Sunday, June 17, 2007

Romancing the Kokumin Shinto

The LDP will suffer a disastrous loss. To the contrary, this is making us quaver, because if the LDP loses too badly, (the Kokumin Shinto) will lose its significance.
(Shizuka Kamei: June 14, at a meeting held in Tokyo)

Suddenly, everybody is in love with Kokumin Shinto leader Tamisuke Watanuki, whom some affectionately call the ugliest politician in Japan. According to the June 17 Yomiuri:

On the occasion of the House of Counselors Election Kick-off Convention [the Kokumin Shinto」 held in a Tokyo Hotel at night on the 15th, an elated Watanuki… said, "The Upper House Election is a great opportunity. The Kokumin Shinto getting as many seats as possible will change Japanese politics."

Following him, DPJ deputy leader [Naoto] Kan and Socialist Party deputy director-general Fumihiro Himori, as well as former Lower House member from the LDP and former [cabinet minister] Takami Eto stepped up to the podium.

The presence of Eto is particularly revealing. Eto's former Lower House seat is now occupied by his son Taku Eto. If you recognize the name Taku Eto, you are a true Japanese politics otaku. Eto 2.0 was one of the twelve Lower House members who returned to the LDP out of the 37who had been kicked out of the LDP for voting against the privatization of the Japanese Post Office. There is no ill will between the returnees and those who have stayed out. Thus, the presence of the now retired Eto 1.0 at the convention struck a perfect balance for both the LDP and the Kokumin Shinto between tantalizing overture and unseemly flirtation.

The Yomiuri article goes on to tell us:

[Toranosuke] Katayama, the LDP secretary-general for the Upper House, made eyes at the Kokumin Shinto on a commercial satellite TV program on the 13th saying that coordination with the Kokumin Shinto "is possible. Our policies are almost the same. Mr. Watanuki in particular is a most LDP-ish politician."

Perhaps in part to explain what Mr. Katayama meant by "most LDP-ish", the article, after quoting an unnamed LDP source and a wary Yukio Hatoyama, co-deputy heaed of the DPJ, closes with the following:

As if in recognition of these voices, Shizuka Kamei, the Kokumin Shinto deputy leader emphasized at a party held for a [DPJ] Upper House candidate on the night of the 14th, "Our party doesn't have the kind of people who'll go back [to the LDP] sobbing, 'I want to go back to the LDP, I want to go back'". [boo-hoo.]

I think that this is more a matter of nuance, rather than a reflection of any real difference in outlook between the co-leaders. Mr. Kamei has always been known for his combativeness, while Mr. Watanuki is far more the get-along guy, and they are acting out the perfect good-cop, bad-cop routine. Given the numbers in the Upper House election and the dismal outlook for the LDP, the chances are quite good that the Kokumin Shinto's four Upper House seats (of which two are up for reelection; the Kokumin Shinto already has 22 candidates (including the two incumbents) and counting) and possibly more will hold the casting vote in a neatly divided Upper House. In this case, the Kokumin Shinto would do better to wield disproportionate power as the crucial third party in a coalition with the LDP and the Komeito.

Who, then, might lead the coalition? Actually, Shinzo Abe, the current prime minister, very reluctantly voted for Post Office privatization, and expended substantial political capital with the public in bringing back twelve of the thirteen rebels who wanted to return to the LDP. Conveniently for Mr. Abe though with no malice on his part, Takeo Hiranuma, the one rebel who has the gravitas and political capital to make a serious run in the LDP to unseat Mr. Abe, could not return because, unlike the other twelve, he refused to sign what was widely considered a humiliating document. (He stood on principle!) Even more fortunately for Mr. Abe, Hidenao Nakagawa, the fearsome LDP secretary-general, took all the heat for holding the torch for Junichiro Koizumi and keeping Mr. Hiranuma out. Thus, for Mr. Abe, dumping Mr. Nakagawa may be enough to bring the Kokumin Shinto around. It also helps Mr. Abe that there are no pretty LDP faces around poised to take over in the case of defeat.

The LDP-Komeitocoalition losing its Upper House majority and Mr. Abe still in power? Don't bet against it. All it takes might be just a little bit of lovin'.


Tim Footman said...

I googled his pic. Not exactly a glamour boy, but surely there must be more grotesque specimens out there?

Jun Okumura said...

Sorry I'm late in responding. It is the outlandishness with which Mr. Watanuki's outsized features leap out at you that distinguishes him from the more conventionally challenged Japanese visages.

When it comes to facial aesthetics, East and West definitely do not meet. I had such suspicions as I saw Lucy Liu's rise to stardom. I don't think she could be anything other than a comedian here, and I'm including China and Korea here. Suspicion turned to conviction recently with the annointment of Riyo Suzuki as Miss Universe. I'm sure she sported a very different look when she passed the Japanese preliminaries.