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Japanese Politics Updates – March 24, 2024

Play Video about Japanese Politics updates: Japanese Politics One-on-One #163

Episode 163 of Japanese Politics One-on-One is the latest weekly politics update brought to you by Langley Esquire and Japan Expert Insights. Click on the image above to see the actual video.

This last week was a 4-day-workweek due to the Vernal Equinox falling on Wednesday, marking the first day of Spring. Unfortunately, this year the cherry-blossoms don’t seem to be cooperating. In years past, we were already in full-bloom at this time of year! Also, next week is the final briefing of March and then, April! Speaking of sprouting …

BOJ ends negative interest rate

BOJ ended the negative interest rate on Tuesday. The Abe Administration initiated the rate as a component of the Three Arrows to pull the economy out of the doldrums. Also, the end of the controversial (among the G-20) yield curve control policy. This is a key issue for PM Kishida. It is a sign of slogging-off all the lingering obligations foisted upon (whoever is PM) GOJ as a consequence of (a.) the dominance of the Abe Faction and (b.) the tremendous inertia imposed by 8 years of firm Abe control & administration over things. PM Kishida wants nothing to do with that and is firmly on the march to imprint his own legacy.

  • In the background: 3.2% inflation (excluding the more highly volatile fresh-food & energy components), with consumer prices up year-on-year 2.8% overall. This is up a whopping amount from just January (2.0 then vs 2.8 now!). 23 straight months where prices have not obeyed BOJ predictions and exceeded targets.
  • The word is out that Services-prices require adjusting-up, and efforts to make Services more expensive after March are in order. Household spending is down for the 11th month.
  • In separate but hopefully-related news, Rengo (the national association of labor unions) has commitments from Management that their Members’ wages will increase on-average nationwide 5.3%. This is the largest increase in 30 years, backed of course by PM Kishida.
  • Finance Ministry Annual Report this week also reveals households possess ¥2.14 quadrillion (US$14 trillion) in assets. Securities are up ¥276 trillion, due in part to the new NISA investment vehicle introduced in January (and thus the boom in the Nikkei, with stock value bursting past ¥40,000/share average for the first time in history)! AND, experts predict that stockholder participation will grow more rapidly. Half of the wealth held by households is in cash(!) (explains the “ore-ore” and the Philippine Luffy scams). Contrasting this: GOJ hold 53.8% of the entire national debt; foreigners hold 6.68%.

Japan experiences measles outbreak

A UAE flight in February apparently carried some people infected with measles; now Japan is experiencing an outbreak. Prepare for some announcements from the Health Ministry as this highly contagious air-borne illness, which was fully eradicated for decades in Japan, begins to spread. Few children or young adults ever received the vaccine.

Kishida's plans for U.S. visit

While PM Kishida is in Washington, D.C. on 04/10 ~ 13,

  • Philippine President Fernand Marcos will be there, too! There will be the first-ever three-leader summit, highlighting the Philippine’s emerging naval role in the South Pacific;
  • During the same few days, AUKUS (Australia/UK/USA) defense summit will also take place to coincide with the Prime Minister’s visit, weaving-in Japan as well. This alignment has been going on for only a few years but it is ambitious: full nuclear-powered submarine fleet for Australia and co- development in AI, hypersonic, underwater drone technologies. The AUCUS members expect the Japanese to be a participating partner. This follows on the trilateral US/Italy/Japan next-generation advance-fighter development making its way through the Parliament now;
  • Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell was in town this week as sherpa for the White House to make sure this all goes without a hitch on the State Visit. Lots going on in this area!

The LDP held their Annual National Convention

The LDP held their Annual National Convention last Sunday (after our briefing). Primary on the Agenda (it went through several re-writes) was addressing the kickback-scandal. Now the talk is about revising the Political Funds Control Law, even though 80 of 380 LDP Members have admitted to pocketing the money and not reporting on their tax returns. All said, the Prosecutors dropped investigations after indicting (only) 10 individuals (only 3 were Diet Members), and since then the formal Diet started (parliamentary-immunity kicks-in for the entire 150-day Diet session).

Abe, Motegi, Kishida & Nikai Factions all complacent. PM Kishida decided at the last minute to forego talking about the guilty or the damage sustained by the Party or what form of punishment should be meted-out. Instead, he went with “~… building harmony and goodwill among the fractured membership, and deal with who was guilty and how to punish them, later” (paraphrased). So now, in the coming weeks, it is unavoidable. In fact, Kishida responded to a question about a possible snap-election by saying, “~… nothing of that sort until the guilty have received what they deserve…” (paraphrased).

Hakubun Shimomura testifies

Hakubun Shimomura 70yo, 9x, Indep. testifies – finally. To take center-court to report (voluntarily) to the UH Ethics Committee tomorrow. You will remember that Shimomura volunteered (over the strenuous objections of LDP bigwigs) (does that only seem strange to me?) to testify on the scandal for weeks. The opposition parties insisting, the LDP making excuses.

Apparently, Shimomura was hellbent on exposing former Abe Faction leader / former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori as the original architect of the kickback scheme… And indeed, the Faction grew vigorously since then to eclipse by 100%+ each of the other Factions! And Abe stayed in-power the longest in history! Then on Monday with everyone holding their breath… it seemed somehow the air in Shimomura’s tires was let-out. He did NOT reveal anything that wasn’t already known, he did NOT further implicate, and one could be forgiven for thinking that somehow in the 12th  hour before his testimony, he experienced a ‘change-of-heart’ about his testimony… Somewhat disappointing yet somehow suggestive of a scene out of the Godfather movie.

April 28 By-Elections

By-elections on April 28 – these three vacant LH seats must be filled in April. All three were dominated by LDP politicians. Two are now open due to resignations (political funding violations but not due to kickback-scandal), 1 due to death in-office. Nagasaki 3, Tokyo 15, Shimane 1.

This is SUCH a happening, SUCH an opening-up such for complete & utter upheaval, that Dan Harada & Timothy Langley will discuss this on April 12 (while Kishida is still in D.C.) in a free lunchtime webinar. Please tune-in (details below).

In anticipation, the likelihood all three (!) are lost to the opposition is high. In their strongest district, Shimane, the LDP candidate is a Finance Ministry bureaucrat while the opposition candidate is female: the daughter of long-running (formerly LDP) well-loved-for-decades politician. She, too, ran and won a LH seat but lost it in the next election… she has been biding her time since then… in the opposition camp.

You would think following-up on the seat of the Speaker of the House / Leader of the Hosoda (later Abe) Faction would be an easy win for the LDP… but no heir had been groomed. If the LDP loses these three seats (essentially, they have ALREADY conceded on the other two), one could draw plenty of negative conclusions. As a result, and knowing this, it is thought that PM Kishida would close-down the LH for a snap general election of all 463 LH seats rather than face this result. Anyway, a complicated issue, which is why we will have a separate briefing on it at noon, April 12 (Friday): be there ≤ be square.

North Korea launches ballistic missiles

Last but not least, N. Korea launched three solid-fuel ballistic missiles ( another gradual leap in capabilities) on Monday just as US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrived for talks. N. Korea is leaping into hypersonic technology rapidly and causing increasing alarm regionwide. At the same time, quiet overtures have been made for a Kishida-Kim summit though the going is slow. Expect developments within the next two weeks. Could happen.

Questions poised during the 163rd Japanese Politics session

  • Regarding parliamentary-proceedure, aren’t all controversial issues/matters first decided and approved for submittions by the Cabinet? I’m not sure about this, could you please explain?

  • Komeito & LDP have been coalition partners for 20+ years… a long time. With the upcoming by-elections, will or can Komeito field candidates for the available three seats?

  • Just some comments from Kuala Lumpur Malaysia: “… based on my perception and local feedback, the position and presence of Japan is noted and well-received here. But with the LDP and GOJ overall, it seems from afar that Japan lacks transparency (though I admit governments of any country are like this to some degree). Yet, Japanese nationals act based on our code of conduct as part of our culture, and as such, the presence of Japan is there and respected…”.
  • My personal wish is that Japan, being a part of the greater world, should consider working more with non-English speaking countries instead of just focusing on (pandering to) the West. What do you think?

  • Meeting with President Biden in this US presidential election year: doesn’t this put Mr. Kishida in an awkward position if/when Mr. Trump wins?
  • Could LDP do so badly in an election and Ishin negotiate so well with other parties to form a coalition government and take power?
  • Any update on who will be the LDP candidate for Tokyo 15 on April 28? Is Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike still a potential candidate?
  • On the topic of the negligee entertainment at Wakayama LDP Youth Rally, it seems nobody pointed-out to the organizers that the entertainment “…might be considered inappropriate…”. How could this happen: they lacked education, common-sense? Or is it more a matter of insufficient remuneration?

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