Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hatoyama is the problem

Watching the shambles that the Hatoyama government has become, I went back into the archives and found the post I wrote on the occasion of Hatoyama Yukio's being selected as DPJ president in May 2009.

Called "The DPJ bets on Hatoyama," I stressed the risk associated with choosing Hatoyama to succeed Ozawa Ichiro, noting in particular Hatoyama's history of indecisive leadership, poor decision-making skills, and over-reliance on those around him for guidance.
The arc of his career also suggests that Hatoyama lacks a certain toughness — not a problem that Ozawa has — which will be indispensable if Hatoyama is to become prime minister and will have to be responsible for keeping the DPJ united, coaxing coalition partners, and overriding a recalcitrant bureaucracy. These tasks would be hard enough for Ozawa. Will Hatoyama be any more adroit?
The answer, it seems, is no.

I don't fault the Hatoyama government for taking on a tough issue like Futenma or postal privatization. After all, signaling changes of course on these policies is a good way to show how Westminster-style reforms can promote cabinet-led policy changes, making elections meaningful. But I fault the Hatoyama government — I fault the prime minister — for failing to exercise the least bit of control over his cabinet and his ruling party, making a total mess of these policies and others and dragging the government's approval ratings into dismal terrain. Taking on the US over Futenma demands finesse, subtlety, a deft hand in cabinet, and a clear media strategy. Not only has Hatoyama failed to keep his ministers on message on Futenma, he has struggled to develop a message in the first place.

Some might argue that the leadership vacuum in the DPJ-led government is a function less of the prime minister's failings than irreconcilable divisions within the DPJ or within the ruling coalition. While it is difficult to say for certain, I would argue that those divisions matter only insofar as Hatoyama has left a vacuum in the highest reaches of his government, which some ministers (i.e. Kamei Shizuka) have exploited from the earliest days of the Hatoyama government. Were Hatoyama capable of exercising his power, he would have an easier time controlling his ministers and pushing back against Ozawa.

Given the extent to which the government's problems rest on Hatoyama's shoulders, I have to ask the same question posed by Michael Cucek: Why do the Seven Magistrates not act? Cucek's logic — that they are hedging, ensuring easy conquest of the party in the wake of an Upper House election defeat, survival in case of victory — is compelling, but it also entails huge risks on their part. As the LDP learned, the public can be particularly fickle when it votes for the Upper House. I can imagine that a big enough defeat for the government could set in motion events that would go beyond a mere leadership change within the DPJ. As such, If Hatoyama cannot find a solution to the Futenma problem that satisfies all actors, I would think that the time would be ripe for a cabinet rebellion.

A new prime minister would still have an uphill battle to score a victory in July, but if he (or she) were to be in a position to lead — to set an agenda and force ministers and party to adhere to it, or at least to debate within clearly delineated bounds — the DPJ's fortunes would likely improve. The party's agenda, after all, isn't the problem. It's leadership. 

For years polls have shown that the value the public wants in its leaders is "the ability to get things done." I am convinced it's why Koizumi Junichiro enjoyed the support he did. And at this point it's the only way the DPJ can save itself.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Building a Westminster system

"Nowadays the members of Parliament, with the exception of the few cabinet members (and a few insurgents), are normally nothing better than well-disciplined 'yes' men," lamented Max Weber in "Politics as a Vocation."

"With us, in the Reichstag, one used at least to take care of one's correspondence on his desk, thus indicating that one was active in the weal of the country. Such gestures are not demanded in England; the member of Parliament must only vote, not commit party treason. He must appear when the whips call him, and do what the cabinet or the leader of the opposition orders."

Essential to the Westminster system — parliamentary cabinet government — is an apparatus linking the cabinet to the ruling party that ensures the cabinet has the votes to smooth the passage of its legislation through the parliament, hence the link between the emergence of cabinet government and the growth of strong, top-down parties in Britain. Even in Britain, this system is not foolproof, as "backbench rebellions" have not been uncommon.

I call attention to this feature of the Westminster system because, of course, the DPJ is keen on growing a similar system on Japanese soil. And few DPJ members are as adamant about reforming how the cabinet and ruling party operate as Ozawa Ichiro, the DPJ's secretary general. Six months into DPJ rule, however, some DPJ members are pushing back against the new system being put into place by Ozawa, having little interest in being "well-disciplined 'yes' men."

The latest example is the party's dismissal of Ubukata Yukio as one of the DPJ's deputy secretaries general after criticizing the party executive for its centralization program and its stifling of debate within the party. As Michael Cucek observes, having been removed from office, Ubukata is going all-out in his campaign against the "Westminsterization" of the DPJ.

Ubukata's insurgency is connected to the push to revive the party's policymaking apparatus, which closed shop when the Hatoyama government took power last September. Ubukata is one of nearly fifty members of a study group that has formed to advocate for a new policymaking body. The intent, it seems, is to create a forum for receiving briefings from the government on current legislation and brainstorm new policies. Coupled with restrictions on the access of backbenchers to bureaucrats, a new policy outfit could be a useful safety valve for the government without unduly undermining the cabinet's ability to formulate policy.

But even with a new policy council within the DPJ, the problems associated with the transition to a Westminster system remain. In truth, Hatoyama, Ozawa, and the other senior leaders of the DPJ face a challenge similar to that faced by William Gladstone and other British politicians who built the Westminster system in the first place. 

During the first half of the nineteenth century, patronage was rampant, as parliamentarians distributed jobs and favors with little regard for party leaders and the cabinet. The result was ineffective government, which, Gladstone and other reformers insisted, was increasingly unsuited the problems facing Britain. Bernard Silberman describes Gladstone in terms that would not be inappropriate for describing Ozawa: "Gladstone was in many respects an étatist who viewed Parliament, but especially the Cabinet, as the necessary source of legislation which would enhance utilitarian and commonsensical economic and social development." According to Silberman, the solution was building a rational, centralized civil service, with admittance based on merit rather than political connections. "Deprived of patronage," he writes, "parliamentary parties were now forced to turn to constructing party organization in order to finally subjugate the backbencher to party discipline."

The DPJ-led government is trying to perform a similar feat, transform the civil service by breaking its ties with the ruling party, and by doing so, centralize the cabinet and ruling party leadership's control of policy (and pork-barrel spending). From the perspective of a backbencher, it is not an especially favorable arrangement. Little wonder that many DPJ members — particularly more senior backbenchers accustomed to the permissiveness of LDP rule — are chafing against the new system. Controlling backbenchers is hard enough in Britain, with its well-established institutions; controlling backbenchers as those very mechanisms are put into place is considerably more difficult.

To a certain extent, the problem is Ozawa. While Ozawa is probably the most enthusiastic advocate of a Westminster system in the DPJ, he may also be the least well suited DPJ member when it comes to inducing backbenchers to accept their fetters. Intimidating first-term Diet members is one thing. Bullying more senior Diet members, including at least one with ministerial experience (Tanaka Makiko), is quite another. Being an effective whip — which Ozawa effectively is — takes more than bullying, especially in the case of more senior members, presumably those most prone to rebellion. It also requires persuasion and timely dispensation of favors and perks. It takes, in other words, subtlety and guile, traits which do not seem to be among Ozawa's strong suits. (For more on the role played by whips and other actors in the Westminster system, I cannot recommend Donald Searing's Westminster's World strongly enough.)

At same time, however, the problem is also structural. After decades of permissive LDP rule, Westminster-style control does look "dictatorial," in the words used by LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu and others to describe the DPJ under Ozawa. (In which case might we describe LDP rule during the glory days of the 1955 system as "anarchic?) I wonder whether the problem is that actors in the Japanese political system — including voters and the media — are simply not able to wrap their heads around the new system being introduced by the DPJ leadership. Not being clear on the goal of a Westminster system — more effective executive power — the system just looks like heavy-handed suppression of speech, not helped by Ozawa's being the one doing the suppressing. Indeed, to a certain extent the DPJ faces a dilemma. In order for Westminster-style politics to take hold among both backbenchers and the public, it needs to deliver policy results. But to deliver results, among other things the party needs to be able to control its members.

Naturally introducing a Westminster system means trading the LDP system's representativeness for the Westminster model's executive effectiveness. There is no perfect system. But the outcome of the current dispute — which may widen to include cabinet ministers — could determine whether the "statists" like Ozawa are able to succeed in building a more top-down policymaking structure or whether they are forced to make concessions to backbenchers that preserve an important role for them in policymaking and the management of party affairs.

There is a point here about institution building. It is not enough for leaders to draft new institutions on paper and then put them into motion. To be durable, institutions require broader legitimacy. To date, the DPJ's leaders have been mostly concerned about putting new institutions into place. The backbencher insurgency suggests, however, that it may be time to focus on cementing the legitimacy of new institutions.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The "losing Japan" narrative

In different ways, two articles published in Western media outlets this week suggest the emergence of a new narrative concerning Japan in elite circles in the United States. One might call that narrative the "losing Japan" narrative, reminiscent of the idea — propagated by newsman Henry Luce — that the United States, or rather, the Democratic Party "lost" China when the Communists won the Chinese Civil War. This narrative suggests that the United States is "losing" Japan to China, raising a call to arms that unless the US government acts expeditiously it could let the DPJ-led government lead Japan into China's embrace.

The first is the now infamous editorial in the Washington Post on Fujita Yukihisa, the DPJ upper house member best known for his doubts about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Michael Cucek and Paul Jackson have the controversy well-covered.) However egregious Fujita's views, Washington Post's editorial is revealing of the "losing Japan" narrative in a number of ways. Start with the editorial's treatment of the subject. Despite his impressive-sounding titles, Fujita has little or no role in Japanese foreign policymaking under the Hatoyama government. The international department is not a policy shop, and Diet committees are meaningless. Either the Post was ignorant of these facts — in which case the editorial writer, Lee Hockstader according to Fujita, did a poor job — or the Post was aware but wrote a misleading editorial anyway in which Fujita is ludicrously described as a "Brahmin in the foreign policy establishment." It is possible that the Washington Post made an honest mistake, but then one gets to the inferences Hockstader draws from Fujita's thoughts about 9/11:
The only thing novel about Mr. Fujita is that a man so susceptible to the imaginings of the lunatic fringe happens to occupy a notable position in the governing apparatus of a nation that boasts the world's second-largest economy.

We have no reason to believe that Mr. Fujita's views are widely shared in Japan; we suspect that they are not and that many Japanese would be embarrassed by them. His proposal two years ago that Tokyo undertake an independent investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks, in which 24 Japanese citizens died, went nowhere. Nonetheless, his views, rooted as they are in profound distrust of the United States, seem to reflect a strain of anti-American thought that runs through the DPJ and the government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

Mr. Hatoyama, elected last summer, has called for a more "mature" relationship with Washington and closer ties between Japan and China. Although he has reaffirmed longstanding doctrine that Japan's alliance with the United States remains the cornerstone of its security, his actions and those of the DPJ-led government, raise questions about that commitment. It's a cliche but nonetheless true that the U.S.-Japan alliance has been a critical force for stability in East Asia for decades. That relationship, and its benefits for the region, will be severely tested if Mr. Hatoyama tolerates elements of his own party as reckless and fact-averse as Mr. Fujita.
Again, one can debate whether Fujita can be properly described as having a "notable position in the governing apparatus," but the leaps Hockstader takes from Fujita's position are unjustifiable, leaps that can be detected in the slippery language Hockstader uses. "Fujita's views seem to reflect a strain of anti-American thought that runs through the DPJ and the government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama." Hockstader makes this outrageous charge without providing a shred of evidence beyond Fujita's views. Meanwhile, in the subsequent paragraph he casually dismisses the Hatoyama government's rhetorical commitment to the alliance (and, for that matter, its sizable financial commitment to the reconstruction of Afghanistan) to speak of "actions" that "raise questions." I assume here he means Futenma, although who knows. This phrasing is precisely the kind of attitude that has produced the DPJ's approach to the alliance in the first place, the idea that there is only one way to be in favor of the alliance. Finally, Hockstader basically threatens the Hatoyama government, suggesting that if Fujita is not dispensed with, his government will suffer accordingly in the eyes of official Washington.

Note, finally, that while Hockstader questions the sincerity of the Hatoyama government's commitment to the alliance, he says nothing more about the Hatoyama government's approach to China. The silence is deafening. Note also the scare quotes around mature, as if the DPJ's position that the alliance as it was conducted under the LDP is in need of changes is an absurd idea. The DPJ, he seems to be saying, has a critical approach to the alliance and an uncritical approach to the Sino-Japanese relationship. (This comparison is hardly valid: the US-Japan relationship is complex and has the thorny question of US forces in Japan at the heart of it, while the Sino-Japanese relationship is not nearly as complex and is still progressing by baby steps from the deep freeze it experienced under Koizumi.)

As I read it, the editorial can be summarized as "Hatoyama's party harbors a 9/11 denier, clearly does not take the relationship with the US seriously, and is moving Japan closer to China."

A more serious version of this argument can be found in the Financial Times, where columnist Gideon Rachman argues that the DPJ gives the impression of drifting in China's direction.

He writes:
When Mr Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan took power last August, it broke more than 50 years of almost continuous administration by the Liberal Democratic Party. The DPJ is keen to differentiate itself from the LDP in almost every respect, and foreign policy is no exception. In an interview last week, Katsuya Okada, Japan’s foreign minister, said that the LDP followed US foreign policy “too closely”. “From now onwards,” says Mr Okada, “this will be the age of Asia.” The foreign minister adds that talk of Japan choosing between China and the US is meaningless, and that Japan’s friendship with America will remain “qualitatively different” from its relations with China. But some DPJ party members have called for a policy of “equidistance” between China and the US.
Several things are notable about this paragraph. First, is the DPJ really acting out of a desire to differentiate itself from the LDP? Given that foreign policy plays so little a role in the calculus of voters, I have a hard time believing that the DPJ-led government's foreign policy initiatives are driven by electoral considerations. Second, why do unnamed DPJ party members get equal billing in this paragraph with Okada, who seems to be firmly in control of foreign policy making? Okada provides a decent summary of the government's foreign policy approach, suggesting that the DPJ is not drifting from America, but instead shifting the emphasis of Japan's foreign policy, from a foreign policy in which Asia policy was tailored around the alliance to a foreign policy in which the alliance is tailored to fit Japan's Asia policy. And yet the paragraph ends with unnamed backbenchers and their unspecified equidistant "policy."

Rachman continues by citing Hatoyama's controversial essay in the International Herald Tribune, and Ozawa's grand tour in Beijing and intervention to arrange an audience with the Emperor for Xi Jinping. Rachman is at least careful to admit that "it is probably overdoing it to suggest that Japan is definitively shifting away from its postwar special relationship with the US." But the article conveys the impression that Japan is a prize in the struggle for influence between the US and China — and that the battle for Japan has begun.

There are several problems with this narrative, in both its belligerent Washington Post form and its more circumspect Rachmanite form. The fallacy both articles share is the idea that Asia is sure to be zero-sum, that a country like Japan can only be in the US camp or the China camp. Joining the former camp, Rachman concludes, would entail "[cultivating] warmer relations with other democratic nations in the region, such as India and Australia, in what would be an undeclared policy of 'soft containment' of Chinese power." And yet that is precisely what the Hatoyama government wants to do. Rachman might respond that the time for choosing has not yet arrived, which is true, but it also raises the possibility that another future is possible in which countries like Japan, Australia, and India maintain security ties with the US in order to keep the US engaged even while maintaining constructive political and economic relationships with China, navigating between the two superpowers in order to avoid unmitigated dependence on either one.

The Washington Post is even more unabashed in its embrace of an approach to Asia that does not allow for nuance, which it aired in another editorial on Japan published earlier this year.

The problem with this approach to the region and Japan on the op-ed pages of newspapers well read by policymakers in Washington is that this way of thinking could easily become self-fulfilling prophecy. Rachman may be warning of a possible future, but many in positions of power — with the help of the Washington Post — could come to take what he describes as a given.

A major flaw with the "losing Japan" narrative is that there is remarkably little data upon which to reach firm conclusions, a point acknowledged by Rachman. Think of how little we know about the Hatoyama government's approach to China. Interestingly, both the examples he cites as cases confirming the tilt towards China involve the activities of Ozawa Ichiro, i.e. a figure outside of the government who may not be long for politics. What data points do we have concerning Hatoyama and members of his cabinet? Not many. Hatoyama has made clear that he will not provoke China on historical issues. Beyond that? Unmentioned in both articles is that the Hatoyama government is building upon the "strategic, constructive partnership" concept developed by the Abe government, right down to the continued use of the term. That doesn't sound like a government doing whatever it can do differentiate itself from the LDP.

I'm willing to cut Rachman some slack, because his piece contains numerous caveats and notes of caution. But the Washington Post editorial is another story entirely. By picking a DPJ member whose views would obviously draw opprobrium in the US and then implying that his views represent a "strain" in the DPJ, this editorial is little more than a hatchet job against Japan's ruling party. How this editorial will help reverse what the Post believes is Japan's drift towards China is beyond me.

After all, the last time Japan was a political battleground for a cold war in Asia, the US had  considerably more invasive means at its disposal than sharply worded editorials.  Accordingly, this narrative may in fact be a product of insecurity about declining US influence, much as insecure Japanese elites fretted that the transition from Bush to Obama would mean the return of Japan passing. The reality, however, is that in the unlikely event that Japan were to reorient itself from the US to China, there would be little the US could do to stop it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Open diplomacy

Within a week of the formation of the first Bolshevik government, Leon Trotsky, the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, went to the foreign ministry and forced the staff to open safes containing secret treaties that the Tsarist government had made with the Allied powers over the course of World War I, treaties that for the most part concerned how the Allies would divide up the territorial spoils of war.

"Abolition of secret diplomacy," wrote Trotsky, "is the first essential of an honorable, popular, and really democratic foreign policy."

Lest anyone think this opposition to secret diplomacy was simply a reflection of the new government's opposition to the "propertied minority," the first of Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points was a call for "open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view." (Although, it should be noted, the Fourteen Points were to a certain extent a response to the Bolsheviks.)

On Tuesday the Hatoyama government's expert panel reviewing secret agreements made between the US and Japanese governments from the 1960s onward released its report, confirming the existence of the ongoing agreement that permitted the introduction of US nuclear weapons into Japan for the duration of the cold war despite the three non-nuclear principles that would seem to prohibit precisely that. The panel revealed more than 300 documents, although it seems that some were missing. Naturally the panel drew criticism from recent LDP prime ministers, who had continued to deny the existence of the documents despite their existence having been confirmed by declassified US documents. On the other end of the political spectrum, Fukushima Mizuho, consumer affairs minister and head of the Social Democratic Party, praised the report as "ground-breaking."

My point in linking the Bolshevik government's release of secret treaties to the DPJ's release of secret treaties is not to suggest that the DPJ is somehow dangerously radical or akin to the Bolsheviks. After all, by releasing the documents the Bolsheviks damaged the ongoing war effort and triggered Wilson's efforts to recast the war as something other than a war among empires for territory. To a certain extent, the Hatoyama government is merely rectifying the Japanese side of the historical record, seeing as how the US stopped deploying nuclear weapons overseas at the end of the cold war and confirmed as much nearly a decade ago.

My point rather is that concerns about secret diplomacy are not unprecedented, and that they are naturally linked to broader concerns about how a country is governed. In this sense the Hatoyama government is doing more than historical recordkeeping, but rather it is showing that open government does not stop at water's end. Not content with revealing the many ways in which bureaucrats — under the watch of LDP governments — have wasted taxpayer money, the DPJ wants to show how the LDP conducted foreign relations out of the sight of Japanese voters. It is perhaps easy for the DPJ government to criticize decisions made during the cold war, but then the Hatoyama government would not be the first to question cynical decisions made by governments during the cold war. (Anyone else remember when Condoleeza Rice criticized FDR for abandoning Eastern Europe at Yalta?)

The DPJ has in fact been consistent in its opposition to secret diplomacy conducted by LDP-led governments, right up to the present day. When the DPJ opposed the extension of the Indian Ocean refueling mission after taking control of the upper house in 2007, central to its argument was that the government had not been forthright with information about what exactly the ships were doing there. Who was the fuel going to, and what were those ships doing after being refueled?

More importantly, the same concerns drive the Hatoyama government's approach to the Futenma issue. Lost in the endless amounts of copy written about the dispute is that the Hatoyama government has been animated as much by the process by which the 2006 agreement was reached as by its content. The manifesto upon which the DPJ was elected, after all, promised only a review of the realignment roadmap. It made no promises about what the DPJ would push for instead. As the government has repeatedly stated, it is proceeding from a "zero base" as it conducts its review of the roadmap and possible alternatives. While the negotiation process and the roadmap that resulted were far from secret, the DPJ wanted to review whether LDP governments actually considered all options, skepticism that is not unwarranted given the long history of secret diplomacy with the US.

The Hatoyama government deserves some blame for not being clearer about why it wanted a review in the first place, which enabled some to paint the government as anti-American. But those who see the Futenma dispute in the worst possible light have misinterpreted the Hatoyama government's position. I think that the Hatoyama government is approaching Futenma less as a foreign policy issue than as a domestic policy issue, because a bilateral agreement as complicated the realignment plan involves too many actors within Japan to be simply a bilateral matter for governments in Tokyo and Washington. Indeed, if the 2006 agreement has a flaw it is that the Koizumi government acted without the full approval of Okinawan constituents, which explains at least in part why subsequent LDP governments did little but drag their feet on implementing the agreement.

The Hatoyama government is acting in good faith in trying to find an agreement that will satisfy all parties, not just the US government. Not surprisingly it has found that "double-edged" diplomacy is tricky, if not impossible — little wonder that governments opt to keep their foreign affairs secret. As the May deadline for its review approaches, hints that the government is leaning towards a plan to build a Futenma replacement facility in Okinawa on land instead of offshore has prompted opposition from local governments and the prefectural assembly, from DPJ secretary-general Ozawa Ichiro, and from the US itself. The whole process could end in failure, with no one happy with the final outcome, least of all the Hatoyama government.

But whether or not the Hatoyama government succeeds, it is important to recognize that it is acting on the basis of an old idea, that a democratic foreign policy must necessarily be conducted in the sight of the people in whose name it is being conducted. In its pursuit of this aim, the Hatoyama government has also implicitly suggested that an alliance conducted behind closed doors is inappropriate for a more democratic Japan, that the alliance will not endure if it continues to rest upon secret agreements and understandings.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The strange death of the LDP

When the Hosokawa government — with Ozawa Ichiro, then secretary-general of one of the leading parties of the eight-party coalition backing the government — passed electoral reform in 1994, one of the arguments made then and ever since by Japanese politicians (and American political scientists) was that the new mixed single-member district/proportional representation electoral system would produce a British-style two-party system that would complement the British-style administrative and political reforms desired by Ozawa and other politicians.

In other words, the Japanese political system should favor the existence of a second large party to challenge the DPJ, if not the LDP then an LDP-like successor party. But presumably the LDP should be the favorite to survive in the two-party system. By virtue of its existence — by virtue of its possessing institutional infrastructure, finances, an organizational history — the party presumably has an advantage over any party not yet born, not to mention the various micro-parties that stand virtually no chance of expanding to rival the DPJ.

And yet the LDP appears to be stumbling along to destruction. Matsuda Iwao, an LDP upper house member from Gifu prefecture, recently became the fifth LDP member of that chamber to leave the party since the LDP's defeat last year. (Yomiuri suspects the hand of Ozawa, given Matsuda's membership in Ozawa's Japan Renewal and New Frontier parties during the 1990s.)

The party has failed to articulate a policy agenda to challenge the Hatoyama government's, as suggested by the LDP's four-day boycott of Diet budget proceedings — discussed here and here. Aside from calling for the heads of Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio and demanding a new election, the LDP has apparently nothing to say about the problems facing Japan.

Keidanren, an important financial backer of the LDP (2.7 billion yen in 2008, roughly ten per cent of the party's income that year), has once again decided to suspend its political donations, a serious blow to the LDP given that its public subsidies have also shrank due to the extent of its defeat.

Most seriously, at least for the party's current leadership, Masuzoe Yoichi, the popular former minister for health, labor, and welfare and the one party member that LDP candidates wanted to be seen with in 2009, has stepped up his criticism of party leader Tanigaki Sadakazu and other party executives. He has created a new study group with thirty members — the Economic Strategy Research Group, discussed here — but Masuzoe's power may be less in his numbers than in his ability to discredit the party's leaders every time he opens his mouth. Masuzoe provides a constant reminder of just how little the LDP has done to reform itself since losing last August. Indeed, speaking at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan Monday, Masuzoe identified Tanigaki as a cause of low public approval for the LDP and ann obstacle to party reform, and suggested that his resignation would open the way to reform. He did not rule out the possibility of forming a new party or a total political realignment including current DPJ members (including cabinet member Maehara Seiji).

In recent weeks party leaders have begun discussing dissolving the factions once again, an idea that flared up during the post-election leadership campaign only to die shortly after Tanigaki's victory, but abolishing the factions — or referring to them as mere study groups — is at best a cosmetic change and at worse no change at all. The kind of changes the LDP needs to make are the changes the DPJ made over the decade leading up to its taking power: centralizing control over party administration, policymaking, and electoral strategy in a small group around the party leader, and then developing a coherent policy strategy that actually speaks to the public's concerns.

Why has the LDP failed to reform up to this point — and why is it likely to fail to reform in the future, even if Masuzoe gets his way and forces Tanigaki out?

There is no shortage of plausible explanations. One explanation would suggest that the LDP is failing because it is not designed to exist in opposition. For all the headlines grabbed by LDP reformists over the past decade, perhaps most of the party's members may be simply incapable of saying anything of substance to their constituents. There is no longer any public money to do the talking for them. And presumably they also have less access to the bureaucracy, which might otherwise have been able to provide them with ideas and proposals. This problem may be common to other defeated dominant parties struggling to adapt in opposition.

Another — which I think is important — is the composition of the LDP after its defeat. Namely, it has too many senior (read: former ministers) and hereditary politicians in its ranks and not enough followers, especially of the reformist variety. The LDP members who survived 2009 showed that they can get reelected on the strength of their own names and campaign organizations. They owe little to the party headquarters, and, one would assume, they would be less likely to support efforts to centralize control of the party.

A further explanation might consider the role played by the LDP's policy ideas. In this argument, the LDP's internal organization is not irrelevant — the party's organization, after all, has some control of what's included in the party's platform and more generally what narrative the party tells in public — but the more important factor may be the balance of power among ideological camps within the LDP. As noted, Masuzoe has the popularity, but not the numbers within the party (and I find it odd that Masuzoe, who was a critic of Koizumi's "neo-liberal" reforms, is now the face for continuing those reforms). Similarly, the revisionist conservative wing may also lack the numbers — there was some overlap with the Koizumi Children, after all — and its surviving leaders are intimately associated with the LDP's downfall. That leaves the pragmatists, the party leaders who are at once the most flexible and pragmatic in policy terms and also the most wedded to existing party structures. At the same time, the LDP faces the same dilemmas facing any party in opposition in a (mostly) two-party system. Should it copy the governing party's policies and serve as the well-meaning critic in opposition? Or should it adopt a rejectionist pose and rail about the good old days before the DPJ took power? Koizumi's ambiguous legacy as party leader, not to mention the failures of its last prime ministers, makes the latter option difficult, and the LDP seems simply incapable of adopting the former approach. The result is that attacking Hatoyama and Ozawa on the seiji to kane issue appears to be the default option, the problem being that the public doesn't particularly care about money politics relative to other issues, especially when the LDP is the messenger.

Finally, the LDP may be failing to reform for precisely the reason suggested by Masuzoe: Tanigaki is simply not up to the task, being little more than a placeholder upon whom the faction leaders could agree when the party was in chaos following the electoral defeat. It seems dubious that Tanigaki is the primary cause of frustrated reform, but he is certainly not helping the process along.

In short, while it is easy to assume that organizations do whatever necessary to ensure their survival in their environments, making the changes necessary for survival is easier said than done. It may be the case that the survival imperative of individual LDP politicians is trumping the organizational imperative to survive. The LDP's days appear to be numbered, especially if Masuzoe decides that the party is not worth saving.

Whether Masuzoe could build a second party around his splitists, Watanabe Yoshimi's Your Party, and whoever they could coax from the DPJ is an open question. Theories about the effect of the electoral system would predict that Masuzoe's bid would be successful, but the LDP's woeful performance post-election suggests that nothing is for certain. Showing up is not enough: the second party actually has to make the right decisions too. Perhaps Masuzoe, helped by his personal popularity, will make the right decisions and be rewarded with public support and numerous prospective candidates from which to choose. Perhaps he might even draw some DPJ members to a new party.

ON this last question, I suspect that despite the mass media's longing for another political realignment, DPJ reformists close to Masuzoe have greater incentives to exercise voice within the DPJ — given that the party is in government — rather than to exit and join Masuzoe in opposition. In other words, I expect that one consequence of Masuzoe's departure from the LDP would be a rebellion within the DPJ to replace Hatoyama led by the party members most likely to join with Masuzoe — potentially a successful rebellion were the emergence of a Masuzoe New Party to make enough Hatoyama allies nervous about the new rival.

If Masuzoe cannot break the DPJ, the result could be an unusual party system, with the DPJ joined by a rump LDP, a rising but struggling reformist party, and the other smaller parties, including its two coalition partners.

What seems certain is that the LDP will be unable to reverse its decline. The party that seemed uniquely suited to governing may simply be unable to survive an extended period in opposition. Even a good showing in the upper house election this summer — by no means guaranteed — could be negated should Komeito, the LDP's erstwhile partner, continue to move closer to the DPJ.