As expected, Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan defeated rival Ichiro Ozawa in yesterday’s DPJ leadership contest. Here are the results in full:
||Local Assembly Members
||Party Members and Supporters
The results show a significant difference between the way lawmakers (MPs and local assembly members) and rank-and-file party members voted. A large proportion of the former remained loyal to Ozawa, while the latter voted against him by a margin of almost five to one.
Rather than bow out quietly, however, it seems likely that Ozawa will continue to wield at least some degree of power. In post-election interviews Kan hinted that, despite strong anti-Ozawa sentiment among party members, the baggy-eyelidded one might still be appointed to a position of some importance.
Kan may have won the leadership battle, but that doesn’t mean he is particularly popular with the public. His cleaner-than-most, average-boy-turned-good image works in his favour, but many Japanese still at least respect, if not admire, Ozawa’s deal-making skills. Despite only being in office for three months Kan already has a reputation for poor leadership and indecisiveness (although for Japanese prime ministers both of these “qualities” could be part of the job description) – the “will-he-won’t-he raise the consumption tax” debacle being a case in point. He is running a minority government, and many of the smaller parties, including former LDP heavyweight Yoshimi Watanabe’s “Your Party” (“Minna no To”, in Japanese), have already said that they will not cooperate with him.
Over the coming months Kan needs to make a lot of difficult economic decisions; win the support of MPs from both the DPJ and the smaller parties; and build confidence in his government among business leaders and the public. Rather him than me.
Earlier this month it seemed likely that Ichiro Ozawa, backroom wheeler-dealer and master of the political dark arts, would be successful in his bid to become leader of the DPJ, a result that would also make him Japan’s fourth prime minister in four years. However, it now appears that victory is far from certain: DJP MP Banri Kaeda, one of Ozawa’s most prominent backers, now thinks that “the situation is very severe”. In other words, he doesn’t think Ozawa will beat incumbent Naoto Kan.
Although a recent opinion poll showed that less than 20% of the Japanese public think Ozawa should be prime minister, he continues to enjoy the majority of support among the DPJ’s MPs. While this may look like – and indeed probably would be – electoral suicide on the MPs’ part, a large number of them owe Ozawa their political careers. To vote against him would be to make a very powerful enemy – Ozawa isn’t called ‘the destroyer’ for nothing.
It isn’t just MPs who get to vote, though: local assembly members and regional officials are also having their say, albeit with reduced influence (MPs’ votes are worth twice as much as the other two combined). If Kan can sway enough members of these two groups to back him, as well as a large number of the 60 MPs who have yet to decide, he may be able to hold on. Kaeda seems to think that this may very well happen.
Defeat for Ozawa may be good for the DPJ’s electoral chances – and for Japanese politics in general – but it could spell disaster for Ozawa himself: he is currently under investigation for funding irregularities. Holders of high offices in government are immune from prosecution, but as Ozawa’s chances of becoming PM slip away he may very well be indicted, just like three of his aides were this February.
My, doesn’t time fly in the world of Japanese politics? It seems like only yesterday that Yukio Hatoyama and the DPJ finally managed to chuck the pork-barrellers of the LDP out of power, and yet here we are, just months later, with yet another unelected Japanese leader on our hands.
Putting questions of legitimacy to one side for the time being, it’s good to see that Naoto Kan, the new prime minister, isn’t from one of the grotesque political dynasties that dominate the Diet. The grandfathers of the last four prime ministers – Hatoyama, Aso, Fukuda and Abe – were also prime ministers themselves. Tellingly, none of these political darlings lasted longer than a year in office. It comes as no surprise that their ‘superior’ breeding and first-rate education failed to prepare them for the real world, and for the demands that come with governing the world’s second largest economy.
While Hatoyama doggedly dug his own grave over the US military base on Okinawa, Naoto Kan kept mum. By neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the idea of moving the base off the island he may very well be able to dodge the issue entirely, or at least kick it into the long grass for the time being. Hatoyama’s dithering seriously damaged the US administration’s trust in Japan. Kan needs to repair that trust, and also begin to enact the policies that the LDP fought last year’s election on, most notably reform of the institutionally corrupt bureaucracy.
The political elite have been in a malaise for so long that, like the chained prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave, they have little or no understanding of how the real world functions. Hopefully, Kan will be able to drag some of them towards the blinding reality of the outside world. Unfortunately, content with their world of shadows, most of them will probably try to get rid of him as swiftly as possible.
Posted 07 May 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
A run down of some of the best Japan-related stories from this week:
Japanese visitors will be invited by tour operators to contribute £5, a charge already nicknamed the “Peter Rabbit tax”.
The tale of Peter Rabbit and a £5 ‘tax’ on his Japanese friends
The Times (Robert Jenkins)
Okinawa’s status as home to one of the highest life expectancies in the world has been tied to a combination of healthy diets, exercise and self-sufficiency.
World’s oldest woman dies in Japan aged 114
The Daily Telegraph (Danielle Demetriou)
Japan has the lowest percentage of children among 27 countries with populations of more than 40 million, trailing Germany at 13.6 percent and Italy’s 14 percent.
Japan’s children population at new record low
BusinessWeek (Mari Yamaguchi)
Along with a flair for airy-fairy waffle, Mr Hatoyama has exhibited breathtaking indecision.
Things fall apart in Japan
The Economist (Banyan’s column)
If you get groped on a train, please tell the nearest police officer.
Crackdown nets 77 gropers on Tokyo trains
The Daily Yomiuri
Posted 31 Mar 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category News, Tokyo
Korean newspapers are up in arms (again) following the Japanese government’s endorsement of several elementary school textbooks that label the islets of Dokdo – or Takeshima in Japanese – as Japanese territory.
The islets, which are located slap bang between Japan and South Korea, have been claimed by both countries for several hundred years. Japan’s Ministry of Foreign affairs remains adamant that they are “an inherent part of the territory of Japan”, though South Korea has maintained a continuous police and military presence there since 1952.
In 2008, South Korea briefly recalled its ambassador to Japan after guidelines for Japanese junior high school teachers mentioned the dispute. In 2005, Korean protesters decapitated pheasants and chopped off their own fingers outside the Japanese embassy following Shimane prefecture’s decision to label the 100th anniversary of Japan’s annexation of the islets “Takeshima Day”.
The Liancourt Rocks are inhabited by two permanent Korean residents (both fishermen), 37 Korean police officers, a small number of lighthouse keepers, and an enormous amount of birds. It is believed that reserves of natural gas lie under the surrounding sea-floor.
The ongoing sovereignty saga is likely to be a thorn in the side for any Japanese government that wishes to improve relations with Korea. While the current DPJ-led government is far less hawkish than its predecessor, it remains wary of antagonising right-wing nationalists.
Article from the Chosun Ilbo: “Korea Must Do More to Counter Japan’s Claim to Dokdo” (31st March, 2010)