Monday, November 12, 2007

Media Talk about a Snap Election Should Die Down Any Minute… If It Hasn’t Already

And, like the also-ran Kyojingun/Giants in the off-season (the best free agents can look to the majors for more money, as well as added perks to ease the transition), there's little more that the Yomiuri can do to flog that half-dead horse of a Grand Coalition. The time for the big-time political game has passed, and both sides are nursing a variety of hurts; they will now play the statecraft game with the political financing (reporting) reform and other items of lesser import.

I believe even more strongly now that the refueling extension bill supermajority override and a subsequent Upper House motion of some kind are a done deal. The JASDF will continue to provide logistic support in Iraq. That is that, and the Japanese public will move on. Prime Minister Fukuda will walk through the next Summit in July, and possibly well beyond, barring catastrophic events - stuff happens, eventually; the DPJ needs to be patient.

What are the prospects for a sh**-fan collision though? For one, the Ministry of Defense needs a serious makeover; the MOD must bring closure to the scandals that revolve around the procurement system. That’s not an easy thing to do, but the good news for the Fukuda Cabinet (and for Japan) is that Defense Minister Ishiba has personally wanted to do it for years. A further silver lining for the administration is that everybody, including people at the dreaded Special Investigation Department at the Public Prosecutors Agency, seems to be talking their heads off, so there’s not likely to be much more in the way of surprise revelations to further deepen the crisis. (If criminal charges are brought against businesses other than the Yamada Yōkō group and Nihon Mirise, all bets are off.)

There’s also what looks at first glance like a delectable target of a Justice Minister who appears to suffer from serious self-awareness deficiencies. Unfortunately for the DPJ, expectations for a Japanese Justice Minister are low. In Japan, the Justice Ministry is where you park a long-serving, nondescript backbencher, the representative of a very junior coalition partner, or someone you need to do a favor on behalf of, and forget about him/her until the next Cabinet reshuffle. The Public Prosecutors Agency, nominally under the Justice Minister’s control, is actually a semi-autonomous institution that will quickly help you lose your Cabinet job if you intervene to exercise your political prerogatives. Instead, my guess is that any decision of serious import that require political determination is run quietly through the Chief Cabinet Secretary and the administrative Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. Authoritative legal opinions are issued by the highest Japanese bureaucrat, the Director-General of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. So the U.S. SecretaryAttorney-General the Justice Minister is not. I don’t know what more Kunio Hatoyama can do before he loses his job. But it will be an implosion, not an explosion.

Yōichi Masuzoe, the Health, Labor and Welfare Minister, looks like a better target. Mr. Masuzoe, for all his media-attracting eloquence and formidable intelligence, does not have the executive experience nor appear to have a predilection for high-profile turnaround jobs, and is showing this. He may yet grow into the role; he still seems to be gyrating between belligerent arrogance and abject humility. Still, he - as well as the ruling coalition - will take some serious hits in March when the promissory notes that then Prime Minister Abe guaranteed on the 50,000,000 misfiled public pension accounts come due.

But I don't expect the real fireworks to start until well past St. Valentine’s Day, when the Diet must also deal with taxes and major tax-related issues such as the funding of the public pension system, as well as a myriad of major legislative initiatives.

ADD: Thank you, MTC, for the correction.

This post looks in essence like an earlier one of mine. Perhaps it is an unconscious excuse to write about the tragic-comic Justice Minister(s). For Mr. Hatoyama is a fascinating case of a legacy Diet member, possibly the most blue-blooded and glitteriest of all at that, going astray.

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