Monday, April 26, 2010

The Death of the LDP? Maybe. But Don’t Hold Your Breath.

There’s plenty of media speculation about the future of the LDP, and none of it is positive. With good reason too, what with some of its most media-friendly Diet members flaking off against the backdrop of a lackluster leadership utterly unable to cash in on the difficulties that the coalition government and the DPJ have been running into. I’ve been engaging in idle speculation about the eventual fall of the LDP myself but I don’t have anything useful in that direction to offer—I say idle and nothing useful because I cannot yet put the event on any kind of a timeline with any degree of confidence; mountains will crumble or disappear into the sea, heck, the whole universe is going to stop one day, a broken clock...—so why not indulge myself in a little counterintuitive thinking and try to amuse you by making a case for the LDP saving match point for now?

What touched off the latest flurry of glee/alarm/speculation was the defection of Yoichi Masuzoe, the public’s hands-down favorite over Seiji Maehara, Katsuya Okada, Nobuteru Ishihara, etc., etc. as the politician of choice to join five other Upper House members in in a de facto takeover of the Kaikaku Kurabu (Japan Renaissance Party) and renaming it the Shinto Kaikaku (New Party Renaissance?) as a platform for his political ambitions. The Masuzoe effect is considerable, as the Nikkei-TV Tokyo 23-25 national poll gave SK/KK a remarkable 7% in voter intent in the July Upper House election (DPJ 20%, LDP 14%, Your Party 11%, SK/KK 7%, Komeito 4%, JCP 3%, Stand Up Japan 2%, SDP 1%, PNP 0%, New Party Nippon 0%, others (the Happy Science folks?) 2%, undecided 23%, don’t know/won’t tell 12%). If this is reflected in the actual voting for the proportional seats, the SK/KK will take five out of the 48 proportional seats at stake. With Masuzoe’s seat, it will have six seats, enough to cross the five-member threshold for parliamentary privileges as a legitimate political party. Who knows, it could very well pick up another seat or two in the larger Kanto or Kansai multimember districts.

Now at this point, those of you who have been paying attention to the numbers will be wondering, Masuzoe goes into the election with six seats, emerges with six—seven, eight max and that’s supposed to be a big deal? Yes, it is, and that’s why Masuzoe is not such a big deal after all. And the reason for this can be compressed into the briefest of bios for Masuzoe’s five compadres:
Hideo Watanabe (75): head of the old Kaikaku Kurabu, elected to the UH in 2004 on the DPJ proportional ticket.
Hiroyuki Arai (51) elected to the UH in 2004 on the LDP proportional ticket.
Tetsuro Yano (63) elected to the UH in 2004 on the LDP proportional ticket, announced intent to retire (2009 December).
Masakatsu Koike (58) elected to the UH in 2004 on the LDP proportional ticket, failed to get LDP nomination to run in his home district in the upcoming election.
Toshio Yamauchi (63) elected to the UH in 2004 on the LDP Kagawa Prefecture ticket, announced intent to retire (2009 September).

For the record, Masuzoe is 61, and holds an Upper House seat and will be up for Upper House reelection (Lower House election?) in 2013.
In other words, Masuzoe is teaming up with a group of people whose terms expire in July and a) were not good enough to win locally the last time around but slipped through by way of the national showing of their respective parties, b) are retiring, or c) both. It is not surprising then, that none of his now-friends show sign of affinity to the reformist strain of Japanese politics that Masuzoe is identified with and derives public support from. In fact, the ringleader of the has-beens, Hideo Watanabe, is just as old school as Ichiro Ozawa and Shizuka Kamei, if not more so.

This begs the question: Why did Masuzoe enter into this marriage of pure convenience, and to boot a nuptial with the bride in the Russia joke—but I digress—in the first place? To ask the question is to answer it: because nobody did. Masuzoe by all accounts is the smartest Diet member in all of DPJ but has no personal following whatsoever. The lack of close-up personal charm, the inability to manage up or down, is a charge that apparently has dogged him since his earliest years as a brilliant assistant professor of political science at Tokyo University. So if you’re a middle-of-the-road reform-minded political wannabie and you’ve been rejected by the LDP/DPJ as a candidate in the upcoming Upper House election, who are you going to hitch your wagon to, the SK/KK aka New Party Masuzoe (reportedly the first choice for the new party’s nomenclature), or the more youthful Your Party, with an identity beyond a single, media-friendly individual?

According to the poll, Masuzoe’s defection is paralleled by the LDP’s 2 percentage-point drop (22%-20%) in voter intent. It’s more or less what you’d expect from the rock-bottom LDP, and far lower than the SK/SS surge from virtually nil to 7%. At the same time, the DPJ fell from 33% to 27%. That raises the suspicion that Masuzoe’s defection from the LDP ate into the DPJ’s support from the independent floater voters, and also limited the Your Party’s upside there. As for Kaoru Yosano’s (Takeo Hiranuma’s, actually)—Stand Up Guys, it’s barely treading water.

If there’s a common thread tying Masuzoe, (Yoshimi) Watanabe, Yosano, and (Kunio) Hatoyama (already ripe for one of those vehicles for former B-list celebrities) together other than the relatively favorable media coverage that they have attracted—Hatoyama’s is more mixed than that of the others—it’s the fact that they are political loners. None of them built up a personal following while he were with the LDP. What makes them think that they can do so now? Of these, Watanabe is better positioned, as he is only of the Your Party band of media-friendly, relatively youthful brothers, ex-LDP, ex-DPJ, and independent, the team with the biggest upside.

It could do badly in the Upper House election and would still be the second largest party there by a wide margin. And it will also have 119 seats in the Lower House—knock on wood if you’re an LDP supporter—for another three years. And the LDP still has a few attractive faces to turn to. It would be foolish to count them out before they are down and really out.

Now at this point, ideally, I’d like to turn to the Maehara-Ozawa war and how that could bring an end to the DPJ as we know it, or the Ozayama regime at least. But I’m out of time.



Promise to respond to pending comments. But not now. Sorry.

9 comments:

Janne Morén said...

It's safe to say that a party with the name "LDP", that can trace its ancestry straight from the former ruling party of the same name, will exist for the indefinite future. In that sense, the LDP will of course not die.

The question is rather: when does the LDP cease to be the LDP? When is a duck no longer a duck? Anybody speculating about the death (or not) of the LDP would do well to first define what party they mean to themselves, and perhaps to their readers.

Mark said...

You're going to respond to our comments? I'll believe it when I see it. You've been ducking my comments for most of the past year. I believe that the world is at a very critical point in its development and I have been trying to get you to discuss with me these important developments. Instead, you are ignoring those issues and focusing on the trivial. I think this whole episode with the LDP amounts to little more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I think you are afraid of having an honest, open discussion on things that truly matter.

You coward.

Jun Okumura said...

Janne: I always refer to the party currently named LDP, and so do most people. I'm satisfied with that definition. What policy mutations it may undergo in the future is a separate question that is better not subsumed into a question of definition.

Mark: Rudeness will get you nowhere, but it does make you look immature.

Anonymous said...

Jun,

Now more than ever we need some smart commentary on the PPO and what is going on: 1) the request to review the case was made, I believe, by the same group who put in the initial complaint, yet we literally have no idea who they are; 2) decisions from the PPO came prior to an important election in both cases; 3) the PPO behaves as if it is engaged in a media campaign aimed at affecting party/cabinet support levels, rather than a determination of evidence; 4) the MSM is happy to leak PPO-fed information verbatim without questioning whether they should be used in such a way, and doesn't spend any resources trying to understand actually what is going on inside the PPO.

I have no idea how to explain these things. Hence I turn to you. How can we explain this? Or, knowing that you're busy as all hell of late, do you know anyone who can?

Anonymous said...

Mark: You are making a fatal error in logic. You state "I believe that the world is at a very critical point in its development and I have been trying to get you to discuss with me these important developments."

Note how you assume that because you believe something to be "critical" that makes it an "important development." I humbly submit that this need not be the case.

Janne Morén said...

Hun, I was being quite serious about what LDP (or any party) is. Consider first two hypothetical situations:

* The party splits down the middle. After a legal tussle the smaller rump retains the name LDP while the larger faction calls themselves the "New LDP". Which one is "the" LDP?

* The LDP whittles down to a small cadre of 15-20 diet members, at which point an internal procedural coup makes the party a filial organization to Tenrikyou, and the official policies are realigned to community/communist. Are they still "the" LDP?


And just so you don't think it's a preposterous thought experiment, "New Democracy" was at one point the third largest party in Sweden. It's picked-clean carcass - name and the remains of its funds - is still being fought over in the courts by representatives of the various factions it disintegrated into. Which group is "the" New Democracy has occupied Swedish courts for years now.


Anon: what, who or when is the "PPO". I don't think Japan needs to be overly concerned with either the Polish Patent Office or the Pan-Pacific Open tennis tournament, and I'm sure the envirnomental and industry agaencies are well on top of any question regarding Polyphenol oxidase.

Mark said...

Rudeness will get you nowhere? That's not true. Though I am not an expert on the history of the relationship between America and Japan, I can say with confidence that rudeness - both in words and in deeds - has been an important part of the relationship between the two countries. Both sides, particularly the American side, has often used rude behavior (which Japan refers to as gaiatsu) to get the other party engaged (e.g. the Black Ships of Commodore Perry and the Nixon Shocks). Unfortunately, politeness doesn't seem to work as often as one might have hoped. Unfortunately, Japan - or at least the leadership in Japan - seems to prefer it when America acts in a rude manner. And frankly, the fact that you bothered to reply to my "rude" post while you have ignored my other posts proves that rudeness works. By the way, I assume that the reply written to me by Anonymous was actually written by you. I am basing this assumption on the fact that the reply sounds like something you would write. If I'm wrong, I apologize. Anyways, about that sentence I wrote, admittedly, I phrased that sentence poorly. I probably should have said something like, "I believe that the world is at a very critical point in its development and I have been trying to get you to discuss with me what has been going on." To tell you the truth, I'm not entirely sure what your objection to that sentence is (other than that it was poorly written), but here's my guess. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. It sounds like you are agreeing that the world is at a critical point in its development, but that in fact, no significant developments are taking place. If that's so, then I suggest that Japan should try and make some developments happen. From Afghanistan, to Israel, to Palestine, to Greece, to Portugal, to Japan, to Iraq, it seems like the whole world is stalling and waiting for something to happen. As I mentioned earlier in this post, politeness doesn't seem to work. Pressure is often needed. Of course, you may say that Japan is applying pressure by threatening to evict the Marines from Okinawa. And I would agree with that assessment. But unfortunately, that has not provided enough pressure to get things moving. Japan needs to do something to ratchet up the pressure on all parties - including the Japanese public. I think we need to have a more full account of history. I think Japan should release the secret documents on Okinawa. And I think we need a fuller account of what is going on today. For example, I think we need to go over which states actually sponsor terrorism. I think the public would be very surprised to find out who is doing that. I think that making all this information public will put pressure on all the countries to act. The way I see it, Japan has three options. It can fold its hand, meaning that it accepts the 2006 agreement on Futenma. It can hold its hand, meaning it doesn't agree to anything and it just keeps stalling and waiting. Or it can do what I have recommended. It can go all in. The funny thing is that the American government seems to like my approach, if the recent comments by Kurt Campbell mean anything. I think the world desperately needs the courage to be honest. It doesn't seem like many countries have that courage, but I hope that Japan will be one of those countries that does.

Jun Okumura said...

Anonymous 1:

Seriously, I haven’t had the time of late to do the fact checking that I need to do to post or respond to comments, but the PPO (Public Prosecutors Office, Janne) is something that I’ve looked at and commented before, so I’ll take a crack here. (Consider the Moses Malone and four guys from St. Petersburg piece spillover from the thinking that I do for a good part of what my day job now consists of.)

First, let’s make a distinction between Committees for Inquest of Prosecution (CIP) and the Public Prosecutors Office (PPO); a CIP is basically an attachment of the courts; the PPO is a more or less autonomous arm of the judiciary system. Each regional court or its local chapter has a corresponding CIP. A CIP consists of eleven voting members and up to eleven alternates selected from candidates randomly chosen from the eligible voters list held by the local election management commission and is staffed by officers of the regional court. (That means Japanese members only, in case you didn’t notice, but if my experience with the NY jury system is any indication, it’s probably not that unique.) I don’t know who brought the complaint to the CIP, but given its independence from the PPO, should I care? I assumed that they were just a bunch of do-gooders—with a national population of 130 million people, it’s not surprising that there were people who went to the trouble—and left it at that.

The PPO appears to believe that keeping public officials, elected and unelected, in line is one of its most important missions. (You’ll be surprised at the number of administrative vice-ministers that have been successfully prosecuted in recent years. But I digress.) It is also mindful of the fact that its effectiveness and autonomy depend on public trust. Two things that affect its behavior have been in play in the case of Ozawa and his political aides past and present. First, the PPO considers not guilty verdicts deeply embarrassing and, if they accumulate, institutionally damaging. I suspect that this sometimes leads to ethically dubious behavior in the pursuit of a guilty verdict, but also moderates its behavior. In this case, the PPO was not institutionally confident that it could secure a guilty verdict and decided not to prosecute Ozawa. Second, the PPO does not want to give people any reason to claim that it is playing politics. It is well aware of the political impact of its actions. If it chooses to prosecute Ozawa and loses, it will take a huge political hit as an institution. (I am confident that a US district attorney would take his chances with the courts in a similar situation.) Many people believe that it is for this very reason that the PPO decided to delay seeking warrants to search Ozawa’s offices and arrest his men.

There’s other stuff on the PPO earlier in this blog if you are interested. I hope this helped.

Janne:

If and when there is no sizeable political party carrying the rights and obligations of the LDP that can hope to challenge the DPJ on its own or as the dominant leader of a coalition in the foreseeable future, I would consider that death. If you prefer a less fatal term—after all, each part can survive on its own, at least until the next election—let’s call it dismemberment and/or collapse. I hope that explains what I’m talking about.

Mark:

You’re a blithering idiot. Okay, we’re even. Now, if you can leave it at that—not responding to this for a couple of days will do—I’ll do my best to respond to your comments.

Jun Okumura said...

Mark:

If I'm wrong, I apologize.

Apology accepted. A word of advice. Be careful about making accusations that you cannot support with any evidence. It is my experience that such acts reveal far more about the accuser than the accused. There’s an old Japanese saying, Onore wo motte hito wo hakaru (You measure others with yourself as the yardstick). .

With regard to the US bases in Okinawa, I’m not sure exactly why the PDJ decided to make that stand on the 2006 Japan-US agreement, but it certainly was convenient in drawing the SDP into the coalition for the elections. It also must have helped in Okinawa. However, the DPJ—or Hatotyama at least—seems to have underestimated the geopolitical and technical difficulties of negotiating a complete move out of Okinawa while retaining US services with regard to the nuclear umbrella and other deterrent services. Personally, I think that the existing arrangement made sense—Nago was one of the few places in Okinawa that has a positive relationship with the US military that is similar to that of the mainland. There’s now a glimmer of hope, I think, for the prime minister that the Tokunoshima authorities, if not a majority of the people of Tokunoshima, will eventually accept the helicopter base. But it will take time, be expensive—pay off for yet another group of local governments. Nago may come around some day—never say never where money is involved—but this will take much more time than Tokunoshima, if and when it happens. Finally, Hatoyama needs the consent of the US side, which they will give only if and when they have confidence that he can make the deal stick, even if, a big if, they see it as operationally viable. And the Obama administration seems to be resigned to remaining in Futenma for the foreseeable future if its actions are any indication.

All that, just for a very modest change from the 2006 agreement from the Okinawan perspective—unless you’re a dugong. It’s a huge waste of political capital. Note also that the Chinese authorities aren’t making it any easier for Hatoyama to play hardball with either, with their probing, most recently by one of their “research” vessels.