Banzai!

September 11th is a day of remembrance in the United States, but today in Japan it was time for a major election, one of the most important since the end of World War II. Prime Minister Koizumi, who saw his reform plans stalled in the Upper House, disolved the Lower House for the first time in history and called a snap election.

Maverick Koizumi took a gamble, and it paid off. He expelled those politicians in his party who refused to support his plans to privatize the post office, reducing his slim majority to just 220 seats — 241 are needed for a majority. The Liberal Democrats have had a shaky majority for the past decade, only holding power by allying with the peculiar Buddhist Party, the Komeito. But the people backed reform and the anti-reformers came up short. Way short. The final result won’t become known until Monday, but present estimates put joint LDP-Komeito seats at a whopping 327 seats — which would make it the largest parliamentary majority in Japan’s history. (Check out Gaijin Biker’s post here on perhaps one reason why postal reform was so popular.)

This election has been particularly useful in revealing who is serious about reform and who is just talk. The opposition party Democratic Party took a Kerry-esque stance where they supported privatization before they opposed Koizumi’s plans, and paid for it, dropping from 177 seats to 113. Unorthodox internet businessman Takafumi Horie had been suggested as a possible candidate for the opposition Democrats, but he was quick to endorse Koizumi’s platform and even ran against one of Koizumi’s toughest foes. Horie lost, but there is little doubt that his support of Koizumi’s platform brought plenty of disenchanted voters into the LDP camp. Then there was Governor Yasuo Tanaka of Nagano who has long been cited as an independent, pro-reform politician, but his alliance with anti-reformers to form a small opposition party has revealed him and his politics for what they really are — see this fantastic post at Japundit for more.)

As a sometime resident of Japan, I think this is great. The government’s budget is way, way into the red, and institutions like the Post Office, the largest financial institution in the world where most Japanese citizen keep their personal savings, was a great piggy bank for the politicians to fund their pork-barrel spending. And it’s also good for the US. Koizumi is an unapologetic ally of President Bush. He will keep Japan’s token force in Iraq and will continue to support US foreign policy.

The irony of this collosal electoral success is that Koizumi plans to step down next year, but who could replace him?

Quote of the campaign goes to Japundit, who gave us this this choice line:

Finally, if you ever again hear a disaffected foreigner or journalist talk about how the nail that sticks out in Japan always gets hammered in, you can tune them out right then and there. Mr. Koizumi is the archetypal nail that sticks out””?but he was the one who did the hammering.

Totally. You’re also going to hear commentators talk about how the privatization plan is wattered down. A valid criticism, but it misses the point — the Japanese people have finally been persuaded that old money politics and public investment bonanzas are no longer legitimate. Said one way, Japan’s Reagan has finally shone forth.

Banzai!

UPDATE: Extra bonus — Japan’s pointless, stick-in-the-mud Communist Party went from nine seats to seven. The Socialists kept their five seats.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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10 Responses to Banzai!

  1. Kenneth says:

    Much can be gleaned from this experience. The US government would do well to decontrol the post office industry. This is a first in the transition towards a free market economy: I suspect once this domino falls others will soon follow, as you believe. Once Japan lifts the restraints on the development of economic power they’ll be a force to be reckoned with once again.

  2. Curzon says:

    Kenneth, we’re not talking about the delivery of mail — that’s just a sliver of Koizumi’s privatization plans. The bigger issue here is that Japan Post also does banking and life insurance, and with just about everyone in Japan taking part of the system, this makes it the largest financial institution in the world.

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  4. Michael Taylor says:

    There’s a point that’s in danger of being lost – whilst Koizumi does appear to have broken the faction/money politics which overook the LDP from Tanaka Kakue onwards, he does appear to have replaced it with a personality-enhanced “manipulative populism”. But – and this is the crucial point – he’s repeatedly said he is going to retire next September. And then what?/who? Koizumie has prospered principally because he is a maverick. Who and what will replace him? In other words, this result is hardly a recipe for political stability and purpose.

  5. J.Kende says:

    But it does buy us time and much needed reforms.

  6. IJ says:

    “Koizumi is an unapologetic ally of President Bush. He will keep Japan’s token force in Iraq and will continue to support US foreign policy.”

    “News”:http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/article311930.ece today that Japan’s patience is being tried. The UN’s World Summit is being held this week. Member states are said to have postponed until December a decision on the proposals to enlarge the UN Security Council. “Because of the failure to agree on the Security Council, Japan, which had hoped to become a permanent member, is threatening to cut its UN contributions in retaliation.”

    Incidentally, it was timely that an interim report on financial controls in the oil-for-food episode was released just before UN reforms are considered. The final report on the Iraq scandal will be issued later.

  7. Saru says:

    Curzon,

    Not only does the coalition victory represent the largest parlimentary majority in history, it is very, very close to the largest majority the LDP has ever held in the Lower House.

    In the 1960 Lower House election, the LDP came away with 296 seats, the same number as they did in Sunday’s race. However, the LH at the time only consisted of 467 seats, which in percentage terms beats the current majority by around 1 per cent.

    The party’s largest numerical victory was in 1986, when they won a total of 300 out of 512 Lower House seats, but this only gave them a 59% majority.

    Cheers,
    Saru

  8. Curzon says:

    M. Taylor — we can get to that later. For the moment, it feels like 21 January 1985 — Reagan’s got his landslide and is heading into office to kick ass. I am pretty confident Japan will take the opportunity to kick some moderate ass.

    IJ — Japan’s patience is being tried with the UN, not the US, which backs Japan for a seat on the UNSC.

    Saru — yeah, but that’s just trivia. It is the largest percentage, which is what matters. The number of seats is irrelevant, since there were more seats before 1994.

  9. Two Cents says:

    Surprised and delighted at the outcome. I never thought that the mainstream media would lose this much control over public opinion. I had expected a marginal victory at best.

    >Michael Taylor
    Last night on TV, there were 3-4 politiicans from each of the LDP and JDP debating on what will happen after Koizumi. The LDP response was basically, Aso Taro (Minister of Internal Affairs) or Fukuda Yasuo (former Secretary General of LDP), before handing it over to Abe Shinzo. Some even commented that Abe may directly succeed Koizumi. Good choice, considering that Abe is popular even among JDP supporters. But then again, Koizumi may be convinced to go yet for another term.

  10. Adamu says:

    I’ll say it now: Koizumi will stay on for another 4 years.

    Yes, he has been saying that he’ll step down next September for a while. But consider some points:

    - Koizumi does not want anything to disrupt the passage of the postal privatization bills. That is why he has postponed realigning his cabinet and cut short his trip to the UN. If he starts talking about staying on even longer, critics calling him a “dictator worse than Hitler” will grow shriller and could force concessions on the bills. In short, calls from Kanzaki of the Komeito, Kitashiro of the Keizai Doyukai, and a bunch of others have simply come at the wrong time.

    - But that doesn’t mean they’ll go away. Business leaders, foreign investors, the LDP, the Komeito, and — most importantly — the public all love Koizumi. The voices calling for him to stay on will only get louder.

    - After the postal bills pass, Koizumi will want to keep momentum going for his other policies. But without him, there is no one else in the LDP good enough, at least for Koizumi, to take over where he left off. As much as you like Shinzo Abe, Curzon, he’s too old school (though I have to admit I know too little about his domestic leanings). I believe Koizumi realizes this, so unless he can find someone suitable based on his criteria, he may find himself left with no choice but to stay on.

    I’m sure Koizumi is very tired from his amazingly busy schedule. But he has the chance to go from a PM Yoshida-sized legacy to one that could actually rival his hero Oda Nobunaga, and he’d be a fool not to take it. $5 says he will.