Saturday, September 08, 2007

Takeo Hiranuma, Stand-Up Guy

Takeo Hiranuma was one of the more credible candidates to succeed Prime Minister Koizumi until the rebellion over Post Office privatization took him out of the running and the LDP altogether. As the de facto leader of the expellees – at least those who did not make league with Shizuka Kamei and Tamisuke Watanuki, the other two major figures among the outcasts - Mr. Hiranuma successfully negotiated the return of eleven other expelled Diet members. However, he himself decided not to return, refusing to sign the confessional document that was the condition for reinstatement.

Mr. Hiranuma, however, did campaign for LDP candidates in the July Upper house election, and for that and other less obvious reasons, the LDP is going to waive the confessional. Only this time, it is Mr. Hiranuma that is saying, not so fast.

Wednesday morning, Mr. Hiranuma talked to the media and said that the process would take maybe another week because "I have to consolidate the views of the people in my support group back home. I also must clarify the treatment of the people who ran unaligned and lost." The media are rightly interpreting the second point to mean that his less fortunate cohorts must be allowed to return with him.

That is highly problematic for the "assassins" who took those seats from the rebels. (Incumbency may not ensure a return ticket next time around.) No doubt there will be an outcry from them, as well as many of the other Koizumi Children in their support. It will also bring some bad publicity in the media. Expect editorials and op-eds accusing the LDP leadership of wholesale abandonment of the Koizumi reform.

I think that Mr. Hiranuma will get his way. He is a very popular figure in the LDP, and is proving his manhood twice over. (Did I just write that?) Thus, he brings a welcome sense of principled leadership to a LDP in disarray. Besides, in excusing Mr. Hiranuma, the LDP already drank the kool-aid. To refuse his demands on behalf of his less fortunate colleagues now would leave the LDP looking even unprincipled without gaining anything for it. Mr. Hiranuma has the LDP up a creek.

Should the LDP worry about pending charges of symbolic abandonment of the Koizumi reform? Certainly. But not nearly as much as it would have a year ago. Beyond the return of the eleven, the ups and (mainly) downs of the Abe administration in public opinion polls have had little to do with reform and everything to do with credibility. Indeed, the reform issue has been subjected to second-guessing, as there has been much talk over the kakusa mondai, i.e. income and wealth disparity issue, and how it lost the outlier communities for the LDP. (A view to which I have reservations, but I'll take that up some other time.) Remember that the local Post Office has historically been a key element of local communities, together with the police station and the public schools.

The LDP took its lumps when Prime Minister made then Secretary-General Hidenao Nakagawa engineer the return of the eleven, and sees little to lose in Mr. Hiranuma's return. I think they are right.

Is this in fact another nail in the coffin for the Koizumi reforms and confirmation of the return to politics as usual? Will a bidding war break out between the LDP-New Komeito coalition and the DPJ for the right to buy off the electorate with monies from public coffers? I'm not so sure about the strength of those arguments, in the same way that I've become less certain that the kakusa mondai was a decisive factor in the Upper House election. I don't have a strong enough view on these matters, though, to write about them. And it's particularly hard to think about them right now because everything is colored by the upcoming battle for power in the Diet and the LDP itself. It's the season of 政局 (the political game) over 政策 (policy).

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