Monday, February 16, 2009

Nakagawa will not survive

Nakagawa Shoichi's behavior at the G7 meeting in Rome — the slurred speech heard around the world — has quickly become a full-blown scandal.

With the rallying cry of "exposing disgraceful behavior," the DPJ, the SDPJ, the JCP, and the PNP are preparing to submit a (non-binding) censure motion in the upper house.

Mr. Nakagawa will go because his transgressions occurred on the world stage, in full view of the foreign media. While I do not expect it, if Mr. Nakagawa's conservative comrades were consistent, they would call for his immediate resignation for having defamed the Japanese nation abroad. Indeed, if Mr. Nakagawa was as serious about national pride as his past rhetoric suggests, he would willingly step down. But in lieu of such behavior from Mr. Nakagawa, the DPJ appears more than willing to take up the cudgel of nationalist rhetoric — more often used to criticize leaders "guilty" of traitorous negotiations or apologies — and pressure Mr. Nakagawa and the government. (Yet another reminder that the DPJ, far from being a progressive party, is comfortable with the language of the nationalist mainstream.)

But it appears that Mr. Nakagawa and Prime Minister Aso are digging in; Mr. Aso has asked Mr. Nakagawa to stay on, and Mr. Nakagawa continues to insist that his unusual behavior was the result of taking too much cold medicine combined with pain killers for back pain. The government will, not surprisingly, ignore any censure motion passed by the upper house. It will continue to insist on the "cold medicine" story — Mr. Nakagawa visited a doctor who certified that he has cold symptoms — in the hope that the scandal will go away quickly. Members of the team that traveled with Mr. Nakagawa have been called before the lower house's fiscal and monetary affairs committee to attest that they do not recall seeing the minister drink during lunch at the G7.

But despite these gestures, it is unlikely that the government will succeed in protecting Mr. Nakagawa for long.

More significant than the opposition calls for Mr. Nakagawa's head, Yomiuri reports that members of the LDP and Komeito want the finance minister to go. Some fear that a prolonged struggle with the opposition over Mr. Nakagawa's fate will stall the debate on the 2008 second supplementary budget related bills and the 2009 budget, and are ready to toss the finance minister overboard if it means that debate can resume. Of course, removing the finance minister in the midst of debate over the government's response to the economic crisis could be equally detrimental to pushing legislation forward, and would no doubt be accompanied by calls for an election from the opposition.

The question of the cause of Mr. Nakagawa's behavior, however, seems tangential to the debate over Mr. Nakagawa's future. Whether he was drunk or not, his alcoholism is no longer an open secret — it's simply open. Following closely on the heels of Mr. Nakagawa's mistake-prone performance in late January when he gave his policy speech to a joint session of the Diet, when he made a number of errors in presenting his remarks, it is hard to avoid the impression of the finance minister as, in MTC's word, a "broken" man. Should he be punished for overdosing on cold medicine? No, of course not. But if Mr. Nakagawa's addiction has become a problem, it is a matter of national concern. For that reason, Mr. Nakagawa's doctor's note will not be enough to dispel questions about his behavior. The Japanese people have a right to know the state of Mr. Nakagawa's health, beyond whether he has the sniffles.

But ultimately it will come down to where Mr. Nakagawa's indiscretion occurred. By appearing drunk when representing Japan in one of the world's most exclusive club — membership in which is a point of pride for Japanese elites — Mr. Nakagawa has disgraced his government and his country, an impression that will be reinforced the more video of his performance circulates around the internet and in foreign media. Japanese leaders, always sensitive to how Japan is perceived abroad, may ultimately feel compelled to approve Mr. Nakagawa's resignation, whatever the consequences for the Aso government.

This scandal reinforces the impression that the Aso government is completely bereft of authority and legitimacy. If it has not become a laughingstock home and abroad already, the Aso government is rapidly becoming one. And yet in the midst of this scandal and his plummeting popularity, Mr. Aso insisted that he is throwing his whole being into fixing Japan's economy.

Like Beaumarchais's Figaro, I laugh so as not to cry.


daonei said...

I couldn't agree more. While I was able to see the LDP maintaining some degree of its majority, I believe this event is the final nail to seal the LDP coffin. How could the LDP make an excuse about an overdose on cold medication? While drowsiness may be a symptom to cold medication, stupidity surely is not. The way the finance minister handled himself at the press conference clearly reflects his stupidity and lack of decency.
This "international" situation will surely be reflected in the upcoming elections and the voters will most likely decide that the money politics, corruption, and scandals of the LDP is not the sole solution for political governance.
While I have been a avid supporter of the LDP government, I think the voters are fed up with the stagnation of the current government and are ready to accept the opposition as a viable option. To some extent, I question whether the Komeito should continue maintaining its LDP coalition. While Japan is and will continue to be a conservative state, the Komeito should question whether their alliance is worth grasping on to. The continuous stumbles should be enough reason for the Komeito to ditch the LDP and solidify the opposition's victory in the upcoming election.
After a short opposition honeymoon period during the early nineties, we may be witnessing the utter destruction of the LDP and a new wave of opposition politics in the coming years.

Bryce said...

"While drowsiness may be a symptom to cold medication, stupidity surely is not. "

I doubt this degree of drowsiness is a symptom of cold medication:

Noah said...

Perhaps it was a suicide attempt - sleeping pills with wine...

Tobias Harris said...

That may be going a bit far Noah...

Anonymous said...

correct analysis - will very soon be confirmed...

RWA said...

Have you seen the excellent post by David Leheny on SSJ Forum (posted today)?
2 choice extracts:
"The bigger point is that Nakagawa's apparent drunkenness
seems to me to be about the only reasonable response to
the current state of the global economy."
most of the G7 Finance Ministers now see the prospect
of increasing unemployment, then political turmoil,
then social unrest, then a Mad Max-like existence with
people huddled in dilapidated buildings and firing
indiscriminately at perceived interlopers, and then,
most distantly, attacks by zombies."

Tobias Harris said...

I did: more than a little tongue in cheek, methinks.

If it wasn't for Mr. Nakagawa's sad history of alcoholism, I would be more inclined to joke about his hiding from the economic crisis at the bottom of a bottle.

I don't find addiction all that funny.

Noah said...

I was kidding.

I actually have an undying disgust for Nakagawa Shoichi, due to his famous comment that women "have their own special talents, such as flower arranging" I'm experiencing quite a lot of gleeful schadenfreude watching him go down. Zamamiro [clink]!!!

Tobias Harris said...

I am no fan of his either, mostly because I wholly reject his way of thinking.

Nevertheless, I cannot help but sympathize with him.

Guess I'm soft-hearted like that.

kuboken said...

While I agree for the most part with your piece, I must say that in the view of many young professional Japanese like myself, the necessity of Nakagawa's departure had less to do with national pride, and more to do with the real and present danger of having a perpetually intoxicated individual fill the two important positions that he has inexplicably come to occupy. That said, the "national pride" line probably best describes the sentiment of the older generation.

Tobias Harris said...


Thank you for your comment. Obviously I agree with you that the competence issue is much more important than the question of Japan's image abroad.

The idea of generational differences in the response to Mr. Nakagawa's behavior is definitely worth considering.

Tim said...

They aren't digging in on this one. He's out. Let nothing interrupt the bumbling and incompetence! Bring on the next drunk. Hey, the prime minister needs drinking buddies after all.