Friday, April 9, 2010

Japan ready to turn off political set

If the Democratic Party of Japan were a TV pilot, it's unlikely a second show would ever get made. 

The latest series of ratings finds that the Japanese public are again turned off politics. After a brief period of euphoria following the DPJ election last fall, voters continue to be appalled at the perceived policy ineptitude of the ruling DPJ.

The administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama does not engender confidence and seems to be plagued by the same money politics as the LDP. Meanwhile on the other channel, the LDP is losing sponsors and cohesion under its President Sadakazu Tanigaki.

All polls show the public approval rate for the Hatoyama Cabinet dropping precipitously. It slipped 8 points in the latest (April 5) Yomiuri poll to 33%. A majority of Japanese have turned against the DPJ administration, with the disapproval rate jumping 6 points to 56% in the Yomiuri poll.

The cabinet is just as unpopular in Kyodo News ’ poll, released April 5, which shows the support rate slipping 3 points to 33%, and the non-support rate increasing 4.4 points to 53.3%. Nikkei’s poll, released on March 29, has the non-support rate soaring 8 points to 57% and the support rate falling by 7 points to 36%. The chief reason cited for the public’s disaffection with Prime Minister Hatoyama is his “lack of leadership” – 57% in the Nikkei poll and 33.6% in the Kyodo poll.

The polls offer various reasons for the public’s severe view, but the issue on everyone’s screens these days seems to be Hatoyama’s handling of the Futenma airfield relocation. In the Kyodo and Yomiuri surveys, asked whether the prime minister should resign if he didn't settle the issue by the end-of-May time limit he has set, 47.1% in the Kyodo poll and 49% in the Yomiuri poll said yes.

The fear of a voter backlash may be one reason for a recent flurry of activity on the Futenma front – heavily covered by the press - by the prime minister and his aides. Hatoyama seems to be frantic to cobble together a consensus in the cabinet and come up with a tangible relocation proposal that can be coordinated with local communities and the US government.

The popularity of the DPJ also has been eroding at an alarming rate. Support for the DPJ plummeted 8 points to 33% in the Nikkei poll and 7 points in the Yomiuri poll to 24%. It stayed about the same in the Kyodo poll, but the figure is only 26.3%. However, the LDP, too, is losing ground, with only 23% supporting it in the Nikkei poll, down 1 point, and down 5.1 points to 21.3% in the Kyodo poll. The Yomiuri survey put LDP support at a dismal 16%, down 4 points from the last monthly poll. The party has been suffering from a leadership struggle against President Tanigaki, and prominent members have been leaving the party, with one, former Finance Minister Yosano, announcing that he is forming a new party on April 8.

The Yomiuri poll also shows that voters are deserting both parties to enter the ranks of the unaffiliated, with the figure shooting up from 36% to 50% in one month. In other words, almost a majority of the electorate are now floaters, whose votes are up for grabs, creating considerable fluidity in the upcoming summer election for the Upper House.

Asked in the Nikkei poll about which party they would vote for in the election, only 24% picked the DPJ, a drop of 9 points since February. But only 20% picked the LDP. Small parties may pick up some of the disaffected voters, for example, Your Party is coming in third after the DPJ and LDP as the party of choice, with 9% of the electorate in the Nikkei poll and 9.6 in the Kyodo poll, a jump of 5.7 points in a month.

Press leaks since the beginning of April seem to indicate that Hatoyama may be ready to float his grand solution for the Futenma conundrum. He will then have to try the Herculean task of convincing the locals and the US to accept it. Even if this surge in political energy, long overdue, is real, however, it seems unlikely that the public is likely to return that easily to the DPJ program. Other issues, such as the Ozawa money scandal, remain unsettled.

There's nothing much to see here, but there's nothing much on the other side either.

Dr. William Brooks
APP Senior Fellow

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