Friday, July 28, 2017

Sussing Out Abe's Next Move

Yesterday's resignation of Democratic Party leader Renho only days after a major DP victory in the Sendai mayoral election, together with the resignation of Cabinet-support sapping Inada Tomomi as Minister of Defense opens up to Prime Minister Abe Shinzo an opportunity to initiate what 24 hours ago would have been considered political suicide: dissolve the Diet and call a House of Representatives election. Indeed, this decision may already have been made -- it certainly makes the Inada resignation more comprehensible ("Why now? She is about to be let go in the Cabinet reshuffle!" was a natural, immediate reaction to yesterday's announcement).

As the results of the July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections have shown, the LDP's recent dominance has been all about the absence of a centrist opposition with a clear pathway to victory. Offer a ruthless alternative, one that leaps over the structural impediments and clientalism designed to return the LDP to power time after time, and the resentment of the voters will lift you to victory. Koike Yuriko, with her amazing ability to tear away the Komeito from its coalition with the LDP at the same time as dog whistling to the Tamogami Right (too quickly forgotten is her calculated dissing of the South Koreans) provided Tokyo voters with just such an alternative.

The obvious decision for Abe, who faces declining poll numbers and obvious factional maneuvering against him, is dissolve the Diet, proclaiming, "I am asking for the judgment of my performance from the voters" or something like that. With the DP leaderless and no national Koike party as yet, the chances are fairly good that Abe's LDP will march to another victory under his command. Perhaps one which fails to return a Constitution revision-capable 2/3rds majority in the House of Representatives for the ruling coalition -- but still a simple LDP majority (take that, Komeito!) in the lower house.

At least, that's the way it looks.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Speculating About The Renho Resignation

Let us keep this simple: the explanations Renho has offered for her resignation as leader of the Democratic Party make zero sense.

"The very best would be for a stronger DP that can be built by a new directorate"

NONSENSE - the DP has no obvious list of successors the current leadership group. The conservative wing, which should be the logical alternative, is depleted by defections to Koike Yuriko's Tokyoites First movement. The election of a left wing leader and the selection of a left directorate would cause the party to implode.

"I tried to think of a way of transform the centrifugal force into a centripetal force. I realized that this would not come from personnel changes but through a reexamination of myself."

NONSENSE - Please do not tell me you have been reading Wang Yangming's Instructions for Practical Living. Or any other Neo-Confucian philosophers, for that matter.

Oh, and another thing: you cannot have either a centripetal or a centrifugal force without a center. That center is/was you.

"I would like that a party be built that can respond to the insecurities the people are feeling"

NONSENSE - Where is the agent of change? Who is going to do this building of which you speak, if not you?

The real story, as outlined in this Business Journal article, is a simple matter: Renho cannot keep a fundamental campaign promise.

The Constitution allows for members of the House of Councillors to become prime minister. However, no prime minister of the postwar era has ever been elected from the upper house. This is in part due to a logjam-breaking provision of the Constitution: when the two houses of the Diet hold elections for PM and each elects a different Diet member, the choice of the House of Representatives becomes the PM.

This traditional and technical preeminence of the House of Representatives prompted Renho to promised that in the event of a general election she would resign from the House of Councillors to run for a House of Representatives seat. Not out of a technical necessity, just a political one.

Hence the emergence of a new problem: for which HoR district seat would she run? It would have to be a safe DP seat; the party would suffer a huge loss of face if the party leader were defeated in her district race. If there were not one available, a sitting DP member would have to give up his/her seat to accommodate Renho's candidacy.

Unfortunately, the current map of Tokyo's electoral districts has no open, reasonable district for a Renho run for a House of Representatives seat. Furthermore, after the loss of DP seats in the July 2 assembly elections, Renho has none of the authority necessary to tell any DP HoR Tokyo district hopeful to move aside for the good of the party.

Renho had tried horse trading for a new mantle of authority in the party. She found, however, that not even offering up the resignation of her eminense grise Noda Yoshihiko, the party secretary-general, bought her a winnable district in Tokyo.

Facing a climb down from her promise to take the fight to the LDP in the House of Representatives, Renho decided to cut her losses by folding up her tent now.

At least, that is the way it looks.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Quietly Fading Away

Yesterday (January 5) was the last day for candidate registrations for the Yamagata Prefectural governor's race.

By the end of the workday only the incumbent, Yoshimura Mieko, had registered.

Without an opponent with whom to grapple Yoshimura immediately, without the expense and bother of an election, began her third term as governor. (Link)

Yoshimura's case is somewhat special. Unlike most local officials, she has strong backing from Democrats, Socialists and Communists, rather than main Liberal Democratic Party/Komeito alliance running much of the country. She also has members of the Yamagata prefecture LDP establishment supporting her. As a consequence, her being reelected without an election is a reflection of her popularity across the political spectrum.

However, having incumbents being returned to office without election is becoming a saddening habit in Japanese local politics (Link). Running for office costs money (starting with the kyotakukin candidate deposit) and can alienate you from the victorious candidate and his/her supporters in the local community. If one is, by some circumstance, elected to office over an incumbent, being forced to lead a local government saddled with precipitous declines in the social and economic environment must be no fun at all.

So it is not just through hyperpartisanship or authoritarianism that democracy can wither. Depopulation and genteel decline are effective as demoralizers, too.

Democratic election of local government -- one of the key reforms of the U.S. Occupation -- becomes just one more aspect of that which was Japan that is fading away. (Link)