Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Long Hot Summer for Kan, Ozawa and DPJ Coming to an Early End?

The following is a memo that I dashed off in response to this WSJ report that an esteemed colleague sent me. Its shelf-life might wind up being as short as a couple of days, or even counted in hours, so I thought that I’d share it publicly. For the record, I edited it slightly.

More an essay than an op-ed, the WSJ is a good encapsulation of the situation. A few comments:

I still find it hard to think that Ozawa is going to stand, or win if he does. In fact, there’s a growing possibility that Kan will win by acclamation.

For Ozawa, there’s the risk that he will actually win. He is personally unfit to be the head of government in a democracy, what with the highly public grilling in Diet sessions and press conferences (which he could mostly skip when he was merely party chief), and he is surely aware of that. And he’ll be held responsible for policy decisions.

For the DPJ, an Ozawa victory invites a near-unanimously negative media coverage—Nikkan Gendai, the antiestablishment tabloid, a rare exception among widely circulated dailies—as well as the very real possibility that Ozawa will have no choice but to resign if the prosecution review commission forces the Public Prosecutors Office to prosecute him. (Even a one-step downgrade that allows the PPO not to prosecute is likely to lead to a media campaign against Ozawa that will hound him out of office before long.)

But can he win in the first place? I’ve always been skeptical of the 130~150-member Ozawa group headcount that we regularly see in the media. The estimates appear to include up to 2/3rds of the DPJ’s 150 or so first-term Diet members. Yes, those kind of numbers showed up when Ozawa made his annual pilgrimage to Bejing, and appear to show face when they hear the dog whistle. But will they rally for Ozawa when it’s time to vote? Remember, it’s a secret vote, not a show of hands. Besides, last week, when Hatoyama held his annual Karuizawa bash—God, it’s great to have money, even if it’s not quite Goldman Sachs money—up to 100 Ozawa supporters showed up. (There were 150 participants in all, of which up to 50 could have been Hatoyama group members, plus Koshiishi the Upper House don and others including one Kan flunky.) Subtract the core Ozawa supporters (up to 50) and maybe a third of the DPJ rookies. I don’t think Ozawa (more accurately Ozawa’s kitchen cabinet) has the numbers.

Note that all the other likely suspects are back-peddling like hell. Never-ready-for-primetime Kaieda has all but abandoned his non-candidacy; Tarudoko, who fronted the Ozawa group in the June election, says once is enough for now; and the Kan cabinet’s resident otaku Kazuhiro Haraguchi (he himself spells it Haraguti, and how more otaku can you get than that?) says he enjoys his job too much to run.

I think Kan realizes all this, and is appropriately keeping his head down.

Hatoyama will eventually throw his support behind Kan. Hatoyama’s conditions for his support, according to one of his top flunkies, Yoshikatsu Nakayama, local sovereignty, the New Public Interest, the East Asia Community, Hatoyama’s GHG commitment, and one other that I cannot remember. They are expansive and explicit but highly conceptual, so they are easy to accept. The GHG commitment, of course, is only as serious as the extent to which the Japanese government is going to go to fulfill it, a matter which was already seriously in doubt under Hatoyama after Obama and the Democrats—a nice name for a 50s throwback doo-wop group FWIW; do you think Sarah and the Republikettes works?—dropped the idea of any serious US efforts. (And of course there’s always China.) Ozawa keeps bringing up the 2009 Manifesto, but how seriously did the Hatoyama-Ozawa odd-couple take it when they were in control?

The big story, then, is what Kan is going to pull out of his economic tool kit once his summer vacation is over. The last couple of weeks brought a sea change in public opinion. Mainstream editorials, reflecting rising main street voices, have been calling for intervention in the currency market in the face of skepticism over the utility of a unilateral intervention. Meanwhile, Kan is still sticking to what is surely the MOF story of a modest 1.7 trillion yen stimulus package consisting of near equal amounts of emergency funds in the FY2010 budget and unexpected carryovers from the FY2009 budget—No New Money. I’d say that the possibility of intervention, though still less than likely, has risen considerably. Also, I look for a considerable stimulus package, likely including an extension in one form or another of the quick-release eco-point system and some new business tax cuts.

That said, there is one wild card, which I’m surprised to hear nothing about lately: the DPJ local yokel vote. The local chapters and assemblyhumans are allocated 400 points (300 go to the local chapters while the remaining 100 are pro rated among the local legislators), while the 412 Diet members get two votes each. It’s a secret vote, whose results are not to be revealed until the Diet members have voted, but do you think that the media is not going to canvas the local voters as they always do on these occasions? I thought so. And Ozawa is rumored to have a strong following out there because of all the legwork and money he and his henchpersons put in over the years right up to the eve of the July election.

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