Friday, July 31, 2009

The 'Collective Groan'

As the Liberal Democratic Party unveils its platform for the late August election, Morita-san is quoted by the Christian Science Monitor as saying he can hear a "collective groan" coming from Japan. Here's the full quote:

The LDP "have long failed to deal with protracted economic troubles. Japanese people don't even see Prime Minister Aso's seriousness," says Minoru Morita, an independent political analyst. "More people's lives have begun to crumble and many smaller businesses are on the verge of collapse. I can hear a collective groan coming from all over Japan."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Hope for a Wide Open Policy Debate

"In politics nothing is contemptible." These words from Benjamin Disraeli are troubling. Watching the actions of today's politicians, I get the suspicion that they have an "anything goes" attitude. Party leaders engage in far too much negative campaigning. The parties' upper echelon keeps making mountains out of molehills. The range of topics discussed is far too narrow.

The people of Japan want a wide-ranging policy debate right now. What sort of economic policy should we put in place? Are we happy with our current direction in foreign policy and national security? Are we content to continue following the US? What sort of society and economy does Japan want? The people are asking for a debate about the principles that will guide Japan from hereon out. Our political leaders should heed this request and begin the debate.

The nation is becoming more impoverished. The government delivers carefree pronouncements about how the economy has already hit bottom, and yet economic conditions for the average Japanese are deteriorating rapidly. The unemployment rate is skyrocketing. Bankruptcies are on the rise. A lot of people are at a vital crossroads, unsure of which way to turn.

But the government and the individual leaders of our political parties are not conscious of this reality. Politicians in both the Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan lack this consciousness. These individuals should look at the economic realities and the worsening livelihoods of their constituents and propose breakthrough proposals to help them. We need to weed out politicians without an economic policy and then begin a serious discussion about the reasons for this economic collapse.

Lately, something has really surprised me when I listen to party leaders talk. They have almost no strategic vision for the future. Should we continue with a capitalist society centered on the largest sources of capital? Or should we base our capitalism on an economy that actually makes things? Should we continue down the path of neoliberalism? Or should we pursue some sort of modified capitalism or socialism? Is a profit-oriented society with widening wealth gaps what we want? Or perhaps we should move to a middle-class society that values full employment, social welfare and the environment? It surprises me that none of our political leaders are discussing these vital issues. Our politics have become impoverished. Our political leaders need to develop a general vision for Japan's future.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Responsibility for Disorder Lies with Aso

The Liberal Democratic Party is propelling itself toward self-destruction.

The destruction of the LDP is a serious matter. Responsibility lies with Prime Minister Taro Aso and his inaction, lack of common sense and inadequate leadership skills. The LDP chose a person with no natural leadership skills to be prime minister. The party needs to accept that fact.

The best method for resolving this mess is for Aso to resign as prime minister and party president. As long as he clings to these positions, the party will careen out of control.

So where do we stand today? The Aso Cabinet has dissolved the lower house and asked to be judged by the voters. The LDP faces the voters with an expectation that they will entrust the government to him despite the polls showing more than 70% disapprove of the job he's doing. Do they really think that they can dismiss the people's views and still prevail? What's at stake is the very survival of the LDP. A change in political power draws near in Japan.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Problem with Pragmatism

As the opposition Democratic Party of Japan begins to smell victory in the late August general election, it has also stepped up conferences with the US on security issues. Just how different would a DPJ government be in the long run? It's relationship with the Social Democrats, its partner in the upper house, could be a clear indicator, as Mr. Morita points out in a recent article from Asia Times:

"The DPJ is already increasingly exchanging views on security issues with the US government officials, and it is reviewing its previous stance," Minoru Morita, a noted political analyst in Tokyo, told Asia Times Online. "The alliance with the DPJ and the SDP would be fragile if the DPJ succumbs to pressure from Washington. Pragmatism is a double-edged sword for the DPJ for sure. The more the DPJ becomes pragmatic, the more the SDP aggravates a grievance."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Time to Bid Adieu to Celebrity Governor Mania

The Liberal Democratic Party is being drained of its power at a rapid rate. It's becoming increasingly difficult to envision an LDP-New Komeito victory in the coming election.

The LDP has lost the trust of the nation because the ruling coalition policies have resulted in a worsening of the economy, a rapid rise in unemployment and a destruction of people's livelihoods. It's natural that the voters have become disgusted with the coalition.

Lately, people have quickened the pace at which they are separating from the ruling coalition. There are two direct reasons for this: One is that people are straying from Prime Minister Taro Aso. They've strayed because they no longer trust the party as it reshuffles the cabinet and changes its party executives. The other reason is that Aso turned to Governor Higashikokubaru for help.Turning to the former comedian in the middle of the term is a blatant ploy to boost the party's chances before the election; it's extreme folly to start talking about Higashikokubaru as the LDP candidate in the next election. The LDP is being played by a celebrity governor and held up for derision because of it. This is a pitiful state for a governing party to be in. At the root of this attempt to corral a celebrity governor is the LDP's bid to appeal to populist sentiment.

LDP, open your eyes!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

LDP needs Soka Gakkai vote more than ever

Now that Prime Minister Taro Aso has announced a date for the general election — August 30 — the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will be leaning more than ever on its coalition partner New Komeito to get out the Soka Gakkai vote. The Buddhist lay organization is known for its extensive and powerful get-out-the-vote machine, but will it be enough? Others within the LDP are pushing for Aso to step aside and let a fresh face run as head of the party. Takehiko Kambayashi filed this report about the coming election in the Christian Science Monitor.

My Appeal to the LDP and the DPJ

If premier Taro Aso really believes he can defend his status and the status of the prime minister by dissolving the lower house, his administration is headed for pandemonium. To avoid this fate, Aso needs to resign. If he decides to do otherwise, the political situation will become muddled and the populace will further distance itself from the Liberal Democratic Party, leading to its ruin. That is what I foresee. He should know that public sentiment is against him. I recommend that he quietly read the situation and act accordingly.

The more difficult case is that of Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama. He was just chosen to lead the party about a month and a half ago in May. He ranked high in early public opinion polls. Yet there hasn't been another opinion poll since the most recent political fund scandal came to light. The DPJ is still under the illusion that Hatoyama is popular. A push for Hatoyama to step aside is not going to come from within the party.

There are DPJ supporters who sympathize with Hatoyama. But the funding scandal implicating him should not be brushed aside. At the very least, the person in charge of the funds in Hatoyama's office should be held legally liable. Hatoyama should not be allowed to avoid political and moral responsibility for this scandal either.

Hatoyama may be able to retain his leadership position. But is that really for the best? Hatoyama may even be able to lead his party to victory in the general elections. But it's a risky proposition. If this unique opportunity for political change is left up to Hatoyama, we could be left with nothing but regret. The only person who can do something about this now is Hatoyama himself. I am awaiting a bold decision from Hatoyama-san.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

Prime Minister Taro Aso appoints Yoshimasa Hayashi to head the economy ministry in a last-ditch effort to get those poll numbers to stop descending. It really does seem like the LDP is in for a drubbing whenever it decides to hold the next election, which will be on September 10 at the very latest. Read the Bloomberg report here.

Japan's Tragedy

While plans for an early dissolution of the Diet still have life, the idea that the Liberal Democratic Party would change leaders on July 2 is fading into the distance. I think it is safe to assume that this will soon become an impossibility. The discussions between Prime Minister Taro Aso and former premier Shinzo Abe about dissolving the Diet have been toned down. Aso is still repeating his tired one-man show. Trust in the premier continues to erode.

The LDP is likely to be in disarray after the July 5th gubernatorial election in Shizuoka Prefecture, the July 8-10 Italian Summit and the July 12 election of the Tokyo assembly. The time is drawing near for the LDP to bear the responsibility of choosing Aso as prime minister and party president. Even if he is re-elected to head the party, it will be difficult to stop the party's collapse. The disintegration of the LDP's coalition with the New Komeito Party has begun.

It may be too late, but LDP members need to recognize the danger of destruction they have brought upon themselves and try to recreate the party. If they can't repudiate the Koizumi legacy the way the citizens of Yokosuka City did in their latest mayoral election, then the party won't have a chance of reviving itself.

Opposition parties may welcome the disintegration of the LDP, but I don't think we should be thinking of it at that level. We have to think this through because it could lead to the disintegration of Japan itself.