Friday, May 28, 2010

Diet Needs Sworn Testimony from Ozawa

Making the DPJ chief testify should be the top priority; The LDP and other opposition parties need to unite to make this happen. If the DPJ uses its majority to block Ozawa's testimony, the opposition should walk out of the lower house and start a citizens' movement.

The Democratic Party of Japan is wrong. It's fixated on government "of Ozawa, for Ozawa and by Ozawa." The party has forgotten the people and is intent on protecting its leader, Ichiro Ozawa.

Ozawa should cooperate with the federal investigation. Here's a very important point: The 5th Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution agreed unanimously that it was unjust to not prosecute Ozawa. If the Diet chooses to ignore this, it is abdicating its responsibility.

All the opposition parties should unite and not diverge from the goal of getting Ozawa to give sworn testimony. If the DPJ denies this request, the opposition should stop discussing any bill submitted by the Hatoyama cabinet and appeal to the people that the DPJ has acted wrongly. If the DPJ continues to protect Ozawa, the opposition should call for the dissolution of the lower house and new elections. If the issues surrounding Ozawa and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama are treated vaguely, the people's trust will be lost. The DPJ would definitely lose a general election centered on the theme of "politicians and money" and the roles of Hatoyama and Ozawa.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Forecasting the Summer Upper-House Election

Big losses for DPJ, rebound for LDP, progress for Your Party

The trend for 2010 is the opposite of the trend for 2009. It's quite likely that the Democratic Party of Japan and the Hatoyama administration are going to suffer a big loss.

I estimated the outcome of the 2010 upper house election this summer based on opinion polls. There are 242 seats in the upper house. Half of these, or 121 seats, are up for election every three years. Of that half, 48 are decided through proportional representation and 73 are through direct elections.

Of the 48 proportional seats, the top two parties will take about 30. The remaining 18 will be split among New Komeito, the Japan Communist Party, Your Party, the Social Democrats, People's New Party and other parties. While polls show the DPJ with a small lead, as the election nears, that lead will shrink. I forecast that the proportional seats will go this way: DPJ, 15; LDP, 15; Komeito, six; Your Party, eight; Communists, three; Social Democrats, one.

As for the direct elections, I see Tokyo's five seats split equally among the DPJ, LDP, Komeito, Your Party and the Communists. As for the 15 seats in the three-seat districts (Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Aichi, Osaka), I see it breaking down this way: DPJ, five; LDP, five; Komeito, two; Your Party, three. The 24 seats in the two-seat districts (Hokkaido, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Niigata, Nagano, Gifu, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Hiroshima, Fukuoka) will be split 12-12 by the DPJ and the LDP, I predict.

The upper-house showdown will occur in the 29 single-seat districts. The DPJ faces an inevitable battle here. The dissatisfaction with and distrust of the Hatoyama administration is growing because of its decision to disregard rural communities when making policy. Here is where the election will be decided.

Prefectures where the DPJ is likely to win (based on recent opinion polls) are Iwate, Tochigi, Nara, Tokushima, Kochi and Oita — a total of six. Another five prefectures — Yamagata, Yamanashi, Mie, Shiga and Okinawa — are too close to call between the DPJ and the LDP. The remaining 18 prefectures — Aomori, Akita, Gunma, Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, Wakayama, Tottori, Shimane, Okayama, Yamaguchi, Kagawa, Ehime, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Miyazaki and Kagoshima — are likely to go to the LDP.

My forecast is for the DPJ to take 42 seats, the LDP 53, Komeito nine, Your Party 12, the Communists four and the Social Democrats one. Of the five prefectures that are too close to call, I gave three to the DPJ and two to the LDP.

As of the middle of April, it's unlikely that there will be any new parties winning seats except for Your Party. It will corral the votes of people expecting something new. The DPJ leadership may try to mitigate its losses by announcing a lower-house election on the same day. If it can keep 241 seats in the lower house, the Ozawa system will remain intact. But the DPJ faces a big problem over whether the Ozawa system will win support or bring on repudiation. The DPJ is the Party of Ichiro Ozawa.

The debate about whether to hold an upper- and lower-house election will begin to get lively. They'll release trial balloons while debating the negative points of an election of both houses until the likelihood of a general election grows. In the end, they will likely opt to hold the election for both houses.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

One Thing to do before Focusing on Child Care

Employment policies would provide necessary 'parent care'

"Work is the backbone of life." -- Freiderich Nietzsche

The Child Care Act has become law, so starting this June, families will receive an extra 13,000 yen per child. Most major newspapers are saying that the measure was enacted as part of Democratic Party of Japan chief Ichiro Ozawa's strategy for winning the upper-house elections. A government handout of cash is likely to influence the elections. But we can't call this just politics. Politicians must govern in a moral way.

There are many problems with this approach. Let me point out two. First, the plan is to make this child subsidy permanent, but the legal standing for it is vague. The version that just passed is effective for only one year. There's no clear guarantee from the second year. Citizens have a lot of thoughts about this. I have been receiving emails and letters about this issue. I'd like to share one:

"I welcome the child-care subsidy, but I'd like it to continue once it starts. However, if you think about our fiscal resources, it seems likely that there won't be money to fund the program at some point. That's the biggest sticking point for me. I'd like them to make it so there's never a situation where a child has to stop going to school."
Looking at the economic situation today, it's very unlikely that tax revenue will grow next fiscal year. The DPJ has pledged that next year's child-care subsidy will double. The problem is whether we have the fiscal resources.

The second problem is the way the funds are being allocated by the government. The DPJ and the Hatoyama administration are calling the child-care payments both social welfare and economic policy. As far as economic policy is concerned, having government hand money directly to the citizenry is very low on the list of effective measures.

Economic policies that involve outlays of government cash must work to enrich the whole country. The government is expected to use government funds to -- as much as possible -- revive the economy for the benefit of the whole society. First, revive industry and business. Then reduce unemployment, getting pay into the hands of as many people as possible. Then improve family living standards. That's how it's supposed to be done.

A worker should be able to handle household expenses from his or her income. The normal state of things should be that the head of the household has stable work that rewards him or her with enough money to cover expenses and provide for the family. The first thing the government should be doing is helping people get to this state. That's the government's role.

The government's policy on social welfare should be to help those who can't fill the available jobs. It should make solving the unemployment problem a top priority.

It's too bad that this distorted view of the government's economic policy has spread recently. More and more economists, analysts and business journalists are saying there's no need for the government to enact full employment measures. There is hardly anyone advocating full employment as a policy. This is the Achilles' heel of politics.

The government should aim for full employment and reduce the number of jobless people. I'll go so far as to say that before we start doling out allowances for households with kids, we should resolve the employment situation for young men and women who want to become parents and raise their own families.

The Hatoyama administration and the DPJ are wrong when it comes to economic policy. The most important thing the government can do right now is enact employment policies and boost the economy. Especially necessary are investments in the provinces to improve peoples' livelihoods. Public investment has dropped precipitously. The Hatoyama administration's plan to dole out money to families to bring about economic recovery is likely to try the most patient man's soul.

It's the government's duty to find ways to make sure able and willing people have a place to work.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Time to End Politics that Ignores the Provinces

"A nation's power resides in its provinces." — Roka Tokutomi (late 19th, early 20th Century novelist)
If the provinces are abandoned, the nation will decline. What's important to a country is the ability to strike a balance between the central government and the provinces, the metropolises and the outlying regions, urban and rural areas, industry and agriculture. If the balance is lost, society, the economy and the government start to destabilize. The important role of politics is to strike a social and economic balance. However, Japan is not in balance. Neoliberal and free-market policies have the nation teetering. The population is concentrated in our largest cities, especially in Tokyo. The wealth is also concentrated there, as are the corporations. Politicians show little concern for the provinces.

We hear lots of noise about decentralization and regional sovereignty, but the reality is that while the provinces decline at a rapid pace, they get only unsubstantial decentralization measures from the government. The gap between the center (Tokyo) and the outlying areas
widens. If this trend continues unabated, Japan will be weakened. The world is sensitive to this danger. Japan is threatened by politics that ignores the provinces, but even after we ushered in a new administration, nothing has changed.

"A person who brightens one corner is a treasure to the nation." — Saicho (Buddhist monk, 767-822)

These words encourage a life dedicated to helping people in the dark corners of our society. This is the starting point for a life in politics. To live by these words, politicians must put priority on the provinces, the small businesses and employment. But the political will to carry through on this has been anemic lately. The spirit needed for this work seems to be seeping out of today's journalists, economists and career bureaucrats. This is a serious situation. In the days of the medium-size constituency system, politicians took better care of the provinces than they do today. Once the small-size constituency system was ushered in, the focus turned to the parties, and the politicians lost the will to fight for the provinces.

"Creating one advantage is more powerful than eliminating one harm." — Yelu Chucai, retainer to Genghis Khan

The provinces are sensitive to the movements of our nation's politicians. Politicians who disregard the provinces are drawing more criticism. As the summer upper-house election approaches, voters are beginning to single out these politicians. Policies affecting the provinces will be the hot issue. While many leading politicians are unaware of this movement, a noticeable minority is starting to pay more attention to the outlying areas. Voters are beginning to show signs that they'll support this group of politicians.

The big issue for Japan on the political front is going to be the removal of politicians who disregard the provinces, small businesses and employment. The rumblings of a larger movement have already begun.