Sunday, June 08, 2008

Yomiuri Kills Two Birds with One Stone with Maehara Critique of Own Party Leader Ozawa

Sunday (June 8) Yomiuri carries a story headlined Mr. Maehara Criticizes Ozawa Manifest… in July Chuou Kouron. According to the report, Chuou Kouron is carrying a dialogue between Seiji Maehara, one of the most vocal Ozawa critics in the DPJ, and Kaoru Yosano, the LDP troubleshooter and perennial pundit favorite. The report says that Mr. Maehara took the 15.3 trilion yen bill for the 2007 DPJ Policy Manifest, added, and came up with an 18 trillion yen price tag**. It offers the following Maehara quotes from the dialogue:

[Regarding the 2007 Policy Manifest, we) won’t be able to run the government properly, even if we win power under prevailing conditions.

It’s absolutely impossible to come up with [18 trillion yen, the price tag for the 15.3 trillion yen 2007 Manifest plus the costs of eliminating the gasoline tax surcharge and other subsequent promises] by administrative reform alone. I’ve been told that when we put the Manifest together, the people responsible for policy making at the time were reluctant because there was little justification on the revenue side, but it ended up with Mr. Ozawa just winging it.

What the DPJ must not do above all is the tell the people only things that are sweet music to their ears, then say after we take power, “We can’t do that after all”. The LDP will take back the administration immediately. That’s the worst [thing that could happen].***

A few takeaways from this article:

Couple this huge revenue shortfall in the DPJ program with the unlikelihood of the ruling coalition to come up with a convincing fiscal/administrative reform package, and you have a politically intriguing if depressing showdown coming up this autumn. At least that’s what I’ve been claiming on this blog.

The seams have certainly been showing on the LDP side, but Mr. Maehara’s frustration tells us that all is not well with the DPJ either. So it’s no wonder that there’s all this attention going to the caucusing activities, both within and across party lines. But is this a harbinger of a major realignment? Not in the short run. (Say, not before at least two election cycles (House of Representatives and/or Councilors) have come and gone?) As I’ve claimed before, the fault lines are too many to create a clear-cut, policy/ideology division, and there’s too much to lose from breaking away to form a small party of narrowly likeminded people. (For example, what could 30 nationalist Diet members leaving the LDP to cluster around independent heavyweight Takeo Hiranuma—former Prime Minister hopeful exiled from the LDP for revolting against Prime Minister Koizumi’s Post Office privatization package—hope to achieve, instead of staying to pick up the pieces if Prime Minister Fukuda leaves office discredited?)

The most revealing piece of information, though, is that the July Chuou Kouron only hits the stands on the 10th, two days after the Yomiuri report. Mind you, no way is this a scoop.When Chuou Kouron threatened to go into bankruptcy, Yomiuri saw the chance to take over a venerated media institution, and a middle-of the-road one at that, with a highly-regarded publication that would fit nicely into Yomiuri’s then-vacant corner of the high-end niche of monthly opinion magazines. The report, then, is a deliberate attempt to drum up interest in the July issue, just before its publication. In a way, it’s a no-cost (to Yomiuri anyway) infomercial, yet another example of a media group generating synergy for its product lineup. In that sense, it’s part of a long tradition, and Chuou Kouron is no different from the Yomiuri Giants. There is a distinction here though. With Chuou Kouron, it’s not just the money. Although the center-right Yomiuri often strikes a populist pose, it is in fact the most pro-establishment, pro-LDP-Komeito coalition member of the mass media. The report, then, is part of the pitch for its political agenda, and Chuou Kouron is happy to oblige.

* Such a dialogue is typically hosted by someone from the media outlet, to keep the talkers on track. Given the political star powers of Mssrs. Maehara and Yosano, it’s very likely that the editor-in-chief hosted this one himself.

** To put this in proper perspective, remember that the FY 2008 general budget is 82.9 trillion yen, of which only 53.6 trillion yen is covered by tax revenues. 25.3 trillion yen of the shortfall is scheduled to be funded by government bonds, with “other revenues” covering the remainder. On the expenditure side, 20.2 trillion yen goes to cover debt service and 15.6 trillion yen to direct transfers to local governments. Of the remaining 47.2 trillion yen, social welfare accounts for 21.8 trillion of that amount. That leaves 25.5 trillion yen to spend on infrastructure, national security and other functions of the central government. Mr. Maehara should be excused for wondering where that extra 18 trillion yen is going to come from.

*** In the report, Mr. Maehara is also quoted from a June 7 meeting in Kyoto agreeing with critics of the trillion yen subsidy to farmers in the Manifest who regard it as an indiscriminate political payoff.

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