electoral politics in the context of
the japanese election system
the house of representatives
the current political situation (august 2005)
the new people’s party
is koizumi in trouble?
government corruption and postal privatisation
the results [general election, september 2005]
The Japanese political system is a loose mixture of elements from the American, British and German/Prussian systems:
Here we descend into a little bit of farce. One of the new parties mention above is the kokumin shintou, which translates to the “New People’s Party”. On 17th of August 2005, the new party was announced at a press conference. Here follows this party’s “basic precepts”:
The head of the new party is Tamisuke Watanuki. He had the following to say:
“If politics carries on with these same techniques of forcing forward the privatisation of the Postal Services, it will destroy Japan’s system of parliamentary democracy.” 
This is, of course, the opposite of the truth: Koizumi is taking the issue to the voters for them to decide, which is the very essence of democracy.
It make me wonder whether they have been reading a manual for budding Communist Parties:
As has already been pointed out, the New People’s Party is not a party that anyone could ever imagine Koizumi taking as a serious threat. Yet it, and its even smaller clone the Japan’s New Party, have made up a third or more of the total fossil media’s political coverage in Japan for more than a week.
Perhaps this bizarre emphasis on the trivial should not come as a surprise. Under fossil media calculus, the Communist Party’s 18 MPs total over both houses apparently warrants them greater coverage on television than the third party’s 58 MPs (CGP), and often as much or more coverage as the main two parties with 361 (LDP) and 258 MPs (DPJ) apiece. This is apparently what happens when you try to be fair and balanced!
As the New People’s Party and the role of the Communist Party amply demonstrate, Japan has more than its fair share of immature politics. Nor is the immaturity limited to the usual suspects. The campaign run by the DPJ, Koizumi’s main opposition, hardly rises above school ‘debate’. An example: one of the DPJ’s opening shots of the 2005 General Election campaign was to take Koizumi’s manifesto pledges from the previous elections and “mark” them, complete with obnoxious comments.
In a country like the USA or Britain, such playground tactics would simply meet ridicule and mark those that employ them as amateurs. Even in those countries, there are apparently enough infants that respond to such petty point scoring to keep the Howard Deans and Claire Shorts of this world in business. Yet, in the end, the immature lose and are essentially ignored. As an outsider, I cannot know whether the Japanese electorate have enough common sense to be wary of such fakes and amateurs until I see the result of the coming vote.
On the one hand, the main reading material for adult Japanese is the comic. The Japanese are treated like children in shops and on the streets with constant and incredibly patronising safety announcements looping over the public address system. Most Japanese are forced into uniforms, and not allowed control over simple things like their hair colour or finger nail length until they reach university. Then at university, they go wild for a few years, after which they put on a different uniform and obey someone else’s orders as “salary men”. Under such circumstances, that the Japanese respond to immature political slogans would not be surprising.
However, Koizumi is not running a childish campaign. Far from it. As said before, Koizumi is now the fourth longest serving post-war Prime Minister. His party is by far the largest, even if without a solo majority. On dissolving the House of Representative, his poll ratings went up 20 points! All of which suggests the Japanese are not quite so unworldly as some of the propaganda might suggest. I am optimistic, and becoming more so as I read more.
Koizumi had snappy, constantly repeated slogans: “do you want postal privatisation or not?”, “do you want the reform to stop?”, etc. Okada talked of many different issues and complications. Koizumi cultivates a slick and relaxed image. Okada is ‘serious’ and wears a suit. Koizumi sent “assassins” (a fossil media term that Koizumi asked them to cease using) - famous, rich and pretty people - to stand again the rebels.
However, when one stops to think - dangerous, I know - things take on a rather different light.
Despite Okada’s ‘complications’, in fact, he said very little specific. His pronouncements were more along the lines of “Koizumi talks privatisation, privatisation, privatisation. We shouldn’t be talking about whether we want privatisation, but about whether we want this bill. And anyway he isn’t saying anything about pensions.” You will notice that such statements are empty of actual proposals, a common problem with the incorrigible whiners of this world.
This outpouring of reams of empty words is a well-known socialist trait: you can usually tell which is the Communist Party/Socialist Worker’s Party/BNP (British Nazi/National Party) party election poster from a fair distance. It is the poster filled with words. [Examples from a French general election - numbers 3, 12, 15, 16 show posters for socialist or extreme socialist parties.]
That Koizumi does not constrict himself with a garrotte or wear inappropriate, heavy jackets in the height of Japan’s sultry summer should be a clear indication of someone who cares more for function than for form. It is Okada with his suits and ties that, in fact, ran on image divorced from substance.
The “assassins” are taken from the ranks of the famous, rich and pretty. In other words, they are people who have succeeded out in the real world. Would you rather a manager who has proven that they can get things done, or one who has proven they can last out the years in the rarified world of sinecures and make-work?
It is not surprising to see that it is to the “pretty” epiphet that the fossil media and the socialist parties seemed to object to the most: jealousy covered in a pseud’s veneer of respectability, typical of that puritan christianist schism.
With a large section of his party rebelling, many are suggesting that Koizumi’s grip is wavering, both on country and party. My impression is just the opposite is the case.
All government is corrupt. All that changes is the degree of the corruption, and even the degree does not change all that much. With the Japanese government, the corruption is often more obvious than with most Western liberal democracies. Koizumi’s party, the LDP, has ruled Japan for almost all of the 55 years since the American occupation government departed.
A small sample of the corruption should give you an idea:
I repeat, LDP party bosses are heavily implicated in this corruption; as you would expect for a party that has held the reins of power for so long. All the large ministries have their own civil servants and sets of powerful ’retired’ civil service chiefs. The Japanese Postal/Telecommunications Ministry employs approximately one third of all Japanese government ‘workers’. This makes the Postal/Telecommunications Ministry one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, vested interest block in the government.
As with similar large socialist parties around the world, the DPJ’s (main opposition) power largely stems from the unions. Koizumi is openly implying that the DPJ are in the pocket of the postal unions (230,000 full-time employees) and ex-bosses. That amount of money allows the corruption to spread far and wide, just as with Saddam Hussein’s and the UN’s joint oil-for-bribes scheme.
Koizumi is now trying to privatise that ministry, removing that block of ‘workers’ and money from the hands of politicians, and removing those ‘workers’ from safe guaranteed make-work. In other words, Koizumi is going after the sources of government corruption, corruption in which his party has been heavily involved. There can be no surprise at the howls of the various vested interests.
Koizumi has already privatised another of the giant Japanese ministries: the Highways Agency. He has refused to allow the 30-plus MPs, who have attempted to maintain the status quo, to re-stand as LDP candidates. He is making very clear he intends to do the same with the Senate rebels post-election.
It has been suggested that LDP needs to lose in order to force them to reform and clear deadwood, much as with the current British Conservative Party. As is true with conservative parties around the world, the LDP is not popular with the largely left-wing fossil media and ivory-tower academics. As one of the world’s more successful anti-socialist parties, the LDP gets its fair share of scorn. Some are suggesting that a defeated LDP would be a boon. I would take a different view.
The alternative to the LDP is the DPJ, a socialist party. This is a socialist party working closely with The Socialist Party (SP) and the Communist Party (CP). I do not see how including the DPJ would help clear corruption, given that Koizumi is going after the main source of that corruption while the DPJ is attempting to stop those efforts.
This is not like Britain where there is a choice between three socialist parties, one of which - the Conservatives - might turn back into a serious party if kept from power long enough. Japan already has a serious conservative party, in the hands of a serious reformer. In that situation, I cannot see how it is possible to justify allowing the socialists near power.
From the outside, it may appear that Koizumi has done very little with his relatively long four-and-half-year term of office. On closer examination, however, we see the following:
Koizumi also has the dinosaurs/vested-interests within his party to deal with, as can been seen from the recent manoeuvring. However, all indications suggest that he is now in a very strong position with those dinosaurs. Gaining that position has no doubt taken time.
My impression is that Koizumi is acting, and acting well.
Warning: what follows is speculation. Nobody but Koizumi can know with any certainty what Koizumi’s strategy actually is.
Koizumi lost an important vote in the Senate and then dismissed the House of Representatives, where he had won the privatisation vote. Why? My guesses go as follows:
At this point the Senate opposition has a choice of two politically unpleasant options:
If the former, they give Koizumi more ammunition for the fast-approaching election, placing their own seats in serious peril. If the latter, Koizumi has won anyway and the Senate opposition have been forced to reverse themselves, adding further political ammunition for later use.
This speculation obviously rests on the assumption that Koizumi makes significant gains this September. Although this looks highly likely, it is not certain.
The election was about privatisation. By going on about pensions, child allowances and promising tax rises, the opposition were avoiding this issue. This has been obvious to the public and to almost all commentators. But why is it “obvious”?
Polls on what the Japanese public consider to be the most important issues have consistently shown pensions to be far and away the number one concern. This has been both prior to and during the election campaign. Yet the election results now clearly show that the election was about privatisation.
On a shallow level, how Koizumi has manoeuvred this is clear: he told the people that if he lost the privatisation vote, an election would be called. The vote was lost. Within about an hour, an election was called. Simple cause and effect. The link can but be very clear in everyone’s minds.
There are many in the media and in the opposition who were, and who are, claiming that Koizumi’s impression of a broken record concerning the election’s theme has “tricked” the public (see immature politics”). I do not believe it is that simple.
Koizumi won his first general election with the slogan:
Reform, even if it means destroying the LDP.It is a slogan he repeated for this election. In effect, he has now destroyed the LDP, or what it used to be. His actions spell the end of the LDP, both as paid stooges for civil service corruption (see the $2 trillion postal slush fund) and as a loose coalition of factions, rather than a party in the usual US/UK sense.
At the same time, Koizumi’s reforms are working and continuing. His work to greatly reduce the size of government parasitism is clearly relevant to solving the problem of unpayable pensions. His work to greatly increase the capital available for investment is clearly relevant to the productivity neccessary for such largesse.
The LDP have obviously been surprised by the extent of their landslide. In Tokyo, they put forward ‘only’ thirty candidates. Having won 23 of the 25 FPTP seats, the LDP were left with only 7 candidates for the PR seats. The LDP won eight. Well, they would have done if they had stood a 31st candidate. As it is, they have had to forfeit that seat. (Tokyo and Osaka have traditionally been strongholds of the opposing DPJ.)
Under the Japanese constitution, if the Senate votes down a bill passed by the House of Representatives, the House of Representatives can force that bill by re-passing it with a majority of at least two-thirds. That requires 320 seats. Koizumi’s coalition has 327 seats.
However, I seriously doubt that the Senators will be so foolish as to again vote down the postal privatisation bills. They have their own elections in just over a year. Already ten or so LDP rebel Senators have made statements of apology to “the people”, promising to support the privatisation bill this time.
Of the 33 LDP rebel Representatives that chose to stand again, only 15 managed to hold their seats. The LDP’s 61.7% of the seats is the second highest ever.
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©the auroran sunset, abelard.org: 2005, 3 september
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