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.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.
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.
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.