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    Japan Post still developing

    Posted by Sean at 03:28, August 15th, 2005

    The LDP may pursue an aggressive strategy regarding Japan Post privatization:

    The Liberal Democratic Party hopes to pass the postal privatization bills during a special Diet session to be convened after the House of Representatives election if the ruling coalition retains its majority, sources close to the party said Sunday.

    The party plans to resubmit the bills, which were rejected by the House of Councillors, to a special Diet session for an extended debate on the bills, the sources said.

    It is unusual for bills to be debated at a special Diet session.

    With Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi having touted the postal privatization bills as the key election issue, the LDP felt it was necessary to make clear its determination to pass the bills as soon as possible, the sources said.

    A special Diet session, which elects the prime minster, speaker and vice speaker, does not usually deliberate on bills.

    In related news, the Nikkei reports tersely that Shizuka Kamei has resigned as head of his faction. Kamei was one of Koizumi’s rivals for selection as Prime Minister four years ago; he was also one of Koizumi’s most visible opponents in the debate over Japan Post privatization. Kamei had removed the faction’s secretaries general from their positions last month when the pair voted in favor of the bill. The Kamei faction accounted for the largest number of opposing LDP votes in the House of Councillors.

    Added a few minutes later: I don’t have the news on, so I haven’t seen Kamei’s press conference; as always, the Nikkei‘s on-line story is being added to:

    After his announcement, Kamei stated to the press corps that the reason for his resignation was that “my faction members have been put in a painful position” because the LDP has decided not to back current members of the Diet in the lower house election if they voted against the Japan Post privatization bill. He also explained, “We were unable to stop the reign of terror conducted by Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi.”

    It’s hard to fault legislators who vote against laws they don’t think are a good idea. On the other hand, Koizumi is attempting reforms that hit so many powerful beneficiaries where they hurt that you can’t blame him for feeling the need to play hardball politics, either. It will be interesting to see what happens. The Mainichi has conducted another poll and says that public support of the cabinet is still rising. Those who didn’t support it most frequently cited the slowness of economic recovery as their reason. Koizumi and his strategists have failed to give the public clear, easily digestible reasons that Japan Post privatization would be a real help in that regard. Whether they’re going to change their approach now is anyone’s guess.

    LDP seeks women Diet candidates; Osaka assemblywoman comes out

    Posted by Sean at 01:13, August 14th, 2005

    Interesting, this:

    Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi upped the ante in his war against party rebels by instructing that priority be given to fielding female candidates in the Lower House election next month.

    The strategy started to take shape with a decision by ruling Liberal Democratic Party executives on Thursday to field Satsuki Katayama as its candidate in the Shizuoka No. 7 constituency. The seat is held by Minoru Kiuchi, 40, one of the party’s 37 rebel lawmakers who voted against Koizumi’s postal reform bills.

    What’s the reasoning, I wonder? Are LDP strategists trying to get out the housewife/single woman vote? Do they just feel that female talent hasn’t been sufficiently tapped and that this is a good opportunity to make a statement about the party’s values? Koizumi’s stated reason is this:

    Regarding the backing of female candidates, The Prime Minister told the press corps, “[The move is] because there are very few women members of the Diet. I want those who rise to be the most competent people possible.”

    Fair enough. I’m sure he means it. It seems likely that the strategy is also part of an effort to change the party’s image. Koizumi sees himself–and has pitched himself–as a revolutionary. More visible women in positions of power would help dispel the impression that the failure of the Japan Post privatization bill to pass means that the LDP is still under the control of well-connected old men who are tied to the old patronage system.


    Speaking of women politicians–the Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade 2005 was held here in Tokyo yesterday. I didn’t watch and, of course, it got next to zero news coverage as always. The Mainichi did report on it tangentially, though:

    The Mainichi has learned that Osaka Prefectural Assemblywoman Kanako Otsuji (30) plans to participate in the Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade on 13 August, coming out in public as a homosexual herself. Her autobiography is also to be published soon. It is extremely rare for sitting elected officials to come out in public as homosexual. Assemblywoman Otsuji stated, “Because of discrimination and prejudice, gays frequently haven’t made themselves known. I hope that, by making myself visible as gay, I can throw the issue into relief and put and end to the vicious cycle of discrimination and prejudice.”

    I assume Otsuji made the announcement yesterday; no one was talking about the parade when I went out last night, but as I say, it isn’t really an attention getter. More power to her. The image of gays in the Japanese media is very much on the freakishly-funny end of the spectrum. If Otsuji is able to be charmingly ordinary and gets a reasonable amount of coverage for her book, she could do a lot of good.

    Hurry up / Hurry up and wait

    Posted by Sean at 11:54, August 10th, 2005

    The Mainichi has done a poll that indicates the electorate is turned on by Prime Minister Koizumi’s implacability in the face of the opponents who defeated his Japan Post privatization bill:

    The Mainichi conducted a rapid nationwide opinion survey (by telephone) on 8 and 9 July, [to gauge reaction to] the news that Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi had gone ahead with his threat to dissolve the lower house of the Diet. Support for the Koizumi cabinet was at 46%, up 9 points from last month’s poll, in which the figure (37%) had been the lowest ever. In contrast, non-support was at 37%, 3 points down. Additionally, the 54% of respondents who said they “agreed” with the dissolution of the lower house far outnumbered the 36% who said they “opposed” it. And with respect to the results of the 11 September lower house snap election, 50% said they “hoped for an administration with the LDP as ruling party,” outnumbering the 35% who said they “hoped for an administration with the DPJ as ruling party.”

    Interestingly for a cabinet with a carefully cultivated young-upstart image, the Koizumi administration got its highest level of support, when broken down by respondents’ ages, among those in their 60s. Jun-kun also isn’t just for housewives to swoon over anymore: 52% of men and 43% of women support the cabinet according to the Mainichi survey.

    We can’t take polls at face value, of course; but allowing for give in the figures, is the Mainichi tracking something significant? I think it may be. Koizumi was elected as a reformer–he was the broom that was going to sweep away corruption and waste. The bank clean-up worked better than expected. The Yasukuni Shrine visits in and of themselves don’t sit well with voters, but I suspect that to many people they represent a real, if impolitic, devotion to his country. Privatization of the postal service was one of his key reforms. He did not, as members of his own cabinet have pointed out, bring a lucid explanation to the average voter of why it was necessary to move from the existing semi-governmental Japan Post corporation to a fully-privatized set of institutions, but the public has at least been able to recognize the move as part of his effort to uproot the fat-cat LDP old guard.

    Simply put, the Japanese people seem to like Koizumi when he’s being a stubborn pain in the ass. They don’t like when he caves to pressure and does the politically expedient thing, such as cutting off Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka (who, remember, was more popular than Koizumi with the public before his 2001 selection as PM). Koizumi said last month that the LDP would not support the reelection of any Representative who voted against Japan Post privatization, and he seems to mean it.

    It’s only fair to note that the Yomiuri‘s poll, also conducted this week, showed less support for Koizumi than the Mainichi‘s:

    Fifty-two percent of the respondents thought it was inevitable that Koizumi should dissolve the lower house after the postal bills were voted down Monday, while 35 percent said they did not think it was inevitable.

    Asked who should be blamed for the dissolution, however, the number of those who said Koizumi should be blamed, at 39 percent, was close to that of those who said the responsibility lay with LDP members who rebelled against Koizumi, at 41 percent.

    Among LDP supporters, 57 percent criticized the LDP rebels. But among independent voters, who are seen as the key to the election, those who said Koizumi was to be blamed recorded the highest percentage, at 43 percent.

    The respondents’ opinions were close again when asked if they wanted Koizumi to keep his post if the LDP was voted back in power–46 percent said they wanted Koizumi to remain as prime minister, while 43 percent said they did not. Among independent voters, 53 percent opposed Koizumi’s retaining his post.

    This result is another sign of the fall in Koizumi’s popularity because in an interview-style Yomiuri Shimbun survey conducted before the previous lower house election, 55 percent of respondents said they wanted Koizumi to continue as prime minister.

    Those who wanted the LDP to retain power after the dissolution, at 43 percent, surpassed those who preferred the Democratic Party of Japan to take power, at 33 percent.

    Who’s right? As I say, I think the Mainichi is likely to prove closer to the mark, and largely because of a phenomenon (let’s cite all the dailies today, shall we?) that the Asahi notes: Koizumi is great at confounding his opponents, and they suck royally at banding together to push back at him because there’s too much else they disagree on. The talk of a new party–against the entrenched LDP old timers but not as extreme in reformism as Koizumi’s cabinet–hasn’t come to anything. Even if Koizumi doesn’t get, as he wants, new LDP candidates to run against every LDP Representative who voted against Japan Post privatization, he may still have leverage he can use to bring some of the dissenters back into line.

    BTW, Koizumi’s latest gambit is still causing his mentor, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, grief. Whether Koizumi or his more cautious friends are in touch with reality, it’s too early to judge. The next month should make for some lively NHK news broadcasts, though!

    Added on 11 August: The Nikkei‘s poll shows, naturally, yet different results:

    In a rapid nationwide opinion survey conducted by the Nikkei on 9 and 10 August, support for the Koizumi cabinet was at 47%, up 4 points from the previous survey in July. Non-support was 6 points down, to 37% percent. Regarding the non-passage of the Japan Post privatization bill by the upper house, 47% of respondents said they “support Prime Minister Koizumi[‘s position],” outnumbering the 36% who said they “supported the LDP opposition[‘s position].” About the make-up of the administration that results from the upcoming lower house election, 47% of respondents expressed hope that the administration would be led by the LDP in some configuration, with just 31% hoping for leadership from the DPJ.

    Added on 13 August: Japundit has posted in more detail about which cabinet members are proposed to go up against which privatization foes.

    Japan Post privatization voted down

    Posted by Sean at 02:35, August 8th, 2005

    The Japan Post privatization bill has been voted down by the upper house of the Diet; Koizumi pledges to dissolve the lower house and call new elections on 11 September. There were 22 LDP votes against the bill, 4 more than the 18 required for it not to pass. The final total was 108 for, 125 against. It’s the only thing NHK is talking about right now, naturally, but there’s nothing really enlightening being said. The main noise in the House of Councillors’ chamber after the tally was announced sounded like cheering, naturally.

    Given the pressure the party leadership had put on LDP legislators to vote in favor, I’m sure some of those who weren’t cheering were still feeling inward relief. There had not been much effort to get voters behind the bill, and those constituents that did voice opinions–such as, you know, the postal workers’ unions–didn’t support it. Ditto, of course, for the unelected officials in the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which oversee the current semi-governmental Japan Post corporation. Japan Post privatization has been presented in public all along as an example of the rifts in the LDP; it fulfilled that role to the end. The next month or so promises to be interesting.

    Added at 16:00: As Atsushi just remarked to me while NHK’s camera panned the assembled cabinet, the Prime Minister decided against cool biz today (though Heizo Takenaka and another minister or two are tie-less), and man, were they wearing some sour expressions.

    Added at 11:59: Much hot air emitted since this afternoon. Few surprises. Koizumi has vowed that the lower house members who voted against the Japan Post privatization bill will not be supported by the LDP in the upcoming snap election. Otherwise, mostly a reaffirmation of positions by those whose talking heads have appeared for months.

    BTW, it’s worth noting in all the brouhaha that the point to which Japan had progressed before todays set of documents was formulated represented no small feat. The 2001 reorganization of the federal ministries involved the dissolution of the Trust Fund Agency of the Ministry of Finance, to which all Postal Savings deposits had theretofore been required to be routed. Granted, the creation of the Japan Post semi-governmental corporation didn’t solve the spending problems, either on pork-barrel public works projects or on government bonds, but at least it let some light and air into the shadow budget. These things take time.

    Japan Post really at t – 3

    Posted by Sean at 10:07, August 5th, 2005

    The Japan Post privatization bill has made it through committee in the House of Councillors and will go to the floor at the Monday plenary meeting. Every legislator and his grandmother has been interviewed on NHK today; no one said anything enlightening or new.

    It’s helpful to remember, BTW, that the bill that the upper house is getting is different in a lot of significant ways from the original proposal–and from what you’d normally think of as privatization. There will be a semi-governmental holding company (essentially the existing Japan Post central organization) and four individual companies for counter services, actual mail transport and delivery, savings accounts, and insurance.

    The government will not be required to sell its shares in the provider companies by 2017 as had originally been proposed, which allows plenty of time for chummy relationships between officials and top managers to form. In fact, they’ll be there from the get-go. Additionally, the ability for companies to engage in mutual shareholding has not been precluded.

    There’s also a government fund of ¥2 trillion that’s to be used to insulate the service providers against losses from the providing of deliveries and financial services to rural areas. The official line is that it can only be used to bail out local providers that are going under, and that probably is the intention; but critics say it could be used to allow Japan Post spinoff companies to undercut private providers. (Is it time for a reference to the California energy fiasco? I think it is.)

    Furthermore, the idea that Ministry of Finance officials who have depended on the money in postal savings–all ¥250 trillion of it–as part of the shadow budget are just going to sit back and watch while it disappears is hard to swallow; and then there’s the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which more directly controls the post-ier part of Japan Post.

    Of course, the privatization bill has meaning as a symbolic gesture as well as a concrete move to reform a given set of public services. We’ll have to wait and see whether it ends up being more symbolic than concrete. Well, we’ll have to wait and see whether the bill passes at all.

    Japan Post vote at t – 2

    Posted by Sean at 22:31, August 2nd, 2005

    You know you’re in Japan when a news report contains this passage:

    Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Yoji Nagaoka was found hanged at his home in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, on Monday, police said.

    Nagaoka’s wife found the 54-year-old House of Representatives member just after 10 a.m. He was taken to a hospital in Mitaka, Tokyo, but was pronounced dead at 12:16 p.m., the Metropolitan Police Department said.

    The MPD suspects Nagaoka committed suicide, and is investigating whether he left a suicide note.

    As Nagaoka is only the sixth Diet member to have committed suicide since the end of World War II, there has been considerable speculation about why he chose to take his own life, with some suspecting the split inside the LDP over the postal privatization vote was a factor.

    Wow. Only the sixth Diet member to commit suicide since WWII, huh? Those Diet members really deserve a commendation for their spectacular suicide-avoidance program!

    Why is it that the Japan Post privatization may have pushed Nagaoka over the edge? Several reasons. Koizumi and his cabinet have staked a lot of political capital on Japan Post privatization, and they’ve been leaning on legislators any way they can. In the opposite direction, unelected officials have a lot of pull, and rural postal workers are very important to the LDP in elections. (That’s something that’s rarely commented on at length, even in discussions of this particular bill, but one of the major dailies had a very good article about it the other day. Wouldn’t you know it, I can’t find the link, but when I do, I’ll post it.) NHK reported last week that postal workers have been lobbying legislators so forcefully that the head of the union had to tell them to lay off before they started spooking people too much. In rural areas, the post offices help to mobilize voters for LDP candidates; many Diet members feel directly beholden to Japan Post workers in their districts. Most Diet members from the ruling coalition say they plan to vote in line with the party, but there are, at least according to the Asahi, 12 who firmly oppose the bill. (That’s up from 8 a few weeks ago.) Given that just about everyone else basically plans to vote against, and that 18 LDP votes against is the magic number that will deep six the bill, the 6 who say they’re undecided are having a rough time of it. Koizumi is still aiming to have the bill voted on in the House of Councillors plenary session the day after tomorrow.

    Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Canberra anymore

    Posted by Sean at 20:39, July 20th, 2005

    Re. US-Japan security ties, the Yomiuri reports that the Department of Defense has asked Japan to give us a heads-up if, say, the DPRK fires a missile at us:

    The United States, as part of its missile defense program, has asked the government to share any information obtained by advanced radar systems in Japan as soon as they detect a U.S.-targeted ballistic missile attack launched from such countries as North Korea, government sources said Tuesday.

    Any such missile launch would probably first be detected in Japan by an advanced early warning radar system known as FPS-XX.

    The next-generation high-performance radar system, which is in its final stage of development by the Defense Agency’s Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI), will be a pivotal component of the nation’s missile defense system scheduled to be deployed 2007.

    The government is set to accept the U.S. requests for assistance saying there would be no problem in sharing information in the event of a missile attack on the United States, the sources said.

    The pattern for new gizmos with “next generation” attached to them is one of delayed roll-outs and lots of debugging after release, in my experience. Nevertheless, despite its trouble launching rockets and satellites, Japan’s ground-based surveillance is very good.

    Ambassador Thomas Schieffer has also asked Japan to extend the deployment of SDF personnel in Iraq again:

    Schieffer told reporters at the National Press Club of Japan that it is Tokyo’s decision, but countries in the multinational force are expected to make tough choices to help establish democracy in Iraq.

    “We know that that was a threshold to cross for the Japanese government and the Japanese people. It is not an easy thing for them to be there,” Schieffer said.

    “But we think that their contribution is making a difference, and it is a contribution that they can proudly say they are making on behalf of the international community, and not because the United States is there,” he said.

    “All of us have to do things that we would prefer not to do from time to time,” he added.

    Schieffer’s comments came as Tokyo and Washington have begun working quietly on how to interpret U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546 to allow an extension beyond the Dec. 14 expiry stipulated under the basic dispatch plan approved last year by the Cabinet.

    With the brouhaha over Japan Post reform, other issues before the Diet and cabinet aren’t really getting much play in the news here. It seems unlikely that Koizumi will be inclined to pull out early.

    I still don’t really know what to make of Schieffer. He’s far less a media presence here than Howard Baker was. Not that the old ambassador was all over the society pages, or anything, but he was quoted very regularly in news reports. Schieffer is much quieter. Perhaps he’s getting his bearings–he’s not a really seasoned politician as Baker was. Or perhaps he simply finds it politic to shut up, given the topics there are to opine on lately: anti-Japan sentiment in China, friction over politicans’ pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine, Japan’s push for permanent UN Security Council membership. These aren’t exactly easy shoals to navigate, and Schieffer has only been on duty here since April.

    Post haste

    Posted by Sean at 00:46, July 15th, 2005

    For anyone who’s wondering, of course I noticed that Prime Minister Koizumi has done a 180 on the revisions to the Japan Post reform bill. The line now is: “Revisions? I love revisions. Why, some of my best friends are revisions!”

    I like Koizumi’s support for the WOT, which I think demonstrates real vision and a keen sense of what civilization is up against. I also understand that putting reforms through in Japan is very tough. Even with the voters behind Koizumi’s overall housecleaning program, he’s had to deal with the multitudes of well-connected federal bureaucrats who know exactly how to press elected officials and party leaders to maintain their power.

    But that doesn’t mean that Koizumi has been handling things well. Japan Post reform is a hopelessly unsexy topic, and Koizumi has lost chance after chance to explain to the citizenry, in basic and lucid terms, why privatizing it is so important. (¥¥¥!) And it’s really bad in strategic terms to set a pattern of coming on all tough and implacable and then blinking at a critical moment (cf. the selling down the river of Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka a few years ago) or going mealymouthed when the world is watching (cf. his non-explanation of why he continues to visit the Yasukuni Shrine).

    The result is not surprising: there’s a real chance that the opposition has made enough headway to keep the bill from passing in the House of Councillors:

    Yomiuri Shimbun interviews with all 114 LDP upper house members revealed that opposition is mounting in reaction to Koizumi’s high-handed manner in deliberation as much as on the substance of the bills.

    “I’m upset about the fact that Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe and others in the leadership aren’t even trying to tame the prime minister so that he won’t use the threat,” said an upper house member who wished to be identified only as a former cabinet minister. The former minister was referring to Koizumi’s threat to dissolve the lower house if the bills are killed.

    Even a member of the Mori faction, most of whose members are backing the postal bills, said he was not happy about Koizumi’s style.

    “He’s only inviting more opposition. In the upper house deliberation he must adopt an extremely humble manner in answering questions and all that. Otherwise we can’t improve the rough atmosphere,” the member said of Koizumi.

    Koizumi is still saying that people shouldn’t fixate on his threat to dissolve the House or Representatives because, naturally, the bill will pass. Ten upper house members attended the strategy session for LDP opponents of the bill last night, however. All it will take is 18 LDP votes against for the bill to fail, and there are more than 8 Councillors still on the fence. We’ll see.


    Posted by Sean at 02:25, July 10th, 2005

    With the bombings in London I basically forgot about this, but the LDP’s committee on constitutional reform met Thursday:

    On Thursday, 7 June, the LDP’s New Constitution Drafting Committee (Chairman: former Prime Minister Yukio Mori) convened an executive meeting and approved an outline of proposed reforms put together in committee. With that outline as a basis, the committee plans to have the finalized list of proposed revisions drafted in time for release in November, the 50th anniversary of the formation of the party. The outline contains the precise wording “maintaining of a military for self-defense” and sets forth [Japan’s] contributions to international peace and stability. It is also proposed that it be written into the preamble that the Emperor is to retain his current symbolic role, forfeiting power as head of state. The proposal also decisively retains the existing bicameral Diet system, with its House of Councillors and House of Representatives.

    On the subject of national security, [the outline] decisively retains the principle of peaceableness expressed in the current Article 9. It does revise the clause in which Japan forswears the creation of a military, changing the wording so that the [standing] military nature of the self-defense forces is clarified. Provisions for the formation of a military court to adjudicate [in matters related to] soldiers have also been incorporated. Although it has not been written into the proposed Article 9 revision that Japan retains the right to participate in collective defense operations, which has heretofore been considered unconstitutional by the government, such an interpretation would now be permitted. Further stipulations that the armed forces are under civilian control, with the Prime Minister as commander-in-chief, are also being prepared.

    Next to the new ability to participate in collective self-defense–as combatants, of course, and not in an administrative capacity as the SDF is doing in Iraq–the creation of a separate court system for trying SDF personnel may be the single most resonant item here. It conclusively marks off the SDF as different from civilians under the law and recognizes it as a standing military.

    Of course, we’re still in the draft stage, and once the finalized bill is submitted, its passage through the Diet is likely to be even more fun than what we’re seeing with the Japan Post bill.

    郵政民営化 (続き)

    Posted by Sean at 01:43, July 10th, 2005

    Topic 2 for discussion among talking heads this weekend:

    Japan Post privatization, naturally:

    Asked Wednesday whether he would dissolve the lower house and call a general election if the upper house votes down the bills, the prime minister said he would.

    “The focal point of the campaign would be postal privatization,” Koizumi said in Gleneagles, commenting on his strategy if a lower house election were to be held.

    Firing a warning shot across the bows of antiprivitization [sic] forces within the Liberal Democratic Party, of which he is president, Koizumi said the LDP would not provide party tickets for lawmakers who opposed the bills.

    Asked if he would regard an upper house rejection as tantamount to a no-confidence motion, the prime minister said, “Of course.”

    LDP Secretary General Takebe was on NHK today repeating a point that’s been made a lot of late: the Koizumi administration has not explained, in language the public will warm to, why Japan Post privatization is such a good idea it’s worth causing this amount of controversy for. (That’s a problem he shares with his buddy President Bush–think of, say, Social Security reform.) Everyone–supporters, opponents, hangers-on–is holding to the line that his group will not waver when the upper house vote comes up. We’ll see.