Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Anger Management

Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo and DPJ party leader Ozawa Ichirō held an inconclusive private meeting on the eve of the expiration of the law the dispatch of Japan Maritime Self Defense Force ships to the Indian Ocean:

Ozawa rejects Fukuda's plea for support for new anti-terrorism bill
Mainichi Daily News

Largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Ichiro Ozawa rejected Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's plea Tuesday for support for a new anti-terrorism bill that would allow the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) to continue its refueling mission for U.S. military vessels in the Indian Ocean.

The opposition-controlled House of Councillors will certainly vote down the new anti-terrorism special measures bill if DPJ members oppose it along with other opposition legislators. Since the current law expires on Nov. 1, the MSDF will have no choice but to suspend its mission to refuel U.S. military vessels in the Indian Ocean without a new law...

It was a glorious public relations moment for Ozawa. Nothing could be finer than the leader of the LDP humbly requesting Ozawa's personal intercession on behalf of the renewal of the dispatch--a request Ozawa could then imperiously reject.

A complete disaster for Prime Minister and LDP president Fukuda Yasuo, no?

Not exactly.

1) However late the hour and however hopeless the plea, Fukuda still managed to drag Ozawa into a meeting. Contrast this outcome with former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō's flailing attempts to cop a meeting with his opposition counterpart in September. To paraphrase Woody Allen, 90% of everything is just getting Ozawa to show up.

2) Both sides agreed to postpone the party leaders's debate in the Diet schedule for today.

This is a huge decision. By agreeing to not argue in public, Ozawa has given Fukuda and the country a reprieve. Had the debate go on, television viewers would have been treated to the spectacle of a national Diet wasting the people's time on interminable debates over past mistakes no one can actually do much about in the short term. The MSDF misrecording of the diesel fuel amount and the subsequent Defense Agency cover up, the pensions recording scandal, the Hepatitis C problem, the economic decay of the rural areas--all require long-term attention and mutual accommodation of the parties. The current Cabinet lineup is competent and assiduous (well, aside from you know who) and is working on the problems identified in the regular Diet session. What public purpose is served by the party leaders grandstanding, aside from giving the press something to pontificate about?

3) By agreeing to both a cancellation of the debate and a second meeting of the leaders of the LDP and the DPJ on Friday, Ozawa has cut the ground out from under the other members of the opposition. The Socialists, the Communists and the Kokumin Shintō were all looking forward to grilling Fukuda on their pet issues. Now they will have to hope that Ozawa raises these issues in Friday's private meeting. Two word phrase on the likelihood that Ozawa will adequately represent his fellow oppositionists: Good Luck!

Some partisans are indeed worrying that the Friday meeting is prima facie evidence of a fix being on. Are Fukuda and Ozawa really discussing the legislative calendar, or is the subject of these closed-door meetings a grand moderate-conservative coalition, with the LDP dumping the Komeitō and the DPJ leaving the smaller members of the opposition in the lurch?

Closed door meetings replacing open debate...yes, paranoia...but still...

4) The expiration of the MSDF dispatch law was never really Fukuda's problem anyway. It was Abe Shinzo's terrible sequencing of legislation after April 1; his misreading of the public mood in July; his stupid time management in August; his final breakdown in September and the weeks lost in trying to select his replacement that doomed the passage of new legislation by the November 1 expiration date. Even if the Fukuda Cabinet gets nothing done the whole rest of the extraordinary Diet session, the public will hardly be clamoring for new elections. The whole mess was Abe's idea and responsibility.

Fukuda's term as the master of his own destiny does not get started until January. Count on the public to give him at least a few more months of forbearance before really coming down hard upon him. If his government is not able to function on its own terms and according to its own schedule, Fukuda will certainly deserve the public's opprobrium.

So it's not all bad for the man at the top of the government, really.

No comments: