Friday, July 31, 2009

The Defections, and the Difficulties of a Post-Election Breakout

And now there are two; three if you count Yoshimi Watanabe. Motoko Hirotsu, failed Post-Office assassin (target: heirloom turkey Kosuke Hori of the Saga 3rd District) who rode the Koizumi coattails on the Kyushu proportional representation bloc ticket, has left the LDP to stand for election in the Saga 3rd District as an independent. She follows fellow Koizimi Kid Koichi Yamauchi (Kanagawa 9th District) as LDP defector on the eve of the upcoming Lower House election. So, are they rats abandoning the LDP ship? Yes, but…

Actually, Hirotsu’s defection in some ways more closely resembles the exile of a more significant figure—the DPJ’s shadow defense minister—Keiichiro Asao, who was kicked out of the DPJ when he decided to vacate his Upper House seat and run for election in Kanagawa 4th District against the official DPJ candidate, reportedly spurning a last-ditch DPJ offer of the Kanagawa 8th District, still without an official candidate. This is not completely analogous to Hirotsu’s action, which appears to be a one-off decision propelled by the understandable fear that she may not make it this time by way of the PR bloc ticket, on which she would be forced to run. But the two share one thing in common: They both abandoned their respective parties not on a matter of principle but because they were not able to stand for election in a single-member district (of his choice in the case of Asao*). Hirotsu’s choice makes even more sense when you notice that the DPJ does not have a candidate in Saga 3rd District; instead, it is supporting the Social Democrat candidate there—seriously, do you really believe that the DPJ honestly wants to help the SDP’s chances in the Lower House election, especially when it sees very good chances of a simple one-party majority outcome?

But this is what passes for pre-election buzz. Note that Kunio Hatoyama has been all talk when it comes to moving out. And mini-warlord Hidenao Nakagawa has more or less stepped into line. Just as significant, the second most powerful Post-Office exile (Shizuka Kamei comes first on my ballot), Takeo Hiranuma, hasn’t been able to cobble together a meaningful political movement after four years in the wilderness. It’s also meaningful that the only people that the nascent Watanabe-Eda movement has able to attract so far have been has-beens and wannabies. With one month to go before the election, incumbents are not exactly in the mood for party rebellion. They’ll take what their parties give them—it they like what they see. But nobody seems to be in the mood to pull a wheel off the bandwagon while he/she’s still on it.

Seems sensible. But what about post-election? Well, never say never, but remember, in the aftermath of a DPJ victory, an important factor argues against a post-election breakout from LDP Lower House members. A LDP Lower House defector elected from a PR bloc after losing to his SMD rival in the DPJ (or PNP/SDP) will have an impossibly hard time dislodging him, while an LDP LH defector elected from an SMD will have to face down his erstwhile opponent, who is likely to have made it past the post on the PR bloc ticket. Yes, a successful pre-election LDP defector will also be unwelcome to the DPJ candidate that he/she beat out, but at least the ex-LDP, independently-elected LH member can lay claim to being the undisputable alpha dog in his/her SMD, having beaten out both the major-party candidates. On the other hand, staying in the LDP after a successful SMD campaign means that you are a survivor, a battle-tested member of a 100-to-200-strong corps with a proven, ironclad clamp on yourr local constituency. Why do you have to stoop to becoming a very junior loser-collaborator in a DPJ-dominated administration? Why can’t you afford to wait 3-4 years, max, in the political wilderness while the DPJ comes to grips with a decidedly difficult reality?

I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again. And I do not claim to be a good reader of men’s hearts, present, or future. But the counterargument about LDP Diet members’ inability to endure the role of the opposition needs to supplemented with more substance.

* I received credible information before Asao’s breakout that pointed to him as the “relatively young but important figure in the DPJ” that Hidenao Nakagawa was conspiring with to form a third force in Japanese politics. If that information was correct, even the offer of the 4th District might not have kept Asao in the DPJ fold. My argument, in any case, is that such a post-election breakout will be very difficult.

Sorry, responding to comments often takes more time than doing posts of similar lengths. I promise to get back to you, but not now.


Len Schoppa said...

I agree it will be difficult for the DPJ to absorb refugees from the LDP if any seek to join the DPJ after its (presumed) victory for the reasons you give. There is one option you don't discuss, however, and that is to let the newcomers whose single member district is already occupied by a DPJ winner SHARE a seat through the Costa Rica arrangement. This has worked quite nicely for the LDP members who convinced the party to go for this option. It helped the LDP absorb the New Conservative Party, for example, when they set Noda Takeshi up in a Costa Rica arrangement with the LDP incumbent in Kumamoto District 2. I can see Ozawa being tempted by opportunities like this to boost his seat total for the next four years in ways that might allow him to push out the SDPJ coalition allies when they were no longer needed.

Jun Okumura said...


I never thought about that. It does make sense for the DPJ, and I think it also makes sense for the micro-parties, who figure to be squeezed out by a DPJ-LDP cartel to diminish the ranks of proportional representatives. Their market value may never be higher, particularly if they can bring some valuable Upper House seats to the bargaining table. In fact, this could be their last opportunity to buy tickets out of eventual oblivion. I’m not quite convinced with regard to potential post-election LDP renegades, though, and here’s why.

If you wind up an LDP with an SMD seat, you’ve beaten back the DPJ challenge under the worst of circumstances. Everyone recognizes you for a winner. You’ve instantly become a bigger fish, albeit in a much smaller pond. You have to weigh the instant gratification of continuing to wield political influence—mmm the smell of pork—against the more distant and less secure benefits that may accrue 3-4 years down the line and beyond, Ozawa’s gratitude against forfeit of dues paid.

If you’ve snuck back in via the PR bloc route, you’ve have less to lose. Still, you made it back in a lean year. The same calculations come into play. Moreover, the DPJ winner in your SMD seat will not find that arrangement to his/her liking. What are the political costs of an attempt to engineer that?

Such decisions will be difficult to take en masse. I think that means that any post-election defections are likely to be the result of decisions taken at the individual level and on highly personal circumstances. (For example, your path to the DPJ is much easier if you’ve beaten out a DPJ surrogate, instead of the real thing.) The pre-election defections from the LDP (and the DPJ!) appear to bear this out.

Leonard Schoppa said...

I agree that the non-DPJ members who will have the easiest time coming into the DPJ are those who beat a non-DPJ candidate, especially an SDPJ candidate. In fact, I am struck--when looking at the candidates the DPJ chose not to challenge directly--by the suspicion that Ozawa was deliberately leaving the door open for some of these small party candidates and even a few LDP members to come into the DPJ. I am thinking of likely SMD winners Tanaka Makiko (Indepedent), Kato Koichi (LDP), Watanabe Yoshimi (Minna), Eda Kenji (Minna), Tsujimoto Kiyomi (SDPJ), Kamei Shizuka (Kokumin Shinto), Sonoda Hiroyuki (LDP), Kaneko Yasushi (LDP), Kawamura Hidesabu (IND), Shimoji Mikio (Kokumin Shinto), Teruya Kantou (SDPJ). It's an odd combination of people, but it could be that any combination of five of these people could put the DPJ over the majority threshhold in the LH and bring enough colleagues to do the same in the UH.

The other trick I think Ozawa has up his sleeve is an ambition to peel Komeito away from the LDP. Without Komeito, the LDP loses big in all the metro areas and the DPJ plus Komeito can lock up all of those seats. Without the DPJ, Komeito could be looking at shrunken prospects and might go for a new alliance. Some of the DPJ policies (the child allowance) seem taylor made for this appeal, and Ozawa deliberately avoided targeting Oota by opting to run in Tokyo, as he had talked about doing.

If he can accomplish either of these aims, he can lock in DPJ power to a degree that will leave us worrying about DPJ dominance instead of LDP dominance. Assuming the party can avoid scandal and can actually make some good policies. A big if!


Jun Okumura said...


Are you the same guy? Well, here’s my response:

The DPJ already has formal deals in place with the Kokumin Shinto and the SDP. The DPJ also has deals with indies Makiko Tanaka and Hidesaburo Kawamura. Minna is not so lucky; the DPJ has already put up an official candidate against Kenji Eda. The DPJ is giving Yoshimi Watanabe a pass—likewise the LDP—reportedly because it sees no chance of unseating Watanabe, not because there’s a deal. The DPJ is standing behind the Kokumin Shinto and SDP candidates against the LDP candidates that you’ve listed. So yes, the fix is in. You can track the interlocking relationships through the parties’ respective websites, where they list their official candidates as well as other candidates to whom they are extending formal support.

I’ve also speculated about a DPJ-Komeito hookup. I do agree that the center-leftish DPJ is a better fit for Komeito that the center-rightish LDP. Note though, that there is plenty of bad blood between Ozawa and the Komeito. Besides, the DPJ has already thrown its formal support to an SDP candidate against Ota. I don’t rule out rapprochement between the two parties, but it should be a least a year—when the 2010 Upper House election will have taken place—before any such speculation can be taken seriously.