Sunday, December 7, 2008

The fall

The Aso cabinet is in free fall.

The Yomiuri Shimbun has released its December public opinion poll, which found that not only has the Aso cabinet's approval rating fallen by half since the beginning of November (from 40.5% to 20.9%), but the cabinet's disapproval rating rose by twenty-five points to 66.7% during the same span of time. The poll contains bad news for the LDP on every front. The DPJ has edged ahead of the LDP in baseline approval rating (28.2% to 27.2%) and opened a commanding lead in support in the next general election (40%, a ten-point increase, to 24%, an eight-point drop) — and, moreover, Ozawa Ichiro scored higher than Prime Minister Aso when respondents were asked who is the most appropriate choice as prime minister (Mr. Ozawa's support rose to 36%, a fourteen-point increase, while Mr. Aso's fell twenty-one points to 29%). This last figure is a critical indicator for the next general election, because voters have not only abandoned Mr. Aso, they also appear to be warming to Mr. Ozawa, depriving the LDP of the argument that no matter how unpopular the LDP is, the public still does not trust Mr. Ozawa.

(For the record, Asahi's monthly tracking poll recorded similar numbers. Twenty-two percent approval rating compared to a sixty-four percent disapproval rating and a dramatic fall and rise in support for Mr. Aso versus Mr. Ozawa for prime minister.)

The only heartening news — if one can call it that — is that more respondents preferred a political realignment over a DPJ-centered or LDP-centered government, or a grand coalition, the second-most preferred option.

Of course, a political realignment is not good news at all for the LDP, seeing as how for the moment the realignment could consume the LDP while leaving the DPJ comparatively unscathed. While Nakagawa Hidenao has spoken of uniting reformers from both parties, it appears for the moment that there is no better cure for the DPJ's internal disputes than the belief that the party is poised to seize power.

But the LDP's reform movement continues apace. Appearing on Fuji TV Sunday, Watanabe Yoshimi doubled down on his challenge to Mr. Aso, suggesting that he is steeling his resolve to overturn the cabinet and arguing that an election at the close of the extraordinary Diet session is essential if Japan's government is to be capable of formulating policy. As MTC argued recently, Mr. Watanabe may be poised to do what his father was unable to do — deliver the death blow to the LDP. It is yet unclear whether he will be able to muster the support to overturn the cabinet, perhaps by voting against the government when one of the bills requiring a second vote by the House of Representatives comes before the lower chamber. He may have some help from Kato Koichi, who could be prepared to make a second bid to overturn an unpopular LDP prime minister and has been in talks with the DPJ and the PNP about electoral cooperation and the formation of a new party. Nakagawa Hidenao, undoubtedly an indispensable player in any rebellion by LDP reformists against Mr. Aso, is reportedly skeptical about leaving the LDP before a general election, presumably because to do so would be to diminish his bloc's bargaining power. At this point the plan seems to be close ranks, prepare to contest a general election under the LDP's banner but in opposition to the standard-bearer, and then see the post-election balance of power. If neither the DPJ nor the LDP achieves a majority, the LDP reformists may make all the difference in determining who controls the government. (Koike Yuriko, one of his lieutenants and another player in the fight between reformists and the LDP establishment, is reportedly "tired" of forming new parties, given that she spent the 1990s jumping from new party to new party. Her attitude may simply be a means of reinforcing Mr. Nakagawa's efforts to proceed deliberately.)

Mr. Aso's allies appear to be closing ranks, with both Abe Shinzo — representing the conservative bloc — and Machimura Nobutaka — representing the party elders — criticizing Mr. Watanabe and the other reformist opponents of the Aso government. Yamamoto Ichita, a natural leader of the reformists, has also been hesitant to echo Mr. Watanabe's full-throated opposition to Mr. Aso. In a post at his blog, he relates what he sees as the honne of the young reformers. Mr. Yamamoto dismisses the idea of replacing Mr. Aso before an election, arguing that the public would be gravely insulted, even if an election were held immediately after the formation of the new cabinet. Furthermore, he suggests that it is unreasonable to think that the LDP will be able to fix its problem simply by finding a new, more dynamic leader (he dismisses this as the Kimu Taku option, referring to Kimura Takuya's teledrama Change). This sounds like another version of Mr. Nakagawa's argument. Hold steady and prepare for the next election, but be ready to act following the election.

In considering the rapid decay of the Aso government, it bears mentioning that the reformist rebellion is not primarily an opportunistic response to the government's falling popularity. As I have argued previously, the rift between the LDP's reformists and the rest of the party has been building for years. Mr. Aso may have forced the rift open by making it clear upon taking office that his government would move away from Koizumi-ism and consolidate the LDP's counter-reformation, making it clear to reformers that the party no longer had a place for them, but he did not create the conflict between the LDP's ideological tendencies. The poll numbers may have provided the reformists with an opportunity to launch their attack, thanks to the combination of public sympathy for their efforts to trigger a realignment and a government powerless to stop their machinations, but this conflict has been a long time coming.

With even the LDP executive beginning to contemplate holding an election in January instead of convening the regular session of the Diet immediately following the New Year holiday to pass a second supplementary budget, the conflict may reach its climax sooner rather than later.

It appears increasingly likely that Mr. Aso will go down in history as having presided over the destruction of the party whose creation his grandfather so vociferously opposed. There is a certain rhythm to history, isn't there?

6 comments:

ZI said...

I have been following your blog and MTC's Shizaku for a few months now, I must say that you guys are making japanese politics absolutely gripping.

Awesome show.

A Foreign Tokyoite said...

There is an argument similiar to yours at FT today:
Japanese premier’s fumbles leave LDP vulnerable
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4a04d94c-c541-11dd-b516-000077b07658.html

But still both yours and theirs commentaries look just at short-term processes documented in newspapers, saying LDP is doing bad, they have some internal problems, who most people could argue that are called in civilized countries - a dialogue, and their going to fail in next elections. And that's all. Unfortunately it is too simplistic. Because a great American once said:

The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.
Thomas Jefferson

What you can blame LDP and all Japanese parties after all is that all of them lack a vision stretching more than one elections period. They fail to explain the general public some basics about the public indebtedness and its future consequences for example.
if you read DPJ and LDP platforms there are very few differences. Only problem is that DPJ is projected as a single-leader cult party, lacking internal dialogue. And that leader has failed yet to deliver anything but big promises.

Cheers,

Tobias Harris said...

Dear Foreign Tokyoite,

You're not reading particularly closely if you think I'm only concerned with short-term processes.

On the contrary, I've argued — repeatedly — that the LDP's collapse is the result of a long-term process. The LDP has not unraveled in six months or six years: at the very least its breakdown dates back to the end of the cold war, if not before.

It sounds like you're reciting LDP talking points, however, when you call the DPJ a leadership cult. I think you greatly exaggerate the reality of the DPJ's internal dynamics. Mr. Ozawa may considerable say on the direction of the DPJ, but not without the consent of his party (consent and legitimacy do not come solely from elections).

If the LDP is so democratic, why are the reformists threatening to break the party?

Anonymous said...

Since I have started reading your blog recently, maybe I have missed out some points.

My basic awe with your blog articles is the hiding idea of the possible turn of events in case of a DPJ-dominated government. Some faces could be different but the basics of the political agenda would be still determined by two major factors :
1) the Nagata-cho bureaucracy
2) the American foreign policy agenda.

One can ask what are the incentives of DPJ dominated Upper House and why are they widely unpopular among general public. You can argue that LDP is in crisis, but it was in similiar situation in 1990s and survived even became stronger. So - if you argue about possible DPJ government - ask yourself - would be caused by better politicians of DPJ or because of public discontent with LDP

You seem to forget that after the meeting of the American ambassador with Ozawa, DPJ somehow started to work on refueling operation law.
Or that in Japan still "leak, sabotage and......"(forgot third word) practices of the Japanese bureaucracy is still valid.


I have recommended you a book. If you haven't read - please read it very careful.

Cheers,

p.s. I might introduce you with a teacher of mine, who writes for Asahi and shares similiar views as yours

Tobias Harris said...

Dear Anonymous,

Any discussion of what a DPJ government will or won't do is total speculation. We can guess, but I'm not certain whether the DPJ's manifesto is a reliable guide to how it will govern, not least because if it somehow wins the next election and forms a government, circumstances will afford the new government little control over policy priorities.

I don't think that DPJ politicians are necessarily better than LDP politicians — some are better, some are no different, some are worse. But that's besides the point. At present, the Japanese people have a simple choice. They can choose an opposition party that is largely unknown but has the virtue of not having been in power to preside over a series of policy failures. Or it can vote for the LDP, whose record is well known. Not an entirely enviable choice, but how many times can the LDP be rewarded for failure?

You tell me that the LDP has been in crisis before and recovered. True. But simply asserting that the LDP has recovered before does not mean that it will survive tomorrow. How? Can you suggest what the LDP can or will do to save itself?

Moreover, I would argue that the LDP never recovered from its crisis in the 1990s — that's precisely my point when I argue that the LDP's breakdown dates back to the early 1990s. It has collapsed in slow motion. Koizumi may have pumped some life into the LDP for a time, but nothing more.

Are you the same anonymous who recommended Ethan Scheiner's book? If you are, you'll notice that I have read it and reviewed it on this blog.

dr datsun kildare said...

Chrysler recovered from a crisis in the 1970's and look where it is now!!