Monday, April 07, 2008

The Fukuda Future - Into The Unknowable

Over at Global Talk 21, Okumura Jun posts a brilliant counterargument to my forecasts of doom for the gasoline levy and the road construction plan.

I think both our assessments are correct.

Okumura-san assumes that factions still behave like factions; that people learn from their mistakes; and that even the holders of LDP party posts can count to three.

I believe that the factions are fictions; that the present LDP leadership has learned nothing in eight months of living with an opposition in charge of the House of Councillors; and no one in the LDP can count to three, or six or any multiple of three thereof.

Both are a reasonable set of assumptions, fully supported by historical precedent and simple logic.

Holding one set or the other as true, however, predetermines one's predictions.

When Fukuda Yasuo became Prime Minister in September 2007, most observers assumed that that the leaders of the ruling coalition could perform a pair of simple tasks:

1) They could count to 60


2) They understood the concept "three to six years"

The performance of the first task would give ruling coalition leaders the ability to look at a calendar, find a red letter date by which a certain bill would have to be passed, then count backward to the date by which the House of Representatives would absolutely, positively have to pass the bill. The sixty day span is the amount of time the House of Representatives must wait for action by the House of Councillors on a bill before the House of Representatives can pass the bill using the two-thirds majority override power outlined in Article 59 of the Constitution.

The performance of the second task would give ruling coalition leaders the ability to look a multi-year calendar and understand the immense span of days stretching out before them before they could hope to win enough seats in a House of Councillors election to return the Diet to its familiar rhythms -- a state of legislative tyranny so ingrained into the body politic that the press, without reflection or irony, refers to its restitution as seijōka (正常化) - "normalization". Given that the next opportunity to overthrow opposition control of the House of Councillors is not until either 2010 (a marginal opportunity due to the large number of seats the LDP will be defending) or 2013 (far more likely scenario, given that the DPJ will be defending its 2007 gains) even the most obtuse and/or militant member of the LDP hierarchy would understand that the coalition would have to find a way to share power with Ozawa Ichirō and the DPJ.

These two basic assumptions were indeed the cruxes of the argument for Fukuda Yasuo's election as the president of the LDP. Only the managerial, mild-mannered and colorless Fukuda could play the game of seemingly abnegating himself and the LDP before the DPJ, flattering Ozawa's mighty ego, and, at the same time, keep legislation moving on track toward passage using the override provision.

Everyone believed the above formed the backdrop of political theater as it was to be played out until September 2009, the final possible date of the next House of Representatives election.

Even Ozawa Ichirō believed it. He would have never entered into negotiations exploring the formation of a coalition government--or a legislative entente or whatever it was--if he knew aforehand that the LDP would

a) care so little about the country's political paralysis that they would never engage in good faith nemawashi (prior discussions toward consensus) on the content of bills, and

b) not use the override provision with efficiency and ruthlessness, when it had to.

Ozawa expected the ruling coalition to both care about appearances and still be able to execute most of its legislative program--whether the opposition-led House of Councillors objected or not.

It turns out that Ozawa--and just about everybody else--was wrong.

The ruling coalition, in what has been an almost gleeful hanging out of Fukuda to dry, has delivered ultimatum after ultimatum to the DPJ, trying to force the DPJ at every instance to go down on bended knee and offer its submission--which the DPJ and the rest of the opposition has pointedly refused to do. Compounding the error, the ruling coalition, after delivering these ultimatums, has been unable to deliver on its threats, either losing track of the time it needs to get legislative packages through the House of Representatives using the sixty day override or worse forgetting that in the case of appointments requiring Diet approval, there is no override provision.


Which brings me back to the original propositions in this post.

Okumura Jun believes that the ruling coalition has learned its lesson, that it will be supportive of the PM's strengths in conciliation with the DPJ while retaining a monomaniacal focus on management of the legislative calendar--that it will be able from here on out to use both carrots and sticks to govern the country in an acceptable fashion.

I believe that the ruling coalition has not adapted because it cannot adapt--that the last eight months are not a series of fluke occurrences but symptoms of the ruling coalition's hopeless, structurally determined ineptitude.

Take your pick.

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