Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Not ready for the Major Leagues

As the government tries to figure out why it took two hours to notify the prime minister of a collision between a fishing boat and the country's most advanced Self Defense Forces vessel--a delay making a mockery of any claims of an improvement in the country's crisis management since the inadequate response to the 17 January 1995 earthquake...or 31 August 1998 launch of the Taepodong missile over Japan...or Prime Minister Abe Shinzō's suddden incapacitation on 13 September 2007...(I think they get the picture, MTC - Editor) the Liberal Democratic Party finds itself scrambling in the Diet on the gasoline tax, stunned that the opposition refuses to abdicate its tactical advantages.

[Reversing gears for just a moment - that the MSDF Destroyer Atago's captain did not have clearance to blast an approaching fishing boat into oblivion before it could strike the very expensive bow of his very expensive ship must be disturbing to members of the coalition against terror. LDP faction leader Yamasaki Taku, always good for stating the incredibly obvious, worries that the accident may cast doubt the preparedness of Maritime Self Defense Forces deployed the Arabian Sea as regards possible small vessels suicide attacks. ]

Yesterday in the Diet, Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo demanded that the Democratic Party of Japan take a first step toward meeting the government halfway on the renewal of the temporary gasoline levy. Only if the DPJ showed its hand--by proposing its own plan on what to do about the tax--could the two sides begin the process of coming to some sort of compromise position, the agreed-to solution to the parliamentary impasse over the bill worked out by Speaker of the House of Representative Kōno Yōhei and Speaker of the House of Councillors Eda Satsuki in a special end-of-January intervention (assen).

The DPJ response so far to the government's entreaties: go leap into a large body of freshwater.

The DPJ's position recalcitrance is not without merit. The government proposal, a 10 year, 59 trillion yen commitment, is absurd. The DPJ has not dignified it with a response--and is right to refuse to do so.

The government's absurd overreach on its bill reveals an even more fundamental and chronic problem. The demand for an opposition bill on the gas tax indicates that some 7 months since suffering a shattering reversal at the polls in the July 2007 House of Councillors election, the ruling coalition still does not understand what an opposition does. The ruling coalition, with help from the country's constipated editorialists, keeps asking the opposition to be responsible, to stop trying to score political points, to stop trying to weaken the ruling party. For some reason, the opposition is supposed to act responsibly and soberly, resign itself to its secondary status and give up on its advantages--all this for the common good, in order to further the national interest.

"Sure," the DPJ keeps telling them, "We will be incredibly responsible and work to further the national interest...just as soon as we are in control of the government."

In terms of the gasoline levy, the ruling coalition still has not grasped that the DPJ, not the ruling coalition, owns the default position. If the government cannot entice the opposition to come to a compromise, the tax will die--just as the DPJ said that it should. The government has no means of forcing the issue -- unless it offers up its own throat, the DPJ will not come out and play. Calling the DPJ "unserious" and "immature" will gain applause from some sections of the commentariat--but will only encourage Ozawa Ichirō and the rest of the DPJ to continue to play truant on the gasoline levy.

Only yesterday, I was berating the Democratic Party leadership for ceding any ground to the ruling coalition in the debate over the gasoline levy. Given the LDP's pathetic, brain dead whining over the issue, I may have been overharsh in my criticisms.


Jan Moren said...

This is why occasional change in power is important for a political culture, irrespectively of whatever political leanings one may have.

LDP should take a hint from similar situations in other countries (I assume most of LDP is not quite as navelgazing as parts of the US right that want to expressly forbid foreign influences or ideas). They are the people in responsibility, and it's their job to find a compromise with the opposition. If they can't, it means they can not govern effectively, and their last responsibility is to call an election to resolve the deadlock.

Anonymous said...


Does this really highlight deficiencies in the "crisis management" system? I'm not sure an accidental collision constitutes a "crisis".

MTC said...

bryce -

Upon reflection, you may be right.

The media's complete disinterest in the story and the prime minister's ability to wave off the incident as inconsequential indicates that I have probably once again exaggerated the importance of a relatively minor matter.

Anonymous said...

A similar thing happened when Mori was around and that American submarine surfaced under a bunch of Japanese nationals. Mori was castigated for not going into "crisis mode" (actually he went on with his game of golf) and was castigated by the press for not hunkering down in a bunker to manage the crisis. But really, what could he do? As PM he was hardly in a position to save the lives of people in Hawaii who were already dead. The fact that the accident occured between Japanese nationals and the military of the nation ostensibly protecting them made the incident more newsworthy, but it was hardly a crisis. I think its appropriate to judge the government's crisis management ability by their ability to manage actual crises not incidents that may be merely newsworthy.