Tuesday, August 03, 2010

They Will Not Play Nice

Today's Tokyo Shimbun editorial derides Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu's questioning Prime Minister Kan Naoto. In asking the prime minister a question, listening to his answer, then moving on to the next question, rather than locking his jaws onto inconsistencies and not letting go, the LDP president was being simply too gentlemanly (shinshiteki - 神士的 ).

If Tanigaki were acting like a gentleman in the Diet yesterday, then he should hardly be the target of criticism. Instead should be held up for praise or at very least put into a glass case for public display as an entity from another place and time.

The buzzwords of the talking heads in the Diet and the press for the past three weeks have been shinshi ( 真摯 - sincerity) and teinei ni ( 丁寧に - politely, with care) the attributes the members of the Kan Cabinet and the Democratic Party of Japan will have to demonstrate if they wish to have the Diet conduct any business in a meaningful way. With the ruling coalition's loss of its majority in the House of Councillors on July 11, the Kan Cabinet lacks the ability to push bills through the full Diet by brute force of numbers. The Democratic Party of Japan does hold 306 seats in the House of Representatives and its ostensible coalition partner the People's New Party holds an additional 4 seats. The pairing of these forces leaves the government still short of the 319 votes currently necessary for a 2/3rds majority House of Representatives override of the House of Councillors. Under these "twisted" (nejire) conditions, total legislative gridlock on anything except the budget can be avoided if and only if the government shows the necessary spirit of humility and deference to the concerns of the minority and if the minority parties show the necessary spirit of cooperation with the majority party for the sake of the nation good.

Which seems rather unlikely to occur given the developments of the last few days.

It is hard to say which indicator is worst. On July 30, Nishioka Takeo was elected the new Speaker of the House of Councillors. The LDP had briefly sought the cooperation of all the other opposition parties in the House to have an LDP member elected Speaker. When the other parties, in particular the Communists and the Socialists gagged at this idea, the LDP went directly to work out a deal with the DPJ. In return for accepting a DPJ Speaker, the LDP demanded and received the promise of the DPJ of the #2 and #3 posts of the Diet, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee (giin un'ei iin kaicho). On the day of the elections for the House posts, however, a spirit of cooperation seemed entirely absent. Nishioka was elected by the barest of majorities, with 88 of the ballots - over one third of the House's 242 possible votes - completely blank (votes in the House of Councillors are in written form). This was the largest number of blank votes to be returned in a House Speaker's election since 1983, in a contest tainted by the then candidate's association with the Lockheed scandal. By contrast, Otsuji Hidehisa, the LDP candidate for the post of Deputy Speaker, was elected with 235 votes, with only 5 ballot papers coming back blank.

It should be noted that Nishioka has been chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee for the last three years and has exercised the powers of that committee chairmanship ruthlessly, infuriating the LDP and New Komeito members of the House. Having made so many enemies in the #3 post, he was hardly likely to be the overwhelming choice for leader of the entire House.

[An aside, but ceding the chairmanship of the Rules and Administration Committee is not necessarily a show of the weakened state of the DPJ. Indeed, as Nishioka's case illustrates, the chairmanship of Rules and Administration is an extremely hot position. If you are too deferential to your own party in scheduling House Councillors activities, you are accused of being a tyrant. If you are too deferential to other parties, your own party members will call you weak or even a traitor. So good luck on finding the right balance, Suzuki Seiji!]

Then there was Prime Minister Kan's assertion last week that he will try to fulfill one of the pledge's in the DPJ's Manifesto - the reduction in the sizes of both Houses of the Diet. The proposed deep cuts -- of 80 seats in the House of Representatives and 40 seats in the House of Councillors -- represent either the blindest faith in the desire of Diet members to help the country's finances by eliminating their own jobs; the most sincere wish to indicate to all the minor parties how much he loathes their very existence; or the biggest "I love you" card imaginable to the LDP -- for under such dramatic cuts in the numbers of Diet seats only the DPJ and the LDP have the possibility of surviving as parties, with a vestigial New Komeito as perhaps the only other political entity to escape extinction.

If you want make nice with the little parties, hoping that in the absence of a formal majority coalition to cobble together coalitions-of-opportunity on a bill-by-bill basis in the Diet, then telling the little parties, "Hello, I want you dead" is hardly the greeting of choice.

1 comment:

rabuho said...

But doesn't Your Party, a relatively small party (smaller than Komeito), favor even larger reductions in Diet member numbers? Or are they just an outlier?