Monday, August 31, 2009

Hatoyama shifts the blame

The DPJ is transitioning into power, and Hatoyama Yukio is doing burasagari press conferences again after not doing them during the campaign.

(For those wondering what burasagari means, it simply refers to impromptu press conferences given by politicians to reporters as the politicians walk to or from, say, a car. The term, which means "hanging" or "dangling," refers to the reporters' dangling on the politician.)

In his first post-election impromptu press conference, some intrepid reporter asked the prime minister-in-waiting what he thought of criticism from the US of his essay in VOICE.

In response, Hatoyama went into full damage control mode and shifted the blame. The New York Times, he said, had published the contribution as an excerpt from his original essay. [I had originally written VOICE, but it seems that Hatoyama was referring to the New York Times, even though the Christian Science Monitor released it first.] Hatoyama said that his views were distorted, that globalization has "negatives, but naturally it also has positives." (He provided no details about the positives.) He stressed that he is not anti-American, that the whole essay needs to be read to be understood, and that he was simply outlining his "dream" of an East Asian community, recognizing that it is not realistic for the time being but that reality begins in dreams.

I do not buy the idea that his original essay was distorted through translation — if anything the translated, abridged version was far superior to the original, which I found to be "a mishmash of pop-anti-globalizationism, mystical brotherhood-ism, and nostalgic conservatism," and distressed by the idea that it might be a serious guide to Hatoyama's thinking. And at no point in the original essay did Hatoyama give much thought to the positives of globalization. The original reads just like a longer, harsher version of the translation, with nearly a page of discussion of how capitalism treats people as means, not ends, and about how it destroys values, traditions, and communities. Perhaps the only "kind" words Hatoyama has for globalization is when he says that it is inevitable, meaning that the challenge for Japan is dealing with it through more Asian cooperation and greater subsidiarity to empower Japanese localities.

But at the same time, his willingness to write off the essay as his "dreams" provides Hatoyama with a convenient way to distance himself from its contents. I still think Hatoyama's "political philosophy" — by which I mean far more than his thinking on globalization, which is fairly pedestrian of late — is bizarre and does not make him look particularly serious, but it does not appear to be a guide to how Hatoyama will govern, per se.

But I do hope that Hatoyama and the DPJ have learned from this episode. First, do not publish essays in VOICE. VOICE and other conservative publications will be following the Rush Limbaugh approach in their treatment of the DPJ government: they want it to fail. Hatoyama's essay should be the last time a DPJ leader's thoughts appear in VOICE, which means that the cabinet should exercise tight control over how cabinet members (and backbenchers?) deal with the media, at least as far as long-form prose is concerned.

Second, what is said in Japan no longer stays in Japan. They better get used to it and learn to choose their words carefully. The village gossip no longer stays in the village. And if a DPJ leader wants to address a foreign audience directly, with, say, an op-ed in an American newspaper, ask an outside expert or three for their opinions of how it might be received.

Third, most of the world has little idea who Hatoyama is and what to think of this party that has just swept into power — and many of those who have some ideas about the DPJ have dated information. First impressions are being formed. The DPJ's leaders must choose their words carefully. (They should always choose their words carefully, but it is particularly imperative now.)

UPDATE: Ikeda Nobuo, perhaps Japan's leading economics blogger and my fellow Newsweek Japan contributor, has also been following this episode closely and notes in the comments that Hatoyama's office actually posted a full translation on Hatoyama's webpage. As Ikeda notes at his blog, this discovery suggests that Hatoyama's argument that the English translation was not the result of a deliberate contribution by Hatoyama is mistaken.

This discovery only leads to more questions. How did the translation get from Hatoyama's office into syndication? Why were people at the DPJ surprised to learn that the translation had appeared in foreign media? Who, ultimately, is responsible for this essay reaching English readers? Did someone in Hatoyama's office release it without authorization? Or did Hatoyama sign off on it without giving much thought to how it would be received?

I stand by my argument that DPJ leaders should be wary in their dealings with conservative publications, but it seems that in this case VOICE's role stopped with the publication of the Japanese version.

The more I learn about how this essay came to appear in American outlets, the more I am concerned about the DPJ's ability to manage its image in the media.

The LDP has an election date

Aso Taro has resigned his post as party president and the LDP has scheduled its party leadership for four weeks from today, 28 September. The campaign for the party presidency will officially begin ten days earlier, on 18 September, giving the candidates just over two weeks to make their intentions known and then begin traveling the country to make their appeals to the party's chapters.

Safe to say, the race is wide open. Given that Masuzoe Yoichi is just about the most popular politician in Japan and the only LDP politician candidates wanted to be seen with, he probably has the upper hand in the race for the 141 votes wielded by the LDP's prefectural chapters — if he decides to run. His position may be weaker, however, among the party's Diet members, who now number 202 betweens the two houses. The list of names in the LDP field could be lengthy, and the race chaotic. Masuzoe has said that he is a blank slate as to whether to run, and in the meantime plans to focus on his work as a cabinet minister. Tanigaki Sadakazu might run once again.

Given that the race won't officially begin until 18 September, it is likely that the party will be choosing its leader after Hatoyama Yukio is officially elected as prime minister, which will presumably occur a few days earlier.

Discussing the DPJ's administrative plans on CNBC

Bright and early this morning, I somehow managed to speak coherently (I think?) about the DPJ's plans for the government.

The Obama administration wastes no time

Responding to yesterday's election, President Barack Obama has issued an innocuous statement congratulating Japan on its "historic election," but the Obama administration appears that it will waste no time in establishing the terms of the relationship with the Hatoyama government.

Yomiuri reports that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will be visiting Japan in mid-October for discussions with the new government on alliance issues in advance of the president's trip to Japan scheduled for November. And before Gates arrives, Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, will come around 16 September, around the time the new government is expected to form. I think Gates's visit may be well timed, but Campbell's strikes me as a bit too soon. Then again, if Hatoyama wants to meet with Obama while in the US for the opening of the UN General Assembly, perhaps a visit sooner rather than later is advisable.

On the face of it, I think this is a meaningful gesture on the part of the Obama administration, provided that Campbell and Gates listen as much as they speak when they visit Tokyo. The US-Japan alliance, as much an institution of LDP rule as other, more familiar institutions, will not be unaffected by the transition to the Hatoyama government, and the sooner the two governments find a way to manage the transition the better it will be for the relationship.

At the same time, the early visits by the two officials will put pressure on the DPJ to have its act together by the time Campbell arrives.

The path to a New Liberal Democratic Party

Fresh after barely escaping with his political life, Nakagawa Hidenao — who you will recall failed to unseat Aso Taro as LDP leader in July and then stressed that the DPJ would destroy Japan and had to be stopped — has announced that he wants to stand in the election to succeed Aso as LDP leader.

Nakagawa is nothing if not pugnacious, which might be a good quality to have as leader of the opposition, but by the same token his pugnaciousness has not endeared him to other members of the LDP. And it is unclear whether there are enough members of his so-called "Rising Tide" school to propel him onward to victory, let alone in the party's prefectural chapters. But given the disarray within the LDP, he should have plenty of time to campaign around the country in the hope that he can win on the back of support from the party's grassroots.

Presumably the field will also include Ishiba Shigeru — Ishiba has in fact already indicated that he will run — and Ishihara Nobuteru, both candidates from last year, and possibly upper house member Masuzoe Yoichi. And I expect the field to get even more crowded before too long.

Either of the latter might be better at uniting a broken party, because that, after all, is the primary task facing the party's next leader. I don't just mean broken from the election, but broken at its very core, divided among ideological camps, factions, and policy tribes. The new leader will have to reforge the LDP as a top-down, centralized party. He (or she?) will have to remake the party's institutions, perhaps copying the DPJ by turning the general council into a Next Cabinet, converting the policy research council into a party think tank that depends more on ties to academics and researchers outside government than the bureaucrats upon which the PRC has long depended, and perhaps setting up a troika-style system of collective leadership that will enable to party leadership to push back against backbenchers — no matter how senior — inclined to disregard the party. In the process, the LDP, very much like the DPJ during the early part of this decade, will have to navigate between the options of unflinching resistance to the governing DPJ and "constructive" opposition to the government. How long before commentators begin discussing how the LDP is nothing but an internally divided, pale imitation of the governing DPJ? But such is the nature of two-large-party systems in modern democracies, especially in Europe, although if Nakagawa wins the party leadership the LDP's opposition to the DPJ might be a bit more foam-flecked, like the US Republican Party's opposition to the Obama administration.

The LDP clearly has a path back to power, sooner or later. The faster it gets on with the process of becoming a new model party, the shorter that road will be. I, for one, do not expect the road to be short.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Meet the new LDP

Having fallen 181 seats to 119 seats in the new Diet, the LDP that will face a governing DPJ will be a peculiar party.

What I find most striking is that fifty-five of the LDP's winners are hereditary members, constituting 46.5% of the party's new caucus. By comparison, of the DPJ's 308 winners, only thirty-two (10.4%) are hereditary Diet members. The DPJ majority truly signifies the arrival of fresh blood into the political system, even as the LDP has become even more colored by its political princes. (Of course this outcome makes the LDP's pre-election debate about banning hereditary members look farcical.)

As MTC astutely noted well before the election, how will the LDP's new leaders discipline the party when some many of its members survived by distancing themselves from the party and campaigning on the basis of their name or other personal qualities? As Tanaka Makiko quipped, the Jiminto (LDP) has become a collection of Jibunto (personal parties) even more than it was before the election.

The result, of course, will be greater conflict among the party leaders who survived, all of whom have different visions for how the LDP should act in opposition. Abe Shinzo, naturally seeing the defeat as an opportunity to reinsert himself into the center of the party, suggested that the LDP will press the DPJ hard, although I suspect that will mostly mean criticizing the DPJ from the hard right, which, as the Abe government's 2007 defeat showed, is hardly an effective means of attacking the DPJ.

It may be a bad thing that so many LDP heavyweights survived. Abe, Aso, Fukuda, and Mori all survived, as did Nakagawa Hidenao, who was defeated in his electoral district but revived in PR. The post-election LDP may be cursed with too many leaders and too few followers. That is the significance of the defeat of the Koizumi children, only ten of whom survived (out of seventy-seven). Nakagawa is convinced that his survival through PR was a matter of destiny, and presumably he will be even less reluctant to make his opinions about the party's conduct known. Overall, the LDP may be just as divided, just smaller, with fewer new faces (and new ideas) in the mix. Only five LDP winners are first-timers.

Meanwhile, the factions really may be finished. The Machimura faction, which has dominated the LDP for the past decade, fell from sixty-one to twenty-three seats in the lower house, leaving it with fifty between the two houses. The Tsushima faction fell to one-third of its pre-election strength in the lower house, to fourteen seats, leaving it with thirty-seven between the two. The Koga faction's strength was nearly halved, to twenty-five, leaving it with thirty-four between the two houses. The Nikai faction suffered most, falling to one in the lower house (Nikai himself) and three between the two houses. All are smaller, and of little value to their remaining members.

What lesson will the LDP learn from the DPJ's battle in opposition against the LDP? That saying no can be effective? If that's the lesson the LDP learns, it is in for a long spell in opposition — because the DPJ did not win the support of the Japanese public just by saying no to the LDP, but by saying no and suggesting that the LDP's priorities were completely wrong.

The LDP will have to find a way to win independents: there will be no other way back into power. Exit polls found that more than fifty percent of independents supported the DPJ, certainly a major factor — perhaps the major factor — in the DPJ's victory, although the DPJ also took thirty percent of LDP supporters. (Incidentally, the exit polls also showed that the absence of JCP candidates was another important factor in the DPJ's victory, confirming that the JCP ought to bear some of the blame for prolonging LDP rule.) Inevitably it will win some back as the DPJ disappoints the public, but for the LDP to return as a serious contender for power (that's a weird phrase) at some point the LDP will have to come up with a reason for the voters to take it seriously as a governing party again. It will have to make more than rhetorical gestures in the direction of the issues of greatest concern to the voting public. Having a younger, well-spoken leader could help too. I am increasingly inclined to see Ishihara Nobuteru as the most likely successor to Aso.

The final numbers

The DPJ finished with 308 seats (221 SMDs, 87 PR), the LDP with 119 seats (64 and 55), Komeito with 21 (all PR), the JCP with 9 (all PR), the SDPJ with 7 (3 and 4), PNP with 3 (all SMD), YP with 5 (2 and 3), NPJ with 1 (SMD), Suzuki Muneo's micro-party won 1 PR seat in Hokkaido, and 6 independents won SMDs.

The DPJ does control a supermajority with the help of its likely coalition partners, but that won't matter much.

The DPJ swept eight prefectures, but not Hokkaido as I reported while live-blogging last night: Iwate, Fukushima, Yamanashi, Niigata, Nagano, Aichi, Shiga and Nagasaki.

Monday's TV spots

I will be on CNBC Asia at 8:20am JST (or thereabouts), Bloomberg from 12:20pm, and Brazil's Record TV, well, I don't quite know when.

Japan's political world turned upside down

Despite a truly historic victory by the DPJ, the first time since the LDP was created that it has been defeated in a general election (and oh how it was defeated!), there is remarkably little to say.

After all, there were no surprises. The results were exactly as Japan's media organizations predicted. The DPJ finished within a range of ±20 seats from 300, the LDP flirted with 100 seats but will not end up closer to 120 seats, giving it slightly more than the DPJ received in 2005. The Japanese public made very clear during the months leading up to the general election that it was time for the LDP to go — and in the end, the voters booted the LDP from power without flinching. The bums have been thrown out, at last.

As expected, among the LDP members to lose are number of senior party leaders, several of whom did not manage to be revived through proportional representation. Several prominent reformists — Shiozaki Yasuhisa (who won by roughly 3,000 votes, around 1% of the vote), Nakagawa Hidenao, Ishihara Nobuteru, and Kono Taro — retained their seats. Aso Taro signaled his intention to resign as party leader fairly early in the evening, clearing the way for a fight, perhaps a prolonged fight depending on when the party has its election, to replace Aso. The LDP's institutional structure will presumably have to be reformed as the party moves into opposition, raising the question of whether the LDP will study the DPJ's internal structure.

As for the DPJ, it will end up short of a supermajority, but the party has won more than 300 seats, an extraordinary victory by any definition. Hatoyama Yukio and the other DPJ leaders plan to move quickly in preparing the party to take power, and the Japanese people will be watching to see what the party does with its new majority. The party has about a year until it will have to go before the public again, in the 2010 House of Councillors election — and the clock will be ticking. When talking about public expectations, it is important to stress that expectations are not necessarily attached to specific pieces of the manifesto, but rather are more holistic: the DPJ will have to do something tangible with its new power. It will have to show voters that it has at least taken the first steps in a new direction for Japan. Readers now know that I have plenty of doubts about Hatoyama's ability to wield such a majority — but of course, I am willing to be proved wrong.

The point is that the general election has posed no shortage of new questions that will only be answered with the passage of time. The election has been cathartic — despite having a sense that the DPJ would win as substantially as it did, anticipating the results did not make the returns any less exciting — but the coming months will be difficult.

Live-blogging the 2009 general election #2

1:01am: NHK still has 14 seats left to assign, but I'm going to end the live-blogging now and try to summarize my thoughts before calling it an evening. Thanks to those of you who read through the night, and to those of you who asked questions, which helped focus my thoughts a bit.

12:55am: Shorter Hatoyama: Bureaucrats, your day is done — now begins government by politicians on behalf of the people.

12:50am: NHK has DPJ 302, LDP 115, Komeito 18, JCP 8, SDPJ 5, YP 5, PNP 3, NPJ 1, Others 7. 16 remaining.

12:48am: Hatoyama is beaming as he poses next to the party's board.

12:45am: The result as of now is almost exactly the same as 2005, with twenty-seats to go. DPJ 302, LDP 111.

12:31am: I was asked to comment on the role of the YP. The DPJ certainly would need its five seats, but I wonder why the DPJ might be inclined to give the minor party a cabinet seat to balance the influence of the SDPJ, which, after all, has fewer seats at the moment than the YP.

12:26am: The LDP now has 106 seats, the DPJ 294, Komeito 14, the YP is up to 4 seats.

12:21am: The state of the LDP's faction bosses: Machimura Nobutaka, head of the party's largest faction (before the election), lost, but returns in PR; Koga Makoto survived in Fukuoka; Yamasaki and Ibuki, head of the fourth and fifth largest factions both lost and neither returned via PR; Komura won in Yamaguchi; and Nikai and Aso won. With Tsushima's retirement, that means that the titular heads of half the party's factions are gone. Presumably that will be the final blow to the faction system. After all, considering that in recent years they have been responsible for little more than distributing sub-cabinet posts, what role will they have in an opposition LDP?

12:21am: I just added a post addressing some basic questions about the DPJ.

12:12am: With fifty-three seats to go, the LDP sits at 99, just under 200 fewer than the DPJ's 290. Komeito is at 14, one fewer than the 15 I predicted.

12:10am: Should the DPJ's finance minister-designate — Fujii Hirohisa? — be invited to travel with Yosano (or whoever goes) to the G20 meeting early next month? Not as an official representative, of course, but as part of the process of transferring power?

12:07am: Building on my last question, will the LDP radically transform its internal structures? Without the same connection to the bureaucracy, will the PRC wither? Will it copy the DPJ's institutional innovations and make a more top-down party while in opposition?

12:03am: Will the LDP form a shadow cabinet?

11:56pm: 284 to 98.

11:54pm: NHK has the DPJ at 279 seats. Two more seats and my prediction was too low.

11:45pm: One problem with being as young as I am is that I have only been around to see the LDP in decline. The thought of the LDP losing an election did not faze me, especially after the 2007 upper house election. I recognize that my elders among observers of Japanese politics have been awaiting something like this for decades, only to be disappointed time and time again. As exciting as this night is for me, surely it cannot compare to how they're experiencing it. I've had it easy — so far. Who knows what disappointment awaits in a DPJ government?

11:32pm: DPJ 271, LDP 87. With 90 seats left, presumably the LDP will make it to 100? (Amazing to speak of the LDP struggling to reach 100.)

11:26pm: NHK has fewer than 100 seats left. DPJ 265, LDP 85, Komeito 11, JCP 4, SDPJ and PNP 3 each.

11:18pm: NHK has the DPJ at 261, the LDP at 78, Komeito at 11, and the rest of the parties the same as before.

11:11pm: Fukuda survived.

11:09pm: Anyone going to be sleeping tonight in Kasumigaseki?

11:06pm: A song for the LDP this night: "Yet let's be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn'd upside down." (Yes, I realize that this is second English Civil War reference in as many days.)

11:01pm: Three TV appearances tomorrow. Not sure what to say at the moment except, "Wow."

11:00pm: I just can't get enough images of shell-shocked LDP leaders. All the weeks of headlines about the worries of LDP candidates across the board were justified.

10:57pm: Exit polls found that roughly 30% of self-identified LDP supporters voted for the DPJ in both SMDs and PR.

10:53pm: NHK has 140 seats to go, with the DPJ at 250, LDP at 63, Komeito at 11, JCP, SDPJ, YP at 2, PNP at 3, NPJ at 1, and 6 independent and minor party winners.

10:37pm: Aso has resigned as president of the LDP, but it might be a while before there's a new leader.

10:35pm: Kyuma's defeat is announced, causing a stir in the newsroom.

10:35pm: The DPJ has a nice looking rose garden.

10:32pm: Question about the DPJ's cabinet lineup. The DPJ transition team will meet tomorrow, and we should know the finance minister, the foreign minister, the chief cabinet secretary, and the party secretary-general within a couple of days. As for when the new government will officially begin, that will depend on when the caretaker government convenes a special session to elect a prime minister.

10:29pm: Question about whether the JCP will win any districts. No, it won't. (I don't think the JCP has ever won an SMD.)

10:27pm: Apparently the vaunted Komeito turnout machine failed too.

10:24pm: NHK has the DPJ at 241 seats, an absolutely majority.

10:23pm: It is also worth pausing to consider just how far the DPJ has come in only three years. Consider that just over three years ago there was talk of the DPJ breaking apart in the aftermath of the Horie email scandal. At that point, would anyone have imagined the DPJ winning the upper house in 2007, let alone sweeping the LDP out of power in 2009?

10:19pm: Yoshida's revenge? Yoshida's grandson presides over the tremendous defeat of the party that formed in reaction to Yoshida Shigeru's heavy-handed rule.

10:14pm: "Taihen kibishi." Thanks Aso, we hadn't figured it out yet.

10:13pm: And here's Aso, another LDP leader felled by the DPJ.

10:12pm: Looks like the three DPJ candidates I saw last weekend won.

10:09pm: Wow, Abe Shinzo looks terrible, I mean like he slept in a ditch last night.

10:07pm: Thinking more about Ishihara Nobuteru as Aso's successor.

10:06pm: I was asked what the biggest surprise of the night is. Seriously, the biggest surprise remains no surprises: it is unfolding exactly as the polls predicted.

10:04pm: Noda Seiko lost in Gifu. That's the first time the DPJ has ever won a seat in Gifu under the new electoral system.

Continuing from here...

Live-blogging the 2009 general election

10:03pm: Time for a new post...

10:02pm: Have I mentioned how cool it is to be live-blogging from a newsroom?

10:01pm: Another faction leader down, Ibuki Bunmei. More time to indulge his passion for cooking?

9:59pm: There's Aso looking grim as reporters shout questions at him. What can Aso say, at this point? Will he be gracious in defeat?

9:57pm: Koike Yuriko lost. Think back to last year's LDP presidential election: Aso wins, Ishiba wins, Yosano loses, Ishihara wins, Koike loses. Three of five ain't bad? Maybe Ishihara succeeds Aso?

9:55pm: NHK has the DPJ at 229 seats, 11 seats from an absolute majority.

9:54pm: Yamasaki Taku lost. Another LDP faction leader out.

9:52pm: Question in the comments about what next for the LDP. At this point, it will depend on who's left to lead. Will Masuzoe step forward? Alternatively, do we get a chaotic scramble for the leadership?

9:50pm: NHK really is cautious. Still 183 left...

9:41pm: I'm still trying to get used to the idea that the LDP has been completely and totally crushed.

9:39pm: Yosano and Sato Yukari both lose in Tokyo.

9:39pm: Here comes Hatoyama...

9:37pm: Hiranuma Takeo will survive. Hard to see a place for his third pole in a system dominated by the DPJ.

9:34pm: More shots of DPJ leaders in front of the big board. Do these guys realize what they've just done — and what lies ahead? Perhaps not the most inspiring bunch, but good enough to get the job done.

9:33pm: The Guardian's Justin McCurry is twittering from DPJ HQ.

9:32pm: NHK has the DPJ at 209.

9:31pm: Hatoyama and Ozawa, putting the first rose on the board. Ozawa's smiling again.

9:30pm: NHK, the most cautious in calling seats, has the DPJ at 206, the LDP at 47, Komeito at 9, JCP 2, SDPJ 2, PNP 2, Others 3.

9:29pm: Hatoyama and Kan, founders of the former DPJ back in 1996, standing together for pictures.

9:28pm: And there's Hatoyama, looking a bit shell-shocked.

9:27pm: If you have questions for me, I'll be happy to answer.

9:23pm: Okay, I'm back. And there's Maehara Seiji, who actually looks pretty happy. And why not, as he's pretty much guaranteed a cabinet post.

9:05pm: Ozawa actually smiled.

9:04pm: Pausing to record for TV...

9:00pm: One hour into the DPJ era, there's Ozawa, his lips closely pursed.

8:59pm: At this point the only thing left to figure out is whether the DPJ breaks the 320 mark. A DPJ supermajority, by itself? Fear the wrath of the Japanese people, apparently.

8:57pm: I cannot even imagine what is going through Ozawa's mind right now.

8:56pm: There's Ozawa, not smiling, despite having achieved a goal he has suffered to realize. Oh, and the screen next to him, there's Michael Green.

8:55pm: Ozawa! Apparently he'll be making an appearance soon.

8:53pm: Some activity on the LDP feed...Hosoda has a wry smile on his face. I suppose there's not much else to do.

8:52pm: It looks like Asao Keiichiro, my former boss, may have won a PR seat in South Kanto for the YP.

8:50pm: Current NHK projection: LDP 42, DPJ 176, Komeito 9, JCP 2, SDPJ 1, PNP 1, Others 3.

8:49pm: A Reuters cameraman just arrived to film me updating this blog. Totally meta.

8:47pm: Former Prime Minister Kaifu lost in Aichi. Possible DPJ sweep in Aichi.

8:45pm: I'm still waiting to see Ozawa's face. Did he ever expect that the LDP could be toppled in such dramatic fashion?

8:43pm: Oh God. Hatoyama Yukio will be the prime minister.

8:42pm: I'm at something of a loss for words, perhaps surprised that there were no surprises.

8:32pm: Word of the evening: kibishi.

8:29pm: Given the results, we will know the shape of the DPJ cabinet — at least its leading figures — very quickly. Remember that the DPJ said its transition team would get to work Monday. Will the Aso government be cooperative in Japan's first experience with a transition of this sort, as the DPJ has requested?

8:27pm: Akamatsu Hirotaka, the DPJ's election chief, looks stony faced despite his party's being swept into power this evening.

8:26pm: "Aso's in," shouts someone on the other side of the newsroom. Talk about the LDP being above 100 seats.

8:23pm: The LDP board is going to look awfully sad when they get around to putting up roses for the winners.

8:21pm: Asahi is projecting a DPJ sweep of Hokkaido's twelve districts, which means farewell to Nakagawa Shoichi, Machimura Nobutaka, and Takebe Tsutomu.

8:19pm: Kawamura and Hosoda are at the Kantei. I can only imagine what that meeting must be like.

8:16pm: Watanabe Yoshimi, not surprisingly, wins his seat in Tochigi. YP will have at least one.

8:15pm: Still waiting for more on threatened LDP heavyweights...

8:13pm: It is worth pausing to consider that history is happening exactly as we expected. The Japanese people have made their choice. They have chosen hope over fear, chosen the possibility that things might be better. Hard work ahead, but tonight will indeed be for celebrating.

8:11pm: A shot of Hatoyama, looking stony-faced, on his way to DPJ headquarters. Personally I'm waiting to see Ozawa, considering that he is the architect of this victory.

8:10pm: Asahi already has projected that the DPJ has 272 seats, a comfortable majority.

8:10pm: Suga Yoshihide looks, well, like one would expect him to look after learning that his party is flirting with 100 seats.

8:09pm: Abe Shinzo will also survive.

8:08pm: The race in Kanagawa-11 has apparently been called for Koizumi Shinjiro.

8:07pm: The blue on Asahi's election map is spreading like an inkblot across Japan. It really looks as if the returns are meeting all expectations. There is one report that suggests 321, a supermajority for the DPJ.

8:04pm: The LDP range is 84-131.

8:03pm: It's incredible being in a news room now. At 8pm the room filled with action all at once.

8:02pm: NHK's exit poll report suggests a range of 298 to 329 for the DPJ. "Democrats win big."

8:01pm: The early distribution is DPJ 147, LDP 39, Komeito 9, JCP 2, PNP 1, YP 1, Independent 1.

8:00pm: Nagatsuma Akira, the DPJ's "Mr. Nenkin," is called first.

7:59pm: At present the LDP headquarters feed simply shows the face of Suga Yoshihide up close.

7:58pm: NHK will be updating its results here.

7:57pm: NHK is showing votes being counted frantically.

7:54pm: One question that we ought to be considering is whether the DPJ will gain at the expense of both the LDP and other opposition parties, or whether the DPJ's coattails will extend to its likely coalition partners. In her closing pitch Saturday, Fukushima Mizuho, head of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, stressed that "it won't be good if the DPJ wins alone."

7:50pm: Mainichi reports that turnout as of 6pm was 48.40%, slightly less than that in 2005, but given the heavy amount of early voting, turnout this year is still expected to exceed 2005's.

7:46pm: I have set up shop at Reuters in Akasaka, where I'll be following the election returns and, as soon as we have results that seem conclusive, appearing on Reuters TV to provide analysis. I have a row of TV monitors tuned to the major networks plus live feeds at LDP and DPJ headquarters, so I'll have plenty to choose from when it comes to updating the returns.

We should be getting the first exit polls in ten minutes or so.

Meet Japan's Democrats

The votes have been counted, and unsurprisingly the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has emerged victorious, becoming the first party other than the LDP to wield a majority in Japan's House of Representatives since the LDP was created in 1955.

But despite its victory, the DPJ is poorly understood even by Japanese. So it is worth asking, who are Japan's Democrats?

In this post, I will try to address some common misunderstandings about the DPJ, many of which will undoubtedly be repeated as Japan and the world consider the implications of Japan's historic change of government.

Origins: The DPJ is the successor to a party now known as the former DPJ. The former DPJ was launched in 1996 by members of the former Japan Socialist Party (JSP; now the Social Democratic Party of Japan) and Sakigake, one of the microparties that participated in the non-LDP coalition that held power from 1993-1994. Both parties had joined in coalition with the LDP in 1994, and the founders of the DPJ feared the electoral consequences of that decision. Among those founders were Hatoyama Yukio, a member of Sakigake who had been deputy chief cabinet secretary in the Hosokawa government, Yokomichi Takahiro, a onetime JSP Diet member who had served three terms as Hokkaido's governor before returning to the Diet as a DPJ member in 1996, and Kan Naoto, who at the time became well known for his service as health minister dealing with the AIDS-tainted blood scandal, as well as Hatoyama Kunio, Yukio's brother.

One thing that becomes apparent from looking at the party's basic principles is the similarity to the platform upon which the new DPJ was elected in 2009. It is also worth noting the similarities between this document and Hatoyama Yukio's recent essay in VOICE, including the inclusion of certain phrases ("bottom-up democracy of co-existence and self-reliance," "fraternity," etc.). As I noted when Hatoyama was elected DPJ leader in May, the former DPJ was very much a Hatoyama family affair, to the point of its founding depending on the Hatoyama family fortune.

But the party was transformed from a Hatoyama New Party to the party now set to govern Japan through several waves of new arrivals to the party. In 1998, the dissolution of Ozawa Ichiro's New Frontier Party led to the creation first of a handful of tiny parties plus Ozawa's Liberal Party, and then to the union of the former DPJ and the NFP successor parties with the exception of the Liberal Party. The party's principles at its founding in 1998 can be clearly recognized in the party's 2009 election manifesto: decentralization, administrative reform, budgetary reform, political reform in the interest of a more transparent and bottom-up democracy, a certain skepticism with neo-liberalism, a stress on a social safety net suited for an age marked by an aging, shrinking population, a foreign policy that stressed the UN, cooperation with the US in other areas (i.e., non-security), and closer ties with Asian countries, and a security policy that largely retained cold war constraints and sought more regional security multilateralism.

The DPJ was further transformed when the party merged with Ozawa Ichiro's Liberal Party, a move opposed vociferously by some DPJ members, most notably Edano Yukio. The most notable consequence of the merger, of course, was that it brought Ozawa into the party, which was subsequently reshaped by Ozawa, although the party went through three leaders, faced a disastrous defeat in 2005, and went through an embarrassing scandal in 2006 that nearly broke the reeling party.

Ozawa almost single-handedly transformed the DPJ into the party capable of driving the LDP from power. He selected candidates, trained them, honed the party's message to reach voters in the provinces, and then tirelessly traveled the country to take the DPJ's message to the people and lend his support to his candidates. Hatoyama may be the face of the victory and the DPJ's first prime minister, but the DPJ's victory is Ozawa's victory.

A divided party?: Given the manner in which the DPJ developed, it is common to look at the DPJ and see a divided party. After all, it has former DPJ members and former JSP members in its ranks.

But to look at those two extremes and assume an irreconcilably divided party is mistaken, not least because it ignores the enormous mass between the two.

The DPJ that went into the 2009 campaign had, between the upper and lower houses, sixteen former JSP members (two who left the party after it had become the SDPJ) and twenty former LDP members. Of the latter, most of these members left the LDP in 1993. Most of the former Socialists have been in the DPJ since the creation of the former DPJ in 1996. Do the years spent away from their former parties count for nothing? This question applies doubly so to leaders like Ozawa and Hatoyama. Ozawa may have once been a rising star, but why do his years in the wilderness count for nothing?

Often ignored in accounts of the DPJ are the 134 members (before Sunday) who have spent their entire careers within the DPJ, a number that will of course swell thanks to the DPJ's overwhelming victory. The point is that these party members are dedicated to the party's ideas as outlined above and as translated into policy form in the party's 2009 manifesto.

There will inevitably be rifts as the party fills in the details surrounding its policies once in power, but differences in opinion along these lines are normal.

Another manner in which the DPJ is more united, at least compared to the LDP, is in its internal structure. The DPJ does not have the sprawling policymaking organization that is the LDP's policy research council. It has been a considerably more top-down organization than the LDP and customarily has had collective leadership, starting with Hatoyama and Kan at the party's birth and continuing onward through to the Ozawa-Hatoyama-Kan troika and the party's Next Cabinet, which early in the DPJ's existence replaced the general council (which in the LDP exerts a veto over the cabinet). Successful administrative reform will depend on the DPJ's bringing this tradition of top-down, collective leadership into government.

Identical to the LDP?: Another common argument about the DPJ is that it is nothing more than a pale imitation of the LDP. There are a couple ways to address this argument.

First, if this is in fact the case, so what? In most if not all developed democracies, intense ideological divides have narrowed so that center-left and center-right parties have moved ever closer and now compete more on the basis of administrative competence and corruption than on profound clashes based on policy or conforming to class cleavages. Why should Japan be any different?

But while the DPJ and the LDP differed largely on questions of how to pay for programs that neither side questioned in principle, there is one area in which the two parties differed radically: administrative reform. The LDP has long talked about administrative reform, but has only haltingly followed through on its rhetoric. The DPJ, however, has made clear that its first and most important order of business is shifting the balance of power between politicians and bureaucrats in favor of politicians in the cabinet, especially when it comes to budgeting. If the DPJ delivers on its proposals — and given its mandate, it is hard to see how it will fail to make at least some progress — it will be in a position to make more substantial policy changes.

Left wing?: Others argue that far from being identical to the LDP, the DPJ is actually a radical left wing party. There is little evidence to support this argument. Indeed, it is barely worth addressing. No party led by Ozawa Ichiro for three years, and before that Maehara Seiji, merits the label left wing.

Muddled policy: There is, of course, some truth to this argument, especially as far as the party's economic growth strategy is concerned. Others in Washington argue that the DPJ's position on foreign policy is muddled. I would be more concerned about the former than the latter. As I wrote last week, the DPJ is more united on foreign policy questions than often assumed, and on the realignment of US forces, the foreign policy issue most likely to be taken up by the Hatoyama government early on, the party is almost completely in agreement in opposition to the 2006 roadmap.

But while there are many remaining questions about how the DPJ will get Japan's economy growing again and fix the government's finances — new bond issues? dollar reserves? tax reform? — the DPJ will answer these questions soon.

What we can be sure about is that the biggest pieces of the DPJ's manifesto — child allowances, income support for farmers, free public high schools, tollfree national expressways — will be assigned high priority by the new government. And on administrative reform, the party's position is clear: it will transform the balance of power within the government. The DPJ may make some tactical compromises as it pursues a new policymaking process, but it will make it a top priority.

There are unanswered questions about a DPJ government, one of the biggest being a triumphant Ozawa Ichiro's role in the new administration. But the party will enjoy a honeymoon and it has a huge majority with which to work. The Japanese public has certainly provided the DPJ with the perfect tool with which to implement its agenda.

On the BBC

The rain is falling in Tokyo, but given the early turnout indicators it seems unlikely that the rain will make much difference.

In the meantime, I will be appearing on the BBC at 5pm JST (9am GMT) to talk about the election.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Election day open thread

I will be checking in periodically over the course of today — in between TV appearances. I should also be live-blogging the results this evening. I'll be watching the returns and blogging from Reuters's offices in Tokyo before commenting on the results for Reuters TV. (I would also recommend checking out the Trans-Pacific Radio webcast of the results.)

Meanwhile, please post your stories of things seen and heard on election day in the comments.

The Japanese people choose

It is election day in Japan. After forty days of intense campaigning, the sound trucks are silent as the LDP, the DPJ, and a handful of smaller parties submit themselves to the judgment of the voters. After nearly four years, the Japanese people will vote for a new House of Representatives.

I had many ideas for how to write this post, but the answer appear to me when I entered the title. You see, the last post I wrote that began with the words "The Japanese people" was this post, "The Japanese people lose hope." That post, written in March when Ozawa Ichiro, then DPJ leader, was under siege due to the arrest of his aide due to alleged campaign finance violations, dissected a public opinion poll that showed just how disillusioned the Japanese people had become with their political system.

Five months later, things look a bit different.

I do not doubt that the Japanese people are still skeptical of the ability of the political system to deliver the results respondents said they wanted in the poll conducted by Asahi in March. But faced with a choice today, it seems that the voting public is prepared to choose hope not long after the public appeared to have lost hope in the possibility of improving society through politics. The crowds I saw gathered at Ikebukuro on Saturday night were not cynical or apathetic: cynics would have stayed home.

Today the Japanese voter faces a simple choice. On the one side is the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the long-governing, ever familiar LDP, for better or for worse an institution of Japanese life. It is a party that has spent the past forty days making few arguments for why it deserves a new mandate and many arguments for why the opposition cannot be trusted with power, even as the LDP spent the past four years doing little with the historic mandate it received in 2005. To the very last, the LDP has used its status as Japan's perpetual governing party to argue that only it can be trusted to defend the Japanese people, campaigning on the basis of fear of the unknown. Speaking in Yokohama Saturday, for example, Prime Minister Aso Taro said that thanks to the DPJ's "UN-centered" foreign policy approach, the government's bill authorizing maritime ship inspections was dropped, about which "North Korea was the most pleased." The LDP was making the same argument before the 2007 House of Councillors election.

On the other side is the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the decade-old leading opposition party that is now poised to take power for the first time. For the past forty days the DPJ has been relentlessly positive. Its leaders and candidates have refused to respond to the LDP's negative campaigning with a negative campaign of its own. Instead the party has campaigned on the basis of its manifesto. It has presented the DPJ as a brand with a common message from Hokkaido to Okinawa. The DPJ made sure that it put its manifesto into the hand of as many voters as possible, even as the LDP's gathered dust in campaign offices. One can question whether the DPJ will be able to follow through on its manifesto — indeed, should the DPJ win, it will sooner or later have to choose which portions of the manifesto to drop due to not having the money to pay for them. But the point is that the party takes its own manifesto seriously.

That does not necessarily mean that the Japanese public will be voting for the DPJ on the basis of the contents of its manifesto: as I noted at the start of the campaign twelve days ago, the same portion of the public doubts that the DPJ will be able to fund its manifesto as doubts that the LDP will be able to deliver on its promises. Instead, if the public chooses the DPJ today, it will be for two simple reasons, Seiken kotai (regime change) and Seikatsu dai-ichi (livelihoods first). The first signifies, of course, a change of ruling party, but no one should think that regime change begins and ends with today's general election. What the DPJ means by regime change is a set of changes to Japan's system of government, starting with placing the power to formulate budgets in the hands of the public's representatives in cabinet. At the same time, the DPJ promises to address the profound economic insecurity that has grown over the past two decades, the sense that life in Japan has gotten unmistakably worse since the end of the bubble economy — and the sense that even as life got worse, the LDP-led government did nothing to reverse the decline.

The DPJ may not be able to deliver on either part. It could fail. But failure is not preordained. And the fact that Japanese people finally appear ready to vote for a new ruling party suggests that the voters are not so cynical as to believe that meaningful political change is impossible. They may be skeptical, but, after all, skepticism is appropriate when a people to view their government.

If I have been criticized for one thing in the nearly three years that I have been writing this blog, it is for being overly partial to the DPJ. That may be the case, but if so, it is for a simple reason: when given a choice between the LDP and DPJ, there is no choice. The LDP is utterly bankrupt as a ruling party. It has indeed failed to address the most basic concerns of the Japanese people. A vote for the LDP is a vote for more fear-mongering and more cynicism, and an LDP victory would be a victory for the idea that Japan is in inevitable decline, that when given a real choice the Japanese people still could not detach themselves from the LDP.

A vote for the DPJ, meanwhile, does not necessarily signify an absolute vote of confidence in the ability of the DPJ to deliver on its plans, but it does suggest a belief in the possibility of a new direction for Japan.

It is common in Japanese politics for leaders to appeal to the Meiji Restoration, when Japanese elites decided to build a modern state. Hatoyama did just that on Saturday evening in a press conference following his rally. But this is not like the Meiji Restoration. This is the Japanese people choosing a new course, one that could result in the people being able to hold their leaders accountable more than at any time in the past.

The budget is the key to regime change

In their final appeals to Japanese voters, Kan Naoto and other DPJ leaders laid particular stress on the budget.

Speaking in Tokyo on Saturday, Kan said, "True regime change is politicians who have received the trust of the people restoring the right to formulate budgets to the people." Okada Katsuya, the DPJ's secretary-general, delivered the same message in Gifu Saturday. "We will completely review and remake the budget," he said. "We will review from a zero base that severs existing obligations."

Perhaps it seems strange that on the eve of the general election that may deliver the DPJ into power for the first time, its leaders are speaking of the "right of formulating budgets" and "zero-based budgeting."

It shouldn't. After all, the power to determine how a nation's wealth is spent and distributed — inherent in the national budget — has been at the center of political conflicts for centuries since the rise of the modern state. Appropriately considering that Kan and other DPJ politicians are looking to create a proper Westminster system on Japan's shores, the battle over the budget was particularly central to Britain's political development, from the struggles of the seventeenth century, Britain's "century of revolution," to the battle over the "People's Budget" roughly a century ago, when the Asquith government fought over the House of Lords over a budget that included redistributory measures, especially pensions, and would be financed by tax increases on the wealthy.

When Kan speaks of the right to formulate budgets, he is speaking of something fundamental to democracy: that the people's representatives should have the power to decide how the public's money is spent and that their decisions should be transparent so that the people can decide whether they approve of how their representatives are using the public's wealth. The problem is not that politicians have been uninvolved in budgeting under LDP rule, but that their involvement was the product of collusion between elected representatives and bureaucrats who saw cooperation with certain politicians — the LDP's zoku giin (policy tribesmen) — making deals behind closed doors to benefit particular groups and constituents at the expense of the whole. The opacity of the budgeting process was compounded by the existence of special accounts in addition to the general budget, funds that were used with little or no public oversight. It was for this reason that when I spoke with one of the DPJ's rising stars, a retired finance ministry official, in January he stressed that the DPJ cannot be sure of how it will pay for all of its promises because it cannot be sure of how much money is sitting in special accounts the contents of which have not been made available to the DPJ, let alone the public at large.

Accordingly, while some doubt that anything will change with a DPJ victory, if the DPJ succeeds at making the budgeting process even more top-down and subject to political control than it became as a result of the Hashimoto reforms of the late 1990s (the extent to which these reforms transformed the budgeting process are open for debate), it will have truly changed Japan. Restoring the cabinet's constitutional prerogative to formulate the budget is, after all, the goal of the party's plans for a national strategy office. Administrative reform has arguably been one of the DPJ's core principles since the first DPJ was created in 1996 — the above statements and others reveal that for the DPJ administrative reform that does not include reform of the budgeting process is incomplete.

Changing the budgeting process, often construed as entailing a fight with the ministry of finance, may in fact entail more significant battles with the ministries responsible for spending the money rather than the ministry allocating it. Under LDP rule, spending ministries like the agriculture ministry, the former construction ministry, and the health, labor, and welfare ministry have been the primary administrative beneficiaries of opaque budgeting — it was not accidental that the most powerful policy tribes were connected to these policy areas. All of these ministries have suffered from budget cuts over the past decade, which will presumably make them even more resistant to changes proposed by the DPJ: it is their budgets that the DPJ would like to redirect in order to pay for programs directed at the public's main concerns.

Cutting these budgets will take a certain ruthlessness on the part of a DPJ government. Naturally the LDP will find ways to put a human face on budget cuts. Presumably manga artist Satonaka Machiko's appeal on behalf of the 11.7 billion yen "national media arts center" lampooned as Aso Taro's "Manga cafe" by the DPJ will not be the last such appeal if the DPJ wins Sunday. Masuzoe Yoichi, Aso's minister of health, labor, and welfare and potentially Aso's successor as LDP leader, warned that the DPJ's policy of rearranging the budget could jeopardize important programs in his ministry to combat swine flu and unemployment, which strikes me as fearmongering on Masuzoe's part, but it does suggest that after an electoral defeat the LDP will still find ways to challenge the DPJ on this question of remaking the budget.

But ultimately giving politicians in the cabinet more power over the budget is but a first step to moving Japan in a new direction. Having claimed budgetary authority, the government will then have to find a way to balance among the DPJ's three goals of fixing Japan's finances, building a proper social safety net, and finding a way to get Japanese households and companies channeling their cash holdings into profitable investment and consumption.

In most areas the DPJ may not signal a radical departure from the LDP — most areas except for the question of who should make Japan's budgets. And it is that difference which makes all the difference. If the DPJ implements its plans for a strengthened cabinet, it will make a radical departure from LDP rule, and clear the way for further policy changes.

The last night of LDP rule?

This evening I ventured over to Ikebukuro, where Prime Minister Aso Taro and DPJ leader Hatoyama Yukio were having dueling rallies on opposite sides of Ikebukuro station.

I did not stay long at the LDP rally. Located on the east side of the station, the crowd was gathered on sidewalks around the roundabout, and there was barely enough room to move, let alone listen to the speeches comfortably. What I did notice was that the crowd was silent, almost eerily silent. The politicians introducing Aso, who had not yet appeared when I was there, were certainly trying to stir the crowd, but there was not the slightest bit of applause when one would have expected it.

Not surprisingly, given the emphasis that Aso has placed on defending the flag during the the campaign, the LDP adopted the "put out more flags" approach Saturday evening — spectators may not have been applauding, but they did wave their flags occasionally.

The scene was different on the west side of the station, where Hatoyama addressed a crowd gathered in the park near the west exit.

It's hard to say which side had more people, although it's safe to say that the crowd for Hatoyama was at least as big as the crowd for Aso. And it was certainly engaged.

I did find it interesting that Hatoyama singled out the LDP's negative campaigning in his speech, which otherwise was his standard speech based on the contents of the DPJ's manifesto (which had, of course, been distributed to those in attendance).

Aso naturally stressed the themes that he has stressed throughout the campaign: the ability of the LDP to defend Japan from enemies abroad and economic stagnation at home.

This was the last gasp of an LDP prime minister before submitting himself to the judgment of a public that, if the polls are to be believed, have tired of his party after decades of nearly uninterrupted rule. Asahi reports that roughly 10.9 million people voted early this year, roughly 10% of the electorate and a 63% increase over 2005. It is difficult to see how that is an encouraging sign for the LDP. Yomiuri's last poll found the DPJ's commanding lead unchanged, its figures nearly double the LDP's in most categories. Aso, optimistic to the last, is convinced that the race will be decided in the last two percent, that a come-from-behind victory for the LDP is possible because, he claimed, the parties are running neck and neck in many districts. I would imagine that other LDP leaders, many of them fighting for their political lives, would not agree with Aso's assessment.

The long campaign is finally at an end.

The DPJ continues to reveal its plans for government

While the DPJ may have a public relations problem, the party has continued to show during the days leading up to the general election that it is focused on ensuring a smooth transition to power in the likely event that it wins, while at the same time taking the first steps to reorganizing the policymaking process to privilege the cabinet at the expense of the bureaucracy.

In particular, more details are emerging regarding the national strategy office that is at the center of the DPJ's plans for empowering the cabinet. The party has confirmed that not only will the director of the office be a member of the cabinet, but that the head of the DPJ's policy research council will serve concurrently at policy chief and head of the NSO. And Mainichi suggests that the post will be equivalent to a deputy prime minister. The goal, of course, is to forestall the creation of a policymaking process in which ruling party organs wield veto power over the cabinet's decisions — a central feature of LDP rule. How will a DPJ create the new office as it takes power, seeing as how it has no legal standing, and seeing as how the DPJ wants the NSO to play a leading rule in budgeting? It appears that the DPJ plans to create the office as an informal planning cell coming into existence concurrently with the Hatoyama cabinet, which will then submit legislation officially creating the NSO (and, it seems, dissolving the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, whose functions it will subsume). Jiji's report also suggests that the office will have thirty members drawn from the Diet, the private sector, and the bureaucracy.

Given the party's emphasis on increasing the role of the cabinet in budgeting, moving at least some distance in the direction of zero-based budgeting — recently stressed by Okada Katsuya in a campaign appearance in Tokyo — moving quickly on the NSO will be crucial to the early success of a DPJ government. I hope that they've already assembled a wish list for the NSO's thirty members and have put out feelers to those outside the party.

The DPJ has also confirmed that decisions regarding sub-cabinet appointees will be made by cabinet ministers themselves, instead of by party officials. (Recall that distributing sub-cabinet posts is one of the few remaining functions left to the LDP's factions.) The goal seems to be the creation of policy teams at each ministry, with the minister and sub-ministers working together to impose the cabinet's will. Incidentally, this policy signals at least two important changes. First, it suggests that the DPJ's changes to the policymaking process involve more than just strengthening the prime minister. By bolstering the positions of individual ministers, the cabinet as a whole will be stronger. Second, by giving ministers the power to select their political subordinates, it should introduce factors other than age and faction into the distribution of posts. After all, given that the DPJ has young former bureaucrats in its ranks, why should they be prevented from holding sub-cabinet posts due to their lack of seniority? Presumably this freedom to dispense with seniority is one advantage of the relative youth of DPJ candidates.

Another plan being floated by the DPJ is increasing the number of prime minister's secretaries to six, with one being a Diet member and the remaining five being bureaucrats. The party would prefer more than one political appointee, but due to the Diet law's limit on the number of Diet members who can serve concurrently in government, Hatoyama will depend on bureaucrats at his side until the law can be revised.

Finally, if the DPJ wins a decisive victory Sunday, its transition team will begin work on Monday.

Far from playing the naïve ingenue, the DPJ is clearly serious about governing and is doing all the right things to ensure a framework will be in place by the time the Diet meets to elect a new prime minister.

Hatoyama's media problem

As expected, the translation of Hatoyama Yukio's essay in VOICE (discussed here) has caused a stir in the United States.

Asahi quotes several anonymous former US government officials, as well as Sheila Smith from the Council on Foreign Relations, criticizing the essay. One of the former officials suggested that the Obama administration will simply ignore the essay. On the whole the essay will be at most a footnote in the transition to a DPJ government — the US-Japan alliance certainly isn't in danger because Hatoyama appeared in foreign media indulging, perhaps at greater length than other Japanese politicians, in the demolition of the straw man of "American" global capitalism.

But I hope the DPJ takes to heart the lesson of what can happen when the party is careless about what appears in the press with the party leader's byline.

The Japanese media — particularly Yomiuri and Sankei, as well as the bevy of conservative journals, of which VOICE is one — will be waiting for the DPJ to fail, and will do everything they can to hurry the process along. Sankei has been on the job of smearing the DPJ for months, and as even released a book "dissecting" the DPJ. And then there's Bungei Shunju, the current issue of which is devoted to "studies of the DPJ that nobody knows" — and its sister publication, Shokun! They will repeat every rumor, welcome every leak from anonymous bureaucrats, and pile on every gaffe by Hatoyama and members of his cabinet. They will try to ensure that the DPJ's honeymoon is as short as possible. Whatever role Ozawa Ichiro plays after the general election, they will use the trial of Ozawa aide Okubo Takanori to smear a DPJ-led government.

Managing the press will be an essential task for a Hatoyama government, a task that I fear the DPJ is not taking seriously. After all, why was Hatoyama's essay published in VOICE in the first place? Was it a bid to placate conservative elites, who have shown themselves to be nothing but skeptical of the DPJ? Why was the party not aware that VOICE would then turn around and syndicate an English translation? I am not one for conspiracy theories, but I wonder if VOICE — or whoever was responsible for the translation (I don't believe that it was the DPJ) — knew exactly what it was doing disseminating an essay that would clearly embarrass Hatoyama and make him look more radical than he actually will be in government. Why didn't someone at the DPJ realize that letting the party leader — or someone using the party leader's name — expound at length on his political "philosophy" in an essay complete with obscure references and poorly crafted arguments would make the party look bad on the eve of the general election?

Some commentators to my post wondered what was the problem with the substance of Hatoyama's essay — or with letting the "truth" be know by Americans. Again, I don't see too much problem with the policy content of Hatoyama's essay, insofar as it has policy content. A bit more distance from the US through cooperation in Asia while remaining within the alliance? I suspect that Japanese governments of whatever party will pursue this approach in years to come. But did Hatoyama have to sound so much like a Chinese Communist Party theorist trying to determine the precise moment when unipolarity will give way to multipolarity? Did he have to heap so much scorn on the country that still provides for Japan's defense and from whose government the DPJ will want cooperation on a number of issues, including but not limited to negotiations regarding the realignment of US Forces in Japan, the Status-of-Forces agreement governing the US military presence, the role of nuclear weapons in the alliance, and a free-trade agreement between Japan and the US, the last of which is an important piece of the DPJ's approach to the US-Japan relationship? There were other ways to make the same points without being nearly so antagonistic and furnishing DPJ skeptics with more reasons to doubt the party's abilities to govern Japan. At the very least, some senior official from the DPJ, if not Hatoyama, ought to have written (or lent his or her name) to a piece written originally in English for submission to an American publication. It certainly should do so now.

As the DPJ makes its preparations for a new government, it must also think hard about how it will manage its relations with the press, domestic and foreign, especially given Hatoyama's tendency to speak a bit too freely. A quote from an FT article by Mure Dickie on Hatoyama's shortcomings captures it quite well: "[Mr Hatoyama] has a very free point of view. From morning to night, he always wants to do the right thing. The problem is he doesn't know what the right thing is." It is for good reason that the press's access to Hatoyama has been limited during the campaign. From the time Hatoyama took over as party leader in May he was giving impromptu, burasagari press conferences once a day, but those press conferences stopped when the campaign began. Originally reported by Yomiuri, other media sources have reported on the lack of access to Hatoyama. Sankei notes that while the DPJ says that the reason is simply a matter of time, it cites anonymous sources in the party leadership in reporting that the actual reason for the lack of access is to prevent Hatoyama from making gaffes that could prove fatal during the campaign. But lest you think this report is simply the result of Sankei's bias, Asahi offers the same explanation based on an anonymous source at party headquarters. Asahi adds that there is no such policy in place for other senior party leaders, including Ozawa Ichiro.

Naturally if the DPJ wins Sunday, it will not be able to keep Hatoyama from the press forever. The danger of Hatoyama speaking too much and undermining his own government will remain. Much as Kawamura Takeo, Aso Taro's chief cabinet secretary, has been kept busy explaining away Aso's indiscretions, Kawamura's successor in a Hatoyama cabinet will have the same task. Indeed, explaining away bizarre or contradictory remarks by Hatoyama will likely be an essential task for the cabinet as a whole. It best be filled with officials capable of being as clear and decisive as Hatoyama is vague and self-contradictory.

Ultimately, the DPJ needs to become better at image management and strategic communications — and soon. A vetting process that includes outside experts for publications by party leaders would be a good start.

Why the LDP will lose Sunday

I have an article at The New Republic's website that, building on some ideas initially explored at this blog, offers an explanation for why we're about to witness a major pendulum swing in Sunday's general election.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Election preview for The Economist

I recently had a conversation with The Economist's Tokyo bureau to discuss Sunday's general election.

It is available here in iTunes. It is also available at The Economist's website, here.

On the DPJ's youth

When the campaign officially began, I noted that the difference in the average age of LDP candidates (55.5) versus DPJ candidates (49.4) was one of several significant features separating the parties.

I was curious, however, about the median age of DPJ candidates, which I think says more about the youth of the party than the average age, useful as the above-mentioned figure is.

This is perhaps a bit imprecise: I looked only at the DPJ's SMD candidates and because the LDP gives its candidates' birth dates by reign year (and I don't have an unlimited amount of time to calculate their ages), I cannot provide similar data for the LDP's candidates for comparison.

Nevertheless, it is worth reporting that the median age of DPJ SMD candidates is 47 years old, slightly less than the average. Also worth reporting is the mode, 38 years old. Finally, I think the chart of DPJ candidates grouped by five-year cohorts shows just how young the party's candidates are. Candidate fifty and under constitute nearly two-thirds of the DPJ's SMD candidates, with the single largest cohort being candidates between thirty-six and forty years old, followed closely by candidates in their late forties.

After my trip to Kagawa and Okayama last weekend, where I saw the energy conveyed by young candidates (and their even younger volunteers), I am convinced that the youth of DPJ candidates will be a factor in a DPJ victory. Not the main factor, of course, but in close races the fact that DPJ candidates look and sound fresh, the fact that they are young and largely not hereditary, has helped reinforce the party's message that it represents meaningful change from the LDP.

It will be interesting to see whether the DPJ caucus in the new House of Representatives winds up being as skewed towards the young as the party's candidates are.

The LDP's unlucky numbers

With two days until the general election, Asahi anticipates that turnout this year might be higher than 2005's 67.5% and might even top 70% for the first time since the 1990 general election. The weather should cooperate: there is some rain in the forecast for the Kanto area Sunday, but otherwise it looks clear across the country.

But it is not just the weather that favors the DPJ.

Evidence continues to mount that independents will abandon the LDP in extraordinary numbers, having tired of LDP rule. In its last poll before the election Mainichi found that the LDP should be able to get LDP supporters out to vote, but the problem is that LDP supporters have fallen to 20% of respondents. Nearly 40% of respondents who said they voted for the LDP in PR voting in 2005 said they will vote for the DPJ in PR voting this year. Mainichi also confirmed that as far as policy goes, this campaign has been contested on the DPJ's terms: the DPJ's policies are preferred on the areas of greatest concern to voters, pensions, health care, and child and education policy. The issues of greatest important to respondents are pensions and health and nursing care (33%), anti-recessionary policy (25%), education and child policy (16%), "regime change" (8%), and administrative reform (7%). It seems that for the second consecutive election the LDP has decided not to talk much about the issues of greatest concern to the Japanese public. Mainichi also found evidence that the DPJ's manifesto-centered campaign strategy — discussed here — has paid dividends. 70% of respondents said that they are referring to manifestos in casting their vote, and of those 70%, to DPJ is preferred 51% to 23% for SMDs and 50% to 21% in PR voting.

Of course, beyond the poll numbers, there is this figure: unemployment in July reached 5.7%, an historic high, as deflation worsened and households cut their spending. Much as Japanese households benefited relatively little from Japan's "longest postwar growth period" during the earlier part of this decade, they are not benefiting from Japan's supposed "recovery." The LDP may have been the victim of the global financial crisis ("originating from America"), but these figures are a testament to the LDP's failure to develop a new growth strategy since the bubble burst nearly two decades ago. It is a final remainder of how economic insecurity has grown during these two decades, arguably the insecurity that will drive the LDP from power on Sunday.

More on Ozawa

Foreign Policy's website has an essay I've written regarding the role of Ozawa Ichiro in a DPJ government here. For the record, I did not pick the detail.

MTC has some excellent thoughts on the Ozawa dilemma here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

TV appearances

I will be talking about the election on Al Jazeera English at 1pm this afternoon and will also be appearing in a segment on the election airing on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's 7pm news and again at 10:30pm on Lateline.

The LDP on the brink of disaster

The general election campaign is heading into its final days. Despite another two days of campaigning, the LDP and DPJ are mostly battling for seats on the margins — the LDP to keep from falling below 100 seats, the DPJ to reach the magic number of 320, the number required for a supermajority. As the campaign has developed, the LDP's position has only slipped, both in polls and other measurements, such as weakening support from the organizations that have long been part of the LDP's vote-gathering machine. The latest slippage is from the Japanese Medical Association, which does not approve of everything in the DPJ's manifesto but expressed its support for several of the party's proposals, concluding that "the DPJ wrote too much in its manifesto, the LDP wrote too little." There seems to be little doubt which direction the JMA would prefer the parties to err.

After all, the latest round of polls making predictions for seat distributions matched the first round of polls, which astoundingly suggested that the DPJ could win around 300 seats. Asahi's latest poll suggests the possibility of 321 seats for the DPJ and 103 for the LDP. I still suspect something closer to 300, plus or minus twenty seats. But it will be a major victory for the DPJ regardless. (Asahi reports that the DPJ might not have named enough candidates to its PR list in the Kinki and Kyushu blocks, where all but two candidates are running simultaneously as SMD and PR candidates.) Similarly, Mainichi's final poll before the election records the DPJ doubling the LDP in nearly every category: party support, voting intentions in single-member districts, PR voting, although Mainichi notes that it is difficult to project how these figures — different from the party's survey of electoral districts that produced the 320 seat prediction recently — will play out in SMDs.

But unless we're about to witness what would surely be the greatest polling error in a developed democracy, the LDP is less than three days away from suffering a crushing, perhaps even mortal blow in this year's general election.

Not surprisingly the closer the LDP gets the defeat, the more desperate and bizarre the pronouncements of the party's leaders. MTC has already noted Yosano Kaoru's absurd warning of the dangers of one party dictatorship, which probably wins as the single worst justification for LDP rule made during the campaign.

But the remarkable thing about the past month of campaigning is that the LDP is no closer to offering a clear reason why it deserves another mandate than it was when Prime Minister Aso Taro dissolved the Diet last month. The one consistent strain in the party's message has been fear. While the LDP has tried to paint a "positive" message of itself as the "conservative party" — the party which protects that which should be protected (begging the obvious response of "The LDP: the party that will protect everything except your pension") — it has spent more time talking about how the DPJ will, through its flip-flopping and its blurring, make things worse.

And so in Osaka Thursday Aso wheeled out the punning critique he made of the DPJ back in June, although this time he removed the qualifier and said "if there is regime change, there will be a recession." (In Japanese the words for regime change and recession are homophones.) And not only will a DPJ government prompt a recession, but its advent will also be accompanied by "chaos." Aso has apparently also stopped apologizing for his party's poor performance, although it's probably just as well — why would anyone vote for a party whose leader opens by apologizing for the party's performance in office and then proceeds to ask for a new mandate?

Not surprisingly given his engrained optimism, Aso continues to throw all of his energy into the campaign, even as those around him in the party leadership freely admit the difficulties facing the LDP. After all, it won't be their names in the history books associated with the defeat that finally broke LDP rule. But even Aso's resolve may be cracking. In response to a query regarding the fading prospects of meeting the goal of retaining a majority between the LDP and Komeito, he could do nothing more than lamely stress that "compared with before, there are more young people (at campaign speeches), and the response isn't bad." He even paused to diagnose the LDP-Komeito coalition's problems, chalking it up the government parties' failure to "clearly state the appeal held by conservatism" before returning to the party's emphasis on defending that which should be defended. (Funny, I thought a major contributing factor to the LDP's decline since Koizumi Junichiro was Abe Shinzo's desire to explain the appeal of conservatism to the public when all they wanted to hear was that their pension records were safe.)

The question now is what happens to the LDP in the aftermath of the coming disaster. Echoing a point I made in this post, a Shukan Bunshun article suggests that the LDP's factions may be the feature of the LDP to go in the wake of the election, with next month's party presidential election being a truly post-factional contest. With five of eight factions potentially headless, the stage may be set for the factions to break and reorganize into two or three distinct ideological groups, the two most prominent being an "Abe faction" and a "Nakagawa [Hidenao] faction." (As both Abe and Nakagawa are currently in the Machimura faction, naturally the ideological split would begin, as I've argued before, in the Machimura faction, the faction that has controlled the LDP for the past decade.) At the same time, there is still a push to make Masuzoe Yoichi, the minister of health, labor, and welfare and the most popular politician in Japan (and the LDP politician I've seen on "two-shot" posters), Aso's successor. Yamasaki Taku, one of the embattled faction heads, said Tuesday that Masuzoe is the strongest candidate to rebuild the LDP. Of course, it is telling that Yamasaki spoke in favor of Masuzoe seeing as how Yamasaki, one of a handful of LDP liberals, would fit comfortably neither in the Nakagawa group nor the Abe group — not unlike Masuzoe, who is in the upper house, does not belong to a faction, and is relentlessly independent in his thinking. Masuzoe would indeed make a good leader, although I'm not sure why as bright as Masuzoe would want to take on the herculean task of cleaning up the LDP after this election. And I wonder how Masuzoe would fare in an election campaign split along the aforementioned ideological lines.

Ultimately it is difficult to say anything for certain until the votes are counted, until we know which ideological camp lost more seats in the general election.

But it is no longer in doubt that the LDP is about to suffer mightily at the hands of the Japanese people.