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Monday, July 19, 2010

JAPANESE PERSPECTIVES

DPJ, finances victims of own conspiracy, cock-up, complacency?


Special to The Japan Times

Conspiracy or cock-up? That is the question that invariably comes to mind when something goes very badly wrong in business or politics. As it has done in both of these two worlds in Japan lately.

First came the Democratic Party of Japan's miserable defeat in the Upper House election July 11.

On the face of it, it looks as though conspiracy could not have had much to do with this development. Unless perhaps the ever conspiratorial Ichiro Ozawa was up to something to try to punish Prime Minister Naoto Kan for telling him very explicitly to keep his mouth shut in the future. Yet even the Prince of Darkness himself would surely not be so vengeful as to sacrifice his own party's fortunes on the altar of a personal vendetta. Although of course one never knows.

In any event, the cock-up that was Kan's election campaign did not need much help from conspiratorial sources to end the way it did. It was a spectacular run for an own goal from start to finish.

There were two things manifestly wrong with the way the DPJ's campaign was run. For one, panic was very much to the fore. And two, and not unrelated, the party was fighting yesterday's war.

Panic set in because the DPJ had begun to suffer from what might be called incumbent psychosis. It could not afford to lose points. Nor could it afford not to gain points. The party had no idea whether it was attacking or defending. This is hardly the mindset that wins elections.

Kan's ill thought-out attempt to appear courageous by raising the issue of a consumption tax hike was very much a case in point. Nothing wrong with the idea. Pity about the hurried mishmash of reasonings put forward to justify it.

Paralysis born out of panic prevented the DPJ from thinking clearly. Had the party executives been able to reflect more soberly on the situation, they would have seen that a whole realignment of the election campaign was necessary if they were to overcome the recent setbacks and retain the momentum they gained on coming into power last year.

But in their mental paralysis, they just went head-on as planned prior to the change of prime ministers from Yukio Hatoyama to Kan last month. Back then, the Upper House election was expected to be a midterm evaluation of how the DPJ had done in its first semester in the school of government. The marks would be tough, but the party saw itself scrape through on the strength of its freshness and dedication to hard work.

However, by the time the U.S Futenma air base issue soured the way it did, with economic mismanagement and financial scandals adding to the humiliation, the stakes had changed radically. It was no longer just a midterm review. It had become a fight to prevent a failing grade from going on the record.

In their failure to realign their campaign, the DPJ politicians managed to thoroughly alienate and infuriate their evaluators — a silly way to go about things when desperate for good grades. Thus while conspiracy had little to do with anything here, one might add the element of complacency as well as sheer cock-up to the DPJ's list of failings.

Complacency certainly seems to have had a hand in the startling demise of Incubator Bank of Japan that came to light last week. Its former chairman, Takeshi Kimura, was arrested Wednesday along with the bank's current president and three other executives on suspicion of obstructing a Financial Services Agency audit last year.

Kimura enjoyed charismatic fame as key adviser to Heizo Takenaka when the latter was financial services minister in the days of the Junichiro Koizumi government. There always was a whiff of conspiracy and more than a fair share of complacency about the man's obvious talents as a purveyor of newfangled financial ideas. Now it appears he has shot himself in the foot with a cock-up over deleted e-mails.

If you conspire, don't cock up. Be you conspirator or cocker-upper, never be complacent. That seems like good advice to anyone either in government or in finance.

Noriko Hama is an economist and a professor at Doshisha University Graduate School of Business.


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