On Friday, I was wondering what Noda Yoshihiko, Prime Minister and leaders of the Democratic Party of Japan was doing meeting with Tanigaki Sadakazu, the president of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. Since the two parties are rivals and talk of a "discussion dissolution" (hanashiai kaisan) was out of the question due to the immanent and now existing state of unconstitutionality of the system used to elect the House of Representatives and talk of a coalition government cutting out Ozawa Ichiro and his supporters in the DPJ could conceivably split the DPJ in half.
The simple answer, in retrospect, is that Noda has counted up the number of the members of the DPJ willing to follow him over the wall on the raising of the consumption tax and found that he does not have the votes to get the legislation passed. Ozawa Ichiro, who has been running rampant ever since it became clear he has almost no chance of being convicted in the illegal campaign fund accounting trial against him,is marshalling the disparate forces within the DPJ who either hate or are terrified of raising the consumption tax, despite warnings from the party leadership to cease and desist. (J)
If Ozawa is feeling pretty sure of himself, he perhaps needs to be a little more careful. Yes, he is almost certain to be exonerated when the judge hands his decision in mid-April. Yes, he will be reinstated to his full rights as a DPJ member immediately afterward. Yes, a huge number of DPJ Diet members, not just Ozawa's and former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio's adherents but many nominal followers of members of the current government and party leaders could be induced to jump ship if the Noda government persists in pursuing a rise in the consumption tax. Yes, the prime minister has been robbed of his most potent weapon, a dissolution of the Diet and a House of Representatives election -- an election in which most of Ozawa's followers would be swept away into oblivion -- by the unchallengeable unconstitutionality of the current electoral map.
However, all that the Prime Minister needs to do is go across the aisle to the LDP and the New Komeito with a multi-step proposition:
1) The groups of lawmakers loyal to the present government and leaders of the party cooperate with the LDP and the New Komeito to pass the LDP's bare bones reform of the Diet -- the so-called +0/-5 plan -- with no reduction of the number of House of Representatives elected from the proportional list, the latter being the private terror of the New Komeito (all of its current members of the House of Representatives were elected from the proportional lists).
2) In return, the LDP and the New Komeito vote for the national budget, the budget enabling legislation and the rise in the consumption tax -- which is no big stretch for the LDP as the raising of the tax to 10% is a promise made in the LDP's 2011 election manifesto.
3) In return, with the electoral map fixed so as to pass constitutional muster, Prime Minister Noda dissolves the Diet and calls an election.
And in this snap election, Ozawa and his troublesome followers, as Horatio would say, go to it.
A bit of a song-and-dance -- but not entirely unlikely, given the trouble that Ozawa has been stirring up and his half-endorsements of Hashimoto Toru's (no, I cannot seem to write a post nowadays without mentioning him) radical populist Ishin no kai movement -- the still immature but clearly deadly enemy of both the DPJ and the LDP. Both the major parties have an incentive to hold a snap election now before the Ishin no kai transforms itself into a national movement through its yet-to-be-opened training school for politicians. (J)
So the super-secret conversation on February 25 could have been about an early election. Discussion on trans-party cooperation any other subject else would have infuriated a huge number of LDP members and led to calls for Tanigaki's immediate resignation. That no such outburst has occured seems to indicate that everyone who is anyone in the LDP was au fait to the fact that an early election was what was on the table.