Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama
This week, Yukio Hatoyama became Japan’s Prime Minister. The government has changed hands, as was widely predicted, in a landslide. The Democratic Party, Minshuto, received 308 votes to the Liberal Democratic Party’s, Jiminto’s, 119. On the day of the election, I wrote that the election was to be a landmark For democracy in Japan, and sure enough with Jiminto out of power, the election was historic. However, the reasons for Jiminto’s catastrophic defeat demonstrate mundane causes.
Working in a job that allows me to probe other people’s lives for the sake of their studies, I have been able to gauge how and why my students votes. That insight gave me only one solid reason for Jiminto’s defeat: dissatisfaction.
Many of my students voted Minshuto, a few voted Jiminto, but a noticeable number voted for the Communist Party, Kyosanto, or the independent Minnanoto, ‘Your Party’. These are representatives of the urban middle classes, and no one was ‘happy’ with Minshuto’s victory. Only a handful would admit to being ‘satisfied’.
Many voted not for a party, but instead simply voted against Jiminto. After governments derailed by scandals, it is no surprise that many were dissatisfied with their leadership, and for many people punishing this long-ruling party was a top priority. Most students complained that Minshuto did not offer a viable alternative, hence their rather pessimistic unease over the results: they lacked concrete details over the changes they seek, and seemed to be offering unbalanced accounts of how they would supply all the cash handouts they have planned. Indeed, even with the recent important announcement regarding curbing climate change, Hatoyama’s nascent cabinet have few concrete details. Theirs was a hollow victory, but Jiminto’s defeat was total.
As a gauge of how the people voted, it is interesting to look at how some of Jiminto’s recent cabinet ministers fared, particularly those embroiled in scandals. On election night, a few names stood out for me.
Since Jun’ichiro Koizumi‘s exit from the Kantei, Japanese politics has become, more so than ever, a catalogue of people who should think before they speak. Insulting their constituents, whole swathes of the population, or the international community, they stand out for seeming amateurish and incompetent.
Fumio Kyuma, 68, of Nagasaki Prefecture’s 2nd District, was Director-General and Minister of Defence under Shinzo Abe. He was outspoken with regards to the US-Japan alliance, the bedrock of Japanese security, and that made him prone to ‘Foot-in-Mouth Disease’, as I discussed back in 2007.
- “The United States doesn’t understand [the importance of] spadework.”
- “I think President Bush launched the war in the belief there were nuclear weapons, but I think that decision was wrong.”
- “I now have come to accept in my mind that in order to end the war, it could not be helped that an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and that countless numbers of people suffered great tragedy.”
While Kyuma may not have been wrong in saying these things, it showed great insensitivity to the victims of Nagasaki (which in many ways could have been avoided), the Japanese people, and Japan’s ally.
However this was aeons ago in political time, while I have no definite idea as to why Nagasaki voters ousted Kyuma in the 2009 election, I would like to think that it had something to do with an ‘assassin’ sent by Ichiro Ozawa’s (Minshuto’s political mastermind): Eriko Fukuda, 28.
Fukuda was the public face of lawsuits by about 170 people against the government in a major health scandal in 2002 and 2003. When she was 20, she discovered she had contracted Hepatitis C through a blood transfusion as a baby. One of the few to publicise her name during the suit, Fukuda wrote a book and blogged about the victims’ struggle for the truth, and when the Health Ministry admitted in October 2007 that it had had a list of victims but had sat on it, ostensibly to protect the companies involved, she was at the forefront of the public response.
She represents the youth of Minshuto’s ranks, and she is by all means a heroine in her role in publicising the scandal. Hand-picked by Ozawa to stand against Kyuma, after proving that she was about more than just her disease through a series of weekly public meetings, Kyuma didn’t stand a chance. However, the polls bear out a close fight.
Next on the list is another gaffe-maker. Hakuo Yanagisawa, 74, of Shizuoka Prefecture’s 3rd District, famously insulted the women of Japan with this comment in 2007:
“The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can do is ask them to do their best per head … although it may not be so appropriate to call them machines.”
He was right about that last part. While I believe he was simply trying to explain a complex issue using the language of economics and production, he nevertheless did so in such an insensitive way that he was forced to resign.
Yanagisawa, in what was described by Tobias Harris of Observing Japan as “the LDP’s most secure seat”, lost to Nobuhiro Koyama, 33, who previously worked for the central bank of agricultural, forestry and fishery cooperatives, Norinchukin. A newcomer and unknown quantity, it is surprising that he secured his victory by 45,000 votes and thus managed to thrash Yanagisawa.
The last of the Abe cabinet gaffe-makers to be ousted from his seat, Bunmei Ibuki, 71, served as Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology during the Abe administration, and briefly as Yasuo Fukuda‘s Minister of Finance, and is a previous holder of the prized Secretary-General position within Jiminto. His two most memorable gaffes occurred during his time as Abe’s Education Minister.
Many inferred that the latter statement’s use of butter as a metaphor for human rights was calculated to highlight their foreign origins. Dairy products did not figure into the Japanese diet prior to Japan’s opening by Commodore Perry. Once, if something was said to ‘reek of butter’, that meant that it had a foreign feel to it, in a derogatory sense.
These statements hint at underlying culturalist values that leech from those studies of Japanese uniqueness – Nihonjinron. This is not particularly strange, many Japanese hold themselves and their country to be unique. In an afternoon class of ladies, I asked what they thought was special about Japan, several mentioned its having four seasons… Such ideas of uniqueness is prevalent not just on the international level, but casting down into prefectural and urban differences too.
While these statements have been long since forgotten, and have very little bearing on the election results, they do highlight the relative lack of media savvy these Jiminto candidates have displayed. In Kyoto, Minshuto recruited minor radio personality, Tomoyuki Taira, 50, a head of a policy think-tank, to face off against Ibuki. He seemed to have done the trick.
Shoichi Nakagawa, 56, will forever be remembered as an example of politics at their most embarrassing. Nakagawa was a important thinker among Jiminto’s forward-thinking defence-policy nationalists and he held some important positions within the party, including Chairman of the Policy Research Council. He offered true potential for leadership, but squandered it at a G7 meeting in Rome in February 2009. There, whether under the influence of alcohol or just cold medicine, he slurred and napped his way through a press conference before being the worst possible visitor to the Vatican Museums as he tripped alarms and touched exhibits. This incident led him to be immortalised in a mobile phone game.
At the start of his campaign in Hokkaido’s 11th district, he renounced alcohol, but the image of him drifting off in Rome is just too fresh to save him. After inheriting his district from his father, Ichiro Nakagawa, Shoichi Nakagawa would lose it to Tomohiro Ishikawa, 36, a former aide to Ichiro Ozawa and PR representative.
Ishikawa was questioned during the scandal that erupted over Ozawa’s fundraising which resulted in the arrest of his chief secretary earlier in the year. He had run in the 2003 and 2005 elections, but was beaten by Nakagawa albeit narrowly in 2005. He faced having to prove himself against Nakagawa’s proven pork-barrel projects, but in the end, he was clearly successful.
The Potential Leaders
Three Jiminto candidates stood out for their potential to rise to the top of the party. They represent some of the best and brightest of the party, and luckily for them, all three have been thrown a lifeline: they will remain in the Diet through the proportional representation system, through which voters vote twice: once for a local candidate and once for a party. However, none have formally entered the race to replace Taro Aso as leader of Jiminto.
Kaoru Yosano, 71, was Abe’s Chief Cabinet Secretary for one month and Aso’s second Minister of Finance since February 2009. Following Fukuda’s resignation in 2008, Yosano ran in the leadership contest to become President of Jiminto, but lost to Aso who received a staggering 351 of the 527 votes available.
Yosano is a fiscal conservative who has put his expert knowledge of taxes to good use by arguing for the need to increase consumption tax to recover the government debt and the take the strain of Japan’s ageing society.
He is an avid and gifted Go player, and claims to have taught the game to Ichiro Ozawa, the mastermind of Minshuto’s election strategy and its former leader (although some claim he is still pulling the strings). Running in the political heart of Tokyo, its 1st district, Yosano faced Banri Kaieda, 68, and would put his former Go student to the test.
The two men share a history. Yosano had lost to Kaieda in 2000 and 2003, reclaiming his seat in 2005 during Koizumi’s landslide victory. A survivor of cancer of the pharynx, on the first day of the official campaign, on August 18th, Yosano collapsed at a rally in Shinjuku, which saw him sitting out of a later G7 meeting. Regardless of this, and no doubt wanting to prove himself to be a strong campaigner against the odds, Yosano fought on and became a loud, if not ironic, advocate of a need for Jiminto to survive as a strong opposition party.
Kaieda, for his part, has been the key economic policy-maker within Minshuto despite having no seat in the Lower House. Prior to finding his home in Minshuto, he was a member of Nihon Shinto (New Japan Party) before joining the ultra-local Tokyo Shimin 21 (Tokyo Citizens 21).
They campaigned on similar grounds, but Kaieda had the advantage of a population that was looking to shed Jiminto’s blood.
Yuriko Koike, 57,replaced Fumio Kyuma as Minister of Defence under Abe but remained in the job for only a month before she resigned. She also ran for Jiminto top spot, but came third behind Aso and Yosano.
Koike, originally from Hyogo Prefecture but running in Tokyo’s 10th District, had a successful TV career before entering politics. Somewhat of a free agent, Koike has been a member of several small parties (mostly because they were coalescing into the big parties we seen now, but what is clear is that in 2000 Koike switched from the moderately liberal Jiyuuto (Liberal Party) to the firmly rightist Hoshu Shinto (New Conservative Party). When that party was absorbed by Jiminto, she simply stuck around.
A successful woman who knows how to play up to a feminist audience (coining the term ‘iron ceiling’ in contrast to the ‘glass ceiling’ preventing women from reaching top positions in other countries), she has also addressed environmental issues (she was instrumental in two famous Koizumi campaigns: Cool Biz and Mottainai), as well as a worshipper at the controversial Japanese shrine and a constitutional revisionist. An Arabist by trade, due to the influence of her father who saw potential energy security in good relations with the Arab states, she has something a little different to most Jiminto politicians… so what went wrong?
The Minshuto candidate was also a woman, Takako Ebata. Successful and very well educated, she holds an MBA from MIT, she was an associate professor at the University of Tokyo, considered Japan’s best, and yet she seemed more down-to-earth as ran with the clear support of her family. This is in contrast to the divorced and childless Koike, who seems to epitomise less desirable traits for career women. Couple this with the dissatisfaction of the public with Jiminto, and Ebata’s victory looked promising. Even though Koike brought out her popular former colleague, former Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi to lend some support, she couldn’t hold off the swell for change.
In 1998, Seiko Noda, then 37, set the record as she became Obuchi’s Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, the youngest post-war cabinet minister. She was the first woman to become Programme Director of Jiminto’s House Steering Committee and served as State Minister for Consumer Affairs under Fukuda and Aso.
Noda, now 49, is an active feminist within the Diet, advocating women’s rights to keep their maiden name after marriage (which is not currently an available option for Japanese women), as well as helping bring about much needed legislation to curb child pornography, and video games that promote sexual violence. She has also been a powerful voice for the creation of equal opportunities for disabled people too.
Noda is also a politician who seems to stand by her convictions, not only on equal rights, but also more generally. After opposing Koizumi’s postal privatisation bill, she lost recognition from Jiminto in the 2005 election. With no small amount of guts she continued into the election as an independent (albeit with Komeito’s backing), and faced off against Yukari Sato, the ‘assassin’ appointed to stop Noda from winning her seat in Gifu Prefecture’s 1st District. Noda won the seat by about 10,000 votes, a figure quite common in the elections results above too. Sato won a seat through the proportional representation system (the same system that would bring Yosano, Koike and Noda herself back this year). Sato also lost her seat in the 2009 election.
Minshuto’s man in 2005, Masanao Shibahashi, now 30, faced Noda in the 2009 election. A former bank clerk, Shibahashi is young and ultimately benefited from dissatisfaction with Jiminto, just like his colleagues.
While Jiminto were certainly had more seats than any other party after the 2005 election, they did not govern alone. Jiminto had a coalition partner, Komeito, which suffered heavily at the hands of the voters this year. It is a political front for Soka Gakkai, the international Buddhist new religion, and some might say cult.
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Akihiro Ota, 63, became Komeito’s Chief Representative in 2006, succeeding Takenori Kanzaki. He has been with Komeito since 1971, starting first as a reporter for the party’s newspaper. A former university sumo wrestler, he has primarily concerned himself with issues of the constitution and structural reform making him the ideal partner for the 2005-2009 string of Jiminto leaders.
Early in the run-up to the election, it appeared that Ichiro Ozawa himself would go head to head with Ota in Tokyo’s 12th District, but Ozawa apparently had a change of heart and instead registered in Iwate, where he was born. His proxy was Ai Aoki, 44, a former singer and TV reporter who had won a seat in Chiba in the 2007 Upper House Election by proportional representation. Aoki’s victory decapitated Komeito until they elected Natsuo Yamaguchi to replace him on 8th September.
Ota wasn’t the only Komeito honcho to suffer. Most notably Kazuo Kitagawa, the party’s 56-year old Secretary-General, lost in Osaka’s 16th District. His opponent, Hiroyuki Moriyama, a 38-year old former Osaka assemblyman had a strong victory when viewed in relation to the more closely contested seats in the other sections above.
Postscript – Jiminto’s Winners
Jiminto suffered a heavy blow at the hands of the electorate, and perhaps as a result of the canny election strategy put forward by Minshuto’s Ichiro Ozawa, who put younger and often female candidates against the stuffy Jiminto politicians of old. This energy added to the calls for change that was the rallying cry of the Minshuto candidates. At the same time, Komeito suffered a massive blow, unable to secure any single seat constituencies. However, it was not all tears and gloom for Jiminto, there were a number of notable successes too.
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Shinjiro Koizumi, former Prime Minister Koizumi’s 28-year old son, took over his father’s seat in Kanagawa Prefecture’s 11th District. He scored a stunning victory against Minshuto’s Katsuhito Yokokume, 27. A fourth-generation politician, he seems, like his father, destined to being against the grain of traditional Jiminto. He researched the US-Japan relationship at the renowned Center for Strategic and International Studies in America in 2006-07. Some of his work from his time at CSIS can be accessed [here].
There was good news too for 60-year old Kunio Hatoyama, Jiminto candidate for Fukuoka Prefecture’s 6th District, and brother of the new Prime Minister. He beat his Minshuto opponent, Issei Koga, 62, by a significant margin. Hatoyama was dubbed ‘the Grim Reaper’ for the speed with which he signed off on death penalties as Abe and Fukuda’s Justice Minister. In June 2009, he resigned as Aso’s Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications over a disagreement regarding replacing Japan Post Agency head, Yoshifumi Nishikawa. This incident reflected poorly on Aso’s leadership and only contributed to his rapid decline.
Finally, it should be noted that all three post-Koizumi Prime Ministers kept their seats. Outgoing Prime Minister Taro Aso, 68, kept his seat in Fukuoka’s 8th District against Kousei Yamamoto, 37. Yasuo Fukuda, 73, held his seat in Gunma’s 4th District against Yukiko Miyake, 44. Lastly, Shinzo Abe, 54, held his seat in Yamaguchi’s 4th District against Takako Tokura, 50.