Today is a no newspaper day. If one wishes to know what the heck happened over the weekend one has to turn to the Internet or television.
The latter of which is really not a great thing for Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru.
On Sunday, Ishiba appeared on the NHK's flagship Sunday talk show Nichiyo Toron. The program was not produced in its usual manner, with all the guests together in the studio, government and opposition, facing off across a table -- a format which has, given proliferation of opposition parties over the last three years, become increasingly ridiculous-looking.
Instead, the guests, the secretaries-general of the three parties that matter – the LDP, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the LDP's ally the New Komeito -- appeared sequentially, making the title of the program, "Sunday Debate," something of a misnomer.
First up was Koshi'ishi Azuma, the secretary-general of the DPJ. He spoke on the three main issues of the day – the fate of the bond issuance bill, the outlook for the electoral district reform bill and the timing of the House of Representatives election. All three issues are tied together, as an election cannot be held until the unconstitutionality of the electoral districts is rectified, and the DPJ will not budge on an electoral district reform bill unless it has a deal with the LDP and the New Komeito on the passage of a bond issuance bill immediately after the opening of a fall extraordinary session of the Diet.
Koshi'ishi put a brave face on what would seem an impossible task. First, bully the opposition into passing exactly the same bond issuance bill as was allowed to die at the end of the regular Diet Session. Then the government would submit an electoral reform bill anathema either to the LDP or the New Komeito or both. The subsequent enraged reaction of the LDP and the New Komeito would lead to a freeze in Diet business. Amidst the raging political storm, the government would compile the budget for 2013 and then hang on until extraordinary session ends. Following the New Years' holidays, the DPJ, whose governing coalition still holds a slim majority in the House of Representatives, would then ram the next fiscal year's budget through that House -- with the LDP and the New Komeito powerless to stop the budget passing into law.
The problems with this scenario are:
1) the LDP is so hostile toward the DPJ it will go to any length, even allowing a government shutdown, to force the DPJ into submitting an electoral reform bill to both the LDP's and the New Komeito's liking. Only then would the LDP and the New Komeito agree to allow the passage of the bond issuance bill, after which they will do everything in their power to force a no confidence motion against the Noda Cabinet.
2) Public opinion poll results, which have the LDP outpolling the DPJ two-to-one since the election of Abe Shinzo as LDP party president (Table 2) while support for the Cabinet languishes (Link-J) sap the government's ability to resist the LDP's demands. With the DPJ such a damaged brand, engineering a breakout of scared Diet members from the DPJ should be easy enough -- or so the LDP and New Komeito seem to be reasoning. This would transform the current DPJ-led coalition into a minority government, vulnerable to a no confidence motion and incapable of passing a budget by itself.
When Koshi'ishi finished his alternate parrying of the interviewer's pertinent and probing questions and his resolute presentation of the DPJ party line, Ishiba took over, on a live feed from somewhere.
To a collective shriek from the nation.
Now Koshi'ishi Azuma is no great shakes in the appearance department. Indeed, he bears a striking resemblance to Ramses the Great, post-mummification.
Left: Koshi'ishi Azuma, alive since 1936.
Right: Ramses II, not alive since 1213 B.C.E.
However, it was clear within micro-seconds of Ishiba's face's coming up on the screen that, after losing the LDP presidential election to Abe, he had fired his image consultant.
During the presidential campaign Ishiba was a changed man: grinning often, talking at a normal volume and speed and clearly focusing on a commandment to "open your eyes, man, for Amaterasu's sake, OPEN YOUR EYES!"
However, on Sunday, the old Ishiba -- Kaa from Disney's The Jungle Book -- was back -- hissing hypnotically and ooh sooo sloowwly so that all you morons out there in TV Land can understand the LDP's positions.
Top: Ishiba Shigeru, LDP Secretary-General
Bottom: Kaa, from Disney's The Jungle Book (1967)
A campaign manager's nightmare* …and a challenge to the assertion that the LDP's election of The Smirking One (Link) rather than Ishiba as its leader was a mitigated disaster.
In an attempt to fulfill the commitment made last week (Link) to have the heads of the DPJ, the LDP and the New Komeito meet to discuss the extraordinary Diet session, the secretaries-general of the three parties are meeting today, i.e., holding a meeting to arrange an agenda and a schedule for a meeting.
In having the respective secretariats of the DPJ and the LDP meeting en masse last week, and making arrangements for a three-way party head meeting "soon," LDP has at least learned one lesson from its previous deal-cutting session with the DPJ: under no circumstances let the LDP president be in a room alone with Prime Minister Noda. (Link)
We shall see what the Python squeezes out of the Pharaoh in terms of a date for the three-way party leader meeting.
* Since the secretary-general is the ultimate leader of a party's campaign efforts, the person to whom Ishiba will be giving a migraine is himself.
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