Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bad Polls, More Downside Risk for the Ruling Coalition

Poll results as a whole continue to vary widely between each other, while the newspaper polls reflect their respective political outlooks and the TV polls are particularly volatile. All that being said, if you look at how the numbers have moved as the Nishimatsu scandal broke over DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa’s head and led to his replacement by Yukio Hatoyama, it’s safe to say—knock on wood—the following:
1) The DPJ has closed in on the LDP with regard to bedrock support; the 10% or so lead that the LDP held after the Kozumi administration appears to have dissipated altogether.

2) The switch from Ozawa to Hatoyama has restored much of the DPJ lead among the “floaters”—one-third or so of the electorate—who are going to end up determining the outcome of the Lower House general election.
The LDP gave its best shot on the economy, as it put forth its latest economic stimulus package to mixed reviews. Its game plan going forward appears to consist of bashing the DPJ over a) the unrealistic cost-cutting assumptions as the basis of its four-year plan and b) the lack of a short-term plan of its own. Beyond this, there seems to be little more that the LDP can do except hope against hope for a miraculous third quarter economic recovery; that, and wait for a serious DPJ mistake or two—possible but highly unlikely, given that the DPJ as the opposition won’t have to worry about wayward cabinet members and other high-profile political appointees.

Worse for the ruling coalition, it continues to be distracted by side issues. Kunio Hatoyama, the Internal Affairs and Communications Minister, has been attacking the Post Office at every turn, scoring some political points for himself at the expense of the rest of the LDP and Koizumian reformists in particular. Prime Minister Aso jumped at a proposal to re-divide the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, but the MIAC Minister—Yoichi Masuzoe, the one bright spot in the Aso Cabinet—has come forth with a request for more staff as a condition for going along with it. And that’s not to mention the bullet the Aso administration dodged when Ozawa’s resignation and subsequent race to succeed him pushed the sacking of a Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary for sexual escapades at the expense of public coffers—which Aso foolishly tried to brush off as resignation for “health reasons”—to the media sidelines.

On the DPJ side, there is lingering worry that Ichiro Ozawa’s daily press briefings as he stalks the provinces may cause some grief. I doubt it. The press can only ask the same question—Will you explain yourself regarding the Nishimatsu money—so many times and get the same answer—I’ve explained it already and everything is legal—every time before the editors stop printing it. In fact, that’s what it’s beginning to look like already. The issue will resurface from time to time as Ozawa’s political aide’s prosecution for political financing irregularities moves forward (or fresh allegations are raised*), but the most eye-catching event—the verdict—is not coming down before the general election—assuming that the Public Prosecutors Office decides to bring the case to a trial before the election in the first place.

All this of course has little to do with what the DPJ is going to do after it catches the milk truck. I’ll get back to that if I have something meaningful to add to what I’ve said before. Otherwise, I’ll continue to focus my meanderings on the chase.

* A 24 May Mainichi report relates how the Ozawa team dunned 5 million Yen from major zenecon Kumagai-Gumi from 1996-2000 under a scheme remarkably similar to the Nishimatsu arrangement. No, the report has nothing to say about the LDP side of the picture.

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