Tuesday, June 01, 2010

And by Next Week, Prime Minister Kan?

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.

- William Congreve

Memo to me: avoid making definitive pronouncements.

I said yesterday that not enough time remained before the end of the current Diet session and the probable date of the House of Councillors election for the DPJ to replace deeply unpopular Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio.

My having made this statement seems to not be impeding in any way political maneuvering that very well might lead to such an outcome.

The avalanche began in a question to Democratic Socialist Party leader Fukushima Mizuho, who until last Friday was State Minister for Consumer Affairs and Declining Birthrate. When asked whether or not members of her party, who voted to leave the ruling coalition on Sunday, would join members of the opposition in a vote of a no-confidence against Prime Minister Hatoyama, Fukushima said it would be "rather difficult" (nakanaka muzukashii) for her party to not support the resolution.

That "rather difficult" set everyone's pulses to racing. Not about a no-confidence resolution in the House of Representatives, which would compel the Prime Minister to resign or call a general election. In that chamber the prime minister's Democratic Party of Japan holds a ponderous majority of 308 seats out of 480.

No, the exciting possibility is a censure measure in the House of Councillors, where ruling coalition's majority is wafer-thin. While the passage of a censure measure would not force the prime minister from office, it would be a stinging official rebuke to the PM, one he can ill afford given that his fumbling has cost his party dearly in terms of public support on the eve of a crucial election. Should the House of Councillors vote to censure the PM, the humiliation could be enough to force him to resign of his own volition.

The numbers on the vote work out like this. Following the withdrawal of the SDP from the ruling coalition, the DPJ-Shinryokufukai/People's New Party/Japan New Party caucus controls 122 seats, one seat above 50% line in the 242 seat House of Councillors. In fact, as Adamu has recently pointed out, the caucus enjoys a two-vote cushion, thank to Wakabayashi Masatoshi's having had to resign from the chamber in shame following an extraordinary case of wandering fingers. So if all the member of the caucus show up, their numbers can easily defeat any censure motion.

That caveat however -- if the members of the caucus show up -- turns out to be significant. Of late, it has been the non-ruling coalition members of the House of Councillors who have been absenting themselves from plenary sessions. They feel that since their votes cannot stop the majority from prevailing in the House, their time would be better spent out campaigning for the upcoming election. If the opposition offers a censure motion, however, one can be fairly sure that the party whips will get on the phone (or send an email) to their wandering charges to get back to the chamber for the vote.

If all the members of the opposition are in the House, the focus then shifts to the ruling coalition's membership. If even only a handful of them fail to show up for the vote -- or even, in a fit of manic rage, a handful vote for the censure motion -- the motion will pass.

How likely is it that members of the ruling coalition will not show up to block a censure motion or show up to turn tables on the PM? That depends on how serious you believe the "Class of 2004 Problem" to be.

The DPJ has 35 district seat holders and 18 proportional seat holders facing reelection this year. These incumbent seat holders were elected in 2004, when Okada Katsuya was DPJ party president. Some of these seatholders have close ties to the current problematic party leadership duo of Prime Minister Hatoyama and Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro. Most, however, do not. Indeed, the Class of 2004 in the House of Councillors are the DPJ members who owe the least allegiance to Hatoyama and Ozawa. That the fundraising scandals, fiscally irresponsible policies and infuriating leadership styles of both men have put these members of the House of Councillors in a precarious electoral position (not to mention Ozawa's cramming a second DPJ candidate into some multi-seat districts, meaning that the incumbent would be running not just against opponents from other parties but one from his/her own party) would seem to be reason enough for them to suddenly have an errand to run when the opposition brings its censure motion up for a vote.

A situation that seems indeed nakanaka muzukashii for the PM and his political fixit man Ozawa.


Janne Morén said...

That assumes, of course, that Kan or anyone actually wants to take over a month before the election. I'm pretty sure he'd prefer Hatoyama to fall on his sword (after having sliced up Ozawa with it) after the election so he's not saddled with responsibility for the results.

Dan Slater said...

Michele, Does the Upper H election really matter? It can't block anything, or only temporarily. The key surely is getting the 2/3 majority in the Lower House, which can overwhelm any Upper House majority. The DPJ has just lost that majority in the Lower House, unless the SPD supports it despite Futenma, and (intriguingly) unless Komeito joins up with the DPJ. Isn't the Upper House election rather meaningless? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Janne Morén said...

Dan, as the last few years with the LDP has shown, the supermajority override is a lot less useful than it seems. You'll have to debate and vote for every issue twice, with the opposition running out the clock for two months in between. And those two months give them lots of opportunity for public grandstanding and other negative media exposure.

The long decision time means you're hard pressed to finalize a bill while the Diet is still in session (the LDP actually missed a few items due to this). Also, some decisions, like personnel appointments, can not be overriden at all, and if you antagonize your opposition enough by ramming bills through the upper house they may well finally retaliate by refusing to deal with those appointments at all. Wouldn't it be exciting to have no BOJ president for a year or two during an international economic crisis?

MTC said...

Herr Morén -

Thank you for the succinct, general answer to Mr. Slater's question.

As to this summer's election, it is Ozawa Ichiro's baby. Ozawa's ability to control others rests upon the faith that he is an elections genius. Having installed Hatoyama as the president of the DPJ, muddied the DPJ policy message through his LDP-style interest group pandering policies and run roughshod over the local party chapters in the runup to this election, he has to lead the party to a huge victory just to keep all his many plates spinning.

The possibility that a defeat will force Ozawa into accepting an honorable retirement from the political fray is reason enough to pay attention to this summer's election.

Dan Slater said...

Thank you both for your very informative answers. Janne, I was not aware of the personnel issue - but of course, the lack of a BOJ appointment issue was a big deal back in 2008, I recall. Michael, the outcome for Ozawa is indeed important, as you say. Do you have a sense of what will happen to him and Hatoyama in the event of failure, and how would you define failure in the coming election? The DPJ is currently the single largest party in the UH, with 109 seats out of 242, so still under 50%. Do you see it losing that status? Personally, I don't, since I can't see any other party challenging the DPJ in a meaningful way. Cheers,

Anonymous said...

Kan just sleeps way too much, only thing I don't like...which makes me feel like good God not yet another zombie are you kidding me kind of thinking? Hope he's not that dead of a fish??

Who's to say Ozawa-chan will be out of the picture completely because he resigns? He'll sadly still have his dirty paws somewhere in there behind the scenes lurking in the murky shadows and the shady government of Japan.
Maehara-san at least has some fire, guts to speak out, and such.
Would be nice also to see Hashimoto of Osaka give it a try! he seems cool somehow.

Anonymous said...

Good God 日本 is seriously on crack! 情けない! ばかたれは困るな!