Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Where you stand depends...

..on where you sit.

The Sankei Shimbun had a neat shorthand the other day for the two main approaches toward Diet affairs splitting the LDP membership in two. With more than a nod toward the pre-war split of the Imperial Army into the impetuous and violent Imperial Way Faction (Kōdōha - 皇道派)and the cautious, positioning-first Control Faction (Tōseiha - 統制派), the Sankei, in a front page article, declared the LDP divided into Forceful Breakthrough Faction (Kyōkōtoppaha - 強行突破派) and a Valuing Debate Faction (Taiwajūshiha - 対話重視派).

According to the Sankei's formulation, the Forceful Breakthrough Faction advocates the fearless use of the two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives to override the vetoes or inactions of the Democratic Party-coalition controlled House of Councillors. Led by LDP House of Councillors leader Aoki Mikio and a core of senior LDP House of Councillors members, the Forceful Breakthrough Faction desperately argued for the passage of the two month extension of the temporary gasoline surcharge in order to set up the eventual override of the Democratic Party's opposition to the surcharge's renewal.

The Valuing Debate Faction, which prevailed in the collision over the handling of the gasoline surcharges, is by contrast concerned about the public image of the operations of the House of Representatives. If the Fukuda government just forces through legislation, especially deeply unpopular legislation like the temporary gasoline surcharge, then the issue of the legitimacy of the present regime will be pushed to the forefront as well.

While the written Constitution states the House of Representatives can simply override the House of Councillors at a whim, the unwritten Constitution--the silent compact with the citizenry--is that the government will test itself with an election before proceeding with such forceful action. For the leaders of the LDP who are also members of the House of Representatives--which means just about everybody who is anybody--testing the popularity of the government and the party in a House of Representatives election is the last thing they would want to do.

Unlike the LDP House of Councillors members who get to glower impotently at the Democrats for the next three years and possibly the next six, the House of Representatives members actually have real latent power thanks to their aberrant numbers. The LDP Representatives will do almost anything to put off the day they have to surrender their latent power--including, paradoxically, avoiding the wielding that power for their own immediate, narrow personal self-interests.

In prevailing in the intra-party battle, the Valuing Debate Faction has almost certainly killed off any hope of the renewing of the gasoline surcharge for the purpose of constructing roads. The surcharge will either expire, be redirected to the general fund or be recast as an anti-global warming levy--a lollypop for the press attending the Toyako Summit to suck on.

Whether the Valuing Debate Faction's defeat of the Forceful Breakthrough Faction is the product of a badly managed legislative calendar (as LDP Secretary General Ibuki Bunmei implies in the article) or represents a more fundamental and much-delayed resignation to the House of Councillors' right to object to and even kill off legislation of questionable value remains to be seen.

I hope it is the latter.

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