Thursday, June 03, 2010

Q&A, the Day Before Hatoyama Resigned, Taking Ozawa Down

As a timesaving measure (for me), here’s a Q&A that I had to fill out in the course of my work broadly defined the day before Hatoyama resigned. The copy right to the Qs belong to someone else, but he won’t complain, I’m sure, even if he noticed.

-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.


Joe said...

What do you think of the media role? This makes four PMs in less than four years that they've helped bring down; I wonder if they are unconciously getting drunk on their influence.

Jun Okumura said...


It is true that the media had a hand in the downfall of these four prime ministers. But, in my view, they only aided and abetted. Note that even usually reliable Asahi succumbed and dumped on Hatoyama. (I heard from several observers who were surprised by this.) Besides, the world that we live in is imperfect in every which way; a freewheeling, revenue-driven media is a fact of life in a free-market, liberal society. To avoid damage, you must manage? Think of the alternatives? Or something like that.

To his credit, Hatoyama is blaming no one but himself; in that, he was true to character till the end. (Unlike Nobel Laureate Eisaku Sato, who basically gave a tearful “you newspapers won’t have me to kick around anymore” speech at the end.

PaxAmericana said...

Wasn't one of Ozawa's or the DPJ's big mistakes not bribing the press? They are for sale, one would presume. As you said, you must manage.

Would an alliance with the Komeito really work out? Many folks seem to be allergic to them; it's not exactly a fair comparison, but take the Moon empire in the States. Politicians pretty much have to hide any help they get from them. It's true the LDP pulled it off, but they probably paid a price over the years.

Jun Okumura said...


It depends on what you mean by “bribing.” If you mean giving reporters access instead of brushing them off, sometimes with naked, barefaced lies when a no-comment would suffice, yes, he should have bribed them. Dissing the media is to diss the public. Besides, we all manage all our relationships; remember the movie Liar, Liar? The one thing to keep in mind; lies of consequence will come back to bite you in the ass.

Now that Sokagakkai’s aggressive proselytizing days are over, it has moved more or less into the mainstream. (We Japanese tend to take a syncretic attitude towards religion in general, much the way anything becomes more acceptable in the US when it’s labeled Christian.) You can see that by the names of the mainstream figures who do not hesitate to write in Sokagakkai-sponsored publications. Komeito has correspondingly had much less of a problem getting accepted these days. The LDP-Komeito has been a public relationship, and it’s useful to remember that Ozawa once merged his party with Komeito. The LDP would have been out of power long ago but for Komeito help in first-past-the-post and two-seat elections where the Komeito did not field candidates. If it paid a price, it was the long-term cost of complacency.

PaxAmericana said...

Actually, I meant bribing in the sense of whatever it takes. Wine, women, and money would be part of the arsenal. Isn't that normal? Maybe I spent too much time in DC.

Of course the issue of access was important. I don't know too many people who argue that dissing the press is the same as dissing the public - it's that he couldn't use the press's disdain to his advantage. Reagan was great at that.

Thanks for your take on the SGI/political complex.

Joe said...

Ah, I didn't mean that the media was the core reason for for Hatoyama's nosedive; no one did more damage than the PM himself. And we need the media, of course. They just need to be very careful about not going over the very blurry line between serving the public and serving themselves.

I watched Kan's press conference this evening on the boobtube wondering how long it would take for the so-what-are-YOU-going-to-do-about-Futenma question. Sure enough, it came up.

Jun Okumura said...


Back in the day—I have an old-time journalist friend who still remembers those days—when reporters covering LDP leaders would wind up literally eating, drinking, and sleeping it off in the homes of these politicians (which is probably why heirloom turkeys have such nice, underpriced spreads in Tokyo). This symbiotic experience, I’ve heard, is increasingly fading into distant memoriy, as heirloom-turkey Diet members and their non-pedigreed cohorts are no longer able to establish and keep their private partnerships unless they are willing to shield them from 24/7 intrusions from their public lives. This magnifies the importance of access to the vast majority of journalists who choose not to pursue the difficult, time-consuming, and sometimes dangerous path of independent, investigative journalism. And access, come to think of it, was the point in the first place.

I’m glad that the “SG (not SGI)/political complex” explanation helped. It’s easier to explain when you’ve lived with four immediate neighbor families (not to mention my ailing grandmother) in the SG fold.


They just need to be very careful about not going over the very blurry line between serving the public and serving themselves.

My take is that such sentiments are useless; the media will do what they have to do to get by. My hope and expectation are that there will be enough random back and forth so that they will not get out of hand. (It is easy to forget that the pre-WW II Japanese media were willing frontrunners with the riding whips when it came to external aggression.

The US 2011 budget is likely to bring Futenma to a head.

T. Greer said...


I am curious how you think a DPJ-Komeito alliance would work out. Everybody is saying that Komeito will be easier to handle than the SDP, but surely Komeito will have some influence of the coalition's platform. What kind of changes do you think would happen if a Komeito-DPJ coalition is built?

Jun Okumura said...

T. Greer:

Komeito needs to get something; otherwise it would be bad for public perception, right? And seriously, who can object to its latest, the Yamaguchi Vision, a rally cry for: 1) from centralized power to local sovereignty; 2) a society that takes action for education; and 3) towards a nation that contributes to the world through nuclear weapons elimination, peace, and the environment? Let’s see, I think that it will definitely demand a commitment to tightening the Political Funds Control Law. If I were Komeito, I would see the Health, Labor and Welfare portfolio as the ideal policy platform for the party of the average Joe and Josephina. Clean government, watching out for the little guy: that’s what Komeito has always been all about. When you go to the specific policies, the differences are very much a matter of nuance. That’s because Komeito’s religious background means that its main constituency covers a wide socio-economic swath of Japanese society customary of much larger political parties like the DPJ and SDP.

…which, I guess, is a long-winded way of saying, “HAHA, I haven’t given much thought to that question yet.”

Oh, and cooperation may begin on an ex-cabinet basis. You know, like, dating? First base first…