Article 68As a preface to this post, please read Ethan Chua's argument that the biggest loser from the Futenma climbdown is the Social Democratic Party.
1) The Prime Minister shall appoint the Ministers of State. However, a majority of their number must be chosen from among the members of the Diet.
2) The Prime Minister may remove the Ministers of State as he chooses.
- The Constitution of Japan (1946)
I take exception with Mr. Chua's conclusion. The biggest losers from the Futenma climbdown are still likely to be the Prime Minister and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi, both of whom have watched their reputations evanesce away into air. No amount of apologizing, prevaricating or pandering can give them the least bit of political substance.
Minister of Consumer Affairs Fukushima Mizuho and the SDP, however, seem to be preparing to walk away from the smoldering wreckage of the Hatoyama fallback with their reputations for principled intransigence intact. In appearance after appearance in Okinawa today, Fukushima made clear that she will not vote in favor of the government plan outlined this weekend to move the personnel and materiel of MCAS Futenma to a new offshore base to be built outside Camp Schwab in Henoko -- basically the plan outlined in the 2006 roadmap.
If Fukushima votes no at the plan's presentation to the Cabinet on Friday, she will provoke a stunning political showdown. Without the unanimous consent of the Cabinet, the plan cannot be considered a Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei). It can only be a Prime Minister's Statement (shusho hatsugen) -- and according to press reports, Fukushima is ready to oppose the bill's even receiving this lower level of official status.
Furthermore --and someone should correct me if I am wrong here -- but if the plan does not receive the imprematur of a kakugi kettei, it cannot be presented in the Diet as a government bill (naikaku teishutsu hoan or seifuan). Hirano has argued that a Prime Minister's Statement, if it receives the understanding (ryokai) of the Cabinet is just as good as a Cabinet Decision -- but since Fukushima says she will oppose a Prime Minister's Statement, this attempt to find a work-around seems moot. Instead the bill would have to be presented as a Diet member's bill (giin teishutsu hoan), forcing the Prime Minister to either submit the bill in his own name with the signatures of 20 members of the House of Representatives or 10 members of the House of Councillors in support of it, or find a close ally to submit it instead.
Prime Minister Hatoyama can round up the signatures of 20 House of Representatives members in a second, of course. However, the humiliation of failing to win the unquestioned support of the Cabinet he himself picked makes this route the last one he would want to take.
The alternative is for Prime Minister Hatoyama somehow prevent Fukushima from voting no at Friday's regular Cabinet meeting. He and other Cabinet ministers, while indicting their rage at Fukushima's visit and statements, have tried to open a little political wiggle room for Fukushima to back out of her threat, saying that she traveled to Okinawa and made her statements not as a minister of the Japanese government, but as the head of her party.
Such casuistry will probably not lure Fukushima into backing down. Her party is facing the potential loss of all its seats up for election this year, including, it should be noted, hers. Having lost the support of, over the last 15 years, those hating the Liberal Democratic Party, the pacifists, the labor unions and true believers in socialism, the SDP has no natural constituency to keep it alive.
However, if the party can sell itself as the member of the revolutionary coalition that did not sell out the Okinawans, that held firm to its beliefs, it might win support amongst Japan's currently demoralized hardcore pacifists and the smoldering anti-American left.
If Fukushima does not back down before Thursday, when the DSP will hold a meeting that is sure to request that she vote against the Prime Minister's new plan, then Hatoyama may have no choice but to fire her. Under Article 68 of the constitution the prime minister has the right to arbitrarily (nin'i) remove any state minister from office.
The results of firing Fukushima could be even worse than letting her vote against the government's plans, however. While her party is numerically irrelevant in terms of the passage of bills through the Diet, its expulsion from the coalition will draw an immediate, negative response from the People's New Party, which is currently unenthusiastic albeit not opposed to the government's Futenma-to-Henoko proposal.
PNP president Kamei Shizuka, after talking to Fukushima on the telephone about the impending collision yesterday, has indeed suggested that Hatoyama needs to take two steps back, not even calling the plan a Prime Minister's Statement. Instead, he has suggested that Hatoyama refer to his plan simply as "a plan that is currently being undertaken" (tsukochu no an). As for Fukushima's seemingly suicidal devotion to principle, he is quoted as telling her, "Look, that government plan has no chance of being realized. To leave the coalition and go to an honorable death over a plan that cannot be realized is idiotic."
So for those who think that Hatoyama has, at great political cost, successfully sold out the Okinawans and the Socialists, staving off a crisis with the United States with a plan that essentially replicates the major elements of the plan LDP agreed to in 2006, hang on to your hats.
This is going to be a fun next three days.