Monday, May 31, 2010

The Danse Macabre around the Prime Minister

This Yomiuri report citing DPJ upper house DPJ leaders, where Ozawa’s influence is greatest, throwing out feelers to Hatoyama to fall on his sword* and this report on Hatoyama’s own account about how he reaffirmed the support from Ozawa and his upper house confederate Koshiishi are as good as any other if you want to understand the game. Basically, Ozawa is trying to get Hatoyama out of the way without having to leave the scene himself. Ozawa can’t confront Hatoyama directly because the prime minister would then take Ozawa out with him, so he’s using his deputies to try to induce Hatoyama to give up the ghost. So I guess my question is: Is Hatoyama smart enough to take a hint?

This is, of course, just me and my thumb talkin’.
* Goshi Hosono—lower house member, former policy wonk and latest Ozawa favorite—repeatedly made more or less the same insinuation on a Sunday talk show.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Coalition Update: Officially Dissolved but Collaboration in July Election Still in the Cards

The SDP meeting of its prefectural chapter director-generals in a near-unanimous decision—the Niigata and Oita chapter DGs dissented, go figure—Sunday afternoon to opted to officially leave the three-party alliance supporting the Hatoyama administration but to seek to continue to cooperate with the DPJ in the July upper house election. This makes tactical sense but is likely to be pillaged by the MSM (except tabloid Nikkai Gendai). I don’t think that it’s a good idea if the SDP wants to survive as an anti-business, anti-Japan-US alliance protest party. But maybe that’s just me.

What about the Lower House? The SDP Revisited

Yesterday, when I looked at what the coalition meant to the SDP, I went to bed without going into the implications for the next lower house election, which would come no later than August 2013, most likely as part of a bicameral election, that is, in tandem with the election for the other half of the upper house. That won’t do. After all, the SDP does hold 7 lower house seats, two (wrong, it’s three; see blooper alert at the end of the main body of this post) of which hold down first-past-the-post, single-seat districts. Isn’t it likely that the SDP will lose the FPP seats if the DPJ not only withdraws its support but also fields its own candidate?* The short answer? It’s complicated.

The DPJ’s two FPP lower house seats are held by Kantoku Teruya in the Okinawa Prefecture 2nd District and Yasumasa Shigeno in the Oita Prefecture 2nd District. Of the two, Teruya’s seat is more likely to remain with the DPJ if it leaves the coalition. Shigeno’s situation is harder to read, but it’s not clear that the SDP will be better off here if it remains in the coalition.

Teruya was first elected as an anti-military independent to national office in 1995 to the upper house for the single seat that was up for election that year in two-seat Okinawa. He yielded his position as the anti-military candidate in the 2004 upper house election to Keiko Itokazu (who easily defeated the LDP candidate), but returned to the Diet as the lower house member from the Okinawa Prefecture 2nd District as a member of the SDP. He was reelected in 2005—when the DPJ candidate finished a near-fringe candidate third behind the LDP also-ran—and 2009. Through all this, he has also enjoyed the support of the Okinawa Social Mass Party, which has drifted to the left over the years as it lost a good portion of its support base to the LDP and DPJ. My guess is that he will be more helped than harmed by a DPJ challenger, who would only wind up as a spoilsport for the LDP candidate by splitting the pro-military vote. On the other hand, if the DPJ remains in the coalition, Teruya may bolt the SDP and run as an independent in the next lower house election, which would be the surest way for the DPJ to lose that seat.

Shigeno’s situation is different. A dyed-in-the-wool SDP member who worked his way up the prefectural civil service labor union ladder, then turned to politics fulltime, serving as a prefectural assemblyman for 26 years, and winning a national office in the 2000 lower house election as a regional proportional candidate. (He ran simultaneously in the Oita Prefecture 2nd District, where he lost to Seishiro Eto, the LDP incumbent.) His subsequent track record: (2003) FPP loss, regional loss; (2005) FPP loss, regional win; (2009) FPP win—finally beating Eto in a close race. Shigeno had been gaining votes in each election even before the historical alliance in the 2009 election, so it’s not a given that he will lose his FPP seat—possibly against a rookie if Eto, 72 by the time a 2013 election rolls around—if he DPJ withdraws its support, in which case, he will still have an excellent chance of making it back on the SDP’s regional proportional ticket. On the other hand, he is not a shoo-in even if the SDP stays in the coalition, given that Eto managed to run a close second in an election that turned out to be a disaster for the LDP overall.

To sum it up, if the SDP remains in the coalition, it may lose the Okinawa FPP seat through defection while the Oita FPP seat is not a sure thing even with DPJ support. If the SDP leaves the coalition, it is highly likely to retain the Okinawa FPP seat while there is a good chance that it will lose the Oita FPP seat.

The SDP is not, or course, a single-issue party, and many things can happen between now and whenever. But the impact of a withdrawal from the coalition on the SDP’s FPP seats is ambiguous at worst. Given the predictable, immediate fallout on the upper house proportional ballot and its reputation as a party of principle/protest as well as the institutional memory of the disaster that the 1994-1995 cohabitation under Tomiichi Murayama turned out to be, I have to put my money on a formal split.

And I’ll know soon enough if I’m wrong.

Addendum (blooper alert): Anonymous reminds me in the comments that Kiyomi Tsujimoto made it through in the Osaka 10th District. Thanks. That also provides a good motive for Tsujimoto’s reluctance to speak out against Hatoyama after Fukushima resigned. The SDP will most likely have to kiss her seat goodbye if the DPJ decides to field its own candidate there, meaning that she would have to take up the 1 seat that the DPJ will win in the 29-seat Kinki region proportional district. Add this long-term outlook to the threat of a second DPJ upper house candidate in the Niigata Prefectural District and a collaborative relationship on an issue-by-issue basis becomes attractive from a purely electoral point of view. After all, the SDP should be able to maintain its 2 upper house proportional seats even if its share of the national vote falls to 3%. Whether the SDP activists will accept this line of reasoning—if indeed the SDP leadership iss thinking along these lines—is another matter altogether. And that’s about as far as my arithmetic takes me.
* In fact, some DPJ political operatives are reportedly threatening to field a second candidate for the two Niigata Prefecture upper house seats coming up for the 2007 election. The SDP and the DPJ currently hold one seat each. Ichiro Ozawa is pushing a second candidate in all the other two-seaters but has refrained from doing so as a favor to the SDP.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Kicked Out of Cabinet, Protest Party Ponders Next Move

Sorry I haven’t been following up on my promises, and comments. Here’s a piece, a little too wonkish to make its way to Eurasia Group clients, but hopefully informative for people who want some background on what’s going down in the Japanese political scene. Unedited, but I have to cook some pasta; it’s 20:31 in Tokyo.

Now that Prime Minister Hatoyama has dismissed Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima from her cabinet post for making it clear that she would refuse to add her signature to the cabinet decision—by custom, all cabinet decisions and other official cabinet acts must be unanimous—speculation turns to whether or not the SDP will remain in the coalition, a course of action Prime Minister Hatoyama and DPJ don Ichiro Ozawa are more than willing to oblige.

The quid pro quo in the alliance between the DPJ and SPD is fairly straightforward. The SDP gives its support to DPJ candidates in return for input on policy*. It’s easy to forget that the SDP stands for anything more than post-war pacifism, but it continues to push policies to help the socio-economic underdogs and otherwise support antiestablishment causes. Its landmark achievement in this Diet session is a legislative bill that severely limits the labor dispatching business. Seeing dispatched workers and other non-permanent forms of employment as the major cause of falling wages, it teamed up with the PNP, the other minority coalition partner, to overturn a compromise between the government, business, and big labor and force the Hatoyama administration to further tighten the screw. But inevitably, there have been far more disappointments than accomplishments. The SDP has had to set aside its anti-nuclear power stance in favor of the DPJ’s climate change agenda, all but give up on enfranchising permanent residents in local government elections, and accept the dispatch of Maritime Self-Defense Force escort ships for anti-piracy patrol near Somalia**, to name a few prominent examples of its typical left-wing protest agenda.

The setbacks can take its toll at the voting stations. Its leaders remember well that it was decimated (in the original sense) when it gained the prime minister’s chair in 1994 in exchange for abandoning its opposition to the Japan-US alliance and accepting the constitutionality of the Self-Defense Forces. Since then, it has steadily declined in the polls as protest voters shifted to the Japan Communist Party*** and floater voters found other, new non-LDP alternatives to turn to. The reversion, more or less, to the original 2006/2009 plan for moving US Marines helicopters from Futenma to the vicinities of Camp Schwab came to strike at the heart of the SDP’s reason d’être as the anti-alliance, pro-underdog party because of Hatoyama’s near-criminal negligence around the issue. Acquiescing would have meant running the risk of further alienating its core left-wing supporters.

It is clear that Ichiro Ozawa, by far the single most powerful man in the DPJ now, want to keep the camel in the tent. His priorities seem to be: 1) stay in power in the DPJ, 2) minimize losses in the July upper house election, and 3) destroy the LDP. Priority 1) means that he must give up the floater vote and concentrate on roping in special interests/captive voters****. That explains his courting of the Japan Post cadres in defiance of MSM. And the 4% more or less of actual voters that the SDP may be able to convince to vote for DPJ candidates—I’m guessing less if the SDP stays in the coalition—will be more than enough to tip close elections.

The big question for the SDP is: Should it consider continued input on policy questions—there is no one in Japanese politics whose reward and punishment are as sure and swift as Ozawa—is worth risking its long-term viability as a focal point for the protest vote? After all, you can’t root for the underdog if you are dead.

We’ll know the answer on Sunday, when the SDP leadership convenes to decide what to do next.

* It’s actually a little more complicated than that. The DPJ supported a few SDP candidates in single seat districts in the 2009 lower house election and has agreed in the July upper house election to refrain from putting up a second candidate in the two-seat upper-house Niigata-Prefecture district. The latter is little more than symbolic, since the SDP has little hope of outpolling the LDP candidate for the “other” seat.

** Kiyomi Tsuji, a member of the SDP leadership and sub-cabinet appointee, is the founder and major supporter of the Peace Boat initiative, which according to its website is “a Japan-based international non-governmental and non-profit organization that works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment.” In May 2009, the Peace Boat sought and received protection from the JMSDF escort ship on duty when it passed through the Gulf of Aden. The irony was not lost on the Japanese public and media.

*** Take a look at the post-Murayama cabinet upper house elections. The DPJ SDP (thank you, Michael) has steadily lost ground, with 7.79% of the national proportional seat vote in 1998, 6.63% in 2001, 5.35% in 2004, and 4.47% in 2007. The JCP has done somewhat better, surging to 14.60% in 1998, though slipping to 7.91% in 2001, 7.80% in 2004, and 7.48% in 2007.

**** Special interests include labor; a typical group of captive voters is the Sokagakkai.

The End of the Free Market: For People Too Busy to Read the Book

Ian Bremmer, President of Eurasia Group—disclosure: I work part-time for Eurasia Groupgives a talk on his new book The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and the Corporations? on the New America Foundation website. Despite the dismal title, he gives the long-run edge to free market capitalism over state capitalism, basically the state using economic tools—state enterprises and flagship companies, sovereign funds, regulatory powers—to achieve political goals and not the other way around. However, he explains that it won’t be easy to get there.

Actually, watch the video, then go buy the book. (No, I can’t lend it to you; I only have the electronic galley proof. Besides, Ian needs the money; look at his clothes if you don’t believe me.) There’s obviously a lot more to the story than seventy-one minutes of talk, some of it from Steve Clemons, the interviewer. Ian always makes the extra effort to make his books an easy read*, and this one is no exception.
* This is a very desirable if often overlooked trait. One of the reasons that I respect Bernard Lewis so much is the overwhelming clarity and eloquence that he brings to his writing. At the other end of the spectrum is Francis Fukuyama, for whose books the word “turgid” was invented.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

DPJ Squeeze on Coalition Partners Begins

I’ve been working on the beginnings of a series of posts on Japanese politics. In the meantime, a quickie:

Asahi Shimbun reports that the DPJ is including in its Upper House election platform a pledge to reduce the 242 member Upper House by 40 seats. This can be done by the following means, or a combination thereof:

1) Reduce proportional seats, currently at 96.
2) Consolidate prefectural districts, eliminating for most practical purposes the 2-seat floor—one per triennial election, in which half of the seats come up for election—for the smallest prefectures, which are grossly overrepresented as currently configured.
3) Exacerbate the overrepresentation of the 2-seat prefectures.

1) is sure to be a large part of the answer—at the expense of the mini-and micro-parties, who pin their hopes on the proportional voting. Thus the SDP and PNP cannot like this one bit. The SDP should be particularly troubled, since Prime Minister Hatoyama is drifting inexorably towards a intra-coalition showdown on the Futenma question with a proposal that includes relocation within Okinawa. This is anathema to the SDP, whose leadership is fundamentally at odds with the Japan-US alliance. But the LDP is likely to fall in line with some version of this option, which means that a legislative bill on this point will have an excellent chance of passing in the current Diet session. The DPJ may have already begun reshaping the coalition, something that I had not expected to happen before the July election.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Damien Ma Interviews James Fallows

Damien Ma, a Eurasia Group analyst, interviews James Fallows on China Today. Fallows is one of the most thoughtful and graceful bloggers that I follow. (My lists are woefully out of date; I’ll get around to fixing that one of these days.) For those of you who live in the Tri-State area, Damien* is also quite a charmer, and unattached, if I remember correctly.

Incidentally, I agree with most if not all of the arguments being made there.
* Damien is also one of the regulars at Rucker Park, where he is known as DunkMaSter D, and The Ragin’ Asian. True story.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Profiling the (Mostly) LDP Renegades

This has been sitting on my hard disk for ten days. I’m not sure that I can do much more with it, so I’m putting it out here without further editing before it rots on the vine. (The Note will be forthcoming, RS.) That’s it for now.

The 2 May virtual deadline for starting new political parties before the July Upper House election in Japan having passed without further incident—the names of parties established after that date are not protected from copycats, which can cause serious problems in the proportional seats vote—it’s a good time to take a look at the upside of the flurry of LDP split-offs for the July Upper House election and beyond. None of them should emerge from the vote with more than a handful of Upper House seats. However, the DPJ is increasingly likely to fall short of a simple Upper House majority and the motley three-party coalition faces a growing chance of losing its collective majority. Thus, the new parties deserve a look as actors in a post-election shakeup. True, Komeito, the political arm of the lay Buddhist organization Sokagakkai, remains the best bet as a post-election coalition partner: it will be able to ensure an Upper House majority by itself for a DPJ-led coalition and is policy-wise more compatible with the latter than its troublesome populist bedmates. However, it has limited upside due to its near-total reliance on its religious base. Thus, the upstarts bear watching with an eye to the future beyond the immediate post-election coalition makeup. With that, here’s a roll call.

Your Party (YP): Heads the list in the latest Nikkei-TV Tokyo poll (23-25 April) with 11% in voter intent—after DPJ and LDP at 20% and 4% respectively. Headed by Yoshimi Watanabe, the YP consists of four Lower House members, two LDP and one DPJ defectors and an independent, and one Upper House member, an independent AIDS activist. The YP has by far the biggest upside. First, they share a small-government, free-market orientation that established parties have moved away from in the post-Koizumi years. This makes the YP an unlikely coalition partner with the DPJ under the politics-first Ozawa, but gives it a policy coherence lacking in the other new alternatives. This should serve it well in a broader, if more distant, realignment. Second, it has yout on its side—an appealing quality for an electorate deeply dissatisfied with the status quo. All five Diet members are youthful and articulate post-baby boomers. Third, it will have the largest number of seats among the newcomers—its voter intent share translates into a minimum of five to six proportional Upper House seats in addition to its four incumbents. Finally, it is the only splinter group that has LDP, DPJ and truly independent Diet members.

New Party Reform: Taken over by and renamed for articulate, brainy public favorite and reformist Yoichi Masuzoe, it only took a 2% share in the aforementioned poll, but surged to 7% on the voter intent question. That difference can only be attributed to Masuzoe—he's essentially Moses Malone with four guys from Petersburg, Virginia. If the NPR can hold on to something like that until July, it'll add one or two proportional Upper House seats to the two that are up for reelection in addition to Masuzoe’s, which comes up for reelection in 2013. Still, that’ll only give it five to six, a far cry from the 10-15 seats that the YP is targeting, even if it also retains its one regional seat that is up for reelection. Masuzoe’s star was tarnished when the reform-minded maverick threw in his lot with a group of old-school politicians facing retirement or uphill battles in the July election. Lacking policy coherence and with its leader commanding little to no personal loyalty from his ex-peers in the LDP, the YP’s upside is limited in any post-election maneuvering and the more distant, if roader realignment.

The Sunrise Party of Japan: Middle-of-the-road reformist and fiscal conservative Kaoru Yosano cast his lot with nationalist counter-reform-minded Takeo Hiranuma—to whom he was promptly forced to take a back seat—and friends. The media image of a marriage of convenience among over-the-hill politicians—the average age of its Diet members is seventy—severely limits the SUP’s upside. With three Lower House members and two Lower House members, it will be lucky to break even by holding on to the Upper House seat up for reelection and picking up a proportional seat if the Nikkei-TV Tokyo poll is to be believed,.

Kunio Hatoyama: The sixty-one year old younger brother of the prime minister is the odd man out. He never fulfilled his early promise as the Golden Boy of the LDP; now his peregrinations have left him with no one—not even the members of the LDP rank-and-file to whom he reportedly gave financial assistance early in their political careers—by his side as he impetuously bolted once again in his belief that he would be the precipitator of a new realignment of the Japanese political order.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Your Party: Eight Seats Minimum in the Upcoming Upper House Election with Significant Upside

Urban, well-schooled, and entrepreneurial, the 2010 Your Party Upper House candidates should easily score one prefectural seat—there’s another on the bubble—and seven proportional seats, mostly at the expense of the DPJ and LDP. Actually, I think that they will do better, since Your Party is the one new entry with a significant upside. (The Japan Communist Party and Komeito will benefit from the turnout, which should be lower than it was in the 2007 election.) Look carefully at the 7-9 May Yomiuri poll results and it becomes obvious that the 51% of the responders that did not show any voting preference is definitely going to lean away from the DPJ and LDP.

Your Party is the spiritual descendant of the Koizumi-Takenaka reform team. It even has a former Koizumi Kid in the 2010 Upper House candidate list. With at least nine Upper House seats after the election and five Lower House seats, it’s the one LDP spinout that can become a significant player in a major realignment process.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Do I Really Look Like This, European Chamber of Commerce?

Seriously, now I know how Dorian Gray felt when he looked at his own portrait.

The actual interview took place on 17 March according to my Google calendar and was edited by the following week, and the Hatozawa regime’s slide continues. However, I see no reason to have to substantially alter my outlook.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Responding to Comments

Sorry, I inadvertently posted one of the responses instead of the links to the threads. The following is the intended post.

I’ve responded to some weeks-old comments if you are interested. Some are quite cursory, particularly when I am in agreement. Sorry, but I just couldn’t tend to my blog for a while.

Will Domino Tiles Fall and If So When?
Why Losing July Election Can Be a Blessing in Disguise to the DPJ
I Would Be Happy to Be a (Paid) Pundit and/or a (Professional) Journalist; That Said…
Stand-Up Guys

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Pre-election, Hatozawa Resignation?

Hey, yours truly, quoted in The Telegraph. I actually suggested it as a “very easy-to-carry-out scenario.” I know, I know, first someone has to bell the Tenacious Twosome…

Another Maritime Incident, This Time with Chinese Research Vessel

The Yomiuri appears to be the first newspaper to carry the story about a Chinese research vessel chasing a Japanese Coast Guard vessel and forcing it to stop surveying the continental shelf on the Japanese side of the median line. The incident occurred on 3 May according to the Coast Guard announcement on the following day. It follows on the heels of two incidents, both involving the PLA Navy, one a fleet including two submarines in plain sight passing through the Okinawa islands—true, in international waters—and the other a helicopter/helicopters buzzing—twice!—a Japanese ship that went to observe those ships. I’ve given some thought to these maritime developments as well as the East China Sea gas fields. The following is the essence of my response to some questions. (They are not from a client, which is why I feel justified in laying them out here. I did leave out one point, because it concerns a novel idea—not quite useful in this particular instance in my view, but possibly applicable in a more general sense and certainly plausible—that did not originate from my side of the exchange.)
1. They are all deliberate acts, and the most recent one involves yet another government agency. It looks like a pattern is emerging.
2. The Chinese authorities, like the Russians, are willing to take risks when they perceive weakness. They keep pushing until there's push-back, serious consequences. And the Hatoyama administration did act meekly in responding to the first PLA Navy incident, and the second one quieted down after a mysterious intelligence leak about an exchange between the mother vessel and the helicopter that indicated that the pilot had been freelancing.
3. The tipping point will come if and when someone on the Japanese side is killed.
4. It’s surprising that this happened parallel to the unofficial bilateral talks on the South China Sea gas fields. Perhaps they'll finally move forward on the Japanese buy-in agreement under the Fukuda administration. After all, a Japanese company/consortium taking a minority share in a Chinese development company on the Chinese side of the median line makes no concession on Japanese claims. But will anyone other than Asahi and Mainichi buy a Chinese attempt to camouflage its efforts to establish a new status quo?
Incidentally, you don’t want to mess with a Chinese research vessel if my experience 31 years ago is any indication. I was doing UNCLOS and ocean development at time and went to see a Japanese research vessel. There was a Chinese research vessel berth at the same port, there apparently as part of a bilateral exchange program. I went to take a look at it—I think I could actually go on board, but my memory may be playing tricks on me—and saw a piece of equipment rising from the deck and covered with a sheet that looked suspiciously like a large, mounted machine gun.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Alert: Central Bank Becoming Development Bank?

Hard to believe, but there you are: Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri, and Nikkei. It was the page one headline article in the Yomiuri and Nikkeii. It must have been the same in the other national dailies. So I guess my question is: Is Japan becoming another BRIC, or is it…