Monday, August 24, 2009

Will They Just Chill Out, Post-Election?

After coffee with yours truly on Friday, the intrepid and influential Mr. Harris of Observing Japan headed out to the chihō to observe election activity up close. His report notes a unity of thought among the candidates of the Democratic Party of Japan that, if not checked by sobriety and world-weariness, could promote the opening of a rift between the populace and the DPJ, or within the ranks of the DPJ itself, post-election.

As Harris notes, the DPJ's new generation displays a remarkable consistency of professed views, with the promises elucidated in the DPJ manifesto serving as both the center and substructure of the DPJ candidate campaigns. The DPJ's new generation are, at least externally, a legion of true believers, schooled in recalling and toeing the party line. If, as projections have it, many of these DPJ new faces win in their single member districts and the DPJ significantly outpolls the Liberal Democratic Party in the proportional vote, then the next House of Representatives will be crowded with ideology-driven activists and party line followers.

Party discipline and a commitment to change would be no bad thing (especially after the sorry faithlessness of the last House of Representatives) were the DPJ's policy program remotely feasible, budget-wise. That it is not, and that the public actually does not believe much of it to be feasible, means that the DPJ's Diet members are on track to get way ahead of the public on many issues, enacting legislation the public finds of dubious value and little importance.

If the DPJ leadership is smart (and there a certainly those in the DPJ leadership who are not stupid) it would have the focus of activity during the extraordinary session this fall and the regular session that starts in January on the seizure of control of the compilation of the national budget from the Ministry of Finance. Asserting political control over the nation's spending priorities will be a immense achievement, one the party can point to as a salient achievement in the run up to the House of Councillors elections in July next year.

However, with so many diehard party faithful filling the front rows of the House of Representatives chambers, the DPJ leadership will likely find it itself battling a an outbreak of chasing after a myriad little priorities at once. The problem with "Wow, we have a majority so big we can pass anything we want!" is that it tends to incite legislators to indeed try to pass anything they want, rather than focus on ongoing, long-term issues.

If you want to know how that story ends, just ask former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō.

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