Tuesday, February 24, 2009

So What Sort of Omiyage Did Aso Bring to DC?

As Prime Minister Taro Aso celebrates Mardi Gras with Barack Obama in the White House, the Mainichi reports that the Aso cabinet has an 11% approval rating back home.

Takehiko Kambayashi has a piece in the Washington Times today about Aso hiding in Obama's shadow in hopes of some sort of magical boost back home. Morita is quoted in the piece as saying the Japanese premier "probably spent hours mulling over what kind of souvenir he would bring to President Obama."

Whatever he brought, I hope it's returnable.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Aso's Ruling Coalition Has Lost Ability to Rule

It's more and more likely that the reign of the Liberal Democratic Party (and the current LDP-New Komeito coalition) will come to an end in the coming general election, and a new administration led by Ichiro Ozawa's Democratic Party of Japan will be born. The day is drawing near when a political avalanche comes crashing down on Japan.

For most of the 64 years since the war, political power has been held by the LDP and the two parties from which the LDP was formed: the Liberal and Democratic parties. This era is coming to an end. The next administration will be led by Ozawa. While there are those in Japan that put the LDP and Ozawa's DPJ in the same boat, politically speaking, the defeat of the LDP and the ascendancy of the acknowledged reformer Ozawa would be a huge event.

The other day, I was invited to take part in the training session of a certain prefecture's commerce and industry society. An executive of the society, whom I'll call Mr. A, is an LDP member but he's also someone who can coolly assess the political climate in his prefecture. Looking at the current political stances around the prefecture, he predicts that "the LDP will be annihilated." In the last general election in September 2005, the prefecture elected three LDP representatives and 1 DPJ member. In the next election, he predicts the LDP will end up with nothing.

It was such a bold prediction that I decided to ask some other friends who live in that prefecture's major city. I asked three of them, and each one replied that they expected the LDP to lose badly in the next vote. I asked each of them on what grounds they predict this LDP collapse, and each replied that the ruling party has lost its base of support. The LDP only listens to New Komeito and Soka Gakkai, came the reply. The party has distanced itself from its traditional hubs of support.

In another prefecture I visited, the news is similar. An executive from a conservative organization there told me, "The LDP won't be able to get anybody elected. Last election, the prefecture was split two and two, but next time the DPJ will probably take all four seats." He offered the same reason I heard earlier: The LDP has lost its base. Agricultural groups, the construction sector and people affiliated with the post office used to supply grass-roots support to the LDP, but now they are distancing themselves from the party.

A majority of the Japanese have begun to realize that the reason the country's provinces are deteriorating is that Japan has adopted policies to Americanize itself. This is primarily the result of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Structural Revolution. But the three cabinets following Koizumi (those of Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda and Taro Aso) have been unable to clearly evaluate these reforms. Koizumi's agenda needs to be repudiated for Japan to rebuild itself, and yet a repudiation of these reforms could lead to a split in the LDP. If the LDP is divided, it has no chance of winning. This is why the party is keeping everything so vague. But this is also the reason former supporters are distancing themselves from the LDP.

The opposition DPJ is overflowing with confidence because members sense that a change in political power is near. The provinces across this nation are experiencing a sweeping grass-roots change.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Conditions for a General Election Keep Changing

As I travel around this country, I sense that the feelings and concerns of the populace are changing. It's a gradual change at the moment, but before long it could turn quickly and sharply. In the midst of this serious economic climate, the Japanese populace is changing its consciousness.

The Liberal Democratic Party says it will dissolve the lower house and call for general elections on the cue of Prime Minister Taro Aso, but the era when the premier held the power has come to a close. When the Aso cabinet does dissolve the lower house and call for general elections, it will be asking Japanese voters to believe in the cabinet, to place trust in it. The Aso cabinet has an approval rating of less than 20%; disapproval rates are above 70%. In a general election, it's clear that the voters will not trust Aso. For the ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito to still bank on Aso as they dissolve the Diet is simply a self-destructive act. No wonder the voters are distancing themselves from the constant fiction of the ruling coalition.

The economy and the standard of living are plummeting too fast for people to cling to old fictions. This is the major reason for the voters' defection from the lackluster policies of the ruling coalition. If nothing changes, the Aso administration will likely be ousted from power in the next general election.

However, the trend toward regime change is not very pronounced. Why? you may ask. The main reason is that the Democratic Party of Japan has failed to capitalize on this moment and win voter support. The biggest problem is that the DPJ has not spelled out clearly what a DPJ-led administration's policies would look like.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review the Postal Service's Four-Way Split

Prime Minister Taro Aso expressed skepticism about the four-way split of the postal services during a lower house budget committee meeting on February 5. This set off a large chorus of criticism from the LDP's structural reform faction, members of the opposition and the mass media. But the chorus itself, while rattling the premier, lacks focus. The structural reformists, the Democratic Party of Japan and the mass media are engaging in extreme folly. I protest their vague stance.

Of all the structural reforms pushed by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and cabinet member Heizo Takenaka, splitting the postal services into four separate entities was the worst. Just go see for yourself on your next visit to the post office. You'll quickly see what a stupid idea it was. If the postal service continues under this divided management, it will crumble.

Premier Aso is correct in his stance. He has taken a lot of heat because of his lack of popularity, but his statement that the postal privatization should be reviewed is just common sense. The Diet should react positively to this remark and return the postal service to its more effective structure.

"It is never too late to correct a mistake." — Confucius

Okubo's Gamble

Mr. Morita is quoted in this Bloomberg piece about Tsutomu Okubo and others who have jumped from the financial services industry to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan in hopes of fast-tracking a political career. These folks tend to be well-heeled enough to fund their own campaigns, which is essential, Morita-san points out, because the official party contributions to these candidates amount to "a pittance."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

More Pork, Please

Mr. Morita is quoted in this Christian Science Monitor article on economic stimulus plans around the world. He argues that Japan needs large-scale public spending to create jobs, not small checks for individuals, as some are proposing. Morita's thinking is in line with Obama and the progressives in the US -- spend massively on job creation and clean, green industries before it's too late. But the social Darwinists in DC and Tokyo and the media of both countries are marching in lock-step in the opposite direction.

Don't Send the Maritime SDF to the Somalian Coast

We must not engage in war. Once war has begun, it ignites other wars.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Taro Aso and the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito want to dispatch the Maritime Self-Defense Forces to the Somalian coast. The media is humming the same tune. The opposition has been slow to respond because there are a lot of Democratic Party of Japan members who agree with the cabinet. It's exasperating. If the opposition plans to do the same thing as the ruling coalition, regime change loses its meaning. The DPJ is vague on this issue. It's as if the party is trying to avoid the whole thing. The DPJ has taken a strange stance.

The political world is awash in speculation. Some say that if the Aso cabinet and the ruling coalition can dispatch troops to the Somalian coast, the opposition will fracture and the DPJ will splinter into pieces. In fact, some say this is the very reason the government has adopted its anti-piracy measures.

While there is no proof, this sort of motive is all too common in the political world. But if it is true, we should not let them get their way. History is rife with examples of governments using their military to make points in domestic political battles. But it is one of the high crimes of politics, and it cannot be forgiven.

The DPJ should be a party of peace. The opposition needs to work together to counter the unconstitutional dispatch of maritime forces to Somalia. I'm asking party chief Ichiro Ozawa to make a stand. Are you going to follow the ruling coalition or fight it?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Reform We Can Use: Reject Our Calcified Two-Party System

Break Away from Koizumi-Style Reforms
Lately there has been a plethora of Koizumi disciples in the mass media arguing that his reforms should be continued. But the Japanese people are not interested in returning to Koizumi-style reforms. I travel all over Japan on a daily basis delivering lectures and chatting with leaders in the business, government and political realms as well as with regular citizens. Almost no one supports Koizumi's approach these days. People in the provinces believe his reforms are tearing at the fabric of their social safety net. The mass media does not reflect the feelings of the people.

Bitter Words for the Premier; Disappointment for the DPJ
On January 18, both the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan began party conventions to solidify their stances in hopes of winning the coming general election. Yet a majority of the Japanese showed no interest in either party. Public support for Prime Minister Taro Aso has withered. Most people can't wait for him to step down. They are disappointed with the ruling party for self-destructing under internal turmoil and losing its ability to govern.

The opposition DPJ, on the other hand, is feeling refreshed and uniting behind party leader Ichiro Ozawa as public opinion surveys indicate a strong DPJ victory ahead. But the Japanese people have been disappointed in the party's convention. Most people want to know just what an Ozawa government would do once in power, but Ozawa remains tight-lipped. How will he respond to the war in Afghanistan? Will he run Japan's economy based on the free-market ideology embraced by the Republican Party in the US or take the New Deal approach? Or will he take a modified approach as seen in European societies? Everything is left vague.

Escaping Dictatorial Politics; Moving Toward a Third Way
The two-party system in Japan is calcifying. The ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito takes a top-down, despotic approach. The DPJ is a party monopolized by Ozawa, whose authority is unchallenged. It is impossible for either side to interpret the will of the people. The two-party system is cracking under the weight of two despotic parties. What is needed now is the democratization of political power and the end of lockstep party-line voting. A third way needs to be forged by the people.