Are we looking at a new political order?

We are less than a month away from the gubernatorial election in Tokyo, with the campaign officially starting a week from today, and it seems like it may be a key part of yet another massive political realignment.

Until last week, Yoichi Masuzoe was looking like a shoo-in, with the support of the Abe government and very strong results in both LDP and DPJ polls. Then former prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa, who led a coalition that briefly broke the LDP’s uncontested decades of power in 1993, came out of nowhere and announced his candidacy a couple of days ago on a platform strongly opposing the restart of nuclear power. He has the backing of none other than former LDP prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who stood beside him for the announcement. According to some reports, perennial back room fixer and band destroyer Ichiro Ozawa is also behind the Hosokawa campaign. Meanwhile, Koizumi’s son Shinjiro, who has quietly become the most popular active politician within the LDP, is criticizing Abe for supporting Masuzoe, who ditched the party in 2009 to start his own third party that went nowhere — this despite the fact that there are no other potential candidates within the LDP who poll nearly as highly as Masuzoe.

Hosokawa and the alliance supporting him seem to be getting a groundswell of momentum, despite an obvious defect in his candidacy: he resigned as prime minister in 1994 because of a scandal that was essentially exactly the same as the scandal that just took down Governor Inose. Here is Hosokawa in April 1994:

Hosokawa has been fending off allegations that he accepted an improper donation of 100 million yen ($970,000) from a trucking company previously accused of bribery and links to organized crime. He has admitted receiving the money, but says it was a loan. His opponents say it was a bribe.

The sense of irony here is palpable. The coalition that Hosokawa heads came to power last August promising an end to the so-called money politics of the Liberal Democratic Party, which the coalition displaced. Now LDP members – whose 38-year grip on power was broken after a slew of bribery and influence-peddling scandals – fax each other copies of a receipt Hosokawa has released in an attempt to show that he paid back the money, because they believe it to be an obvious and sloppy fake. “If you show this receipt to the tax authorities,” says Motoo Shiina, an independent member of Japan’s upper house who left the LDP six years ago, “they will laugh.”

Here is Inose in December 2013:

Inose acknowledged in November he had received 50 million yen ($500,000) from the political family behind the huge Tokushukai medical group before last year’s gubernatorial election. The money, handed to him in cash, was kept in a safety deposit box and Inose said it was a personal loan that had nothing to do with his campaign for the city’s top job.

He has been grilled by a hostile assembly on several occasions, with the media picking apart his appearance and stuttering performance, focusing on beads of sweat that dripped down his neck. At hearings and in press conferences he has waved around a piece of paper he insists amounted to a loan agreement, although observers noted that it bore no date for repayment and showed no terms and conditions.

There is another obvious defect in both Masuzoe and Hosokawa, in that like Inose, they both made careers out of being outspoken and pissing off the establishment, but never managed to show much for it other than ignominious defeats.

So who else is out there? Besides the two media-anointed leading contenders, we have our good buddy General Tamogami running on the far right, and socialist/communist-supported lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya (who came in a distant second to Inose in the last election) running on the far left. Of the four candidates, three (Masuzoe, Hosokawa and Utsunomiya) are anti-nuclear in one form or another, while Tamogami’s energy policy, in line with his other stated policies, presumably relies on the Japanese air force.

Neither I nor most Japanese commentators are entirely sure what to make of all this, but it certainly incites a lot of speculation as to what will happen next. Will the retired DPJ insiders like Kan and Hatoyama manage to squeeze Utsunomiya out of the race and consolidate the anti-LDP vote under Hosokawa, or will Utsunomiya split that segment and let Masuzoe win? Will Tamogami leverage Shintaro Ishihara’s support and his own possession of actual administrative experience to eke out a victory while the others shout over each other about the nuclear issue? Will Antonio Inoki parachute in from North Korea at the last minute? Will everyone in Tokyo just stay in bed on the 9th and let Doctor NakaMats realize the fruits of decades of campaigning? Perhaps most importantly, what will all of this mean for the Abe government? It’s fascinating, and I for one can’t get enough of it.

14 thoughts on “Are we looking at a new political order?”

  1. Seriously, Tamogami wants to expand nuclear energy infrastructure in order to support nuclear weapons development. Something tells me that this won’t be his campaign focus, however.

    But (really) seriously, we’re seeing a center-left reorientation with Koizumi in orbit. Quite a development. To my eyes, this doesn’t look a whole lot different from Ikeda, Sato, and post-Kishi 60s LDPers. The Japanese public typically hasn’t voted as far right as Abe. A new faux left that looks like the US Democrats (and is more pro-Alliance / pro-status quo as part of the bargain) and might be able to find common ground with some of the libertarians seems to be just over the horizon. In national politics they could make hay with the coming consumption tax storm. The LDP dodged the Fukushima bullet despite having forged Japanese nuclear power policy. They deserve to eat it on the consumption tax.

  2. The government will try to paint Koizumi as a flip-flopper. Basically though, one might say that the principles that have led him to take the anti-nuclear position are exactly those at the center of his past reform agenda. I’m not at all convinced that his politics are going to succeed on a national level, even if they do succeed in Tokyo. The left he is trying to bring together is too disorganized, and includes a number of very large egos. Plus, I can’t see a lot of the Social Democratic left going along with him if he still has the same priorities for the economy that he did from 2001-06. Perhaps he’ll abandon his neo-liberal ideology in order to build his political support. But if he can highlight the fact that the nuclear industry is a massive iron triangle, he may be able to shove the disaster down the throat of the LDP after all.

  3. “Perhaps he’ll abandon his neo-liberal ideology in order to build his political support.”

    Leftish parties in the UK, NZ and Canada seem to do an okay job selling neo-liberalism lite. Given the TPP-focused Abe alternative, this might be enough to get some old Socialist voting support, even if the politicians are not going to go along (although they could go coalition).

    Did you see the latest numbers for revision of article 9 down to 31% in Tokyo? 70% of those in their 20s are opposed (probably with another 10% and change ‘undecided’). Some of this has got to the Secrecy Bill backlash. Support for revising Article 9 is down 15 points since July.

  4. In the run up to the Olympics, it would be a pleasant change to have a mayor who was (1) welcoming to foreigners and (2) fluent in English.

    Says me who can’t vote.

  5. Surprised that Kobayashi stopped ———– to AKB48 videos long enough to form a new political opinion.

    Interesting as well to see that anti-nuke > being a fascist (I guess the two are not mutually exclusive).

    @Peter – Raises the question , how is it that my wife can speak better English than the 250 most influential men in Japan?

  6. Most influential 250 men in Japan? Probably a slight exaggeration, but by how much, really?

    Off the very top of my head the first two men that probably fit into that category, i.e. “the 250 most influential men in Japan with English better than your wife” includes the two possible candidates of Son Masayoshi and Murakami Haruki (if he even still counts in the top 250), although it’s more than possible that Murakami’s spoken English is dramatically weaker than his written.

    On a more relevant note: “Seriously, Tamogami wants to expand nuclear energy infrastructure in order to support nuclear weapons development. Something tells me that this won’t be his campaign focus, however.”

    I’m sure that’s a major concern of his, but don’t underestimate the strategic importance of energy independence. Tamogami has undoubtedly spent a lot of time wargaming past and future conflicts, and relying on easily blocked or destroyed tankers for your energy supply is pretty key. Not to mention the impact that fossil fuel imports must have on Japan’s balance of trade.

  7. Murakami’s English is not so good. (Spam filter eats links so Youtube – Murakami Haruki Interview in Spain).

    I don’t know how to place Son. He sounds great in obviously rehearsed interviews and not so great in roundtables and stuff.

    “but don’t underestimate the strategic importance of energy independence”

    I wouldn’t underestimate this, but I’ve not seen Tamogami get into it. He writes a lot about how China will just fold if Japan gets nuclear weapons so conventional battles never become a real issue for him. He rides the nuclear issue in two directions – weaponization and “Chinese spies” attacking nuclear plants. I think he is also staying out of the nuclear debate, at least on his blog and stuff – where he talks more about disaster relief and creating employment by strengthening infrastructure.

  8. Have you read Tamogami’s book yet? I must admit I haven’t been following him as much as I meant to since I did the initial coverage of him on the blog, so I need to catch up some time when I get a chance.

  9. I’ve read about ten Tamogami books (and I’d guess that he has about two dozen out, including taidan types and special issues) – he is a bit of a chameleon, changing his message depending on what audience he is addressing (ie. nuclear standoff is the “real peace”, just look at the Cold War… is actually a pretty smart form of branding in peace Japan). Generally, he is doing the whole neo-nationalist thing but with more of a pragmatic / rationalist cast than usual (ie. Kobayashi Yoshinori is much more emotional in his arguments). Tamogami-juku is probably the one to read if you want to see where he has been going.

    I see his election bid as an attempt to revive his brand. I’ve noted that he released 10 books rapidly in 2009-2010 after the controversy over his essay, but far less since, despite the fact that there is, if anything, a growing market for defense reflections, particularly the air / maritime that was his bread and butter. He’s done alright on Twitter, however, so he’s sorta a leader among the netizen manchildren.

  10. There is an interesting piece in Shukan Post indicating that an LDP internal simulation has Hosokawa squeaking past Masuzoe based solely on the support of their respective “bases” and assuming a fairly low turnout rate of 55%. If all the anti-nuclear people rally behind Hosokawa (and there are apparently a lot of them in Tokyo, many of whom would not otherwise be bothered to vote), the margin of victory could be even higher.

  11. Tamogami will be governor and The Nature Boy Ric Flair will be president in 2016. The Internets said so.

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