Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Accommodation with wolves

Tobias Harris, back in Japan for a spell, writes about the agreement between the leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeitō on revisions to the bill reforming the Basic Law on the Bureaucratic System (kōmuin seido kihonhō kaikakuan). The leadership of the ruling coalition, if not the rank and file of the ruling parties, has accepted many of the necessary revisions to the bill demanded by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. The revised bill now goes to the House of Representatives.

A few points that need emphasis:

1) In agreeing to accept modifications to the bill suggested by the DPJ, the reformist wing of the LDP has compromised and made common cause with...the reformist wing of the LDP.

DPJ leader Ozawa Ichirō, his second-in-command Hatoyama Yukio and a much of those in the upper crust of the DPJ are LDP refugees. They differ from many of the reformists in the LDP only in having never jumped back into the LDP, having jumped out once.

Ideologically, centrist DPJ members are the blood brothers and sisters of the anti-patronage wing of the LDP. In a certain sense, Koizumi Jun'ichirō was the first DPJ prime minister: in terms of reforms he borrowed a lot of DPJ ideas and stances and in terms of the LDP...well, from the outset he promised to destroy it (albeit in an effort to save it) --all to the DPJ's black fury. That the reform-minded Fukuda & Friends segments of the LDP, the New Komeitō leadership and the DPJ to come together on trimming the wings of the ministries and the zokugiin should come as no surprise. What is surprising is that it took six months and a near death experience for the Fukuda Cabinet to understand who, in terms of domestic policy, its friends are.

Left fuming at this surrender deal are the recalcitrant, patronage-reliant elements of the LDP. They will have their vengeance someday but on the wording of this bill at least, the Prime Minister seems to have overidden (word choice intentional) his internal party opposition.

However (shikashi)

2) Having cut the legs out from under the LDP members that are both clients and patrons of various ministries and industrial sectors, Prime Minister Fukuda has to push this reform bill through both houses of the Diet--and soon.

Given how the zokugiin hate (a) reform in both the abstract and the concrete and (b) the DPJ-authored changes toughening up this particular reform bill, the chance that the government will be capable of cobbling together a two thirds majority for an Article 59 override, should the House of Councillors reject the government's bill, is close to nil.

Seen in the light of Prime Minister Fukuda's inability to push the bill through using a House of Representatives override, the enormity of PM's wager becomes apparent. He is placing his reputation as a leader and reformer on the line against one of the surest things in Japanese politics: Ozawa Ichirō's wish to topple an LDP-dominated government. As the video montage of the Monday night political hackfest Terebi Tackle (on the TV ASAHI network) reminded viewers, Ozawa has been merciless in both the building up and the demolition of political ententes--his ultimate, yet strangely forgotten act of destruction having been the late March 2000 abandonment of the tripartite LDP-New Komeito-Liberal Party coalition that likely triggered, on April 1, Prime Minister Obuchi Keizō's fatal stroke.

Despite this rather nasty shadow looming over his past, Ozawa must feel sorely tempted to instruct his House of Councillors members to reject the government's revised bill.

Should the bill fail to pass both Houses of the Diet, after the PM and the LDP leadership went the extra kilometer to accommodate the DPJ's demands-- and in so doing betrayed the LDP's zokugiin -- well, if that does not trigger immediate demands for Fukuda's resignation as party leader, I do not know what will. A Fukuda resignation over the session's fundamental reform bill could even blow the LDP apart.

With the DPJ riding high in many public opinon polls, Ozawa must feel tempted to ignore Fukuda's attempt to forge a trans-party reform consensus on reforming the bureaucracy. There may not be a better chance to attack a weak and exposed Fukuda, leaving hism naked and defenseless against the rage felt of his party's anti-reform and revisionist wings.

Were I to lay a bet on the outcome of this encounter, I would not want to be placing too much money on the PM's longterm survival.

It would be all too easy to just tip the balance...


Jan Moren said...

Such an act would of course also establish DPJ as being utterly incapable of being a responsible partner or governing entity for as long as Ozawa is in the party leadership. Or anywhere near it. Like one the same island. Any other party would argue that you couldn't entrust a takoyaki stall to the DPJ, nevermind the country. And they'd be right.

The choice really is to be responsible, chalk passing this bill up as a success (which it is for the DPJ) and live high off the showing of mature, adult responsibility and having the state of the nation come before petty party politics.

Or have their moments of glee as they topple the Fukuda cabinet. Followed by a long-lived, politically unopposed Aso cabinet as both the LDP reformers and the DPJ cease to exist as viable political factors for a generation or more.

I'm not sure Ozawa hates the Fukuda cabinet enough to commit political suicide.

Anonymous said...


No - not really. The goal of the DPJ should be to win government. (<-full stop) Politics is a zero-sum game, and a bloody one at that. The LDP understands this better than oppositions have, which is, of course, why they've kept on winning. The decision over what to do about the bill should be determined by an assessment of whether agreeing or disagreeing will get them closer to this goal.

Being "responsible" is a code-word for doing what the DPJ's mortal enemy - the LDP - wants. To compromise. To "tash'te ni de waru" in Ozawa's language. This strategy has repeatedly led to opposition failure. It will do so again, unless the impulse to get along for the greater good is tempered by an understanding of when to move in for the kill.

Jan Moren said...

Anonymous, my point is that toppling the Fukuda cabinet in this manner will not bring DPJ to government; it will instead strengthen the conservative wing or LDP (which is poised to take over when Fukuda falls) and make DPJ unelectable for many years to come.

Yes, the goal should be government. That goal, and the goal of giving the LDP a raspberry over this bill are in direct conflict. Ozawa needs to decide which is more important to him.

MTC said...

Good news for Herr Morén...the House of Representatives Cabinet Affairs Committee passed the legislation with cross-party support:

MTC said...

Even better news for Herr Morén...Kyōdō is predicting that the House of Representatives will pass the legislation this afternoon, with votes coming from the LDP, the New Komeito, the DPJ and the Socialists. The Communists and Japan New Party members will likely vote against the legislation:

Anonymous said...


Then I don't think we're in disagreement. My point was simply that cooperation under the rubric of "responsibility" is a recipe for disaster. Cooperation with a view to improving electability should be lauded. (And the two should not be confused.)