Friday, August 13, 2010

Winning Leaves the LDP in a Quandary

One of the great prizes lost, possibly the greatest prize, in the Democratic Party of Japan's House of Councillors election defeat on July 11 was the ability of the ruling coalition make appointments to governmental and quasi-governmental entities without consulting the opposition. Unlike budget legislation which becomes law 30 days after the House of Representatives passes it, or regular legislation, which can be passed by a two-thirds majority override in House of Representatives should the House of Councillors either vote down or not act on a bill for 60 days -- bills of appointment become null and void without the approval of the House of Councillors. The DPJ's losing so many seats on July 11 means that Japan has reentered an era where the parties out of formal power become the gate keepers for non-bureaucratic government appointments.

Nullifying appointments is the one real power the House of Councillors. The DPJ, in the "Twisted Diet" (nejire kokkai) period of July 2007 to August 2009, used this power 28 times to stymie the appointments plans of the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The most famous appointment's struggle occurred in 2008 over Fukui's Toshihiko's replacement as Governor of the Bank of Japan. The DPJ-led House of Councillors first rejected one, then a second nominee for the post, claiming that the LDP's nominees' connections to Ministry of Finance made them incapable defending the Bank of Japan's independence. The LDP, unable to push forward one of its favorites, relented and approved a third, non-BOJ tied nominee, the then Deputy Governor, BOJ lifer Shirakawa Masaaki.

This fight over the appointment of the governor of the BOJ, which left the country without BOJ governor during a three week span of the global financial crisis, has become engraved in LDP lore as the proof of just how grubby the DPJ is at its core -- that the DPJ is so low it would be willing to put the country's and the world's financial stability at risk. LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu has promised that no matter what powers the LDP may now have in the House of Councillors, never again will Japan will be without a Governor of the Bank of Japan.

What of other posts though? What is the point of having a power if one is not willing to use it? The desire to do unto the Democrats as the Democrats did unto the LDP must be overwhelming, particularly among the younger LDP members of the House of Councillors.

There are currently 13 vacant posts requiring Diet approval before they can be filled, including the heads of the Deposit Insurance Corporation of Japan and the Securities Exchange and Surveillance Commission. Another 30 posts are to become vacant by the end of this year. Where if anywhere will the LDP choose to make its stand, or make its point, and reject a DPJ-supported appointee? Of course it can reject the occasional one, but how many is too many? At what point will the media turn against the LDP, denouncing it for torturing the DPJ using the same tactics the DPJ used to torture the LDP?

Of course, the problems of what strategy to pursue in the House of Councillors regarding appointments is a part of the larger problem for the LDP of how it should behave in opposition in general. Confrontation on every level, such as the DPJ used against the LDP in the 2007 to 2009 period, is enticing. However, despite its recent electoral victory in the House of Councillors, the LDP is still a secondary level force as compared to the DPJ nationally. The LDP's support numbers are only two-thirds those of the DPJ, and they have been falling, both over the long and the short term. When the Yomiuri Shimbun asked whether the LDP should return to power as soon as possible, only 16% of respondents thought this desirable. Organizationally, the party is in no way ready for a general election, with sources inside the party saying that one third of the House of Representatives districts lack even an LDP election office head.

With the LDP unprepared for a sudden House of Representatives dissolution, the outlook would for cooperation rather than confrontation in the resolution of upcoming appointments -- and perhaps other Diet business as well. This is almost the exact opposite of the situation of the DPJ in the 2007-2009, when the DPJ was in the position to demand, on a daily basis, the dissolution of the Diet and a general election

It seems that almost exactly one year after the LDP's fall from power, after significant failures and disappointing behavior on the DPJ side, and the sudden acquisition of an ability to halt virtually all Diet business thanks to the results of the July elections, the LDP still has not acquired significant leverage in the Diet nor developed a clear strategic path to use the powers it has in opposition.



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