Tuesday, October 02, 2012

One Stupid Move

Be aggressive, but play soundly. Don't take unnecessary chances.

- Bruce Pandolfini, "The 64 Commandments of Chess"
Yesterday, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko unveiled his reshuffled Cabinet (E). This follows on the heels of Friday's announcement of an extremely youthful but nevertheless competent line up of Democratic Party of Japan executives (E). Smirking critics could indeed call the newly appointed party secretariat the Attack of the Kiddie Korps, or perhaps for the more SF inclined "DPJ: The Next Generation." Aside from the reappointed secretary-general Koshi'ishi Azuma, the party secretariat is composed of what are in historical terms striplings, with Diet Affairs Chairman Yamanoi Kazunori the graybeard at 50 years of age.

Continuing on the SF theme, opposition party leaders and spokesmen are deriding the reshuffled cabinet as being nothing so much as the "So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish" Cabinet. (J)

There is a grain of truth in the disparagement. Noda rotated in en masse the former party secretariat -- minus, it should be noted, the egregious Sengoku Yoshito.

The granting of all of the Second Generation of DPJ leaders a cabinet post hints that it is Dandy Don Meredith Time for the DPJ. The former American football player and announcer would croon, "Turn out the lights/The party's over" when the score and the time remaining in a game left no doubt as to which side was going to win.

That not a single one of the candidates who ran against Noda in the party leadership election received a post indicates that Noda does not give a fig about either Kano Michihiko's or Haraguchi Kazuhiro's supporters bolting from the party, triggering a political crisis as the DPJ falls into minority status in the House of Representatives.

That Noda would seeminly abandon his pledge to be a "no sides" leader of the party, meaning that all voices would be respected, only two weeks after winning reelection, indicates a certain fatalistic reckelessness has crept into his calculations.

Public opinion poll results after the Liberal Democratic Party presidential elections would certainly be grounds for Noda taking chances. Rather than sink upon the LDP Diet members' selection of an unstable and controversial Abe Shinzo as party president, support for the LDP soared, from 25% to 37% in a flash Nihon Keizai Shimbun poll (J); from 19% to 25% in a Mainichi Shimbun poll (J) and from 23% to 33% in a Yomiuri Shimbun poll (J).

The rise in the LDP's popularity over the last week is especially galling because

1) All three polls showed rises in the support levels for the Noda Cabinet

2) Abe Shinzo hardly lights the public's fire.

Q: Do you have positive expectations of Abe Shinzo?

Yes 38
No 49

Yes 40%
No 55%

3) Despite majorities polled feeling that the reelection of Noda as leader of the DPJ was a good thing, support for the DPJ declined:

August 21%
Sept 26-27 19%

Sept 15-16 13%
Sept 29-30 11%

Aug 17-19 20%
Sept 28-30 18%

Worse news still in the most recent round of polls was the decline in interest in Osaka City mayor Hashimoto Toru's Japan Restoration Association. The official start of the national party on Friday was a low-key or no-key affair. There was no grand party at a major hotel, no shots of an office overflowing with a snow bank of congratulatory white orchids. The biggest news regarding JRA was Takenaka Heizo, the academic economist and former Koizumi banking and postal reform point man, accepting the invitation to be chairman of the committee selecting the JRA's candidates. (J)

With its support jumping, and the support of the DPJ sliding and support for the JRA plummeting, the incentive for the LDP in the upcoming Diet session is to be non-cooperative to the point of bringing Diet proceedings to a standstill, endangering the passage of a bond issuance bill funding the government's activities through the rest of the fiscal year. Abe and New Komeito leader Yamaguchi Natsuo are indeed making loud noises about holding Noda to the promise he made to former LDP president Tanigaki Sakakazu to call a House of Representatives election "soon" (chikai uchi ni).

Noda's and the DPJ's ace in the hole, however, remains the reform of electoral district boundaries. Unless some bill is passed bringing down the level of disparity in the voting strengths of the nation's largest and smallest House of Representative districts to less than 2 to 1, an election would be unconstitutional. If worse comes to worst, the game plan for the DPJ has been to lay out a draft electoral reform bill unacceptable to either the LDP or the New Komeito, and let them rail away until they are forced to vote in favor of the bond issuance bill.

Which is why one of the choices Noda has made for his new Cabinet looks like a huge mistake. As Eurasia Group Advisor Okumura Jun has noted, the new minister of Health, Welfare and Labour Minister Mitsui Wakio is the founder and owner of a pharmaceutical company and chairman of a private corporation running 3 hospitals and 2 retirement homes in Hokkaido (Link) -- a concantenation of conflicts of interest so naked that an unforgiving, persistent, frustrated and irresponsible opposition could tie up hours and hours of Diet Budget Committee time discussing them.

Now where could anyone find such an opposition?

When the obvious strategy for the new Noda Cabinet was to sit tight and let the opposition vent, why oh why give them a set of reasonable topics to vent about?


Climate Morio said...

Could it not be that the jump in the LDP approval ratings is nothing but a honeymoon period that we witness whenever there is a new PM? Especially with the hullabaloo about islands? Shan't this also pass once the LDP becomes, as you predict, obstructionist in the Diet?

As far as i remember, the government still needs to pay its bills, which requires cooperation from the opposition. Liking a nationalist would-be leader when your neighbours are acting up is nice and good, but will his support still stay just as high once the same guy jeopardizes the smooth running of the country in the name of partisan interests?

MTC said...

Climate Morio -

In addition I would posit an "Anyone But Tanizaki" bounce is also in play.

Still, the new level of LDP support may be meta-stable. One of the conundrums over these past three years has been the inability of the LDP to capitalize on the purported DPJ mismanagement and missteps. Perhaps this is the natural level of support the LDP should have been enjoying in the face of the frustration of the DPJ's new politics.