Maehara backs down?

The DPJ is increasingly focused on its forthcoming leadership election, the date of which has been set for 21 September, with the campaign’s official start set for two weeks prior.

The DPJ’s anti-Ozawa groups have still not agreed upon a candidate to stand against Ozawa Ichiro, while Hatoyama Yukio and Kan Naoto have both expressed their support for Mr. Ozawa. Mr. Ozawa, reports Asahi, will likely go into the campaign with a majority of the parliamentary party behind him. The groups (factions) of Messrs. Hatoyama and Kan, as well as the left-wing Yokomichi group have pledged their support for Mr. Ozawa. The Isshin-kai, an Ozawa-sponsored group for DPJ members who have been elected fewer than three times, is also expected to support Mr. Ozawa, as are a number of the party’s endorsed candidates for the next general election (who get a vote in the leadership election). Mr. Ozawa’s support among the party’s prefectural chapters is also overwhelming.

In the midst of this gathering Ozawa landslide, Maehara Seiji has softened his critique of the party’s policies. Speaking Wednesday at a symposium with Yosano Kaoru, a possibile post-Fukuda LDP president, Mr. Maehara stated, “I don’t reject the party’s thinking, but the manifesto must be made better.” He suggested that the points of contention in the party leadership election should be (1) the form and manner of decentralization, (2) the place of the UN in the party’s security policy thinking, and (3) the question of how to fund the party’s manifesto proposals.

I’m not surprised by Mr. Maehara’s retreat from Liebermanian territory in relations with the DPJ — and I’m not surprised that it looks as if Mr. Maehara will leave it to Sengoku Yoshito to fall on his sword in the September election.

And, I should add, I’m not particularly impressed with Mr. Maehara’s attempt to spur a discussion about the DPJ’s “failure” to demonstrate precisely how it will govern if and when it takes power.

Yahoo’s Minna no seiji has published both Mr. Maehara’s article in Voice and the conversation with Tahara Soichiro and Mr. Yosano in Chuo Koron that have prompted criticism of Mr. Maehara from within the DPJ (and given the LDP hope that the DPJ might fragment).

In the first part of his article in Voice, Mr. Maehara chides his party for its role in creating the nejire kokkai by prioritizing opposition to the government over solving national problems. (He also criticizes the LDP and Komeito for dismissing opposition proposals out of hand, unlike, he says, in Germany, where since “various opinions are presented from within the government and the opposition parties, seventy or eighty percent of legislation is revised.”) In short, he argues that both the LDP and the DPJ should stop politicking and start working for the good of Japan, logic that sounds awfully similarly to the logic behind last year’s push for an LDP-DPJ grand coalition. He then proceeds to criticize DPJ positions on the temporary gasoline tax, the new eldercare system, before explaining his ideas on the aforementioned points of contention in the leadership election.

The interesting section is when he discusses the Koizumi-Takenaka reforms, because this section reveals much about Mr. Maehara. He says, “The direction and sense of the Koizumi/Takenaka reforms is completely correct.” But — there had to be a but — the reforms as implemented were sham reforms because the bureaucracy interfered with them. And perhaps, he suggests, Mr. Koizumi could have been a little more attentive to growing inequality and the need for more spending on health care.

In the second part, he provides fodder to those who see Mr. Maehara as being at the center of any political realignment by discussing the existence of “reformists” and “conservatives” in both the LDP and the DPJ. He then talks at length about his cross-partisan activities, especially on national security and foreign policy, and notes how there are many politicians in the LDP who understand Japan’s problems.

Finally, he closes with advice to the DPJ. First, he has the gall to note that “only the LDP will profit” from cracks in the party that will be the result of internal squabbling. Second, he calls on the DPJ to resist the temptation to populism, to telling the people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.

The conversation with Mr. Yosano hinges more on specific policy questions, but Mr. Maehara’s criticisms of the party and Mr. Ozawa are the same. (Part one; part two.)

I don’t necessarily have a problem with Mr. Maehara’s policy ideas; like most politicians, he has some good ideas and some not-so-good ideas (in the latter category I would put his statement, “If I were at the helm, I would make ‘world leader in per-capita GDP’ a national goal”). My problem is with his naivety. He genuinely believes that if reformists in both the LDP and DPJ just work together to craft good policy, Japan will be saved.

But to paraphrase Horace, you may drive politics out with a pitchfork, she will nevertheless come back. There is no escaping the “political situation,” reputedly an obsession of Mr. Ozawa above all others. Working with the LDP simply means giving the LDP the means to cling to power. There may be reasonable, intelligent LDP members, but the LDP remains the LDP, collectively frightened of any change beyond that necessary to stay in power, allied with the bureaucracy, and bereft of any vision beyond survival.

This is the unspoken meaning of what Mr. Yosano says in his discussion with Mr. Maehara: “The LDP is a rather flexible political party. If we receive various requests, we change that which can be changed.”

For all of Mr. Maehara’s ideas, he lacks wisdom (or political sense). He fails to see that any compromise behind tactical, issue-by-issue compromise abets the LDP. He fails to see that in many ways the continuance of the LDP in power — no matter how well-intentioned and sensible some members of the party are — is the single biggest obstacle to remaking Japan into the kind of society that Mr. Maehara purports to want. His fixation on balancing the budget in the DPJ’s electoral manifesto simply misses the bigger picture that regime change will provide a new government, free of the pathologies of fifty years of one-party rule, with the opportunity to chart a new direction for Japan, a goal that Mr. Ozawa shares. Unlike Mr. Maehara, however, it seems that Mr. Ozawa has actually given some thought to how to topple the LDP in an election first. And his way of thinking would not only give the LDP policy victories, but it would also make it increasingly difficult to tell the two parties apart, a development that would make it easier for the LDP to fend off a DPJ challenge to its rule.

For all his unhappiness with how the DPJ is run — and all of his efforts to cultivate partnerships with LDP members — I expect that Mr. Maehara will ultimately fall into line. The election end in a landslide reelection for Mr. Ozawa, Mr. Maehara and a buoyant Mr. Ozawa will reconcile on Mr. Ozawa’s terms, and the party will unite in pursuit of regime change.

One thought on “Maehara backs down?

  1. I find it hard to see how subsidies (in other terminology) to farmers, re-nationalisation of Japan post and and issuance of more government bonds could represent in any way a new start for Japan. DPJ under Ozawa is just an old style LDP and it seems like at least Maehara seems to understand.

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