Tokyo Notes


LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki miscalculates woefully with a Diet boycott.

Just when it seemed the Liberal Democratic Party had won back some momentum with the gubernatorial victory in Nagasaki a week ago, the party managed to shoot itself in the foot with an ill-advised boycotting of parliamentary sessions.

The LDP, dumped from power after decades of almost exclusive control, has struggled to find anything in the way of policy to take on the Democratic Party of Japan, and has instead been focusing its efforts on political funding scandals involving the two pillars of the DPJ, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and General Secretary Ichiro Ozawa.

The ‘politics and money’ theme, which gives the public the impression of one apparently corrupt party replacing another, has hit the popularity rating of Hatoyama’s Cabinet, plunging it to 37 percent, according to an Asahi Shimbun poll last week. Together with the local election result in Nagasaki, it seemed that momentum had started swinging the LDP’s way under the stewardship of Sadakazu Tanigaki.

However, the LDP leader seemed to get carried away with the moment, and, saying it was ‘now or never,’ called the boycott for as long as Ozawa was not summoned to give testimony to the Diet over the scandal involving his funding management organization. But Tanigaki failed to confirm before making his bold jump that everyone else was willing to jump, too. He found that not only did sections of his own party have problems with the idea, but that the other opposition parties were also balking at the prospect of being seen to ignore debate over the national budget at a time of economic crisis.

By Thursday, the boycott was off, and a humiliated Tanigaki was trying unconvincingly to spin the matter in his favor, describing the boycott as ‘just a test.’

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Writing in today’s Mainichi Shimbun, one of Japan’s biggest dailies, Takao Yamada lambasted Tanigaki’s three-day boycott, and described the LDP’s initial swaggering as ‘childish.’ He said it made him recall an absurd episode from 27 years ago when an opposition leader dressed up in a traditional top-knotted wig to play a prank on LDP kingpin Kakuei Tanaka.

Before calling a boycott, Tanigaki needed to confirm the opposition was united behind it and that popular sentiment would see it as making sense, Yamada wrote. The LDP leader, he said, had failed in what was really an attempt to show his party he was not ‘soft.’

If Yamada is right, and the boycott was indeed an attempt by Tanigaki to assert his leadership skills, he’s certainly got some work to do.