Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A new dawn?

On Thursday, Masuzoe Yoichi, former minister of health, labor, and welfare and the most popular politician in Japan, will inform the LDP that he is exiting the party. On Friday, he will announce the formation of his own party (for now, the Masuzoe New Party), which is projected to have enough members to clear the five-member minimum to be considered a party and be eligible for public election funds. Whether and how many LDP members will follow Masuzoe out remains to be seen, but if Masuzoe has decided to exercise his exit option instead of trying to reform the LDP from within, who among the LDP's reformists will continue to try to force the party's leadership to change its way?

Masuzoe's decision comes after the LDP virtually dared Masuzoe to leave: at a meeting of LDP Diet members last week, several members suggested that if Masuzoe isn't willing to work with the executive he should leave. Similarly, Tanose Ryotaro, head of the LDP's general council, recently questioned Masuzoe's sincerity.

Perhaps one sure consequence of Masuzoe's departure is that it will spell the end of the LDP as an important factor in Japanese politics. The LDP does indeed appear hellbent on its own destruction. Instead of taking Masuzoe's criticisms seriously, the leadership instead goaded the one politician that LDP candidates can stand to be seen with into bolting the party. Just as the LDP quickly turned its back on Koizumi Junichiro's agenda once he left the premiership, the LDP seems determined to reject any politician from within its own ranks who wants to drag the party into the twenty-first century. Now stripped of the interest groups that supported it for so long, the LDP has failed to reinvent itself for the age of floating voters and is rapidly becoming a loose alliance of koenkai. As more politicians leave the party, it becomes harder to imagine that the LDP will ever adapt.

Where does that leave the Japanese political system?

On the whole, it might make the DPJ-led government better. The Masuzoe New Party and Your Party surely stand poised to pick up a decent share of seats in this summer's House of Councillors election. In doing so, they will force the DPJ-led government — assuming that the government does not call a double election, which seems a reasonable assumption after Sengoku Yoshito was roundly criticized for raising the idea — to cobble together a coalition in the upper house in order to pass its legislation (or else governed by the cumbersome Article 59 procedure). Both Masuzoe and Watanabe Yoshimi and his colleagues in the YP are serious about policy, and in Masuzoe's case in particular, he is serious about addressing the social concerns of the Japanese people. Having to negotiate with these two parties may make the policymaking process more unwieldy (counter to the spirit of the government's administrative reforms), but it may result in better policy. And when the government fails to measure up, they will be formidable critics, much more formidable critics than the LDP has been in opposition.

Moreover, as I've argued before, Masuzoe's departure will put pressure on Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro as a DPJ member's threat to exit the party has more power with Masuzoe's party as a destination. That's not to say that the new party will immediately trigger an exodus of DPJ members but it does raise the likelihood that Hatoyama will face a revolt, perhaps from within his own cabinet with the likely failure to solve Futenma by the end of May the convenient excuse for the palace coup. Even if Hatoyama and Ozawa survive until the HC election, a defeat in that election could clear the way for new leaders who will be better able to deliver upon DPJ's reform program.

Replacing the LDP with a motley group of small parties may not seem like an improvement, but with Masuzoe in the mix, that group immediately has stature that it would not otherwise have. Masuzoe is not about to ride a wave of popular support into the premiership, not without a general election being called (and Masuzoe's defection probably makes a snap election even less likely). The DPJ will now face opposition parties that can credibly challenge the DPJ to live up to its own promises for reform.

8 comments:

apple407 said...

What threat can a palace coup by any nascent political party pose for the by now much battle tested DJP? The glue that will hold a nascent political party must surely be more than just a seasoned politician from a sinking organization that members cannot flee fast enough.
Barring any future “scandal” DPJ seems poised for continued dominance for some time to come, with or without Futenma resolution.

Anonymous said...

No comments on the Nippon Soshinto?

sigma1 said...

I definitely think on the surface there is much to gain "for Japan" by having a party to keep the DPJ honest (and to free them from PNP shackles)as you suggest. But is Masuzoe's choice of partners about the worst possible? I mean I could understand if Masuzoe joined forces with cultural conservatives etc but I always believed the Kaikaku club was about as old school LDP as you get?

My question is, am I reading this wrong? Or is it not important because Masuzoe's "brand" is so strong that the other members are willing to give up their political beliefs for political survival?

Tobias Harris said...

Apple,

I agree with you. I think the DPJ is secure in its majority, and will not risk its majority in an election for years to come.

But the Masuzoe brand cannot be ignored, and its power has if anything increased now that he has cut himself free from the LDP, which I think gets to Sigma's point.

His partners are indeed unfortunate, but numbers count for something. It's hard to see Masuzoe yielding "creative" power over his new party to satisfy his partners of the moment.

Lionel W said...

Have Masuzoe and Watanabe Yoshimi actually indicated whether or not they would consider a coalition with the DPJ? What kind of sentiment towards the DPJ have they generally expressed?

(meanwhile Stand Up Japan crew describe Ozawa and Hatoyama approximately as being demons bent upon Japan's complete destruction)

PaxAmericana said...

It would be helpful if you could give some details regarding who is behind Masuzoe and Watanabe/Your Party. Japan has had a fair bit of fake reform over the years that was more along the lines of one group, such as the Finance Ministry, gaining power over another, and I'm fearful that the reform Your Party refers to may be more of the same.

apple407 said...

Japan following Great Britain’s model of government; Great Britain following U.S. model of election; the temptation is too great to jump to the obvious.

Delta said...

Has Mr. Harris given up blogging over PM Hatoyama's handling of the Futenma issue? If so, it would be such a loss :-(.