Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hatoyama Beats Okada 124-95 (One Abstention, One Invalid Vote)

As so often has been the case, I failed to call it. Having said that…

It’s a secret ballot so we can’t know for sure, but based on the surveys that the mainstream media conducted in the lead-up to the vote, Hatoyama appears to have won thanks to a big lead in the Upper House vote. Okada seems to have at least held his own in the Lower House, whose members were more mindful of the upcoming election than their Upper House counterparts, only half of whom will face the public next year. Hatoyama likely held onto all of his group’s 30 votes as well as most of Ozawa’s 50 votes, so that was a huge head start against his independent opponent. Media surveys indicate that farther away from Ozawa’s group they were the less they preferred Hatoyama.

The question, of course, is: Will the sockpuppet (傀儡政権) trope stick? The media typically gives a new leader a grace period during which it says only nice things. (Remember when the chairman of Sharp, in deep trouble at the time, elevated a board member who was a journalist with no business experience to the chairman’s position and placed his own son, who had been placed on a special fast track, as president/CEO and the media hummed long to the company tune?) This may last only few days, but it’s important in Hatoyama’s case, because this is his best chance to establish himself as the real face of the DPJ. The polls will give him and the DPJ some momentum; it’s up to him to keep the snowball rolling.

Can Hatoyama do it? I noticed that he was a better speaker than I’d remembered. He has a better way with words than Okada. He also looked visibly animated during the DPJ election proceeding, as he no longer had to speak on behalf of the Ozawa DPJ. Speaking of whom, Ozawa must play his part by making himself scarce—something he has little trouble managing to do. In fact, this is the most important part of the DPJ electoral scenario.

This was a most civil election held between two highly civil candidates. It was definitely not politics as usual. The prospects of an imminent takeover must also have helped.


Unknown said...

Wow, I got that so wrong. If the DPJ loses the HR election we'll all be wondering if 124 DPJ members got it wrong as well.

Hatoyama spent three important formative (for the party) years at the top of the DPJ. He established himself as an independent actor long before Ozawa entered the DPJ.

I thought Okada would give the DPJ a boost with the general public that would draw DPJers to him, but it may well turn out that Hatoyama can run the more attention-grabbing public campaign.

Do you think Aso wants to debate him?

Jun Okumura said...

Ross: I think we misunderestimated the cohesion among the 2007 Upper House Ozawa Kids. Plus, they aren’t facing an imminent election.

A quick glance through the media response shows that Hatoyama’s honeymoon is considerably shorter than Obama’s. In fact, there is none. Hating Ozawa is the only political angle that unites the mainstream media from Asahi on the left to Sankei on the right. Hatoyama’s conciliatory instincts led him to announce that not only would he bring Okada into the formal party leadership, he would do likewise with Ozawa. Bad idea. The LDP must be praying that Ozawa accepts, with enthusiasm. (Koizumi would have given Ozawa a gold watch.)

And no, Aso shouldn’t want to face Hatoyama in a debate. But I think Aso has too much confidence in his native intelligence and business, I-know-how-the-real-world-works patois to realize that.

Martin J Frid said...

Aso-Hatoyama: now there is a debate I'm hoping you will cover, blow-by-blow here on 21!

Do Japanese political party leaders DO debates?

Jun Okumura said...

Good evening, Martin. When it is in session, the Diet is supposed to schedule a weekly debate between the Prime Minister and opposition party leaders. As a practical matter, it’s a face-off with the DPJ President, since only leaders of opposition parties with ten or more seats in one of the two Houses can participate. But it’s only a 45-minute affair. Moreover, the debate is not held in weeks when the Prime Minister attends a Plenary Session or a Budget Committee meeting to be grilled personally, so it’s not exactly a regular event. It has received plenty of attention recently, though, because Ozawa has been doing everything in his power to avoid it. (Unlike the formal Diet and Budget Committee sessions, the Prime Minister can ask questions of the other side.)

(I got all this from Wikipedia. I could have just pointed you there (keyword: 党首討論), but I thought an explanation would be helpful for many other readers. I should be looking around for primary sources, but Wikipedia looks pretty solid on this one.)The important thing is that it will be revived and that the media will follow it and pass judgment on the performance of the principals. This will influence their reporting and help mold the information cloud that influences the electorate’s decision to vote (or not) and for whom.

That’s all, you may ask? Just the 45-minute sessions? Yes. That’s all, unfortunately.

So, beyond the Diet encounters, I’d like to see the media get together to arrange a series of Aso-Hatoyama debates. In fact, if I were Hatoyama, I’d issue a challenge to Aso to that effect. Other things being equal, first movers, as the aggressors, gain an advantage. More important, this is a perfect opening bid for Hatoyama in his quest to shake off the image of Ozawa sock-puppet and establish himself in the public eye as his own man. If Aso declines, I’d do one session where I put an Aso doll on stage and debate him—briefly, and only once, because you don’t want to overdo it.

Martin J Frid said...

Hahaha, that Aso doll debate would be almost Pythonesque - and might draw more attention to Japanese politics than we have seen in a long, long time.

Jun Okumura said...


…which gives me an idea for a Golden Hour comedy. With life-size sock-puppets. We can call it: ハイ、総理!…i.e. Yes, Prime Minister