-Why are the DPJ's supporting rates keep falling? It is because of how they handled Okinawa issues or are other factors in play?
There’s a host of problems beyond the inevitable post-honeymoon let-down, most prominently and persistently the terrible handling of what was really a local issue—the Futenma helicopters. But the persistent political financing scandals of Ozawa and his retainers, and to a lesser extent Hatoyama’s, also played a major role. Significant policy questions that sapped Hatoyama and the DPJ’s popularity include the ballooning public deficit and the Hatoyama’s administration’s inability to control it, the balance between highway tolls and highway construction, the rollout of the child allowance, etc., etc. That’s not an exhaustive list, but this is what happens when a political party comes to power with a big policy agenda and has to come to grips with the realities of governance. So the 70 % plus figures had to come down, but that would just have been a return to normalcy, par for the course*.
* Ross Schaap had a less understanding view of the Hatoyama administration’s inability to present a coherent set of policies and explain what they meant in addressing national concerns, and I had to agree with him. Thanks again, Ross. (No, he’s not the one who put the questions to me.)-If Hatoyama resigns, how much will that help the DPJ ahead of July upper-house election? What implications will his resignation have for the Japanese market?
My guesstimate before the whole thing fell apart through the weekend for the DPJ had been 40-50 seats, 45-50 if I had to narrow it further, and I’m going back to it with the assumption that Hatoyama leaves. The coalition loses its upper house majority in any case. Caveat emptor: I used very broad assumptions about the overall voting patterns for the prefectural-district seats and the national proportional seats and reserve the right to change my mind on closer examination.
The plausible replacements—a couple of them are improbable—are all more policy-oriented, steady hands. That should be reassuring to financial market players. Naoto Kan, easily the leading candidate, has emerged as a fiscal conservative; he should have an immediate, positive effect. Longer term, Kan surely, but also any one of the others, is sure to push tax reform without abandoning the social safety net agenda. A future consumption tax hike definitely comes with sight, and the extremely high corporate tax rates should enter the policy agenda with a view to lowering them to internationally competitive levels. So it’s a positive story for the post-election scenario too.
-What other coalition partners are possible after the SDP quits (New Komeito?)
Komeito, obviously. It’s much easier to handle as a coalition partner, as the LDP will be the first to admit. Like the DPJ, it’s a predominantly centrist-left, urban middle-class party. As such, it’s more compatible for the DPJ policy-wise. If that’s not enough, it’s rock-base constituency allows it to be more flexible on policy issues. Also important, Komeito will wind up with 20 or so upper house seats overall, enough to ensure a coalition the upper house majority all by itself. There’ll be no need for the opportunistic, vested-interests PNP. The up-and-coming You Party just might be able to provide a majority on its own as well, but there’s a problem. It needs to create a singular identity with a view to the next lower house general election, likely in 2013, when the other half of the upper house also faces a general election. It can’t do that in a coalition unless it gets a huge portion of the policy-making pie. It doesn’t help that it’s very much in the Koizumi mold policy-wise, and that may be too much for the DPJ to swallow. In any case, it’s not going to happen before the election.
-Who would the next leader be for the DPJ?
My top four candidates: Naoto Kan, Naoto Kan, Naoto Kan, and Kazuhiro Haraguchi. Kan is highly ambitious, next in line, hasn’t made any major gaffes as a cabinet minister, and, very importantly, is on cordial terms with Ozawa. Haraguchi is an articulate and policy-oriented cabinet minister on good terms with Ozawa, but his time has not come yet. I don’t think that the DPJ wants to run the risk of people thinking he’s an Ozawa sock puppet. (Unfair, but that’s what many people also mistakenly saw Hatoyama as being.) Katsuya Okada: Ozawa doesn’t like him, and wasted some political capital with his handling of Futenma as well as the Japan-US secret agreements. Seiji Maehara: Ozawa dislikes him, worse in his political books, probably thinks he’s a political amateur. There’s also the small but undeniable chance that the JAL situation blows up in his face in the near future.
-What is the LDP doing to capitalize?
HAHAHA. Okay, that’s not really an answer. Actually, very little. Very little that works, that is. From a public communication point of view, a pleasant but lackluster leader in Sadakazu Tanigaki and lack of interest from the media mean that the LDP receives minimal attention. In the political game, one-time ally Komeito’s ardor has cooled, so the LDP has trouble putting up any kind of a united front against the DPJ. When it comes to policy, they’ve been a coalition of a variety of supplier-oriented interests for so long. They were able to do that because they were willing to put aside differences on emotive but non-essential issues—constitutional amendment for one. This works nicely when you are trying to maintain the status quo, but it’s very inconvenient when you are trying to put together a coherent, attractive policy platform for a general election. Which makes for an uninteresting media story—which brings me back to my point about public communication.