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Ruling Party Losing Discipline

SNA (Tokyo) — It was inevitable at some point, but after more than four years of dominating the political landscape, clear signs are emerging that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is losing its discipline and reverting to some of its bad habits of the past, before they were booted out of power in the 2009-2012 period.

In serial fashion in the past few weeks, government ministers and senior lawmakers have been committing pointless and self-destructive gaffes, from Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura’s angry meltdown at an April 4 press conference in which he insisted Fukushima evacuees were “responsible for themselves” and demanded that a freelance journalist “shut up”; to the April 16 comments of Regional Revitalization Minister Kozo Yamamoto in which he bizarrely denounced the nation’s museum curators of being “a cancer” that must be “eradicated” because, in his view, they don’t do enough to promote tourism.

Less noted in the English-language media, but noted carefully in Okinawa, was a Facebook posting by former Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission Keiji Furuya. Campaigning on behalf of the ruling party-backed candidate in the Uruma city mayoral race, he wrote as follows: “Opposing everything, making irresponsible promises with absolutely no financial backing, using empty catchphrases — these tactics equivalent to fraud against the citizens are the usual, unique manner of the Okinawans.”

This explosion of indiscipline has not been characteristic of the second Shinzo Abe government following their return to power in December 2012. Indeed, for several years what was unusual and even shocking was well-coordinated, methodical, and, yes, disciplined the usually fractious Liberal Democratic Party had become after being “scared straight” by several years lingering in unaccustomed opposition.

The flip-side of the leading opposition Democratic Party’s abysmal condition and inability to present a credible challenge is that the Abe Cabinet and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are clearly starting to get sloppy and are regaining their sense of natural entitlement to authority.

Even at the very top level one cannot be impressed, for example, about the handling of the Integrated Resort Promotion Act last year, which was unnecessarily abrasive. It should have been preceded, not followed, by robust legislation on gambling addiction in order to facilitate public acceptance. They needed to prove to the people that the government would be handling the surrounding issues in a responsible manner. The methodical, strategic character of the second Abe government has clearly been lacking in this case.

The ruling party is reaching a point now when they are realizing that the weakness of the opposition parties is so profound that even scandals such as the Moritomo Gakuen affair, in which large majorities of the public believe that the prime minister and his wife acted improperly, doesn’t critically affect their overall support ratings. They are starting to feel invulnerable.

That kind of hubris, of course, is what usually precedes a major fiasco.