Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ozawa whips the DPJ and the Diet into shape

Speaking at a convention of the Osaka branch of the DPJ, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi spoke succinctly of the role of the DPJ's backbenchers in the new government. Hirano said that not only is it unnecessary for DPJ backbenchers to ask questions in Diet proceedings, but also the DPJ's many first-term Diet members should be focused on consolidating their support bases in their districts.

Welcome to life in Japan's emerging Westminster system, in which the job of backbenchers is — contrary to the argument made by Paul Scalise and Devin Stewart that a major problem with Japanese politics is backbenchers lacking policymaking resources (discussed here) — to show up and vote as the party, acting at the behest of the cabinet, requests.

Hirano's remarks dovetail with Ozawa Ichiro's unfolding plans to reform the mechanics of the Diet. Upon his return from Britain last month, Ozawa outlined plans to revise the Diet law to, among other things, prohibit testimony by bureaucrats so to strengthen debate among legislators. (This ban would also prevent officials of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau — a longtime Ozawa target — from appearing as witnesses in the Diet.) Ozawa also wants to trim the number of Diet committee members so that Diet members can focus on a specific policy area instead of dividing their time between multiple committees — and he wants cabinet and sub-cabinet officials to participate in committee deliberations so to clarify government policies for legislators.

Ozawa met with the secretaries general of the SDPJ and the PNP, the DPJ's coalition partners last week to discuss his plans for revising the Diet law, although the SDPJ is skeptical of the need to revise the law and it seems unlikely that revising the law will figure highly on the Diet agenda for the forthcoming extraordinary session after Hirano met with Yamaoka Kenji, the DPJ's Diet affairs chair, and suggested that the bill should be delayed until next year's ordinary session.

Ozawa is otherwise working to consolidate control of the DPJ caucus and to exclude the ruling parties from the policymaking process. Concerns about Ozawa's forging a dominant Ozawa faction out of the so-called "Ozawa children" seem to be giving way to complaints that Ozawa is consolidating his control of the DPJ and the Diet through more conventional means. Ozawa has announced the lineup of the new party executive, and is being criticized for streamlining the party leadership by folding up a number of deputy leadership posts and concentrating party in his hands and in the hands of Koshiishi Azuma, an upper house member who is not a longtime Ozawa loyalist but who has reportedly moved closer to Ozawa in recent years. (It is less than clear who is doing the criticizing: the conservative press or DPJ malcontents who would prefer to remain anonymous.) There is a greater number of upper house members among party members tapped for leadership posts, which may simply reflect the importance of the upper house for moving the government's agenda. According to Mainichi, six of ten members of the party executive are upper house members. Ozawa was also less concerned about preserving balance among the DPJ's different groups, and did not include party members from groups that have opposed him in the past, most notably Edano Yukio, a senior party member who was given neither a cabinet post nor a party leadership post.

Far from wanting to forge first-termers into a force capable of controlling the policy agenda, Ozawa does not want to see first-term DPJ members in Nagata-cho: Ozawa's group for first-term members has been suspended, and Ozawa has commanded first-termers to focus on political activities in their own districts, telling them "the work of a freshman member is to win the next election."

It is not only first-term DPJ members who have to fear Ozawa. At the meeting with his SDPJ and PNP counterparts last week, Ozawa flatly rejected an SDPJ request to convene a regular meeting among the governing parties to coordinate coalition parties, saying that it was for precisely that reason that the SDPJ's Fukushima Mizuho and the PNP's Kamei Shizuka were included the cabinet, rendering an extra-governmental meeting of secretaries general at best irrelevant and at worst harmful to cabinet government.

For all the concerns that surrounded Ozawa's appointment as DPJ secretary-general, one month into the Hatoyama government it appears that many of them were overblown. As was becoming clear even before the government took power, Ozawa sees his job as ensuring that the ruling party and the Diet are not obstacles to the cabinet's implementing its policy agenda. Ozawa has been largely silent — at least publicly — on policy questions and at every opportunity has stressed the importance of enhancing the cabinet's ability to govern. Far from dictating terms to the government, Ozawa has thus far been nothing but loyal to the Hatoyama government. There is plenty of time for that to change, but sooner or later Ozawa critics who argued that Ozawa's "army" of youngsters would be a DPJ version of the Tanaka faction will have to admit that they were mistaken about Ozawa's intentions.

Ozawa's role as the buckle linking cabinet to ruling party and Diet is critical, but ultimately he is working to strengthen the cabinet, not to undermine its power.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Welcome to life in Japan's emerging Westminster system, in which the job of backbenchers is — contrary to the argument made by Paul Scalise and Devin Stewart that a major problem with Japanese politics is backbenchers lacking policymaking resources (discussed here) — to show up and vote as the party, acting at the behest of the cabinet, requests."

It seems Paul and Davin do not know how the UK Parliamentary system works. US style stalemate, it ain't!

Derek said...

The gigantic problem new DPJ Diet members face is not in Nagata-cho, it's at home. First, as has been well documented, they got elected on a wave of resentment for the LDP, not DPJ support.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, the DPJ got elected thanks to a lot of people that probably aren't going to vote in the next election, unless the DPJ angers them into voting for someone else. The DPJ has expertly played the "everything wrong with Japan is the LDP's fault" card, but can no longer use it to rally undecided voters who, any way you slice it, only vote when they feel especially motivated.

People that always vote are still going to lean toward the LDP or Komeito in the next election, and believe me, they don't know or care about any Westminster system.

Finally, what I admit is a mere anecdote, but illustrative nevertheless: At my community sports festival on Sunday, several politicians were in attendance to give greetings. There were four city assembly members: One Komeito, one LDP, one JCP and one Seikatsusha Network. There were three Tokyo Assembly members: One Komeito, one LDP and one JCP. Anyone from the national level? Nope, unless you count the newly defeated LDP Diet member who was right there with a flower on his chest, shoring up his base and pressing the flesh.

Whether the local DPJ politicians--and there are enough of them--decided not to attend or weren't invited doesn't make much difference. They appear to think they can maintain their seats without engaging in "The Japanese Way of Politics," but instead by changing policies and handing out money through various baramaki schemes. They do not seem to realize that the support base that put them over the top this time is fleeting and fickle, and Japanese voters that consistently vote still value personal connections to their politicians.

Ozawa needs to realize that all politics is local.

Tobias Harris said...

Derek,

Ozawa is probably the last person in Japan who needs to be told that all politics is local.

Which is precisely the point. He doesn't want backbenchers spending time trying to get involved in policymaking. He wants them home pressing the flesh and making appearances at the local sports festival.

Anonymous said...

"...they don't know or care about any Westminster system...Japanese voters that consistently vote still value personal connections to their politicians"

That is ostensibly the Parliamentary system, which you appear to ignore or are unaware of!

As Tobias even noted:
"..Which is precisely the point. He doesn't want backbenchers spending time trying to get involved in policy making..."

The British Parliamentary system is so so different from the US system, which i assume your basing your political reference?

The manifesto, for which a party is elected, is the mandate for the term. Backbenchers support the proposals when brought to the house. The backbenchers do not engage in making policy, that is for the cabinet to make and take forward to the masses. Backbenchers just support their party, whilst maintaining the local connection in their constituency.

Backbenchers who criticise their party, never, or rarely, become members of the cabinet. Any discord with the party line is usually distanced very quickly form the party line, as such it is seen as a 'personal view' not a party/Govt, view position.

It is about time this country had a mandate taken forward by an elected party, rather than unelected bureaucrats doing their own personal bidding to keep their wealth/jobs/positions for their own dynasty, rather than looking after its citizens!

Anonymous said...

"...they don't know or care about any Westminster system...Japanese voters that consistently vote still value personal connections to their politicians"

That is ostensibly the Parliamentary system, which you appear to ignore or are unaware of!

As Tobias even noted:
"..Which is precisely the point. He doesn't want backbenchers spending time trying to get involved in policy making..."

The British Parliamentary system is so so different from the US, which i assume your basing your political reference?

The manifesto, for which a party is elected, is the mandate for the term. Backbenchers support the proposals when brought to the house. The backbenchers do not engage in making policy, that is for the cabinet to make and take forward to the masses. Backbenchers just support their party, whilst maintaining the local connection in their constituency.

Backbenchers who criticise their party, never, or rarely, become members of the cabinet. Any discord with the party line is usually distanced very quickly form the party line, as such it is seen as a 'personal view' not a party/Govt, view position.

It is about time this country had a mandate taken forward by an elected party, rather than unelected bureaucrats doing their own personal bidding to keep their wealth/jobs/positions for their own dynasty, rather than looking after its citizens!

Noah said...

To me, the amazing thing about Ozawa is that, for all his ruthless backroom arm-twisting and seemingly cynical opportunism, he really doesn't seem to be motivated by lust for power. He seems to really just want to change Japan's system.

Anonymous said...

Ozawa is a revolutionary above all else, showing flashes of personal ambition but ultimately putting ends above personal means and never wanting to be "showy on stage."


http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1884678,00.html

Anonymous said...

So How does Ozawa and the blogs author define a 'freshman' Diet member?
Is it a member serving their first term in the Lower House? or Is it a member serving their first term representing a Single-seat constituency? How can that 'new' member build up a support base unless the DPJ delivers something on the pocketbook isssues that got them elected in the first place?

Anonymous said...

After reading this article on your blog, I read the Time interview with Ozawa earlier this year. In the past, Ozawa has often been something of a very "black box" to me given his reputation for being a backroom manipulator of politics and his sometimes hawkish views. His recent comeback after years in the backwaters of LDP domination was a surprise to many of us. It was interesting for this reason to find out that his views on various subjects was rather conventional and non-threatening. For example, he is much concerned with the increasing incomes gap between ordinary working stiff and their bosses. He wants to reverse the alienation he perceives in youth who increasingly doubt their future in Japan. Since both of these challenges are appearing elsewhere (US and Britain), it is comforting to know that after two decades of turmoil and decline in the Japanese economy, some influential politicians are awakening to the challenges the nation faces.