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Five things to watch in Japanese politics in 2021

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2020 was a year full of things no one predicted for Japan: a global pandemic, a postponed Tokyo Olympics and a prime ministerial resignation, to name a few. While many will be sighing in relief at the prospect of a new year, the roller coaster ride for Japanese politics is not over. 2021 will still be a year to watch as we could yet again see a change in administration.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s power atop the government is not assured, and with some significant elections scheduled, domestic politics could once again shake things up at the top. That of course has important and far-reaching implications both for Japan and its partners — so it will be important to observe a few things in particular this coming year.

The COVID-19 effect

This past week, Japan recorded its highest yet numbers of COVID-19 cases. The uptick in numbers has been dramatic, as has the drop in Suga’s approval ratings these past few months. When Suga took office, he enjoyed a 62 percent approval rating, but that number has dropped twenty points in just three months. The public backlash prompted Suga to suspend the Go To Travel campaign ahead of new year festivities; but even this move is receiving criticism. Some say that his decision came too late, while others are decrying his choice to hurt small businesses ahead of an important travel season for the country.

The Go To Travel debacle reveals a Catch-22 situation for the Suga administration in its COVID policies. If the administration takes drastic action by trying to lock down areas, restrict public gatherings, suspend in-office work and discourage free movement, it will cause a drop in approval ratings unless there is a phenomenal and sustained improvement in Japan’s COVID numbers. Conversely, if Suga takes a relaxed approach focused on jump-starting the economy but COVID numbers increase, it will cause a drop in approval ratings.

Thus, the most likely outcome now is that Suga will try to take a middle-of-the-road approach between those two options in hopes that a vaccine will bail him out from having to take decisive action one way or the other. This approach is not unlike many of Suga’s prime ministerial predecessors, but indecisive and ineffective prime ministers do not tend to last long, especially during troubled times.

The Olympics effect

Right now, the Suga administration is dead set on holding the Olympics this coming summer. The problem is, if Japan cannot get the pandemic under control, it will put Suga in yet another Catch-22 situation.

If the Suga administration permits foreign travelers to come into Japan and there is a major spike in COVID cases, he will pay for it in the polls. If the Suga administration restricts the number of foreign travelers allowed to enter the country (or imposes such draconian rules that it makes it impractical to travel to Japan), then it will affect the revenue that the Olympics are supposed to generate and contribute to a subpar event on the world stage. That will also cause a negative impact on his polling.

Suga’s only respite in this situation will come if external factors save the day. Perhaps a vaccine will be widely available by then, giving Suga the opportunity to shift blame to pharmaceuticals rather than policies if COVID numbers still spike. Maybe members of the international community will begin pulling out of the Olympics, which would alleviate Suga of the responsibility if the games fail to live up to the lofty expectations that existed prior to this year. Either way, the challenges of holding a postponed Olympics are great, and Suga will have to navigate them this coming year.

LDP presidential race

One might wonder why this article places so much emphasis on polling numbers: That is because Suga is facing two major elections in 2021. The first worth mentioning is the Liberal Democratic Party Presidential race that will take place no later than the end of September 2021.

Suga won the last party presidential election because he was the LDP faction heads’ favorite candidate not named Shigeru Ishiba. The party changed the rules of the election to handicap Ishiba in the race, effectively installing Suga as a compromise until they could work out who else may be their preferred pick for the job. How can we know that LDP heavyweights already had an eye on the next potential candidate? Well, what is normally a three-year term that comes with winning the party presidential race was reduced to one year for this exceptional case.

Observers of Japanese politics must keep in mind that Suga will have important choices to make related to managing intraparty politics if he hopes to survive in the post past next Autumn.

The Lower House election

The term for the House of Representatives, or Lower House, is set to expire in October 2021. As such, the ruling LDP-Komeito coalition has the option of waiting it out until the expiration of the term to convene a general election, or the prime minister can dissolve the Lower House early and call for a snap election.

The ruling LDP-Komeito coalition will seek timing for an election that can guarantee the best outcomes for themselves, but the available windows are limited. At this point, they could look to call for a snap election after the budget is passed — usually around March — meaning an April election. They may seek to hold the election before the Olympics, targeting late June. The final option is to align the Lower House election with the LDP presidential race, either in late September or October 2021.

Each window comes with its own set of challenges. The COVID effect will likely still impact a springtime election. The Olympics effect could influence the early summer and autumn votes. Right now, the safest play for the LDP is to align the Lower House election with the LDP presidential race. This allows the party to play the political card that the LDP is seeking to respect the will of the Japanese people by letting them judge the LDP’s choice for its leader with a general election that immediately follows. However, depending on the success or failures associated with COVID and the Olympics, these prospects may change.

Factional moves

Finally, observers of Japanese politics should be watching factional moves in 2021. Given the two important elections detailed above, the factions that make up the LDP will be posturing.

Right now, there is not a clear successor to Suga. It is well known that Fumio Kishida and Taro Kono have set their sights on becoming prime minister, but neither is strongly positioned to make that move within this coming year. Kishida still does not have the factional numbers to back him, and Taro Kono, while popular among the public, runs the same risk of Ishiba as being too much of a challenge to the LDP’s old guard to gain the necessary interfactional support.

Meanwhile, Shigeru Ishiba announced that he was stepping down as faction head. But that does not mean he is completely out of the game, especially if Suga’s approval ratings plummet and the LDP feels that its control of the government is under threat. It will still be important to watch his movements in 2021 because although he is down, he is not yet out.

Other potential hopefuls have been quiet about their prospects, namely Toshimitsu Motegi and Katsunobu Kato, but that does not mean they are write-offs. Especially if the LDP cannot find another viable candidate and Suga’s polling numbers drop dramatically owing to COVID-19 or the Olympics effects, then they will want a stable player to install that has decent factional support. Motegi and Kato both come from the third strongest Takeshita faction, though both also have close allies in the largest Hosoda faction (not least of which is former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe).

Whatever moves these factions make, it is important for observers to recognize that in a year with a party leadership race and a Lower House election, every one of them counts.

Dr. Michael MacArthur Bosack is the special adviser for government relations at the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies. He previously served in the Japanese government as a Mansfield fellow.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.

 

 

Source: – The Japan Times

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We dropped MyPillow because of weak sales, not politics, retailers say – Financial Times

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Two leading US retailers have countered claims from the head of a pillow company that they dropped the brand over his outspoken support for Donald Trump, saying that the decisions were driven not by politics but by poor demand for the products.

In a series of interviews, Mike Lindell, who runs Minnesota-based MyPillow, accused some of the country’s biggest chains, including Bed Bath & Beyond and Kohl’s, of caving to pressure from left-leaning activists over his backing for the outgoing US president.

“They’re scared,” he told the rightwing Right Side Broadcasting Network.

However, two of the retailers named by Mr Lindell said on Tuesday that they were removing the privately owned company’s products because of weak sales.

“There has been decreased customer demand for MyPillow,” department store chain Kohl’s said. Bed Bath & Beyond said: “We have been rationalising our assortment to discontinue a number of underperforming items and brands. This includes the MyPillow product line.”

The dispute, on Mr Trump’s final full day in office, illustrates the difficulties facing corporate America over how to deal with the country’s increasingly divisive politics.

Mr Lindell has for months been among the most vocal of any business chief in his backing for Mr Trump, and repeated the president’s unsubstantiated accusations of widespread voter fraud in the November election. In contrast to other Trump sympathisers who distanced themselves after the attack on the US Capitol this month, the entrepreneur has continued to support the president’s calls to overturn the poll’s results.

Since the Capitol assault, executives across corporate America have been eager to avoid supporting a president accused of undermining the rule of law. Yet they also risk a backlash from the right.

Sebastian Gorka, a former aide to Mr Trump, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: “If you’re a Patriot, how about you never buy anything from Kohl’s or Bed Bath & Beyond until they stock Mike Lindell’s MyPillow products again.”

Mr Lindell said the online furniture retailer Wayfair and Texas grocery chain H-E-B were also dropping MyPillow. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

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Biden’s pick for director of national intelligence says ‘no place’ for politics in agency – Global News

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President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the intelligence community, Avril Haines, promised Tuesday to “speak truth to power” and keep politics out of intelligence agencies to ensure their work is trusted.

“When it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever,” she told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Haines, a former CIA deputy director and former deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, would enter the job as director of national intelligence, or DNI, following a Trump administration that saw repeated pressure on intelligence officials to shape intelligence to the Republican president’s liking.

Read more:
Biden plans to roll back a lengthy list of Trump policies. Here’s what may happen

The committee’s lead Republican, Marco Rubio of Florida, and its ranking Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, both indicated they expect Haines to win confirmation. Her hearing kicked off a series of Senate confirmation hearings Tuesday, including those for Biden’s picks to lead the State Department, the Pentagon, and the departments of Homeland Security and Treasury. While most of those nominees are unlikely to be confirmed by the time Biden takes the oath of office at noon Wednesday, some could be in place within days.

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A former director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, who served in the Trump administration, introduced Haines with an emphasis on her commitment to de-politicizing the job. He called her an “exceptional choice” for the position.

Also testifying Tuesday at his confirmation hearing was Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He would be the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the agency.

In opening remarks, Mayorkas addressed the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. He said in prepared remarks released ahead of the hearing that the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot is “horrifying” and the authorities still have much to learn about what happened that day and what led to the insurrection.






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Inauguration of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday


Inauguration of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday

The Senate typically confirms some nominees, particularly the secretaries of defence, on Inauguration Day, though raw feelings about President Donald Trump four years ago led to Democratic-caused delays, except for James Mattis at the Pentagon. This year, the tension is heightened by Trump’s impeachment and an extraordinary military presence in Washington because of fears of extremist violence.

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Putting his national security team in place quickly is a high priority for Biden, not only because of his hopes for reversing or modifying Trump administration policy shifts but also because of diplomatic, military and intelligence problems around the world that may create challenges early in his tenure.

The most controversial of the group may be Lloyd Austin, the recently retired Army general whom Biden selected to lead the Pentagon. Austin will need not only a favourable confirmation vote in the Senate but also a waiver by both the House and the Senate because he has been out of uniform only four years.

The last time a new president did not have his secretary of defence confirmed by Inauguration Day was in 1989. President George H.W. Bush’s nominee, John Tower, had run into opposition and ended up rejected by the Senate several weeks later.

Read more:
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Also facing confirmation hearings were Biden confidant Antony Blinken to lead the State Department, and Janet Yellen as treasury secretary, another first for a woman.

In prepared remarks, Blinken said he is ready to confront challenges posed by China, Iran, North Korea and Russia and is committed to rebuilding the State Department after four years of atrophy under the Trump administration.

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Ahead of the Blinken hearing, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, said he expects the committee to vote on the nomination on Monday.

Blinken will tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that he sees a world of rising nationalism and receding democracy. In remarks prepared for his confirmation hearing, Blinken will say that mounting threats from authoritarian states are reshaping all aspects of human lives, particularly in cyberspace. He’ll say that American global leadership still matters and without it rivals will either step in to fill the vacuum or there will be chaos _ and neither is a palatable choice.


Click to play video '‘Let’s get to work’: Harris thanks supporters ahead of inauguration'



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‘Let’s get to work’: Harris thanks supporters ahead of inauguration


‘Let’s get to work’: Harris thanks supporters ahead of inauguration

Blinken also promises to bring Congress in as a full foreign policy partner, a subtle jab at the Trump administration and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who routinely ignored or bypassed lawmakers in policy-making. He called the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill “senseless and searing” and pledged to work with Congress.

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Austin was testifying later Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, but the panel will not be in position to vote until he gets the waiver. Republicans are expected to broadly support the Austin nomination, as are Democrats.

Biden’s emerging Cabinet marks a return to a more traditional approach to governing, relying on veteran policymakers with deep expertise and strong relationships in Washington and global capitals. Austin is something of an exception in that only twice in history has a recently retired general served as defence secretary — most recently Mattis.

Austin, who would be the first Black secretary of defence, retired from the military as a four-star general in 2016. The law requires a minimum seven-year waiting period.

Read more:
A look at how, when Trump’s 2nd Senate impeachment trial will take place

Doubts about the wisdom of having a recently retired officer running the Pentagon are rooted in an American tradition of protecting against excessive military influence by ensuring that civilians are in control. When he announced Austin as his pick in December, Biden insisted he is “uniquely suited” for the job.

Lindsay P. Cohn, an expert on civil-military relations and an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College, said at a Senate hearing on the subject last week that an Austin waiver raises worrying risks.

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“Choosing a recently retired general officer and arguing that he is uniquely qualified for the current challenges furthers the narrative that military officers are better at things and more reliable or trustworthy than civil servants or other civilians,” she said. “This is hugely problematic at a time when one of the biggest challenges facing the country is the need to restore trust and faith in the political system. Implying that only a military officer can do this job at this time is counterproductive to that goal.”

Some Democrats have already said they will oppose a waiver. They argue that granting it for two administrations in a row makes the exception more like a rule. Even so, a favourable vote seems likely.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., on Friday introduced waiver legislation for Austin.

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Associated Press writers Ben Fox, Eric Tucker and Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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How President Trump's Rhetoric Has Affected U.S. Politics – NPR

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NPR’s Ari Shapiro talks with Jennifer Mercieca, a historian of American political rhetoric, about how President Trump has changed the way Americans talk about politics, the government and each other.

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