Friday, January 11, 2008

Counting on one's allies

The outright rejection this morning by the House of Councillors of the truncated terrorism special measures bill reauthorizing a dispatch of Maritime Self Defense Forces vessels to the Indian Ocean has exposed the identities of the parties in control of the political calendar.

The Socialists and Communists.

Yes, despite the paucity of their numbers and their non-mainstream views, the Socialists and the Communists seem to have forced Democratic Party of Japan leader Ozawa Ichirō to act against his own best interests.

According to reports in the media, the DPJ leadership had wanted to avoid making a clear statement on the dispatch legislation. A rejection of the legislation would require all the DPJ's internal groupings, some of which were quite comfortable with the bill, to toe the party line.

By pushing the party to vote as one, Ozawa Ichirō will likely end up owing internal party critic and security hawk Maehara Seiji another big favor. Ozawa had previously coopted Maehara and his allies by granting Maehara entry into the core party leadership. With unified vote against the legislation this morning, the earlier concession to the hawks will become done and paid for. Maehara and other hawks will be free to request that DPJ policies start reflecting Ozawa's own historical stance of Japan's becoming a "normal" nation--at least in terms of security.

[One of the problems with being a big time thinker--you leave behind you a big time legacy for others to pick through.]

Ozawa, who did not want to be beholden to Maehara and the hawks (who would?) probably wanted to kick the dispatch bill down the road (Okumura Jun has explained the arcana regarding the handling of bills at the end of a session over at GlobalTalk 21) allowing the LDP-led override of the bill in the House of Representatives to take precedence.

However, the Socialists and Communists in the House of Councillors have been demanding a clear statement of rejection. These two parties have needed to demonstrate to their supporters the value of their close cooperation with Ozawa's DPJ (the sight of Communist Party Chairman Shii Kazuo clapping as Ozawa Ichirō approached the microphone at the party leaders debate had me shaking my head and thinking, "What a long, strange trip it's been..."). Indeed, without an outright rejection of the "American war" dispatch, what had Shii and Socialist Party leader Fukushima Mizuho wrung out of the working alliance with the DPJ?

While the press is fascinated by the House of Representatives vs. House of Councillors struggle, where Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo can be portrayed as the man beset by troubles and surrounded by sharks--Ozawa Ichirō is the one who has to put himself through the greater contortions. The DPJ does not control a majority of votes in the House of Councillors. It relies on an unstable, draining alliance with the Socialists, the Communists and the Japan New Party to be well clear of the 51% mark. The Japan New Party has no program or identity other than parasitism on the public purse and the end of postal reform and so will cleave to whomever waves yen in their faces. The Socialists and the Communists, however, are used to being irrelevant, isolated and bereft of funds. Their loyalty has to be won through acceptance of their policies.

Fukuda holds the sword of Damocles over his party and the New Kōmeitō--a dissolution of the Diet and a general election will empower the DPJ and diminish the ruling coalition's power--if not eliminate its entire raison d'être. Ozawa, by contrast, has nothing with which to threaten his partners. Indeed, he must continuously purchase their loyalty through concessions. If the ruling coalition goes through with its proposal to offer a permanent overseas dispatch law in the regular Diet session, Ozawa will have a heck of time keeping control of his herd of sulky, head-strong co-conspirators.


Tobias Samuel Harris said...


If you think the situation is bad now, imagine if the opposition somehow wins a general election and forms a coalition government. Given the number of candidates it will run, the DPJ would not have an independent majority, making its government dependent on the Socialists, et al.

A chance for the Socialists to get back at Ozawa for 1993-1994?

MTC said...

japan observer -

"Get back at Ozawa for 1993-94"?

You mean the Socialist coalition with the LDP was not punishment enough?

Jan Moren said...

Well, if DPJ would win a general election and lean on the small parties, then you're at the same situation that LDP is with New Komeito. As MTC says above, the big partner in the coalition holds the keys to the alliance and at that point the small parties have to ask themselves really, really hard as to whether their principles or their hold on a small share of power is more important.

That question usually gets answered the same way every time.

Jun Okumura said...

Janne, the problem for the DPJ, as is quite explicit in the original post, is that the Socialists and Communists are outliers. The New Kōmeitō in contrast are in essence a tightknit LDP faction. Much of the DPJ is also in tune with the LDP, no surprise when you consider the origins of most of the groups of its Diet members.

Tobias Samuel Harris said...


Given how well that coalition with the LDP worked out for the Socialists, I have to imagine that they're not quite done exacting their revenge.

Anonymous said...

On the DPJ relying on the Socialists and Communists after a general election victory, I'd say its more likely that they'd either run a minority government and play the Komeito, LDP and the left off against each other to get their policies through or even stitch up a deal with Komeito. Nowadays, Komeito seems to be one of those "centre" parties that just attach themselves to whoever wins. Like the old FDP in Germany.