Friday, June 13, 2014

Abe Shinzo's Virtual Referendum

Today is supposed to be crunch day: the day when the New Komeito decides whether to accept or reject the Liberal Democratic Party's sudden cram down of an expansion of Japan's definition of constitutional self-defense to include collective self-defense.

The choice is not a happy or an easy one.

The New Komeito's mothership, the Soka Gakkai lay religious (I know that that is an oxymoron. So does the SG. Hence its paranoia) organization has already expressed its opposition to the LDP's plan to reverse through a simple Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei) the Japanese government's heretofore decades-old official position that the exercise of the right of collective self defense is unconstitutional. For the SG, the only proper path for such a reversal of a previous unconstitutional ruling is a revision or amendment of the Constitution (Link - J).

For the New Komeito, surrendering to LDP pressure on a Cabinet Decision would set the party formally at odds with the SG leadership. This would, of course, do wonders for the party's longtime claims to be independent of the SG. At the same time it would be extremely confusing for the SG flock -- who vote en masse for the New Komeito because is it the political face of the SG.

Why would the LDP be putting its ruling coalition partner through this ordeal? I have speculated that the Abe administration's appreciation of its inability to halt hemorrhaging of public support not only for "constitutional revision via Cabinet Decision" but collective self-defense itself has triggered a panic response. (Link)

What is making the rounds of Nagata-cho now (and for this insight I am indebted to Michael Penn of Shingetsu News) is the idea of a snap dissolution of the House of Representatives after the end of the current Diet ordinary session.

On the face of it, a House of Representatives election now poses unnecessary risks for the LDP and Abe Shinzo. The party already has huge majority in the House of Representatives reflecting the frustration and disgust the voters felt for the political process in December 2012. There is no guarantee that the voters, when given a chance at passing judgment on the Abe Administration, will not opt for independents in the district seat elections and opposition parties in the proportional seat elections. Yes, the polls numbers for the LDP and for the Abe Cabinet are fantastic and the opposition parties abysmal -- but as the House of Councillors election in 2007 showed, the public has the power to clip Abe Shinzo's pretensions of political mastery.

A snap election for the House of Representatives does, of course, nothing to change the seating arrangements in the House of Councillors. The break ups of the Your Party, the disgrace of Watanabe Yoshimi and the division of the Japan Restoration Party into two have only complicated, not eliminated, the possibility of a crafting of a Hawk-Hawk-Hawk (add as many Hawks here as you like) coalition in the House to replace the existing Hawk-Dove LDP-New Komeito coalition.

The argument for the prime minister dissolving the House of Representatives is compelling. Given the thuggishness of reversing a government constitutionality ruling by fiat, the Abe Cabinet will be searching for a means of justifying its actions. A snap election, with the certainty of a strong, possibly entirely extirpating, victory of the LDP over its scattered, fissioning and puny opponents, would demonstrate, according to Abe, the LDP and the Yomiuri media empire, that the public strongly supports the Abe Cabinet's behavior.

Of course, an LDP victory would not be a virtual referendum on the party's policies. It would be a reflection of the current pitiful state of the opposition parties. In a true referendum, such as the one that a revision of the Constitution would require, the voters would get the chance to choose between "Yes" and "No." In the whispered-about snap dissolution and general election, the choice would be between "Yes" and "Nothing."

The further arguments for a snap election are an increase in the LDP's freedom of action and a coverup of the Abe Cabinet's continued fecklessness as regards structural reform.

The LDP's rank-and-file, the young and militant mass of Abe Shinzo acolytes that Machimura Nobutaka finds distressing (Link) are not wrong in wondering why, in the face of polls showing support for the LDP in the 40% range, the LDP has not ditched its coalition with the cautious New Komeito. The relationship does seem an artifact of another time -- when the long term trend in voter behavior was away from the LDP, despite all the financial rewards being dangled, toward alternatives (the 1993 opposition coalition, the New Frontier Party, the Democratic Party of Japan, the Nippon Isshin no Kai, et cetera). for the wild things in the party the obvious choise is to force the New Komeito to chose one way or the other on a Cabinet Decision -- and if they balk, dump the coalition and go to the public for its response.

After the victory, the party could roll up its sleeves and set to work on really remaking Japan, free of the New Komeito's annoying obstructionism.

As for structural reform, on Monday the 16th the government is supposed to release a "third time's the charm" rerevised Third Arrow of Abenomics. All signs are that the government will, despite being given two chances to rethink and revamp its presentation, fail to include the details and synergies global investors and the world media crave. (Link)

What better time then, to turn around to the rest of the world with a defiant, "What? You don't like it? Well, we asked the Japanese voters and they love it!"

So what is the likelihood on this Friday morning of Abe and Friends going through with a virtual referendum after the end of the regular Diet session? Incredibly, I am thinking they are 50-50.

Later - Jiji is reporting that the New Komeito is looking for a duplicitous out smudging the line in between individual and collective self-defense (Link). Wish them luck -- given the time frame on coming to a decision on specific scenarios, New Komeito negotiators will have no opportutinity to coordinate their positions with the Soka Gakkai directorate.


Simon said...

A friend recently remarked that the relationship between the LDP and NK is the relationship between Gian and Suneo.

This explains everything.

Anonymous said...

One small quibble: "lay religious" isn't an oxymoron. "Lay" does not mean 'secular'; it merely means 'not a member of the clergy'. So a "lay religious" orginization is one consisting of ordinary, non-ordained believers, as opposed to priests, monks, or nuns.

ArmchairAsia said...

It could happen. New Komeito has always seemed that some vestige of democracy. But maybe the whispers of a snap election are just one of the threats to NK. Listening to Iijima in DC one could be justified in believing that the LDP will use any and all means to intimidate the NK into submission. An election would not be a good idea for NK.