Sunday, August 31, 2008

Komeito riles the LDP

It is safe to assume that when Mori Yoshiro admonishes someone, the mood in the LDP is bleaker than previously thought.

Mr. Mori, whose mission is not the advancement of an agenda of reform or reaction but the preservation of LDP primacy, has taken it upon himself to use his bully pulpit as a former prime minister and head of the party's largest faction to warn those who threaten the LDP's position that they are mistaken. (See his criticism of Nakagawa Shoichi for his dealings with LDP exile Hiranuma Takeo, for example.)

With Mr. Mori's criticism of Komeito, we can now be sure that the LDP's guardians are panicked now that the coalition's long-silent partner has discovered that it holds the balance in the nejire kokkai.

Speaking at a Komeito event in Ishikawa prefecture Sunday, Mr. Mori — in Yomiuri's reckoning (note the passive voice) — "was seen to have as its purpose the containment of Komeito's growing distance from the Fukuda government." It bears mentioning that Jiji's report on Mr. Mori's remarks paint them in a different light, as a defense of the recently announced stimulus package shared with Komeito leader Ota Akihiro. Yomiuri's emphasis on the perceived threat to Komeito actually reinforces the idea that Mr. Mori's remarks hint at the depth of the fears of the LDP's doyens in the face of an invigorated Komeito; if any press organ shares the philosophy of Mr. Mori and the other risk-averse LDP elders, it is Yomiuri.

And they should be afraid.

Only now, a year into the divided Diet in which Komeito, thanks to its status as the guarantor of the lower house supermajority, holds power disproportionate to its numbers, is the junior partner beginning to flex its muscles and push for a lowest common denominator consensus. I had anticipated Komeito playing such a role in the Fukuda government, but I didn't anticipate that it would take a year before Komeito began to take its position seriously.

It appears to be making up for lost time, pushing for a late start to an abbreviated Diet session that could spare Komeito from having to vote for the renewal of the MSDF refueling mission, trumpeting a stimulus package that appears to be little more than a sop to its supporters (i.e., "energy subsidies for businesses most hit by higher energy costs, medical benefits for the elderly"), and generally using its clout to cajole the government (on the date of Prime Minister Fukuda's policy speech, for example).

The Fukuda government is increasingly looking like a lame duck, with Komeito increasingly looking like the probable executioner. Jun Okumura suggests that on the issue of the refueling mission — which will once again casts a shadow over the extraordinary session — it is theoretically possible for the LDP to overrule the upper house without Komeito's votes, provided Komeito's members stay away from the vote. Maybe so, but presumably the price of Komeito's staying away will be steep (perhaps even the power to decide the date of the next election?). Is Mr. Fukuda prepared to pay such a price, particularly on an issue that has little payoff for his political prospects? Beyond Mr. Fukuda, how will the LDP's members take Komeito's growing clout? Arguably Komeito's growing activism could fuel the conservative revolt against Mr. Fukuda. Japan's conservatives are, to the say the least, dubious about Komeito, its mother organization Soka Gakkai, and Ikeda Daisaku, the head of Soka Gakkai. Excessive deference to Komeito could well be the final straw for the LDP's conservatives.

Given a choice between acquiescing to Komeito and pushing for a general election that may be disastrous for the LDP, the conservatives may be drawn to the latter, seeing as how it would likely mean the end of both the LDP's partnership with Komeito and the Fukuda adminstration, clearing the way for the rise of their champion, Aso Taro.

All of which suggests that Mr. Mori's pleas will be useless. Like King Canute, Mr. Mori is trying to hold back forces beyond his control.

What is the DPJ to do in the midst of the feuding within the coalition?

Hokkaido University's Yamaguchi Jiro argues, "Now is the time for DPJ politicians to walk about the regions, see people's hardships, and hear their miserable hopes regarding politics."

"In the extraordinary session of the Diet," he continues, "the opposition should take the line of all-out confrontation. The lame-duck Fukuda administration lacks the skill and the legitimacy for policy discussions. If Komeito is opposed to reapproval in the lower house, important legislation cannot be passed at all."

Professor Yamaguchi's advice is probably sound. There is little the DPJ can and should do at this point than take the party's case directly to the people, call attention to the government's short-sightedness and disarray, and prepare the party for a general election that looks increasingly likely to occur by year's end.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Observing Japan on Radio Australia

I recorded an interview on Japanese agricultural policy for a story that aired on Radio Australia.

Not my most articulate media appearance, but readers can listen to the story here. Ken Worsley of Japan Economy News was also interviewed.

The dissidents depart

In an unexpected but not wholly surprising move, the DPJ's upper-house dissidents will announce Thursday that they're leaving the DPJ to form their own party, citing the DPJ's failure to put the people before politics as the reason for their departure.

The rebels — Watanabe Hideo and Oe Yasuhiro (both representatives from the DPJ national PR list) — infamously voted with the government on its plans for road construction and the temporary gasoline tax. They also opposed the DPJ's position on the Bank of Japan succession, and Mr. Oe abstained from the vote on the upper house's censure motion of Prime Minister Fukuda, citing poor health. (They will also, it seems, take Himei Yumiko, a first-term upper house member from Okayama from the DPJ too.)

In short, these two members opted for the Lieberman approach, nominally members of the DPJ who helped prop up opposition control of the upper house, but opposed the DPJ on every important issue of the ordinary Diet session.

The problem is that both Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Oe owe their political careers to the DPJ, seeing as how they were elected on the national list. As MTC asked when they voted against the government, "Can one walk out with a proportional seat? Or leave with it under one's arm after being expelled from the party?"

Apparently they can, and suffer no consequence for their desertion. The DPJ executive is reportedly trying to persuade them to stay in the party, in fact.

However, seeing as how they already decided to support the government on important matters and seeing as how the new party will number a total of five (two independents in addition to the three deserters), Messrs. Watanabe and Mr. Oe will be quickly forgotten. The DPJ is still the largest party in the upper house, and the caucus has been cleansed of two members who made very clear that they had little interest in having "DPJ" after their names.

This is another sign, however, of just how little power the DPJ has over its more willful members.

In fact, another willful DPJ member was flaunting his independence Wednesday. Maehara Seiji, the hawkish former party leader who made a big show of criticizing Ozawa Ichiro's leadership and emphasizing the need for a contested election earlier in the summer before backing down, spoke at the Foreign Correspondents Club. He reiterated the importance of an electoral challenge to Mr. Ozawa in next month's leadership election, and blamed himself for failing to play "a coordinating role." He hardly sounds like someone who has come to acknowledge the wisdom of uniting in preparation for a general election. He also emphasized the need for a substantial Japanese contribution in Afghanistan, a proposal that is unlikely to receive an enthuasiastic response from his party (although who knows what Mr. Ozawa is thinking this year on Afghanistan).

The DPJ shouldn't overreact to the independence of members like Mr. Maehara. Their independence shows that the idea of Mr. Ozawa's "dictatorial" control of the DPJ is mostly a myth. There's little the party executive can do anyway. Better off letting the young turks speak their minds instead of cornering them and forcing them to choose between staying in the party, subdued or leaving to form their own party or joint the LDP.

UPDATE: The new micro-party is called the "Reform Club."

Thinking more about this, I can't help but wonder how this happened. In Mr. Watanabe's case, it seems that his was only the slightest of attachments to the DPJ. A six-term lower house member who had served as a secretary to Nakasone Yasuhiro and postal minister, he lost his seat to Tanaka Makiko and was cast adrift, winding up as a Liberal Party PR candidate in the 1998 upper house election. Mr. Watanabe apparently nurses a grudge against Mr. Ozawa dating from the merger between the Liberal Party and the DPJ, after which Mr. Ozawa failed to support Mr. Watanabe in the 2004 upper house election. Mr. Oe apparently nurses a similar grudge against Mr. Ozawa, and would not be out of place in the LDP's "True Conservative Study Group."

In short, the Reform Club is an overdue consequence of the merger between the DPJ and the more conservative Liberal Party. Why Mr. Ozawa tolerated their presence for long is the question? I can understand that once Mr. Watanabe won his seat in 2004 there was little Mr. Ozawa could do about him. But how did Mr. Oe find a place on the party list last year? Yes, he had been elected on the Liberal list in 2001, but given his hostility — which presumably existed prior to July 2007 — couldn't he have been dropped? Was the DPJ that desperate for experienced candidates that it would take whoever it could find who had political experience? If so, I hope Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ have learned their lesson.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

APSA blogging

I imagine that some of my readers may be in Boston for this year's APSA annual meeting.

I'm planning on attending, and will be at a number of Asia-related panels (and possibly blog about what I hear).

If you'll be at APSA, feel free to drop me a line (

UPDATE: Blogging will depend on whether panels are on- or off-record. Can anyone confirm one way or the other?

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.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Will the DPJ's uncontested election have consequences?

Noda Yoshihiko's decision not to challenge Ozawa Ichiro for the DPJ presidency has prompted the expected comments from LDP politicians about the DPJ's failings.

Aso Taro, never one to hold his tongue, said Saturday in Kagoshima, "A party leadership election is an especially good opportunity to fight over policy. If one cannot speak without hesitation, is it an open people's party?"

Writing at his blog, Nakagawa Hidenao approvingly cited a Sankei editorial that questioned whether the DPJ can truly be called democratic. He criticized DPJ backbenchers for their weakness in the face of Mr. Ozawa, for their fears that opposing Mr. Ozawa would harm their electoral prospects. (That might sound similar to my own argument — more in a moment — but I don't begrudge their anti-Ozawa group their cowardice. They were being perfectly rational in weighing the consequences for their careers in challenging Mr. Ozawa.)

Finally, Yamauchi Koichi, the Koizumi child whose blog seems to shadow Mr. Nakagawa's, declared that Mr. Noda's decision marked "the beginning of the end of the DPJ."

(Naturally they will also be criticizing coalition partner Komeito for the uncontested election it will be holding two days after the DPJ's.)

As I've noted before, the crowing of LDP reformists like Messrs. Nakagawa and Yamauchi speaks more about their position within the LDP than the failings of the DPJ. Marginalized by the very infighting that Mr. Nakagawa praises as healthy for a political party, they are reduced to weak attempts to cut the DPJ down to size, to deprive it of reformist credentials in the hope that the public will look to the LDP for reform, as it did under Koizumi Junichiro.

The idea that the DPJ will suffer a blow to its reputation — at least a blow severe enough to hurt it at the polls come election time — is laughable; I doubt that the voting public will be distracted by such sophistry, especially with the economy going down the tubes. The next general election, despite the best efforts of LDP spinmeisters, will be about the LDP's rule since 2005 (and before). It will not be a referendum on the DPJ's fitness to govern.

MTC argues, in fact, that the DPJ dodged a bullet by not having a contested election in which the party's platform from the 2007 upper house campaign would be picked apart piece by piece. MTC explains at length why Mr. Ozawa's apparent reversion to baramaki seiji — a favorite slander of the aforementioned LDP politicians — should not be taken at face value.

"It is Ozawa's intent to go back to the rural voters, the ones who voted for the Democrats in 2007 praying that the Democrats would bring the revival of special subsidies, tax cuts or government handouts, and say to them, 'Sorry, as you know, I have argued long and hard for you to get the help you deserve but the b_____ds in the House of Representatives have turned down every one of my proposals. We need your votes to kick these b_____ds out of office.'

"Ozawa is guessing -- and it is a reasonable guess -- that he can go to the well twice with the same set of promises."

I am in absolute agreement with MTC on his account of Mr. Ozawa's designs. I think this is precisely what the DPJ leader has in mind, and what's more, I think it will work: the battle for the twenty-nine single-member districts last summer was just a warmup for the campaign for lower house seats in the same prefectures, prefectures in which the DPJ has performed poorly in the past two general elections. Given just how little progress the LDP has made since its defeat last summer, there is good reason to believe that it will work again.

And so I accept MTC's argument that a party election would have done more harm than good. But only slight harm, I think, especially since no candidate emerged until late in the summer. An abbreviated campaign, long after Mr. Ozawa consolidated the necessary support to win, would have been windowdressing, and little more. Mr. Noda might have scored a point or two, but he would not have been able to undermine the manifesto wholesale, as Mr. Maehara and others have hoped to do earlier in the summer.

Meanwhile, I still maintain that the cowardice of the DPJ's young turks is part of the story of why Mr. Ozawa will be reelected uncontested next month. Perhaps cowardice is the wrong word. Extreme risk averseness? Mr. Maehara and others have good reason for not following through on their destructive path that would have turned the leadership election into outright civil war. There was little to gain from such a course. If somehow they were able to defeat Mr. Ozawa, the party that they would claim as spoils would likely be so broken that their victory would mean the inevitable end of the DPJ (pace Mr. Yamauchi, who thinks that not having an election is the beginning of the end for the DPJ). If Mr. Ozawa fended off their challenge, they would be finished within the party. Either way, a brutal campaign following upon Mr. Maehara's bold rhetoric would lead to a dead end for the young turks. In the face of these circumstances, naturally they were collectively reluctant to take the final step.

MTC may be right that they were also swayed by the electoral consequences of a contested election. Perhaps Mr. Maehara became aware of the dangerous path he was on when LDP officials began praising him. But I think — and this is just a product of my basic assumptions — that they were first swayed by the personal consequences of a challenge to Mr. Ozawa. Not because of pressure from Mr. Ozawa himself (as argued by Jun Okumura): if the press narrative is to be believed, Mr. Ozawa gave nary a thought to the party election. While some DPJ members came out publicly on behalf of an uncontested election, Hatoyama Yukio praised some of the potential challengers and endorsed the idea of a contested election. He might have been acting differently in private, but the public message was designed to dial down the intensity in the event of a contested election, not stamp out the very idea of dissent.

The point is that Mr. Ozawa and the other party leaders ultimately have little to fear from the dissenters. Policy rifts continue to exist, but young turks in both the DPJ and the LDP appear to lack the willingness to reject their parties and go off on their own. Hence the proliferation of nonpartisan study groups, which it increasingly seems are not proto-parties but substitutes for the parties the young turks might form if they could do so with minimal risks.

Faced with a situation that could very well have resulted in their being forced to break with the DPJ, the party's young turks have backed off, presumably saving their energy for a fight with better odds and in the meantime devoting their energy to study groups.

In the meantime, the party remains in the hands of the formidable Mr. Ozawa.

The onslaught begins

Last week, when Amari Akira announced his support for Aso Taro's taking over for Fukuda Yasuo when the latter's public approval dips below twenty percent, I wondered, "Will Mr. Amari's remarks be followed by a series of leaks to the press from anonymous LDP sources about disarray in the government and Mr. Fukuda's inadequacies as leaders, in the hope that a whisper campaign can drive the approval rating down to Mr. Amari's target?"

Nakagawa Shoichi, the "N" in the NASA and HANA clubs, creator of the "True Conservative Policy Study Group," and like Mr. Amari a confidante of Mr. Aso, lambasted Mr. Fukuda in remarks in Hokkaido Saturday, criticizing "do-nothing politics" and the "do-nothing prime minister."

The context of his remarks was a call for greater economic stimulus that includes tax cuts on investments and financial flows (echoing METI's plan for tax reform that encourages Japanese companies to repatriate profits earned abroad).

Nevertheless, the message is unmistakable: Mr. Nakagawa and other conservatives are clearly interested in damaging Mr. Fukuda's image in the hope of pushing his numbers down to the threshhold identified by Mr. Amari.

But apparently I was wrong to think that pressure on Mr. Fukuda would take the form of an "anonymous" whisper campaign, because far from being something as subtle as a whisper campaign, Mr. Nakagawa opted for a frontal assault against the prime minister.

I doubt that this will be the last we hear from the conservatives. They clearly smell the blood in the water. And Mr. Aso appears to be helping his own cause by refusing to let the furor over MAFF Minister Ota Seiichi's remarks die.

So who's next? Suga Yoshihide, the "S" in the NASA club (who still holds a party leadership post as vice chairman of the LDP's election strategy committee)? Or Abe Shinzo himself? I expect, however, that being a member of the Machimura faction Mr. Abe will receive a stern reprimand from Mr. Mori should he join the chorus. Not that that would stop him.

The point is that this appears to be only the beginning of a conservative campaign to undermine Mr. Fukuda's image in the hope of driving him out. The question remains whether the prime minister will exercise his nuclear option — calling a general election — instead of yielding to pressure to step down.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Noda backs down

I wrote on Wednesday that Noda Yoshihiko was prepared to stand against Ozawa Ichiro in the September DPJ leadership election.

It seems, however, that Mr. Noda's own faction is reluctant to back him.

(As of Friday morning, Mr. Noda has announced that he will not be running against Mr. Ozawa next month. It seems that Mr. Ozawa will get his uncontested election to a third term after all.)

He met with the executives of the Noda group Thursday, who cautioned prudence and appealed for party unity. The Noda group has twenty-four members, a third of which are first-term Diet members, who appear unwilling to rebel against Mr. Ozawa. The result is that Mr. Noda may find it difficult to find the requisite twenty Diet members to endorse his candidacy, although the Maehara group may step in to provide the necessary support.

Whether there is or isn't a contested DPJ leadership election at this point is irrelevant. In their tendency to speak loudly against Mr. Ozawa's leadership only to back down from overtly challenging it, it seems that the DPJ's young turks have revealed their cravenness. For all their bluster, none was willing to risk his career to present their arguments as a candidate for the leadership. Perhaps they shouldn't be blamed: Mr. Ozawa's position is unassailable.

But what this episode should take some air out of the suspicions that Maehara Seiji and his compatriots are in cahoots with certain LDP members and looking for their first opportunity to jump from the party. If they are unwilling to take the risk of going down to defeat in a party leadership election, why would they be willing to take the far riskier step of defecting from the party and striking out on their own?

The DPJ's unity, it seems, is assured.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What will be the impact of the Chinese ASBM on the US-Japan alliance?

Reports are emerging that in the process of enhancing its short- and medium-range ballistic missile forces, China is also developing the world's first anti-ship ballistic missile, similar to the DF-21, a ballistic missile with a range of 1800 kilometers. (Whether the new version will have a similar range remains to be seen — it may in fact have a longer range.)

This could pose a major threat to US naval forces in East Asia in the event of a crisis.

As Richard Fisher, Jr. writes at the International Assessment and Strategy Center (Hat tip: NOSI):
China's new ASBMs pose a strategic as well as a tactical challenge to U.S. forces in Asia. At present the U.S. does not have anti-missile capabilities to defend large U.S. ships against this threat, so vulnerable targets, most importantly aircraft carriers, will have to remain out of missile range in order to survive. This factor will further limit the effectiveness of their already range-challenged F/A-18E/F fighter bombers. U.S. Aegis cruisers and destroyers now being outfitted with new SM-3 interceptors with upgraded radar and processing capabilities may in the future be configured to deal with this threat, but if so, they may not be available for other missions, like protecting people. The fact is that no anti-missile system is going to come close to providing reliable defense. For China, ASBMs provide a means for saturating U.S. ships with missiles. While ASBMs are bearing down from above, their attack can be coordinated with waves of submarine, air and ship-launched anti-ship cruise missiles.
Sam Roggeveen at The Interpreter recently noted that the US is waking up to the threat posed by a Chinese ASBM. Roggeveen notes that for the moment one saving grace is that it is difficult to find an aircraft carrier at sea. He also notes that the US is shifting its priorities to reflect the new threat.

But what Roggeveen doesn't address is the threat posed by the new ASBM to US naval assets berthed in Japanese ports, most notably US fleet activities Yokosuka, the future home of the USS George Washington and the headquarters of the US Seventh Fleet. It may be difficult to find an aircraft carrier and its escorts at sea, but it is considerably easier to find them in their home port, as the accompanying image from Google Maps shows. (That's the USS Kitty Hawk to the right side of the map.)

View Larger Map

Google Maps also tells me that Yokosuka is less than 1400 kilometers from Tonghua in China's Jilin province, home to some Chinese DF-21 launchers.

The question I have is whether the Chinese ASBM will render US naval forward deployments in Japan obsolete, in that homeporting an aircraft carrier in Yokosuka may leave it vulnerable to a crippling first strike before even leaving port. Are anti-ballistic missile deployments in Japan — both by the US military and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces — reliable enough to protect US forces while in Japanese ports?

If not, hadn't the US and Japan be having a serious discussion about the impact of China's ASBMs on the future of US forward deployments in Japan, and with them, the future of the US-Japan alliance? Should the US consider relocating more assets from Japan to Guam to put them out of the range of ASBMs?

This is all speculative given that next to nothing is known about the specifications of the new missile, but its impact is potentially drastic. It's certainly something to watch.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Noda to step in front of the Ozawa train

After months of deliberation, one of the DPJ's young turks opposed to the leadership of Ozawa Ichiro has indicated that he is prepared to step forward to run against Mr. Ozawa in next month's leadership election.

Noda Yoshihiko, head of a small DPJ faction close with Maehara Seiji's group and the chairman of the DPJ's public relations committee, has indicated that he is finalizing plans to challenge Mr. Ozawa in his bid for a third term as DPJ president.

Even with Mr. Noda's candidacy, the outcome of the election is not in doubt. Mr. Ozawa appears to have the support of more than half the party's Diet members, and also enjoys considerable support among the party's local chapters and the party's nominees for the next general election (who also have a vote in the election).

The DPJ leadership has its patsy: Mr. Noda will spare the party the "embarrassment" of an uncontested leadership election. (The LDP members who have hammered on this point surely deserve some credit for making an issue of the perceived lack of democracy within the DPJ.) Mr. Noda's late announcement is truly the best possible outcome for the DPJ. By waiting this long to step forward, Mr. Noda has spared the party of a summer of DPJ civil war, which would have undoubtedly dominated the political headlines and undermined the party's public image. Given that the party's ruling troika is thinking more about the possibility of an autumn general election than the leadership election, the leadership election will be largely perfunctory.

Mr. Noda — renowned, at least according to his Japanese Wikipedia entry, as the party's best orator (he reportedly spoke for twelve hours straight outside Tsudanuma station in Chiba in his first campaign for the lower house) — will likely suffer little from having been defeated by Mr. Ozawa, and will be in a position to run again in a future party election. And the party's young turks now have their candidate who can vent their grievances about Mr. Ozawa's leadership.

They better hurry: the election is a month away.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Amari calls for Aso

In the wake of Mori Yoshiro's "endorsement" of Aso Taro on Sunday, Amari Akira, METI minister in the first Fukuda cabinet, gave a full-throated call on Mr. Aso's behalf on the BS11 program "Inside Out."

"In the event that the Fukuda cabinet's approval rating falls beneath twenty percent," he said, "calls for a reorganization of the leadership will come forth from LDP members insecure about an election. A consensus has been achieved within the party for that time: Secretary-General Aso Taro."

Given that Mr. Amari is one of the conservatives close to Mr. Aso — he is one of the so-called NASA club, along with Nakagawa Shoichi (N), Mr. Aso (A), and Suga Yoshihide (S) — it is tempting to dismiss his remarks as fully expected and thus indicative of nothing new.

But it is telling that Mr. Amari followed immediately after Mr. Mori. Mr. Mori may have, whether he intended to or not, declared open season on Fukuda Yasuo. Note how Mr. Amari framed his remarks: he (and Mr. Aso himself?) is not content to wait until events unfold and an election is held. Considering that the cabinet approval rating is hovering in the mid-20s still — remind me why the prime minister reshuffled? — twenty percent is not particularly distant. Will Mr. Amari's remarks be followed by a series of leaks to the press from anonymous LDP sources about disarray in the government and Mr. Fukuda's inadequacies as leaders, in the hope that a whisper campaign can drive the approval rating down to Mr. Amari's target?

What would the prime minister do in the face of such an onslaught? Would he capitulate and step down, or would he exercise his nuclear option and call a general election?

Last year Mr. Aso and Yosano Kaoru were rumored to have carried out a coup against Abe Shinzo. Are we about to see an actual Aso coup? Will September see another prime minister resign?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Aso's the one for Mori

After months of appearing immune to Aso Taro's relentless courting of his support, Mori Yoshiro said on a TV Asahi program Sunday that he supports Mr. Aso as Prime Minister Fukuda's successor: "Aso's popularity must be used greatly for our party. Many within the party have the 'Aso is next' mood. I too think that."

He does not, however, appear to support replacing Mr. Fukuda with Mr. Aso before the next election.

Rather, it seems that Mr. Mori believes that the best use of Mr. Aso is to have him serve as the face of the party in his capacity as LDP secretary-general during a general election campaign and then ride in to save the party in the aftermath of what could be a disaster for the LDP.

The timing of the leadership election will make all the difference in whether we see an LDP president (and Prime Minister) Aso.

Naturally if LDP malcontents manage to maneuver Mr. Fukuda into resigning before a general election, Mr. Aso will likely have no problem winning the prize. Mr. Mori's endorsement may settle the question of who the Machimura faction will back. The faction, which has been home to the past four prime ministers, has been unable to decide who from its ranks should receive the party's backing. Former LDP secretary-general Nakagawa Hidenao backs faction member Koike Yuriko; former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo backs Mr. Aso; Machimura Nobutaka, the chief cabinet secretary, has been able to garner little enthusiasm for a bid for the leadership. With Mr. Mori's backing, however, Mr. Aso could be the faction's choice, giving him the votes of the LDP's largest faction. The Machimura faction may yet break, particularly if someone like Ms. Koike were to run an insurgent campaign for the leadership, but other things being equal, the support of Mr. Mori is a major coup for Mr. Aso.

But after a general election, especially one in which the LDP suffers a catastrophic loss? Will the LDP — or what's left of it — be eager to hand over the reins to one who led the party into the campaign? In short, it's difficult to predict what an LDP leadership race following the next general election because it's difficult to predict what the LDP will look like following the next general election.

So Mr. Aso, don't break out the champagne yet.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Fukuda standoff

After weeks of debate within the LDP and between the LDP and Komeito, the government has suggested that the autumn extraordinary session is likely to begin no earlier than mid-September. A final decision will be made on Tuesday, 19 Aug.

As MTC notes, the late start means that the future of the Maritime Self Defense Forces refueling mission in the Indian Ocean is bleak, provided that the DPJ remains uniformly opposed and Komeito fearful of partaking in the use of Article 59 to override the upper house (a procedure that would, given the late start of the session, likely entail yet another extension of a Diet session). MTC also notes that the late start ensures that the government will focus its efforts on a supplementary budget containing economic stimulus measures, instead of structural reform. The government's priorities were made clear following a meeting between Prime Minister Fukuda, LDP Secretary-General Aso Taro, and LDP Diet strategist Oshima Tadanori.

MTC suggests that the abbreviated Diet session guarantees an early election.

I'm not so sure. I'm certainly not willing to rule out the possibility, but the situation strikes me as more complex than mere election timing. The LDP and Mr. Fukuda are increasingly in a standoff, with Mr. Fukuda as prime minister holding the bomb of an early election that could spell doom for the party's majority. It is increasingly clear that the LDP would like to coax the weapon out of the hands of the cornered prime minister, especially with the resurrected Aso Taro looking increasingly like the man to lead the LDP to a less-than-disastrous finish in the next general election.

A recent Yomiuri poll found the new LDP secretary-general to be the overwhelming favorite answer to the question of who would make the most appropriate prime minister: twenty-five percent of respondents favored him, compared to thirteen percent for Koizumi Junichiro, ten percent for Ozawa Ichiro, and three percent for Mr. Fukuda, DPJ acting president Kan Naoto, and health, labor, and welfare minister Masuzoe Yoichi.

I have doubts that even the popular Mr. Aso can save the wreck of the LDP, but if enough LDP members convince themselves that he is their only hope — this may already be the case — Mr. Fukuda could face a choice between holding on to power (futilely) by calling an election before he can be removed, or quietly ceding the reins to a successor, presumably Mr. Aso, at the end of the extraordinary session.

It seems to have come down to this: by year's end there will either be an LDP presidential election or a general election.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Fukuda government's China tightrope walk

The gyoza scandal reopened just as the Beijing Olympics opened, with the Fukuda government on the defensive in light of revelations that it acceded to the Chinese government's request that Tokyo not release information about the presence of poisoned dumplings within China.

Part of the problem is a statement by newly appointed MAFF minister Ota Seiichi, who reportedly described Japanese consumers as "noisy."

As Jun Okumura notes, reading Mr. Ota's remarks in the proper context suggests that Mr. Ota's remarks as perfectly banal and inoffensive: Japan is a democracy, and when consumers complain the government must listen; China is an autocracy, and the CCP can hide information and ignore the public. Mr. Ota's remarks would be controversial only if he was speaking longingly about the CCP's ability to ignore the "noisy" public. I don't think he was. (Although I'm sure that some LDP officials — perhaps even Abe Shinzo, despite his professed love of democracy — envy the Chinese communists for their freedom from oversight, public accountability, press scrutiny, and the other "encumberances" of democracy.)

Nevertheless, members of the LDP and Komeito will continue to fret about the consequences of the backlash, and the DPJ will continue to exploit the "gaffe" as best as it can.

But this whole affair suggests something important about the Japanese public's attitudes towards China. Obviously the biggest story in Yomiuri's recent poll surveying Japanese attitudes about China and Chinese attitudes about Japan was that Chinese respondents were more positive about Japan than Japanese respondents were about China, but there is more to it than that. While Japanese respondents are undoubtedly concerned about Chinese military power — when asked how they think of China, 57.4% of 1828 respondents said they see it as a country strengthening its military — they are also not implacably hostile to China. Respondents were almost overwhelmingly positive about Hu Jintao's visit to Japan in May and Japan's assistance to China following the Sichuan earthquake, suggesting that there are steps both governments can take to build a sound foundation for Sino-Japanese relations. And given tepid support among the Japanese people for full-fledged remilitarization, fears of the growing strength of the PLA do not necessarily translate into support for a policy line that wouild see Japan try to compete with China in an East Asian cold war. Recall that in the Cabinet Office's latest poll on defense issues — now two years old, so possibly dated, although given the margins I would imagine the change over two years isn't too great (although isn't it high time for a new one?)— only 16.5% of respondents wanted to see the JSDF's strength enhanced, while 65.7% said it was fine as is (the latter nearly four percentage points above the previous survey result).

But what the gyoza scandal tells us is that while the Japanese people do not want to militarize Japan's relationship with China, they do want their government to show more backbone in bilateral negotiations, a desire that surely applies to Japan's relations with countries other than China. That naturally puts the Japanese government in a tough position. In the gyoza scandal, what would the Fukuda government have gained by denying China's request and immediately revealing the new information to the public? Less of a public uproar, perhaps, but an even less conciliatory China. More importantly, the Japanese public is probably going to be less forgiving of their government's weakness in dealings with China when the bilateral issues impact Japanese households directly (i.e., tainted produts). Seikatsu remains dai-ichi, even in the Sino-Japanese relationship.

And so the Fukuda government is left trying to appease the Japanese public — hence the prime minister's rebuke to Mr. Ota — while trying to accentuate the positive in relations with China — hence the dispatch of Foreign Minister Komura during the Olympics. But outside observers should not mistake a public agitated over relations with China with a public eager to see Japan compete toe-to-toe with China in military affairs.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

LDP reformers on the DPJ election

Ozawa Ichiro's path to reelection as head of the DPJ is increasingly open. Despite bold words from the leading lights of the DPJ's anti-Ozawa wing, one after the other has opted not to challenge Mr. Ozawa in next month's election for the party leadership.

Despite demands form Maehara Seiji and his fellow young turks that the DPJ use the leadership election to debate the party's manifesto, not one of them as been willing to sacrifice himself in order to force said debate.

Should the DPJ worry about Mr. Ozawa's being reelected uncontested? Hatoyama Yukio, the party's secretary-general, isn't concerned about the possibility of an uncontested election.

However, Nakagawa Hidenao and Yamauchi Koichi, standard bearer of the LDP's reformers and first-term Koizumi Kid respectively, both think that an uncontested DPJ election is a sign of a serious deficiency in the DPJ (and presumably an opportunity for the LDP to exploit in a general election campaign). Both comment on an article in the Tokyo Shimbun by Sasaki Takeshi, a professor at Gakushuin, in which he criticizes the idea of an uncontested party election. To Professor Sasaki (and Messrs. Nakagawa and Yamauchi), party elections play an important role in calibrating the party's public presence in advance of an election.

It seems to me that the LDP's reformists are desperate to find a way to halt the DPJ's gains. Naturally both men — especially Mr. Yamauchi, who is especially vulnerable in the next general election — need to recast the DPJ as a party of reaction and the LDP as the party of reform without sanctuaries. Mr. Yamauchi uses this discussion to remind readers of his participation in an study group calling for reforms to the LDP's election process. Party elections, he says, should be manifesto elections.

Why? Why must party leaders be elected on the basis of their platforms, as opposed to other reasons (political acumen, charisma, managerial competence, etc.)? A party election is not a primary, a lead-in to a general election. It is an internal administrative matter that is about more than just the party's platform. The alternative to "manifesto elections" is not dictatorship — both the LDP and the DPJ have organs for debating policy questions.

The enthusiasm with which the last of the Koizumians have seized upon the DPJ's perceived failings is a sign of just how vulnerable their position in the LDP is. Mr. Nakagawa believes that the LDP has changed "from the LDP that protects vested interests" to the "reform LDP that destroys vested interests." Will the voters believe that the LDP has followed through on this claim in the years since Koizumi Junichiro left office? More importantly, are they satisfied with the idea of "destroying vested interests," or do they desire a more constructive approach to Japan's problems?

As I've argued before, I have a hard time believing, in light of the events of the three years since the 2005 general election, that voters will be casting their votes on the basis of the DPJ's fitness to govern.

Blogging again

I must apologize for the absence of the past several days.

Between moving to Greater Boston and being transfixed by events in the Caucasus, I've found it hard to write about developments in Japanese politics.

Blogging will resume momentarily.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Maehara will not run

In case there were any doubts about Ozawa Ichiro's reelection chances as head of the DPJ, Maehara Seiji has announced that despite his problems with Ozawa Ichiro's leadership, he will not run against Mr. Ozawa in the September leadership election.

Speaking at Japan's national press club Wednesday, Mr. Maehara reiterated his desire to see a new debate on the party's election manifesto, but said he would not be running against Mr. Ozawa.

Mr. Ozawa, however, rejected suggestions that the party should revisit the manifesto upon which it won the upper house in 2007: "Just one year ago we debated and drafted a manifesto. For a general election in the fall, how would we explain the differences from last year?"

The marginal benefits of reopening a debate on the manifesto in order to clarify some issues are probably outweighed by the costs of airing the party's dirty laundry any further. And if Mr. Maehara and the other discontents are unwilling to stand for the party leadership and use the campaign to advance their ideas, why should the party overextend itself to accommodate their concerns?

I noted yesterday that Mr. Ozawa should be magnanimous to his rivals, but his magnanimity should not be boundless.

Too significant a revision would only exacerbate intra-party tensions and make the DPJ's beliefs even less clear to the public. But some revision, especially in terms of providing a more detailed account of the party's governing priorities and a map to how it intends to proceed upon taking office would be helpful.

Ozawa unconcerned

The campaign for the DPJ's 21 Sept. leadership election will begin in just over one month.

Not surprisingly, no candidate has stepped forward to challenge Ozawa Ichiro in his bid for a third time. Mr. Ozawa has announced that he will not be thinking about the party election until after next week's Obon holiday.

One by one, potential challengers have stepped forward only to back down in the face of overwhelming odds.

In late July, Okada Katsuya, the great, white hope of the anti-Ozawa groups, dropped hints that he was thinking strongly about a bid to return to the helm of the DPJ. He acted quickly, however, to snuff out any talk of his candidacy, declaring he had no great desire to run. Mr. Okada spells out his reasoning in a post at his blog, noting that while he doesn't want to run, he does want a discussion on the party's manifesto for the next general election, which he thinks must be more specific to strengthen the party's position in the general election campaign.

Edano Yukio, a member of the Maehara group, and Noda Yoshihiko, head of a small conservative DPJ faction close to the Maehara group, have stated their desire to oppose Mr. Ozawa in September, but neither man has made his candidacy offical. Both have said that they'll decide later this month; Asahi says that the Maehara group and its satellite prefer Mr. Okada or Mr. Noda to Mr. Edano or Sengoku Yoshito, who hinted at a run for the leadership earlier this summer.

Given that the campaign is shaping up to be the Maehara-Noda bloc versus the rest of the party, Mr. Ozawa can surely rest easy and act magnanimously towards his rivals.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Recipe for disaster

The more I look at the new Fukuda cabinet and its first days in office, the more I'm convinced that the Fukuda cabinet is, in MTC's words, designed to "set up the LDP for a wipeout in the next House of Representatives election."

In bringing Kaoru Yosano into the cabinet while also giving Nakagawa Hidenao a post as the head of the LDP's national strategy headquarters, Fukuda Yasuo has merely guaranteed that the LDP's divisions have been transposed onto the national government.

For the moment, all the government and LDP may be "Nakagawans" now — in that the emphasis will be on growth and reform — as Mr. Nakagawa triumphantly notes at his blog. Machimura Nobutaka, speaking on TV Sunday, noted that due to slowing growth (not to mention a general election within the next year), a consumption tax hike would be "difficult." Aso Taro, the new LDP secretary-general, echoed the chief cabinet secretary in a press conference Tuesday at which he declared that achieving a balanced budget by 2011 is fine as a goal, but with economic conditions worsening, fiscal measures will take priority over budget balancing.

In case there was any doubt that Mr. Aso would abjure from playing a policy role in the new government, Mr. Aso has quickly demonstrated otherwise. As the runner up in last year's leadership election, it could hardly be otherwise. It appears that Mr. Aso will use this time in the spotlight to put the lessons learned on his travels to use, burnishing his credentials on economic matters. At his press conference, for example, he said, "In Tokyo [the arrival of a recession] hasn't really hit home, but in the rural areas that I visited I think there is absolutely a recession."

(He also demonstrated that he is still capable of outrageous remarks, in this case demonstrating that Godwin's law also applies to the nejire kokkai.)

But Mr. Aso's policy activism will only muddle the waters further. Just because Mr. Nakagawa has the upper hand does not mean that Mr. Yosano intends to stop his campaign for a consumption tax hike, even as he will be responsible for drafting the government's economic plans (although, as a minister without portfolio, he will not have to oversee their execution).

It appears that the new government's goal is to overwhelm opposition and public with the impression of action. The economic plans to be prepared by Mr. Yosano — although Mr. Nakagawa may have the greatest influence on their shape — will likely ensure that certain important LDP constituents see more money in their pocket and relief from price increases (support for small- and medium-sized business for example), in time for the next general election. Naturally Koga Makoto will revise his prediction of a general election just before September 2009 depending on just how much voters are convinced by the government's blitz.

Will the voters buy it? Will Mr. Fukuda and company be able to develop a program that works and is politically popular? Will the members of the Fukuda cabinet and the LDP leadership be able to work together enough to assemble and implement said program? Will the government try to coax the DPJ into cooperating on an economic stimulus program?

Whatever approach it adopts, it is hard to ignore the impression that the Fukuda government is preparing to act first, think later.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Flailing Fukuda

I have an op-ed on the Fukuda reshuffle in the Tuesday edition of the Wall Street Asia.

It can be found online here.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

They like him, they really, really like him...but will it matter?

Jun Okumura provides a convenient breakdown of the initial polls pertaining to the Fukuda reshuffle.

The bounce to Prime Minister Fukuda appears to have been somewhere around five percentage points, excluding Yomiuri's freakish poll recording a fourteen-point increase (a poll that can't be compared with earlier Yomiuri polls due to a differing methodology).

What I found interesting, however, is that both the Yomiuri and the Asahi polls recorded widespread approval of the prime minister's decision to name Aso Taro LDP secretary-general.

In the Yomiuri poll, 66.3% of respondents approved of the decision, while only 24.3% disapproved. By comparison, only 32.9% of respondents approved of the decision to bring Yosano Kaoru, Mr. Aso's fellow post-Fukuda contender, into the cabinet, with 42.8% disapproving.

In the Asahi poll, 51% approved of Mr. Aso's appointment, while only 29% disapproved.

There is no doubting that Mr. Aso's appeal across broad swathes of the Japanese public is genuine.

But Mr. Aso's taking the position was a risky decision on his part. His political future will rest on the results of the next general election. Serving as LDP secretary-general might be the worst possible position for Mr. Aso. It will make him directly responsible for the LDP's performance, but gives him little control over policy; he is at the mercy of a prime minister considerably less popular than himself. If the LDP loses badly, badly enough to fall from power, it is unlikely that the party will turn to Mr. Aso to save the LDP; if the LDP manages to hold on to power, there is no guarantee that he will be rewarded for loyal service (although there are apparently rumors that Mr. Fukuda offered to designate Mr. Aso his successor in exchange for the latter's service). The prime minister's hoe, of course, is that he can hitch his wagon to Mr. Aso's star and pull off an unexpectedly strong showing in the next election.

But voters' affinity for Mr. Aso might not make all that much difference in how they vote when the election comes.

Given that as MTC wrote last month, "...In some districts the opposition could put up a dog as a candidate and win" (Yomiuri recently wrote about LDP candidates in urban districts trailing in polls despite the DPJ's having not yet selected a candidate for their district), Mr. Aso certainly has his work cut out for him. He will have to use his personal appeal to convince the public that the LDP can be trusted to fix the mess it created. His presence might make the difference in a handful of districts, but on the whole the election will rest on the Fukuda government delivering tangible progress in tackling the issues of greatest concern to voters, which according to Yomiuri countermeasures for high prices, the pensions problem, eldercare, and global warming.

Mr. Aso and Mr. Fukuda deserve credit for taking a chance, but ultimately it might make little difference in the outcome of the election.

Change in Ichigaya

With the Fukuda cabinet reshuffle, Hayashi Yoshimasa becomes Japan's fourth defense minister in the past twelve months.

Of all the changes in the reshuffle, the ousting of Ishiba Shigeru is perplexing.

The prime minister had given Mr. Ishiba his vote of confidence in the midst of calls for his resignation in the wake of the Atago incident, ensuring that Mr. Ishiba would stay in place and that defense ministry reform would go forward.

If Mr. Fukuda's remarks announcing the new cabinet are to be taken seriously, he still feels that defense ministry reform is a priority for his government. But if so, why replace the man whose defense policy expertise — and whose zeal for defense ministry reform — is unmatched within the LDP? Yamamoto Ichita asks the same question, and can only speculate that his departure could be the result of fears that the DPJ would target Mr. Ishiba with a censure motion in the forthcoming session.

Mr. Ishiba's departure probably guarantees that implementation of the defense ministry reform council's recommendations will be stymied, not because Mr. Hayashi opposes defense ministry reform — he shares Mr. Ishiba's zeal for accountability — but because he lacks Mr. Ishiba's long experience with the workings of the defense establishment. More of a foreign policy wonk than a boei zoku giin, Mr. Hayashi will have learn his way around the defense ministry at the same time that he has to try to foist structural reforms upon the ministry's civilians and JSDF officers. He will be harried from day one, and with the government distracted by more pressing issues (at least from the public's perspective), it is unlikely that he will get adequate support from the prime minister from his fight with his own ministry.

That said, his foreign policy perspective mirrors Mr. Fukuda's: he is without question a staunch supporter of the alliance, but he also recognizes that Japan cannot afford antagonistic relations with China. But his affinity for the US is what's most important: with the arrival of the USS George Washington delayed and the realignment process in danger of stalling, perhaps Mr. Hayashi will be able to some good in the job.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Meet the new Fukuda cabinet

I am in Los Angeles on a brief layover before heading to Chicago, so I don't have time to offer a more thorough discussion of the Fukuda reshuffle.

For something more than my cursory remarks, I strongly recommend Jun Okumura's take and MTC's two posts.

Readers will not be surprised to learn that I am underwhelmed by the Fukuda reshuffle. Aside from the deft moves of co-opting Aso Taro and Yosano Kaoru — hard to freelance and challenge the prime minister when having responsibilities to party and government — remarkably little will change as a result of this cabinet.

It is not a particularly flashy or telegenic bunch, at least no more than the previous cabinet. While Mr. Fukuda emphasized that this new cabinet will work on behalf of the people (I thought the previous cabinet was supposed to do that?), no major policy or even stylistic shifts will result from this cabinet. Mr. Machimura remains its spokesman, and Masuzoe Yoichi remains in place as the minister handling the most pressing issues facing the government. If Mr. Fukuda were prepared to have the tax debate that he previously said he wanted to have, Mr. Yosano's presence would be significant for policy reasons, but with livelihood and consumer issues at the top of the agenda, it is unlikely that Mr.Yosano will make much ground in his campaign for a consumption tax increase.

One difference might be in the conduct of foreign policy, if this government gets enough time to address foreign policy. Mainichi notes that in China policy, this cabinet might actually be Fukuda-colored, with China-friendly Nikai Toshihiro and Hayashi Yoshimasa taking over at METI and MOD respectively. Mr. Fukuda needs all the help he can get in making the case for a constructive relationship with China, but in practical terms their presence may be negligible.

Perhaps the biggest loser from the reshuffle is Nakagawa Hidenao, whose "rising tide" group was locked out; then again, as MTC suggests, Mr. Nakagawa and the Koizumians may well be the biggest winners of the night, considering that this cabinet may well end up presiding over a catastrophic general election defeat that will wreck the careers of all involved.

I will write more later, once I've digested this lineup and read some more commentary.