The House of Councilors voted to promote newly-appointed BOJ Deputy Governor and Acting Governor Masaaki Shirakawa to full-time Governor. However, it vetoed 121 to 115 the appointment of ex-MOF Vice Minister for International Affairs Hiroshi Watanabe, the Fukuda administration’s choice to replace him as Deputy Governor. From the DPJ, Hideo Watanabe*, Yasuhiro Ōe* and Masashi Fujiwara voted in favor of the latter appointment, while Tadashi Inuzuka**, Naoki Kazama, Yoshitake Kimata, Mitsuru Sakurai and Takashi Morita abstained. The Councilors who voted in favor will be duly punished. The abstainers will be excused, says Yukio Hatoyama, since “given the circumstances, it was inevitable.” Mr. Kimata, you may remember***, was already under a one-month suspension for voting in favor of promoting the ill-fated Toshirō Mutō. Although the Japanese Criminal Code does not have a three-strikes clause, two-time offenders can receive heavier sentences.
The DPJ showed remarkable discipline, “given the circumstances”****. All credible news reports contend that majorities of both the party leadership and the rank-and-file in the DPJ supported Mr. Watanabe’s candidacy, but Ichirō Ozawa shot it down. The irony is that it’s evidently payback for opposing Mr. Mutō’s original candidacy, which Mr. Ozawa had been inclined to support. I know that he’s cutting off the nose to spite the face － editorial writers and talking heads are going to have a minor field day over this － but it is vintage Ozawa. Sure, it’s a public relations setback, but he could have split the party over this, do the kind of nasty he has not hesitated to do from his LDP days. His colleagues knew this, so they had no choice but to go along. Besides, they have plenty of battle-scars from the BOJ appointment votes, so one more wouldn’t put them over the PR pain threshold.
There appears to be a fairly common perception, particularly among Mr. Fukuda’s LDP enemies, that the Prime Minister has botched the entire BPJ appointment process. I don’t know about that; the DPJ is worse off than the Fukuda administration, and that would not have happened if Mr. Fukuda had tapped Mr. Shirakawa (or Mr. Watanabe for that matter) in the first place. Remember, you only have to make sure that you run faster than the other guy to escape from the marauding bear. Still, it makes good copy for the media (snap election, please) and trope for pretenders (can’t fight election under that wuss), so expect to keep hearing it.
And with that, attention turns back to the gasoline tax surcharge. That’s Mr. Fukuda’s real touchstone. Is he as half as crazy as Mr. Ozawa － willing and able to wield his own nuclear weapon? That Prime Minister’s prerogative, together with normal party discipline, should see him through. Which, when you think about it, is a better-case long-term scenario for the DPJ, if not for someone who shares the very mortal Mr. Ozawa’s sense of urgency.
BTW, I’m beginning to feel a little sorry for Mr. Hatoyama, who has to keep going out there as Mr. Ozawa’s Deputy and explain things to the media. (At least one mainstream news report puts Mr. Watanabe’s name on a list of five acceptable candidates that Mr. Hatoyama gave to the LDP). How many more times does he have to first talk out of one side of his mouth, then another, before he yells, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more?
* Mssrs. Watanabe and Ōe first came to the blog’s notice in January, when they joined mostly roadies and fellow travelers from the LDP at that road money retention meet-and-greet for prefectural assemblymen.
** Mr. Inuzuka claims that the voting machine must have malfunctioned, since he voted against both appointments.
ADD April 10: Today’s hardcopy Yomiuri has kindly provided a more complete list of the justifications/excuses, which I record here for future reference:
Voting in favor:
Hideo Watanabe: Making the decision with a view to the political game in disregard of the opinions in the organization will not earn the trust of the public.
Yasuhiro Ōe: The party was leaning towards agreeing [to the appointments]. We should act in a way befitting the largest party in the House of Councilors.
Masashi Fujiwara: The button I pushed says it all.
Tadashi Inuzuka: (His office stated that he said he pushed the “no” button.)
Naoki Kazama: I mistakenly pushed the wrong button.
Mitsuru Sakurai: It’s not right that we decided to oppose the appointment when more than 70% of the members of the [DPJ Public Finance and Financial Sector] Departmental Committee supported it. If people think that we’ll oppose everything, it will become difficult to seize power.
Yoshitake Kimata: (His office stated that he had returned to his home district and could not arrive in time for the vote.
Four DPJ members skipped the House of Representatives vote:
Masayo Tanabe: (Her office stated that she had to campaign for the DPJ candidate in the HR Yamaguchi 2nd District by-election.)
Hiroko Nakano: (Her office gave an injury as the reason for her absence.)
Hideo Hiraoka: (His office stated that he had to prepare to stand as the DPJ candidate in the HR Yamaguchi 2nd District by-election.)
Motohisa Furukawa: At one point, we had indicated to the government that Mr. Watanabe would be acceptable as Governor.
*** Posted, very briefly, here.
**** Showing less discipline but a rather keen sense of gallows humor, Kenji Yamaoka, the DPJ Diet Affairs Chairman left a message on Mr. Watanabe’s phone telling him that he wouldn’t have the votes to be affirmed. He claims that he called to soften the blow.