Tuesday, June 26, 2007

For the DPJ, the worse the better

With the Upper House elections little over a month away and public outrage over the pensions scandal seemingly unassuaged, the DPJ has found another angle to emphasize the government's indifference to the plight of the average Japanese citizen.

A comic strip, available online here, is being distributed to voters in a flier, the cover of which features a Japanese couple in distress, moaning that rising taxes and social security contributions are a major headache for their lifestyle: "These six years, the burden on people's lifestyle has risen nine trillion yen. This is the source of growing inequality!"

The growing tax burden refers in particular to reports that from this month, many Japanese are set to see their tax contributions rise as a result of recent adjustments in the balance between central government and local government taxation. The shift meant that from January many saw their tax burden decline as the central government's tax take fell; now, in June, their taxes will rise again rapidly. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, for a family of four with annual income of 5 million yen, the tax burden that was 10,950 yen until 2006 will rise to 14,100 yen. For a family of four earning 10 million yen annually, the tax burden will rise this month to 66,190 yen from 61,580 yen. (These numbers from an article in the Hokkaido Shimbun.) An article in Asahi (not online) notes that taxpayers have been swamping city offices with questions about the tax hike.

The DPJ's hope, of course, is that tax worries and anger at the government's handling of the pension scandal will combine to form a perfect storm that smashes the LDP next month.

It is important to remember, however, that the DPJ is hardly better off than the LDP, as an Asahi tracking poll showed the DPJ dropping below the LDP again, 24% to 23% in Upper House proportional representation races. The DPJ may well ride this storm to victory — but not because it is beloved by the voters. As a certain wise man noted in conversation last night, in any other democracy the opposition would be cruising to victory with 90% support, given the issues that the Abe government has laid at the DPJ's doorstep.

Meanwhile, it is far too hasty to write off Prime Minister Abe, contra this FT article that relies almost entirely on Abe rival Tanigaki Sadikazu to suggest that Abe could be made to resign if next month is a DPJ landslide. Clearly Abe is surrounded by a number of retainers who will be made to lay down their lives for their master (take a Nakagawa or two) — and even former Prime Minister Koizumi has suggested that Abe should not resign even in the face of a rout, arguing that "if prime ministers change every year or two, there cannot be reform." (Has Koizumi looked at what his successor is doing, or not doing as the case may be?)

While few seem to dispute that the LDP is the underdog going into this election, there is still considerable uncertainty about what is to come. Expect to hear more — day in, day out — about how LDP governments pick the pockets of the average Japanese family.

1 comment:

Garrett said...

Things are lining up for the DPJ. With rising anger over pension errors and rising taxes, not to mention the residual or simmering mistrust that must be there over the political fund scandal, the town hall meeting scandal, etc., the coming election should be the DPJ's to lose.
It's not, though, which is disturbing. The DPJ is not seeing a real rise in popularity as the LDP falls out of favor. The DPJ has continued its frustrating tradition of being impotent in the face of opportunity. DPJ leaders have moments of force in the Diet, but largely succeed only in getting video of themselves boorishly assaulting LDP members just before votes.

My instinct is to go for the head and say Ozawa's reputation as an influential political strategist is wholly undeserved, but it seems to go deeper. There must be something else there.

Why has the DPJ lashed itself to a leader who has yet to deliver? Why is the DPJ missing so many opportunities to capitalize on the LDP's missteps? Are they really as incompetent as they seem?