Monday, October 08, 2012

Another Poll, My Current Thinking around the Looming Lower House Election

The latest Sankei-Fuji News Network (FNN) poll confirms what other polls have already been telling us about the post-leadership election (LDP, DPJ), post-party launch (JRP)*, political landscape:

Support for the Noda cabinet: 25.6%
Party support: LDP 25.7% (+8.6%), DPJ 14.2% (+2.0%), JRP 7.7% (---)
Vote in next lower house proportional districts: LDP 32.1% (+10.4%), DPJ 16.8% (–0.6%), JRP 14.2% (–9.6%**)

There’s also significant public enthusiasm for Ishiba, not so much for Abe, who will be at the figurative top of the LDP ticket, but that should not affect the broader outlook: the LDP will come out on top in the next election, and the DPJ and the JRP will fight to come in second.

It is hard to see how the LDP can fail, since there’s not much room for an established opposition party to move the needle on its own one way or the other between now and the looming lower house election. It could lose some of its newly-gained support if the JRP manages to claw back some of its most recent losses. It will also come lose some percentage points to the DPJ if the Noda administration manages to maintain an even keel going forward.

The DPJ also has limited self-generated major upside because it has exhausted the two means to shift momentum in its favor with little to show for them: a leadership election, which resulted in the same-old, same-old; and a major cabinet shakeup that was broadly regarded as being all about internal politics and nothing about public policy and tainted to boot by a political financing violation by the new Justice Minister’s political financing organization***. The best that it can reasonably hope for is the gradual, modest upward trend in support for that accompanies uneventful stretches of incumbency. There’s more there than meets the eye, because the DPJ has a secret weapon: Prime Minister Noda. Seriously. The Noda cabinet continues to poll significantly better than the DPJ itself and, for what it’s worth, people that I talk to generally have good feelings for him and give him good marks, all things considered. Seeing also as how the LDP’s gains clearly came at the expense of the JRP, there’s good reason to believe that the DPJ has much less to lose from a JRP resurgence, which is part of the second half of my considerations, than the LDP. In short, it makes sense for the DPJ to play a waiting game.

Of course, the timing of the next election turns on the question of what the LDP (and Komeito) can extract from the DPJ (and PNP, if you insist) with regard to its date as consideration for allowing a deficit bond authorization bill to and possibly a countercyclical supplementary budget (which for practical purposes cannot be compiled until the projected full-year revenue deficit full year is legally covered) to be enacted. The LDP-Komeito coalition can probably do it with brute force****, but they want to look as pretty as possible while doing it, which may limit their tactics. This means that it will be highly desirable to have an election law amendment in place that at a minimum will not invite a media outcry over the election’s obvious unconstitutionality in light of previous Supreme Court decisions. In fact, both sides will be playing to the galleries with the media as the intermediary. Imagine the inevitable faceoff as a mating dance-off by two male birds-of-paradise—okay, tom turkeys—competing for the favors of an unenthusiastic female while yet another male, this one still very young, lurks nearby and you won’t be far off. And with that, I turn my attention to the JRP.

The JRP, despite its most recent setback accompanying the launch, still carries significant risk, up-side and down-, as the party and its public image is far from fully formed. How well Toru Hashimoto and his colleagues perform the following tasks will determine its immediate election outcome and its long-term prospects.

1) Establish a coherent process for decision-making and public communication—and stick to it.
2) Field a significant number of candidates, alone or in cooperation with other opposition parties, who are capable of avoiding major embarrassments.

The first one is the more problematic because of several structural complications in the JRP makeup. First, its leadership consists of two very different elements: the founding fathers led by Hashimoto on one hand and a group of B-list defectors from the DPJ, LDP and Your Party on the other. The media will play up every sign of dissonance between the two sides. Second, Hashimoto’s attention will be split between administering to his mayoral duties while transforming Osaka Prefecture into a new Tokyo-like metropolitan region on one hand and building and leading his new national party while serving as its most visible public figure by far on the other. His multitasking skills will certainly be tested while the national media’s attention will be doubled or more. Third, there’s the matter of Hashimoto himself. Hashimoto has strong opinions, and does not hesitate to air them, often in a colorful voice. This has served him well, first as a popular celebrity lawyer and later as the foremost advocate for his sometimes controversial policy initiatives. He relishes the ensuing public debate and has been willing to compromise or back down when the occasion demands. This refreshing openness has served him well so far, but I’ve never seen anything like this work on the national stage for any Japanese political leader. The commotion around the setup of the JPR’s decision-making process indicates that this is likely to be a more cumbersome process and therefore less appealing spectacle with a multitasking leader laboring under the magnifying lens.

The second task is complicated by the on-again, off-again romancing of the Your Party and the new regional forces mostly in the Nagoya-Aichi neighborhood. Hashimoto’s intermittent public musings, however exaggerated or distorted by the media (if you believe Hashimoto’s claims) on the relationships have if anything obscured the outlook. This does not appear to have materially harmed the prospects of Hashimoto’s movement so far, but an ultimate failure to coordinate election efforts will split the anti-status quo vote in the heavily populated Kanto (Tokyo et al) and Nagoya-Aichi regions with negative consequences at both the single-member and regional proportional district levels.

All in all though, I think that time is on the JRP’s side, now that much of the initial luster of something new and shiny has abruptly worn off. I think that time will help in the JRP candidate selection and preparation process. I think that time will help it in getting its domestic relationship in order and accepted by the media. I think that time will help it in coming to a definitive conclusion above its relationship with the other regional/reformist forces, at least removing one source of uncertainty and controversy for media fodder. I think that time will help it in moving from the laundry list that is the current JRP policy paper into something more presentable as campaign talking points. I think that my views may be colored by the fact of my disappointment with both parties going forward. Perhaps I am personally desperate for a viable alternative.

* You may have noticed that the JRP numbers in the Sankei-FNN poll most resemble the Kyodo News poll results.
** Figure for the Osaka Ishin-no-Kai, which preceded the JRP.
*** I continue to be amazed by the inability of the parties concerned to exercise the minimum precautions that would preclude these recurring political financing embarrassments.
**** There is a very remote chance that Ozawa’s Your Life First and other smaller parties that are just as fearful if not more so of a snap election may oblige and help the Noda administration cobble together enough votes to get the bill through the upper house.


Countdown to November said...

Just as the DJP failed to break the indestructible iron triangle, I fear that the politically fragmented JRP will fail as well. Close ties between business and the bureaucracy seem to be a fact of life in Japan, and with a return to the foray for the LDP, those ties could deepen once again, with LDP back in the iron triangle fold.

It really is a shame that corruption and stagnation have put a stop to the Japanese Miracle and put it on hold for almost two decades.

On another note, you've inspired me to write a piece about Japan, so I'll probably put something together along these very lines and post it on my blog when I get a chance.

Jun Okumura said...


They've been going through a troublesome shakedown stage and it won't be easy for Hashimoto to exercise remote control from Osaka once the post-election Diet gets going in earnest. I'm in show-me mode right now. Probably will be through the next upper house election, in 2013.

The ties between business and bureaucracy are far less meaningful these days. Exhibit A: the botching of the 700GHz reallocation process where MIC ended up with egg all over its face. The two sides were much closer during the go-go years. I would lay the blame for the current situation on the inability of politics to make the difficult decisions, which bureaucracies can never do on its own. Hashimoto is the latest in the line of reformists who tried to tackle this problem. The DPJ more or less promised to do so, but is falling woefully short after wasting so much of its political capital on no-win issues like the Futenma helicopters.