Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunday's Listening In

It is hard to type away about the foibles and failures of Japan's political classes at the time when a tragedy of immense proportions is befalling the people of Myanmar. Not an entirely avoidable tragedy...but certainly one that need not have been so murderous.

I will nevertheless try.

Depending upon one's tastes, this morning's Nichiyō Tōron on NHK was either an utter waste of time or a useful, succinct introduction to why Japanese Diet politics has become moribund. Through an inexplicably bad decision, the parliamentary affairs chairmen (kokkai taisaku inchō) of the major parties were brought together to debate the hot sujets du jour: the road construction bill--scheduled for a ruling coalition override in the House of Representatives on Tuesday--and the implementation of the over-75 elder care system.

Now, as a general rule, one does not want the parliamentary affairs chairmen slanging each other at close range in front of cameras. These are men (and they are all men) who are supposed to get together and work out the schedules of bills, the terms under which bills will be debated and the corralling of one's own party's worst elements and tendencies--this in order to have the parliamentary process move along with some sense of decorum.

The parliamentary affairs chairmen need to be able to understand what the other chairman are thinking, what their pressure points are, where the others are capable of compromise.

Sniping at the other side, listing all the reasons the other side is to blame for the breakdown of Diet proceedings is the responsibility of the party general-secretaries, or at worst, the party research council chairmen. Having the diet affairs chairmen passing the buck around was tawdry--and screamed, "We need an election! Or at least a leadership shakeup!"

"A waste," thought I as the six parliamentary affairs chairmen merely quoted their party lines--which consists of little more than "It's their fault!" '" No, no, it's their fault!"--when they should have been considering what happens in the Diet after the train wreck of Monday's rejection of the road construction bill in the House of Councillors and Tuesday's override of the rejection.

The issue that was worthwhile debating--"What kind of country do we want to have?"--was never addressed.

Some might say, "of course" belongs somewhere in that previous sentence...but I am not so cynical.

Interestingly this broadcast has taken place after House of Representatives Speaker Kōno Yōhei called LDP Secretary General Ibuki Bunmei and LDP Parliamentary Affairs Chairman Ōshima Tadamori to his office to read them the riot act over the deterioration of relations between the parties in the Diet, particularly the LDP's response to the blockade of the Speaker's Office on April 30. On that day a phalanx of Democratic Party of Japan legislators had prevented Kōno from making his way from his office in Diet Building to the House of Representatives chamber where he was to gavele opent the session where the ruling coalition was to use its two-thirds majority to override House of Councillors inaction on the bill reviving the temporary gasoline tax levy. DPJ members blocked the door to Kōno's office for an hour in what was a symbolic final act of protest against the use of the override provision to pass the unpopular bill. After an hour passed, Kōno made his way to the House of Representatives chamber and the vote took place.

In retribution for the telegenic brouhaha, the LDP-dominated Disciplinary Committee began punitive action against Democratic Party of Japan Representative Mikazuki Taizō, a leader of the blockade.

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, Kōno told Ibuki and Ōshima on Friday to issue a cease and desist order to party members leading the persecution of Mikazuki. The young lawmaker had apologized to the Speaker in person. As far as he (Kōno) was concerned, there was no need for further punishment.

"This kind of skirmish happened because you guys are fumbling around. I want the parties talking to each other."
spake Kōno unto the pair from the LDP.

Those who may have been disturbed by the physicality of the blockade might wish to note that Kōno did not invite Hatoyama Yukio or Yamaoka Kenji or any of the other secretary generals or parliamentary affairs chairmen to the meeting.

Just his own party's men.

Makes you wonder where the ostensibly neutral Kōno thinks the greatest fault lies.

Then again, "let's all just get along" is a popular message among those far from the LDP's centers of power. Yosano Kaoru and Aso Tarō, who aside from both being on the outs in the party also are charter members of the "Persons-Less-Illustrious-Than-Their-Grandparents" Club, are coming out with a joint article in Bungei Shunjū calling for a collective LDP-DPJ formulation of next year's budget.

Sort of a "Well, gosh that was unpleasant...but don't give up on us just yet!" kind of appeal to come out and play one more time.

Funny thing about this call for comity though...if I were in the DPJ, I would be thinking that working out a budget together was what the LDP should have been inviting the DPJ to do last year.

Better late than never, I guess.

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