Monday, August 25, 2008

Out with a whimper

MTC beats me to pointing out the futility of the forthcoming seventy-day extraordinary session, which will convene from Sept. 12.

The government, he notes, will lack the time to pass the most significant pieces of legislation on the agenda (beyond a stimulus package) and override the upper house if necessary. No refueling mission extension. No tax reform. No road construction reform.

Naturally the government can squeeze some life out of the Diet session by working with the DPJ or by extending the Diet session yet again (over the objections of Komeito).

The LDP continues to hope for the former; Aso Taro recently called on the DPJ and other opposition parties to cooperate with the government to extend the Japanese mission in the Indian Ocean.

Such appeals are likely to fall on deaf ears. What, after all, does the DPJ stand to gain from extending a helping hand to the government on this or any other legislation at this point?

As for the latter, I would imagine that Komeito is not alone in its diminished enthusiasm for the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. Surely some LDP legislators must be wondering whether it is the best use of the government's time and energy when the list of problems affecting Japanese households is so long (and when those households are watching the government's actions closely). And if the government extends the session, it is practically daring Komeito to vote against the bill when it comes before the lower house a second time and thus trigger a general election precisely at the time when it wants to have an election.

Prime Minister Fukuda has promised and will continue to promise that the mission will go on; but even if he manages to pass the bill, the refueling mission might as well be dead. What began as a promising symbol of a new Japanese security role is now a symbol of Japan's unwillingness to play a greater security role.For better or worse, we will likely see the seven-year-old (minus a couple months) refueling mission come to an end, with no mission to replace it. The refueling mission, much heralded in 2001 as a symbol characterizing Japan's emergence as a robust security actor in the region, increasingly looks like the high water mark for Japan's evolving thinking about its place in the world, with Japan once again withdrawing into itself as it struggles to achieve an economic and social revolution without a revolution.

And so it is with the LDP itself. After fifty-three years in power, the very foundations of the LDP rule are crumbling. An article in the Sept. 1 issue of AERA says it all: "Support groups abandoning the LDP." The article observes that traditional LDP backers like the Japan Medical Association and postal workers (obviously) are increasingly open to backing DPJ and other opposition candidates, and concludes: "The governing LDP has overwhelming power, but the traditional structure of a monopolistic relationship with industry appears to be at an end." After what happened to the LDP last summer, this seems to be only the tip of the iceberg. The longer the DPJ sits in control of the upper house, the more Japanese industries — long accustomed to working with the LDP because they had no other choice — are willing and even eager to look to the DPJ for help.

The LDP needs a strong performance in the forthcoming Diet session to have even a chance of returning to power with a majority (forget a supermajority). It needs to deliver concrete results on a number of policy areas, with the economic stimulus package not necessarily the most important in the eyes of voters. With a short Diet session and no concrete plan for coaxing agreement out of the opposition, the government appears to be setting itself up to fail.

I want to note in closing that it is common among some foreign observers of Japanese politics to assume that somehow the LDP will pull through, because the LDP has always managed to survive. That may have been true, but it only explains situations past. It does nothing to predict how the LDP will turn its dire circumstances today into an improbable election victory. I'm open to explanations for how the LDP can do this, but the lack of LDP defeats in the past tells me nothing about the LDP's future, which to me appears bleak and short indeed.

This is a classic example of the problem of induction: the LDP's failure to lose an election over the past fifty-three years (1993 doesn't count as a loss for technical reasons) by no means guarantees that it will not lose an election tomorrow (or next year).

This is, in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's recapitulation in The Black Swan of Bertrand Russell, the turkey problem:
Consider a turkey that is fed every day. Every single feeding will firm up the bird's belief that it is the general rule of life to be fed every day by friendly members of the human race 'looking out for its best interests,' as a politician would say. On the afternoon of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, something unexpected will happen to the turkey. It will incur a revision of belief. (P. 40. See also Ch. 4, passim.)
Of course, the seventy days means the Diet session is scheduled to end in late November.

3 comments:

Noah said...

My suspicion is that many of those Westerners who assume eternal LDP dominance are tacitly racist. They believe that it is the nature of Asian people to respect the ruling authority and fall in line. It is inconceivable to them that an Asian population would rise up and overthrow the Powers That Be. For the same reason, they believe the CCP will rule forever in China, the PAP in Singapore, etc.

History, of course, has clearly proven these people wrong, since there are plenty of examples of both revolution and reform in East Asia, from ancient times to modern-day Korea and Taiwan. The fall of the LDP will hopefully be a wake-up call to those who think East Asians are incapable of standing up.

Anonymous said...

So what is one example of reform rather than revolution in Japanese history?

D. said...

People who assume that the LDP will more than likely continue in power most certainly are not racist, unless one considers many Japanese to be racist themselves about themselves.

One would have to search hard for a example of a revolution from below (citizens, subjects, peasants) in Japanese history. Reform from below? Hmmm. Can't recall any major reforms off the top of my head originating from the people, but perhaps that is just bigotry on my part.

The fact that the past does not predict the future is true, but so true that it is a truism.

I have not taken any polls, but I do not sense any big movement to overthrow the LDP from folks I talk to. There seemed to be more outrage in the late 80s when the LDP instituted the Consumption Tax. Many, including high level business executives, have told me that they prefer the DPJ, but still fear that it would damage the economy.

Will the LDP finally get thrown out for good and not just an election? Couldn't guess. What I do know is that many Western experts have been predicting that the LDP has been on its final legs for decades. Every election won or lost by the party has been said to show that it was losing power.

I'll just play it safe and say that the LDP's dominance will continue because I have heard this all before.

I sincerely hope that I am wrong. Perhaps that is being tacitly racist,though.