anyone in the current government, and Maehara not wanting to be too closely associated with the maverick least he have his position of responsibility as DPJ policy chief undermined, which had already been called into question by his public explosion on the Yamba Dam decision.

Ozawa’s “soft” support base

It now appears that NHK has retracted their statement that Mabuchi and co. went for Noda’s group and in fact Mabuchi himself voted for Kaieda while seemingly the rest of his supporters voted as they wished. It also appears that Kano, Maehara and Noda had struck a rough agreement that the 3rd and 4th place getters would support the 2nd place getter in a strategic arrangement made before the first round of voting. Apparently Kano and his group, and a few of the younger cohort in the DPJ eventually baulked at the pressure applied to them by Ozawa, were concerned at the inelegance of Ozawa’s manoeuvring, and decided to throw in their lot with the mainstream group. According to this (jp) Nikkei article, Kano, after finishing fourth and being eliminated in the first round, took off his suit jacket to indicate to the 30 or so members most loyal to him that he was going to go with Noda and that they should follow his lead. Along with a few Mabuchi followers defecting to Noda this would bring Noda up to the 215 votes or so that he received, if some of Maehara’s votes defected to Kaieda out of concern for Noda’s tax rise friendly platform. It is still possible that Ozawa threw a few votes Noda’s way in round one for insurance but there was probably already a strong sense that, in addition to their not getting anywhere near 199 in round one, they were also likely to lose in the run-off as well. The scenario identified two posts before of Ozawa’s support base softening seems to be the most appropriate interpretation of yesterday’s events.

If the Nikkei’s summary of yesterday’s events (table -jp) is roughly accurate then this is bad news for Ozawa’s strength within the party. First of all, Okada has claimed that events proceeded as exactly as he (and Sengoku) expected. This suggests they have a good understanding of internal party relationships, something which Ozawa is increasingly losing. Furthermore, if we subtract the roughly 40 or so that we know are loyal to Hatoyama from Kaieda’ first round vote, then we can conclude at the very most we have 100 members inside the Ozawa “clique.” A far cry from the much larger 150 plus commentators were ominously talking about soon after the 2009 election. The strength of loyalty of even this 100 is probably suspect and as argued without a strong hold on the Secretary-general job Ozawa’s ability to command loyalty is going to decrease. In addition the Japanese media is already talking about “3 consecutive defeats” for Ozawa, with some glee to be sure, and those loyal to him are likely to going to see the writing on this particular wall. The way Ozawa played with even some of his most loyal supporters in the run up to the election is also going to leave a particularly bad taste in many mouths when the post-mortems are conducted today.

Kano for his sins, along with Koshiishi Azuma, is also featuring in talk regarding the important DPJ Secretary-general role. This might not only be some kaeshi for helping out Noda but both are seen to be quite middle of the road members within the DPJ. As opposed to Okada, Sengoku, Maehara or Edano, the selection of either of Koshiishi or Kano would be a signal to other DPJ members that appeals to “party unity” are not the empty slogans that they were perceived to be under Kan. Already some who supported Kaieda have approved of the possible selection of these candidates, and even Ozawa himself has been quoted as saying that he would support Noda if his appeals to party unity do indeed turn out to be more than empty words. Of course we will believe that when we see it but yesterday’s events seems to confirm that Ozawa may have little choice in the matter if Noda takes a pragmatic approach to selecting party personnel and focuses on manageable policy outcomes.

In this respect Noda will still have to act decisively in the short-term to ensure party divisions do not break open into a full internal civil war. However the election of Noda over either Maehara or Kaieda may help to avert an immediate breakdown of the DPJ, although Noda’s popularity, and thus to a substantial degree, ability, to navigate the domestic political situation will be the more important long-term challenge.

The Japanese PM run-off and the weekend’s media through a Rumsfeldian lens

There is a high likelihood that today’s DPJ presidential election will proceed to a run-off (決選投票) between the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes from the first round of voting. The meeting at the Hotel Otani to decide the next Japanese prime minister will start at roughly 11am Japan time, with 50 minutes put aside for speeches from the candidates, and voting to start soon after the speeches at around 12.20. By approximately 1.10 we should know if anyone has achieved the unlikely goal of 199 votes (50% plus 1 with the upper and lower house speakers sitting out) majority over all of the other candidates. If as expected this is not reached the top two vote-getters will face-off in the second round, meaning roughly 2pm might be a good time to tune in for the result if one has access to television.

Media reports throughout the weekend suggest that the run-off will be contested between the top vote-getter, predicted to be Kaieda Banri who has received both Hatoyama and Ozawa’s support (the “anti-mainstream” group or 非主流派), and either Finance Minister Noda or former Foreign Minister Maehara. The media is then predicting that the “mainstream” faction (主流派) will then pursue the not unexpected strategy of combining their votes for the second round to give whichever of their candidates who finishes in second place a chance to win the run-off.

One interesting development according to the media’s reporting this weekend is that rather than Maehara being the second-place favourite, Noda might well be pulling ahead.

The Asahi was not alone in reporting that Noda might have enough backing to make it into the second round. According to their investigation (jp) while Kaieda has the backing of at least 130 eligible voters, Noda might have as many as 80 voters backing him, with Maehara just behind at around 60-70. Minister of Agriculture Kano is predicted to pick up 30-40 with Mabuchi perhaps lucky to get much more than the support of the 20 DPJ members who offered up their signatures to allow Mabuchi to enter the race in the first place. The Mainichi found similar results in its investigation here (jp).

Even taking the above at mathematical face value suggests that the outcome is anything but obvious. However there are other reasons for hesitancy is making bold predictions (one way or another) about today’s outcomes. Below I describe some of the known unknowns.

Does Ozawa have a “Noda” strategy?

This is the idea that in a run-off between an Ozawa candidate and Maehara Seiji, Ozawa suspects that his candidate would lose to Maehara. When faced with the stark choice of two candidates, DPJ members may be tempted to think about how a Maehara administration might improve the party’s long-term prospects more than a Kaieda administration, even if they do not particularly favour Maehara as a person. However, in a Noda-Kaieda run-off the lack of public popularity of both candidates takes this factor out of the equation.

If Ozawa is truly as good at counting the votes as some argue, then he may therefore be tempted to throw some support behind Noda in the first round, perhaps by getting 30 or 40 of his group to vote for Noda and possibly eliminating Maehara. This would in theory leave enough votes for Kaieda to still take first place, but by a much smaller margin. For this strategy to work two assumptions are important. One is that Ozawa does have control over his group, and the second is that the pre-poll vote counting that media agencies such as the Asahi above have conducted do not already include some “Ozawa” supporters in Noda’s tally.

Ozawa and the magical “130”

Related to the above, does Ozawa really have the undivided loyalty of 130 DPJ Diet members? This has been a subject of debate for some time and there are good reasons to doubt it. First of all, various insiders have put the number at something more like 70 rather than 130. Since the 2009 election and the decrease in DPJ popularity, 1st term Diet members have slowly but surely gained independence from Ozawa’s control whether by initiative or accident. Indeed as discussed previously here there are a fair number of first term Diet members in both the DPJ and the LDP who have come together to despair at the senior leaderships in both of their respective parties. Many supposedly loyal to Ozawa might not be distancing themselves from Ozawa in terms of outright attacking their “master” – after all he can still dispense favours, advice and money which any self-interested but unknown Diet member may desire to access. We cannot however assume that their votes are a given, especially because these are also the most vulnerable members if an election had to be called due to another unpopular PM being unable to push the legislative process along. Secondly, there is indeed evidence of the tentative and “soft”  nature of Ozawa’s support base in recent DPJ elections. In the 2010 “full” DPJ presidential vote it was widely predicted that Ozawa would beat Kan in the Diet member vote section, while Kan would eventually triumph due to the support of local office holders and paid-up DPJ members. Kan did triumph but he also received a majority of Diet members votes also, who were wary of going too much against public opinion. Secondly the no-confidence vote in June of this year also shows that the Ozawa “coalition” is very unstable – it took only a vague promise from Kan to Hatoyama for a large number of the Diet members to lose their nerve and reverse their position in favour of a vote of confidence for the Kan administration. If another group in the party was to come out in the lead up today, publicly or otherwise, in favour of perhaps Maehara, or strike a deal with the mainstream candidates, then we could well see another strong reversal.

It may even be possible  that some suggested to the media they would vote in favour of Kaieda in the preliminary stages but were waiting to gauge what the overall mood in the party was- if there any doubts about Ozawa’s numbers felt within the party, or a faction is convinced to declare their support in a last minute deal with either Noda or Maehara,  then anything may happen.

What about the “middle of the road” factions?

Adding to the potential for instability, which would probably hurt Kaieda more than Noda or Maehara, are the voting declarations made by 4 of the groups unaffiliated to any of the candidates. Those members belonging to the groups comprised of former DSP (en) members (approximately 30 members), and former SDP members (20 members), have declared or indicated that their members would vote independently. Likewise with the Tarutoko Shinji and former PM Hata groups, which both come to approximately 20 members each.  Thus we already we have 90 undecided voters. The Mabuchi and Kano groups will then become a big factor in any run-off, where a last minute deal with one or both may be able to swing the votes to one candidate or the other.

Is Agriculture Minister Kano in or out of the race?

Conventional logic suggests that he hasn’t got a chance. However a number of voices, including the Yomiuri suggests that Kano may be more viable than many suspect (jp).  In fact the Yomiuri article suggests that Kaieda might be vulnerable to losing the run-off irrespective of whether Kano, Maehara, or Noda wins second place and is now looking quite desperately at trying to win in the first round, as difficult as that maybe.

Kano is generally seen to be more favourable towards the “anti-mainstream” than the Noda and Maehara’s group. If Maehara and or Noda wins then Kano’s group would likely side with Kaieda or remain neutral (ie vote independently) rather than join the “mainstream” candidate. This would mean that the unaffiliated and Mabuchi voters would decide the outcome of the run-off which would likely advantage a Maehara candidature  in particular as these kinds of voters are more likely to consider public opinion than those loyal to one candidate or another. However, in a variation of Ozawa’s “Noda” strategy, if Kano makes it to the second round there is also fear within the Ozawa camp that the mainstream faction will side with Kano as the lesser of two evils. In this case Kano might be a dark horse – with the support of the mainstream faction he would be close to the 199 number, requiring only Mabuchi’s groups’ support or the halving of the unaffiliated votes to make it past 199. In this scenario even a deal between the Ozawa group and Mabuchi (by no means a certain thing in itself)  might not be sufficient. This lack of confidence within the Ozawa group shows just how strong Ozawa antipathy is, which for Maehara and Noda is not a burden they have to bear. Might the many known unknowns combined with this antipathy and/or knowledge of this antipathy lead to a last minute abandoning of the “Ozawa” candidate in favour of Maehara and or Noda? Might it even happen in round one?

I wouldn’t be surprised. Ditto with any result, for that matter due to those unknown unknowns.

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.

Path to stability?

It seems that the various attempted manoeuvres initiated by the DPJ to pass the budget and budget related bills have failed. The negotiations with the SDP for support for a 2/3 override vote in the lower house seem to have broken down – helped along by Hatoyama’s recent entertaining remarks (en) – and an attempt to break up parts of the budget and related bills so to facilitate party by party support, while considered for a brief period of time by some opposition parties, also seems to have come to nothing. The prospect of a snap election – likely by June if not in April when nationwide integrated local elections are held – is becoming all the more likely. Indeed according to a recent jiji poll (jp) the number of those who believe that there should be a lower house election (40%) or the Kan cabinet should resign (15%) are in the majority. Only 33% believe Kan should tough it out for a while.

While the big news is that the Kan cabinet support rate (17.8%) has fallen below the Hatoyama cabinet’s own low of 19.1%, the poll shows a continuation of another trend – that other parties are completely unable to capitalize on the DPJ’s missteps. In fact the poll shows that all parties except for the SDP have lost support since December and even the SDP only gained a measly 0.1 percent. More interestingly, and in this author’s view, more encouraging, is that the LDP has lost more support since December than the DPJ has (even if only by a margin of 1% – 2.9% loss for LDP v 1.9 % for DPJ). Certainly if there is an election soon it is anyone’s guess what the outcome would be – unless a catalyzing event, perhaps such as a good showing by reform parties in the upcoming local elections, or the break up of the DPJ itself leading to political realignment (of sorts), occurs, then it seems likely that the outcome will be an equivocal one.

However, with the recent psuedo-revolt (en) inside the DPJ by members aligned to Ozawa (who are claiming to be the true defenders of the DPJ manifesto) the eventual break-up of the party is looking somewhat more likely (jp). Needless to say this revolt could fatally compromise the legislation-making ability of the Kan government. But aside from the resentment regarding the way Ozawa is being treated inside the party, such a course of action is, as I have argued before, quite a rational course of action for those in the DPJ who benefited from the strong anti-LDP vote in 2009. All members of the current break away clique were elected on the proportional representation list and almost all are first-time members of the house. While they have at times, amusingly, been described as “young” by the Japanese press (若手 – only 3 of the 16 are under 45 ) they all are likely to suffer the most from an upcoming election under the DPJ banner, having not had even a local constituency to represent while trying to raise their personal profile in the last 2 years. A lot of the first-time candidates who were elected to local constituencies in 2009, under Ozawa’s direction took straight to using their new found status to raise their profile and have worked assiduously at a local level to consolidate their position, hardly touching 0n policy at all. These members in particular might find it most advantageous to distance themselves from the party at a later date – something they could well credibly do considering their lack of DPJ “institutionalization.”

Whether the initial revolt leads to a chain reaction of destruction remains to be seen but it really seems that we have entered a crucial stage. Kan, Sengoku and Okada in particular have inherited a poison chalice in leading the party at this time and it now seems certain that they will not be able to offload it before election time through constructive policymaking and the achievement of results- and it very much seems that the LDP as a whole still cannot get rid of theirs. With 65% of voters undecided, bold action in any direction would seem to be far less risky than it would normally be. If the DPJ decides to call an election in June as many are picking (some say in a deal to get the budget passed), the April local elections could well be a very interesting catalyzing event and may well have an impact on the perception of political and electoral incentives for many of the less institutionalized political players in the Japanese political system. While much of the English language media will further deride the ‘instability’ in Japanese politics, and lament the end of the ‘responsible’ Kan, it may well in fact be the case that we are seeing a path to stability open up in the current fog. As always, time will tell.

Update: Indeed this (en) article reflects the feeling of a younger DPJ lawmaker in relation to the DPJ vs new regional parties, a feeling I suspect is more widespread. H/T to Janne.

Here we go again…

The Kan government is looking to re-engage for a third time with its old coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party. To recap, the original coalition of the DPJ, the PNP, and the SDP broke down after party leader Fukushima Mizuho, then a cabinet minister, was expelled by Hatoyama from his cabinet for refusing to sign the Cabinet Decision authorizing the go ahead of the Futenma relocation plan. Late last year the Kan government approached the SDP again looking for some love – this time in a weakened position in the aftermath of the House of Councillors election which saw the DPJ lose the ability to stitch together a working majority among like-minded parties. This meant the only paths to getting legislation approved were working with the opposition or forcing a 2/3rd vote in the House of Representatives to override the House of Councillors. The enlightened opposition was having none of the former. The SDP in entertaining the proposition managed to convince the Kan government to abandon its push to have the the Arms Export Ban relaxed – but eventually decided anyway that it was too soon and that in reality they too were part of the loyal opposition.

Kan’s only remaining option was to persuade the Komeitō to work with them on at least getting the budget approved. Initially it looked likely this would happen – while the Komeitō would vote against the budget bill itself (which in itself is not a significant issue – the budget bill passes into law naturally after a month if no further action is taken by the House of Councillors) it was considering voting yes for the budget-related bill which is required for Japan to issue bonds to cover the shortfall between government revenue and expenditures – which does have to be authorized by both houses. This was ostensibly for the purposes of continuity, political stability and not undermining the livelihoods of citizens who would suffer if the government ran out of money. It seems there was a backlash within the Komeitō and within its “mother organization,” the Sōka Gakkai, and now Komeitō will not support either bill. One wonders whether this confirms that the Komeitō sees itself long-term as firmly back in the political universe of its former partner, the LDP – the main reason for the backdown appears to be concern about the decline of Kan and the DPJ’s support ratings and the Komeitō being tarred with that brush.

So after unsuprisingly finding that tachiagare nippon was not enthusiastic about being in a conservative-fiscal reformist-left-of-centre-psuedo-socialist-special postal interests coalition of absurdity, the DPJ really does now find that the SDP, and the 2/3rds House of Representatives override, is its last resort to, well, do anything.

Needless to say the SDP has some demands/requests. It wants the funds approved to advance the Futenma relocation taken out of this year’s budget; reconsideration of the 5% reduction in the corporate tax rate; and reinstatement of the tax exemption for dependents which was phased out after the child subsidy was introduced (which has apparently led to some people receiving less in light of the inability of the government to fulfil its election pledge of 26,000 yen per child per month).

The SDP is currently waiting for the DPJ’s answer on these three topics before making a decision. Bear in mind that this just to consider the budget and related bills. After working so hard to project a US-Japan alliance friendly position, the first would certainly be politically inexplicable, no matter the realities related to the implementation of the relocation plan. The second and third will obviously not please business/fiscal conservative interests that the Kan government has worked to build a relationship with or has been trying to convince them that the DPJ is not antagonistic towards them.

If further cooperation is pursued there will be further requests – revisions to the Worker Dispatch Law (派遣法) will certainly be put on the table by the SDP. Perhaps more importantly for electoral impact, the PNP will finally want to extract its pound of flesh and the bill for reversing elements of postal privatization will be thrust back into consideration. This obviously poses some difficulties. While the Worker Dispatch Law may not be all that problematic electorally, Kan by pushing forward with the TPP while considering implementing a law greatly disliked by the Japanese business and financial sector, the international financial community, and for the most part the Japanese people, will be presenting an image of stewardship greatly at odds with the “Heisei Opening” mantra he has been promoting lately. Furthermore, the SDP is resolutely anti-TPP so certainly the TPP will not advance under such a political arrangement. The big “policy” prize (AKA proof that they have done something significant) that the DPJ wants before heading into another election, will probably be beyond their grasp.

And, (and this is the really special bit) even if Kan was able to navigate his way through all of this, it might all come to nothing. As this Yomiuri article points out (jp), the 2/3rds option is only possible because between the DPJ, PNP, and SDP and some friendly independents they have 319 HoR votes- 1 vote more than the 318 required given that there are 3 HoR vacancies.  However, depending on how the party deals with Ozawa given his mandatory indictment, this could get so much more delicious. If he is expelled from the party, he is sure to bring a few of his most hardcore supporters with him –  and the 2/3rds option will surely not be on the table. In fact himself and one other would do the trick. The DPJ is aiming for the Budget’s passage through the House of Representatives to occur in early March. And the DPJ will have to decide on what it will do with Ozawa in the next few weeks. And, Ozawa himself has predicted that there will be an election in March. Maehara, who has been very adept at positioning himself on the right side of issues for the last year or so and is seen as a likely successor to Kan, has also instructed his troops to be on alert. The key question might well be whether those in the DPJ who have leadership aspirations think it is better to remove Kan before or after the dissolution of the House of Representatives, rather than whether such a dissolution will happen. Perhaps the only reassuring thing for the DPJ is that opposition intransigence is hurting (jp) opposition parties as well as the DPJ in opinion polls as they have failed to capitalize at all – and parties like Your Party seem have gone backwards due to their lack of prominence on the national stage, perhaps in most part due to their inability to appear as cognitively dissonant and gallingly self-righteous as the LDP has been lately.

It will be interesting.

NB: This post likely contains significant sarcasm.

I also have another post up at  Japan Security Watch- misplaced complacency (and lovers). James has produced a good informative post on American perceptions of the US-Japan alliance that is worth reading. I advise subscribing to JSW and putting it into your RSS reader.

Another poll, another day, more bad news for the DPJ, worse for the LDP

Following on from the theme of a previous post the Asahi has released yet another poll which indicates just how terribly things are going for both of the major parties.

General support for the DPJ has dropped 5% from 32 to 27 percent. Somehow, the LDP still manages to drop a further 3% from 18 to 15%! Likewise with the question on voter’s intention for the Upper House election – the DPJ loses 2% to drop to 30%, while the LDP also drops a further 2% to 21%. The non-aligned vote for the first question is 46%, up from 37%, while the “don’t know” proportion for the upcoming election rises a further 5% to 37%.

The LDP “brand” cannot be salvaged. I think this is now clear. When I read articles such as this from Koike Yuriko, who I have some time for, I just cannot get beyond the fact she is in the LDP while over-dramatizing some of the DPJ’s dubious but as of yet unproven foibles (relative to the dirty laundry being aired out now in regards to the LDP’s historical lack of concern for democracy). No matter what sort of compelling case she makes, attacking the DPJ (fairly or unfairly) from the LDP is less than convincing.

If Masuzoe, Yosano* and the others do not jump ship now, Hatoyama K.’s decision (of all people) is going to look rather inspired. He has given himself until May to drag them with him.

Incidentally, the poll above states that 63% of the public are not particularly impressed with “Regime Change” and believe it has done not much of anything.

This may not bode well for the DPJ, but if the right moves are not made soon by potential reformists (I have doubts about Hatoyama K. on his own), then their impact might be delayed until the next Lower House election. While most of the DPJ’s reforms have been very subtle but very important ones relating to the constitutional relationship of different branches of government, we could  forgive the public for not noticing in amongst most of sensationalist media coverage. However, as one would expect of a party with Ozawa in it, the actual policy trophies that the public is looking for are going to be timed to be unveiled in the lead up to the Upper House election.

While I may not expect to see the DPJ recover greatly in terms of identified party support, a reasonable resolution of Futenma plus a decisive policy programme could well lead the DPJ to getting a fair amount more than the 30% that voters would give them now. After all despite the loss of public confidence, 67% of people still believe that the result of the last election was still an improvement over a continuation of LDP governance. So, if I may take some liberties in interpreting all of this,  we have the “terribleness” of the current government  and their bumbling approach to various issues along with some “affronts to democracy” thrown in – but both the people and their activities are still preferable to the outright incompetence, lack of conviction and full-on disregard of democracy that we saw under the LDP.

Which all goes to show just what an interesting time it is to be a student of Japanese politics!**

* Correction – Yosano and Koike were elected by way of proportional vote in the Lower House, so they actually have reasonably little room to move unless they want to contest the upcoming Upper House election.

** Probably remiss of me to mention but Your Party might get as much as 6% if the election was held today. Probably for the meantime a smart move to snub Hatoyama K.’s overtures and see how much support he can whip up before a “realignment” to strengthen his own hand.

Update:

From the Yomiuri (J), I see there is some interesting discussion about the various LDP relationships of importance for Hatoyama in his attempt to create a third pole in the electoral system. Seems that a number of people in the party still(!) need convincing that the LDP is not a vehicle for change – some criticism from closely linked Diet members that Hatoyama K. has “left the station before everyone is onboard” so to speak. I anticipate that the LDP will live on in some form – after all, the 10 percent that steadfastly supported the Aso cabinet at the end obviously have some affection for the party.