Sunday, February 09, 2014

Tokyo Gubernatorial Election: A Pre-Postmortem

Between Yoichi Masuzoe’s victory as the foregone conclusion and the treacherous roads from yesterday’s snow, I am not going to cast a vote in today’s election for the governor’s office in Tokyo. Instead, I am offering a brief explanation of where I got wrong-footed with my idea that Morihiro Hosokawa, the former prime minister, had a fighting chance.

It became pretty clear only a couple of days, if that, after he threw his hat into the ring that Hosokawa was going to lose. His best, perhaps only, chance, lay in generating sympathetic and to the extent possible positive media coverage at the onset and sustaining it through the early stages of the campaign so that irresistible pressure would build up for the other substantive antinuclear candidate, Kanji Utsunomiya, to fold camp and throw his support behind him. Instead, he postponed his official announcement while he hastily cobbled together a platform that would go beyond his antinuclear message and backtrack on earlier comments reported in a book advocating the rejection of the vastly popular 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This made him come came across as indecisive and unprepared, an impression that was reinforced when he refused to take part in the customary debates featuring the main candidates. Yoichi Masuzoe, the favorite receiving the support of the LDP and Komeito, claiming that a debate without his purported main rival would be meaningless, also pulled out, causing the debates to be canceled, but Hosokawa deservedly took the blame for the turn of events that robbed the public of the opportunity to hear out the candidates and, most importantly to Hosokawa’s campaign, alienated the reporters covering the election. Hosokawa finally made it to the starting line five days behind schedule, but he’d lost most of his momentum by then. And the nuclear power industry and the Abe administration must have breathed a sigh of relief. And the DPJ, which had offered its support to Hosokawa, found that the pig in the poke that it had bought had for all practical purposes turned toes up.

Hosokawa was stunningly ill-prepared for his run, which in hindsight may have been more or less to be expected from a 76 year-old who had retired from politics when he turned 60 and largely spent his time since then making pottery with his own kiln. However, it is also instructive that it was also reminiscent of his 1994 announcement as prime minister that he would seek a consumption tax hike from 3% at the time to 7% with the proceeds to be spent for “national welfare” purposes. The problem was that he had essentially taken an idea from the Ministry of Finance and made it public with little concern over the possible response from the general public or the coalition parties supporting. Facing widespread opposition, he took his proposal off the table in a couple of days, but the damage was done.

This casual approach to policy issues reminds me of Yukio Hatoyama and to a lesser extent his brother Kunio Hatoyama, two other men born to privilege whose casual attitude towards the politician’s word and its consequences stands out. There is no reason to believe that a noble upbringing breeds irresponsibility. But it is difficult to imagine people with such obvious flaws having the kind of political careers that the three have enjoyed without their family backgrounds.

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