Friday, June 05, 2009

The Hatoyama Caper in Perspective

There’s really not much to write about Japanese politics these days. The Hatoyama caper (I’ve written a brief explanation at the bottom of this post) would have been a major political story if it had occurred last year, when the Aso administration and the LDP still had a good chance of retaining a Lower House majority. Now, it’s a mere side show. If this were chess, the LDP would be a queen down; losing a bishop would be the least of its worries.

That being said, I am sure that this incident—off-beat appointee causes incident; hands-off Prime Minister allows matters to fester; situation blows up, leaving egg on Prime Minister’s face—will be recorded in the post mortem as symptomatic of Taro Aso’s personal failings. Most recently, one of his Upper House friends that he appointed as one of three Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretaries—the most important sub-cabinet political appointments available—lost his job after he used an official JR pass on a sleep-over golfing trip with a married woman*. Aso’s behavior followed more or less the same pattern then. In fact, he initially pretended to accept the DCCS’s claims of “health reasons” for his resignation. More broadly, I’ve talked before about how his bureaucratic appointments were not paying off. (Yes, I still owe LB (or was it T. Greer?) an explanation about that.) Aso is just not a good judge of talent, nor does he have the ruthlessness to chop heads when they do not measure up.

But is this merely a personal problem? I also believe, as I briefly referred to at the end of this post, is that it will be remembered as a common thread that ran through the last three, short-lived, administrations of the post-1955 LDP era. It all seems to spell the end of an era, showing up as the writing on the wall.

* Let’s call it: Woodgate! DCCS Yoshitada Konoike, not coincidentally, had already been reprimanded early in the year for giving the same woman a key to his Tokyo apartment provided by the Diet.

Kunio Hatoyama is a well-travelled politician, having migrated from the New Liberal Club to the LDP (the mighty Takeshita faction) to the New Frontier Party (Ozawa et al) to the Democratic Party (with his brother Yukio), and back to the LDP again, where he now resides. There have been a couple of stints in between as an independent. He is definitely one who marches to his own drum. In his latest incarnation as Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, he has gone after Japan Post, currently on the road to privatization, and its CEO Yoshifumi Nishikawa for a bundled real estate sale to ORIX, whose chairman had been Prime Minister Koizumi’s private-sector point man on his privatization drive, as well as the partial demolition of its Taisho-era Tokyo headquarters. (It’s actually a drab, unimaginative specimen of mostly historic value.) He has vowed that he will not authorize Nishikawa’s reappointment as CEO. This has pitted him against Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano, who will exercise the government’s right as the sole shareholder to appoint the CEO, as well the Prime Minister himself, who is reportedly in favor of reappointment. The majority of the LDP probably also supports reappointment, if only to avoid offending big business—which offered up Nishikawa for the job in the first place and is generally in favor of the Koizumi reform process.

I expect a face-saving resolution that keeps Nishikawa on while allowing Hatoyama to claim partial victory by requiring Japan Post to amend its ways. But that’s just me sayin’.

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