Saturday, June 18, 2011

I'll Be Away

For a few days.

Nobody do anything interesting.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Worthy Read

For those who would like to know about the policy implications rather than the entertainment value of the current political situation, please read Corey Wallace's latest post.

Could Not Happen To A Nicer Guy

If you are wondering why the prime minister and the secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Japan have more of a bounce in their steps these days, despite a looming confrontation with the DPJ rank-and-file members in a general meeting of the party's members in both Houses, it might be because of reports that the political groups of both Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio -- the current party executive committee's nemeses -- are shedding members like trees in the autumn shed their leaves. According to a Mainichi Shimbun report, several longtime close associates of Hatoyama have already tendered their resignations from his group and group meetings which in the past drew 50 participants now draw only around 30.

Strange how people can lose faith in an individual who turned against the leader of his party, cut a deal to revive the political fortunes of that leader and in so doing betraying the confidence of a fellow rebel, fail to get the deal he wanted and having done so, not kept quiet about being double-crossed but instead complained to the press that the leader he saved is a swindler.

Or musing out loud that he should leave the Diet, then reversing himself on that pledge.

Or promising that he had a secret plan to end the rancor over the Futenma Replacement Facility, then revealing that he did not.

Or that he was utterly unaware of his mother's having donated hundreds of millions of yen to his political support committee and that those donations were falsely recorded by his closest aides as coming from a variety of individuals, some of whom were dead.

Noda Gets With The Program

In line with the "Let's Make A Deal" phenomena I noted in yesterday's post, Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko has put his own head up for sale:
Japan Finance Minister: Would Resign If Needed To Pass Bond Bill
Dow Jones

TOKYO --Japan's finance minister suggested Wednesday he would be willing to resign if that would secure passage of a crucial bond issuance bill needed to fund this year's budget, and which is at the heart of the current political standoff.

The comment by Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda came as a surprise, as he is seen as one of the most likely successors to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who made a vague promise earlier this month to step down...

Surprise? No! It is becoming a bazaar in there.

Note that the price of passing the enabling bond issuance legislation for Fiscal 2011 has dropped from a prime minister to a finance minister since the weekend. To be fair, the exchange rate was one bond issuance bill + a second supplementary budget for one prime minister, but clearly what the members of the opposition can expect to get in return for their votes in the House of Councillors is deteriorating.

Yeah, That Was Me

Writing in the East Asia Forum on Monday.

Seems like ages ago, though.

What Can I Get For One Kan Premiership?

As of this writing, Sengoku Yoshito is still Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, this despite his musing over the weekend that the prime minister should leave office before the end of the month. From this we can adduce that Sengoku had official sanction to release a few trial balloons, sussing out whether or not the Liberal Democratic Party and/or the New Komeito would be willing to accede to the passage of several important bills, most particularly the bill authorizing the issuance of new government bonds to pay for this year’s fiscal budget and a second supplementary budget bill to aid reconstruction and revival in the Tohoku region, in return for Kan stepping down from the premiership.

The answer to the question seems to have been no, with the leaders of the opposition sticking to their position of “a Kan resignation first, then we will show flexibility as regards the bond bill or other bills.”

This counterproposal is, of course, a non-starter, as there is no guarantee that the LDP and the New Komeito will indeed vote for the bond issuance bill currently sitting in the House of Councillors’ docket, nor any other bill the government, whomsoever should be leading it, should submit to the House of Councillors after its passage through the House of Representatives.

Given that the opposition refused the deal of two bills for the price of one Kan, the ruling coalition has just changed gears on the whole endeavor. On the one hand they seem willing to play hardball with the bond issuance bill, daring the House of Councillors to either kill it through a vote or let it die by not acting upon it before the end of the Diet session. To keep the door open on some sort of deal, though, the Democratic Party of Japan and its coalition partner the People’s New Party have agreed to extend the Diet session through to mid-July.

Furthermore, rather than try to push a second, big supplementary budget through the House of Councillors, one which will require its own bond issuance, the Kan government is proposing what it is calling a “supplementary bill 1.5” – a small budget request which will fix “the holes” in the first supplementary budget bill, thereby fulfilling the government’s most immediate need to appear to be doing all it can for those injured, displaced or rendered homeless by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

What makes the 1.5 proposition sting is, of course, Kan remains the prime minister.

Meanwhile, off to the side, the DPJ, the LDP and the New Komeito are trying to put the finishing touches on what the DPJ is calling “a reform of the child payments system” and what the LDP and New Komeito are calling “the abolition of the child payments system in favor of a return to a revised form of the old system.”

To each his or her own, I guess.

Though they would be loath to admit it, the LDP and the New Komeito have a lot riding on this particular proposed bill. Its passage would give them a chance to claim that they can roll back even the most treasured parts of the DPJ’s political program.

Which would be true, if the bill reforming the system of child payments were to be submitted to the House of Representatives.

Which, of course, it does not have to be, if the LDP and the New Komeito are not willing to make deals on other bills.

For the reform of the child payments law is unpopular with many inside the DPJ. “What is there to reform? It is only half of what we promised in the party’s 2009 Manifesto!” is the response of many. What should be obvious to the LDP and the New Komeito, but for some reason is not, is that Kan government is ready to plead that it lacks the support of its own rank-and-file on the bill, forcing it to shelve the plan and leaving the LDP and the New Komeito with nothing.

Which would be a fine how-de-doo.

Corey Wallace has written about Kan Naoto’s “strategic stubbornness” (Part 1 and Part 2), his ability to withstand constant demands that he step down because he has some real policy goals to achieve before he leaves the stage.

Kan most certainly will go – as all prime ministers must. He also knows that his own value may be diminishing in real terms: his Cabinet’s poll numbers began drifting downward this week, after having risen steadily through the first three months after March 11. He has already pledged to pass off the leadership of the DPJ and premiership to “the next generation” (translation: Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro, go jump in a lake) after a sufficient interval has passed. So he is, technically, a lame duck.

Rather than raging at his certain doom, Kan is teasing the opposition and his enemies inside the DPJ into expediting it, albeit at a cost most are not yet willing to pay. At a Diet members’ meeting on the bill compelling power companies to buy electricity from renewable energy sources at a particular price, he joked, “There are plenty of folks in the Diet who are thinking, ‘I do not even want to see Kan’s face anymore.’ To those folks I say, ‘Then it would be best for you to pass this bill quickly.’”

DPJ Secretary General Okada for his part today proposed an extension of the Diet session beyond the agreed to mid-July date. He wants the Diet to remain in session until September so that it can pass not only a second supplementary budget bill but a third one as well. “But,” he said pointedly, “this is not an extension of the lifespan of the current administration,” making it clear that if the opposition and certain elements within the DPJ hate the prime minister enough, there is the possibility of a deal in exchange for Kan’s resignation sometime before the session ends.

So rather than clinging desperately to the premiership, only to be forced to give it up as everyone abandons him, Prime Minister Kan and the leadership of the DPJ have put his head on the market. By doing so, Kan remains in office. And rather than going down, the price for the end of a supposedly moribund Kan premiership seems to be going up.

Will the LDP and the New Komeito continue to misunderstand the game that is being played? Or will they break down and pass the bills they swore they would never pass, if only to rid themselves of this troublesome prime minister?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Just So You Know

In case you find yourself wondering why Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu is not appearing on your television screens amidst all the rabid political spinning that is going on, he is otherwise occupied. His wife Keiko passed away on Monday. She was 66.

All his public activities are suspended until further notice.

Just so you know.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Strained Mercy

After threatening before the vote on a no confidence motion against the Cabinet to expell Democratic Party of Japan members of the House of Representatives should they vote for the motion or abstain from it, DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya yesterday signed off on a less stringent set of punishments for the majority of the 17 members who did not vote against the measure. While the two DPJ members who voted for the motion were indeed expelled from the party, the 15 abstainers and no-shows escaped a post-vote threat of a one year suspension of party privileges. In a huge step down, the party leadership will merely issue a strict warning to first-termers among the miscreant 15, while suspending party privileges for a three month period for those members with two or more elections to the Diet. Ozawa Ichiro, the DPJ member who would have been most responsible for the passage of the no confidence motion, had it happened, who did not show up for the vote after his (former?) friend Hatoyama Yukio* cut a deal with Prime Minister Kan Naoto on Kan’s eventual resignation and who already has had his party privileges under suspension pending the outcome of his trial on political funding violations, received no punishment at all. Okada had considered booting Ozawa out of party, mostly out of a frustrated need to do something in response to Ozawa’s machinations. He was talked out this decision by the wily DPJ House of Councillors leader and Ozawa friend Koshiishi Azuma.

The rather weak set of punishments meted out to the 17 misbehaving DPJ House members are most likely an indication of how seriously the current central core leadership worries about the outcome of this week’s general meeting of DPJ Diet members. A strict response would have sent the useful message to the members that when Okada and the party leadership issue threats they mean what they say. However, actually meting out strict punishments would set some members to thinking that perhaps they should think about their futures in some other party. While failing to deliver on a threat can be a sign of weakness, being magnanimous in victory can be viewed as a sign of strength.

Either way, with their privileges revoked, the elder elements of the rebels, in particular the razor-tongued Tanaka Makiko, will have no say at the party general meeting later this week. This alone represents a small victory for Okada and the core leadership

* If you click on only one link in this post, click on this one. Hilarious data entry error.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Has Sengoku Yoshito Talked Himself Out of a Job?

In most corners, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito is reckoned to be a pretty smart cookie, if sometimes too smart. Post-March 11, he adroitly maneuvered himself back into the decision making apparatus of government after being having been dumped following the passage of a censure motion against him in the House of Councillors.

Which is whay so many heads were left shaking this weekend when Sengoku on both Saturday and Sunday suggested that the prime minister’s time is up. In language that sounded vaguely thuggish, he warned that “if the prime minister continues to try making efforts, things will not go well for him, will they?” (本人があまり無理に頑張られると本人のためにも良くないのではないか).

In an attempt what appears to be a long gestating plan to craft a grand coalition of DPJ and LDP forces in order to expedite Diet proceedings, Sengoku has been talking to a lot of people, most particularly to Liberal Democratic Party Vice-President Oshima Tadamori. Their reportedly numerous secret meetings seem to have led to the pair to share a nearly identical political vocabulary, with Sengoku saying over the weekend that the DPJ had passed a first stage and needed to move on to the second stage whilst Oshima talked about the DPJ having to ”move on to the next step.” Oshima in a speech this past weekend in Karatsu City declared that Kan has to be out of office by the end of this week.

Considering that Sengoku is a member of the government with no particular charge to be in communication with the opposition (that is the job of the Diet Affairs Chairman and his deputies), his declarations that the PM should resign as soon as possible failed the reasonableness/self-destructive behavior test.

There had to be some catch. Perhaps Sengoku was trying to smoke out disloyal or overly ambitious Diet members willing to follow him in a call for the prime minister to step down. Or perhaps he was trying to isolate Oshima – a man with not inconsiderable smarts very much needed by the LDP – and then leave him to face the inevitable backlash from more militant members of the LDP over some proposed DPJ-LDP cohabitation. Or perhaps Sengoku knew more than anyone else about how fragile the Kan Naoto premiership was, how it could be knocked down simply by having someone close to the center of power declare it was time for the PM to pack it in.

What prime minister Kan has done about Sengoku's statements is what he has done so far to all talk of his resigning any time before August – asiduously denied the rumors. He left it to his coalition partner Kamei Shizuka, leader of the New Japan Party, to bitterly criticize Sengoku, though not by name, as a man waving a sword in front of the PM.

What Sengoku has said over the weekend is sufficient grounds for Kan to fire him. However, Kan may stay Sengoku’s execution until after the very important DPJ general meeting of members of the Diet. Dumping Sengoku before the general meeting will only add fuel to the combustible mixture of anti-Kan interests therein.

At the general meeting, the current party leadership expects to be excoriated by members of the party closest to former party leader Ozawa Ichiro and former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio. These critics will most likely demand the resignation of the prime minister at the very latest at the end of this month…which is ironic because the followers of Ozawa and Hatoyama are precisely the members of the Diet that Sengoku and Oshima would exclude from their grand coalition. Indeed, in the failed no-confidence motion of last week, the unspoken irony was the nearly successful cooperation between the LDP on one side and DPJ supporters of Ozawa and Hatoyama on the other, two groups who most fervetn wish is to dismantle the other’s party platform.

Getting back to Sengoku, there is a fourth possibility not discussed earlier – that he has gone daft. Sengoku’s chief interest is the implementation of policy. With the opposition in control of the House of Councillors, policy making has come to a standstill, even on such necessary issues as approving the issuance of new debt to pay the government’s bills and the compilation of a second supplementary budget in support of the reconstruction and revitalization efforts in the Tohoku region. It is possible that Sengoku has come to the conclusion that if Kan can be sacrificed the LDP will come through on promises of action on these two major bills – that Kan is what is preventing the LDP from showing its reasonable and cooperative side.

If this is indeed where Sengoku’s thinking has led him, then he needs to take a break. Maybe he could take a tour about the country or perhaps peruse the newspapers of a few months’ back (perhaps the ones describing how the LDP arranged for a vote of censure in the House of Councillors against one Sengoku Yoshito) or have some talks with members of his own party unaffiliated with any group. He would come to realize that the LDP as a body has no interest in policy, only in power – in its acquisition and its preservation. There is no soul inside the LDP that a sacrifice of Kan could save.

So the question remains, "What is Sengoku Yoshito doing, aside from positioning himself to get the boot?"

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Ozawa Alone Knows

"'Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.’”
-- General Douglas MacArthur

"I'm an old soldier. Have you heard of General MacArthur's words, "Old soldiers just fade away"? I was thinking about just fading away, but now I feel I have a bit more work to do."

-- Ozawa Ichiro, in an interview by The Wall Street Journal last Friday.

“It’s better to burn out…than to fade away.”

-- Neil Young, “"Hey, Hey, My, My

Ozawa Ichiro did not show up at his seat in the Diet for today’s no confidence motion vote. Instead he was across the street, in his Diet member’s office, during the entire proceedings.

By not showing up, Ozawa became eligible for disciplinary action. All the other members who failed to appear or who abstained will draw a one year suspension of all party privileges. Since Ozawa was already stripped of his party privileges in an earlier disciplinary measure, the Democratic Party leadership has to choose between the next level of punishment – expulsion from the party – or just letting things slide. At the party committee meeting this evening, Secretary-General Okada Katsuya recommended expulsion. Koshiishi Azuma, the leader of the DPJ in the House of Councillors, told Okada to forget it, that too many members of party would not stand for Ozawa receiving any more punishment.

I cannot say whether Ozawa burnt out, faded away, humiliated the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito, set up his erstwhile ally Hatoyama Yukio whilst aiding his erstwhile rival Kan Naoto, or is sitting pretty, hugely enjoying having drawn the news media into swallowing a completely false narrative – hook, line and sinker – one, grand last time.

No matter what, Kan Naoto should send the old soldier a nice gift. Today’s defeat of the no confidence motion marks the third time in a year that Ozawa has served as Kan’s nemesis in an intra-party struggle, with Kan coming out the big winner in each encounter.

Later - The broken links in this post have now been fixed.

The Rebellion Is No More

Haraguchi Kazuhiro just voted against the motion. Hatoyama Yukio has voted against the motion. Only one member of the Democratic Party of Japan, Yokokume Katsuhito* has voted for the motion so far. Ozawa is not present.

Later - The number of votes against the motion has passed 241, 50% +1 of the full chamber. Kan is still prime minister.

Even later still - Matsuki Kenko voted for the motion. His career in the party is over. One more member of the DPJ voted for the motion but I did not see who it was.

And even later still - The final vote is 152 For, 293 Against.

A commenter asks the obvious question whether this was all a set up. A few days ago, that was the way I saw it. Then I lost faith.

I have still have a few things to learn...among them what will happen to Ozawa and all the others who were not present. Will Okada really carry through on his threat to toss the 18 abstainers out of the party?

* Yokokume, a proportional seat member of the DPJ, tried to resign from the party. However, DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya refused to accept his resignation.

The Drama in the Corner

Kudos to NHK for cutting away from the speeches of the New Komeito and Minna no To speakers to focus instead one member of the Democratic Party after the other talking privately with Matsuki Kenko, the most vocal supporter of Ozawa Ichiro. Party elder Watanabe Kozo pinned him against the wall, leaving Matsuki to just bow and shake his head at everything Watanabe was saying. Next Haraguchi Kazuhiro, who as recently as yesterday was unwavering in his support of the no confidence motion, is seemingly offering Matsuki his regrets.

If Ishihara Nobuteru Wants to Rouse the Troops...

...he will have to speak with a little less reason and a few more rhetorical flourishes. Even though he is slamming on the rostrum a la Kruschev, he is winning little in the way of applause. He is not even getting much in the way of snide comments from the hecklers in the front rows, those whose job it is to yell in order to knock the speaker off his rhythm. Members of the Cabinet, who are facing the loss of their jobs, are falling asleep in their chairs.

So far, the Liberal Democratic Party's leaders (Ishihara is party secretary-general) have done the party no favors.

The Proceedings Have Begun

Liberal Democratic Party Vice President Oshima Tadamori has begun explaining why the his party has submitted a no confidence motion.

If this no confidence motion does not pass, LDP Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu and Oshima are toast.

Later - If Oshima thinks that this speech is going to encourage Democratic Party members to vote for the no-confidence motion, he is mistaken. He is pushing not just the front row cryers to mock him but even the senior members of the DPJ in the back row into the act.

Lucky for him that Kan's fate does not depend on what he thinks but what Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio think.

Later still - A sweep across the faces of the LDP members of the chamber reveals nothing but stony faces. Don't they know it's their guy who is up at the rostrum?

Even later still - In his speech to his own party members, Prime Minister Kan Naoto outlined three guiding principles of his actions, and challenged his fellow party members to follow him:
1) Expend every effort helping those suffering from the triple disasters of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant failures.
2) Never lead a breakup of the DPJ.
3) Never lend a hand to the LDP.

Oshima is doing a great job encouraging members of the DPJ to follow their prime minister in checking off item #3.

And Yet Even Later Still - Well, thank Amaterasu that that is over. Now on to the debate for and against.

What? What? What?

Prime Minister Kan Naoto has just spoken to an assembly of the Democratic Party of Japan. While acknowledging his faults, he seemed to urge his fellow party members to vote againt the no confidence motion. Former prime minister Hatoyama spoke next, and seemed to be saying that he tried to tell the PM, in a 30 minute conversation, to resign for the good of the party and the country. "Unfortunately" he said more than once, he was not successful. Haraguchi Kazuhiro spoke next and urged the PM to think about the children of the region around the destroyed nuclear power station.

And all during this, NHK has up in the corner, "Prime Minister Kan indicates that he will resign."

What am I missing here?

Later - I have no seen the replay of the conclusion of the PM's speech and he does indeed ask for the members of his party to reject the no confidence motion...and NHK still has "Prime Minister Kan indicates that he will resign" up in the top left corner

The Waiting

Though the halls of Nagata-cho must be all a-bustle and phones, mobile and not so ringing in a frenzy, for the rest of the country there is little else to do but wait and see what will happen this afternoon.

From the number of Democratic Party of Japan members of the House of Representatives who attended former DPJ leader Ozawa Ichiro’s meeting last night, who conferred with former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio or outright declared themselves in support of the no-confidence motion, there seem to be at least 90 members of the DPJ ready to cast a “Yes” vote this afternoon. This is more than enough to votes for the motion to pass, no matter whether the Socialists decide either to abstain from voting like the Communists or vote against the measure. Since DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya has vowed to expel from the party those voting “Yes” for the resolution, the DPJ will immediate lose over 90 members, reducing it to a little over 200 members in the House of Representatives, or less than 50% of the seats in the House.

If the no confidence motion passes, Prime Minister Kan Naoto will face a huge decision. Either he and his Cabinet resign, allowing for the election of a new prime minister, or he dissolves the Diet, triggering an election late this month or in the first few weeks of July.

Ozawa and Hatoyama in mounting their challenge against Kan have calculated on Kan’s simple decency to rule his decision. Being the caring person he is, he most certainly not put the country through an election now, when the three prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima are disaster zones. He is much more likely to resign, allowing the House of Representatives to elect his replacement.

However, since politics is a blood sport, and Ozawa and Hatoyama are preparing to draw first blood, Kan may just as well respond to their audacity with ferocity, dissolving the Diet and calling an election. Many of the members who answer to Ozawa have only one election under their belts and are certain to lose their seats in a contest against Liberal Democratic Party candidates. Such weakness would be a terrible temptation for Kan, a chance to punish those who betrayed him.

Even if Kan chooses the former of the two alternatives, exactly what will be electing whom is a huge conundrum. In one scenario, Okada falls on his sword and the party stays together, electing from amongst its membership a new leader, who would then become the new prime minister. LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu has promised in Diet Question Time to form a grand coalition with the DPJ as long as Kan resigns the prime ministership. With the DPJ and the LDP joined in new grand coalition, the combination would control both Houses of the Diet, able to pass any sort of legislation submitted to the Diet.

However, if Okada does not himself resign, and carries out his threat to expel from the party all those who voted in favor of the no confidence motion, then the DPJ splits into at least two big chunks, neither large enough to form a government. One chunk, namely the one whose members voted for the no confidence motion, would have to then approach the LDP with a significant power-sharing arrangement in order to form a new government.

However, given the numbers of those in the DPJ who are predicted to be ready to vote against the Cabinet, the resulting combination could fall short of the 241 seats needed for a majority in the House of Representatives. The new incipient ruling coalition would need to the New Komeito to join it or be forced to try to lure some of the members of the DPJ who remained loyal to Prime Minister Kan into switching sides or it would have to turn to the microparties Tachiagare Nippon and Minna no To and the very few independents to fill in the breach.

All four of those scenarios have their problems, however. The loyalists, having ridden with prime minister to Kan over the brink, are unlikely to turn around and hold the hands that pushed Kan out. The New Komeito leaders may be willing to hold close the Ozawa-Hatoyama party but the local chapters might have a real problem understanding what the hell is going on. The leaders of Tachiagare Nippon and Minna no To have a loathing of Ozawa Ichiro and his policies (for Tachiagare Nippon, it is his friendliness toward China; for Minna no To, it is his fiscal profligacy).

The LDP, its allies and the yet-unformed and yet-unnamed Ozawa-Hatoyama-led party could try to rule as a minority government. However, as the Kan government’s trials with trying to push legislation through an opposition-dominated House of Councillors has shown, there is little hope in Japanese politics of being able to craft coalitions of the willing around specific pieces of legislation.

Anyway one looks at the politics post-Kan, it is a mess.

All the voters can do is hold their breaths…or may be close their eyes tight, hoping that when they open them, this horrible charade will have turned out to have all just been a bad dream.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A Flash...And It's Gone

A little before 7 pm local time, news bulletin flashed across the screen of the TV: three Vice Ministers and 2 Parliamentary Secretaries turned in their resignations to the government. The five men, all close to former Democratic Party of Japan leader Ozawa Ichiro, declared that they had to resign in order to be free to vote for the no confidence motion the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito submitted to the Diet this afternoon.

With this action, the grand experiment of the DPJ, a majority party alternative to the LDP, seems to have come to an end.

DPJ Secretary General Okada Katsuya has threatened to expel from the party any member voting for the no confidence motion. The five now former members of the government have effectively expelled themselves.

From the meetings that have been going on over the last 48 hours, the five almost will certainly not be the last do so. This evening Ozawa met with about 70 of his loyalists, most likely to urge them to vote for the no confidence motion. At the meeting, the extremely ambitious former Transportation Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro, though he is not formally an Ozawa loyalist, said he would be voting for the no confidence resolution. Hatoyama Yukio, who met with Kan for 2 hours and 10 minutes yesterday, has indicated that he is suppporting the no-confidence motion (proving once again that not only does he lack even the most basic reconciliation skills, he has no compunctions against wasting a sitting prime minister's time).

For the past few days the news media has been explaining that with all members of the Diet present and voting, 81 members of the ruling coalition would have to vote for the no confidence motion for the motion to pass. The Communists, however, have just announced that they will be abstaining from the vote. They may not like the Kan Cabinet but they certainly they despise the LDP. They would rather die than vote for an LDP-sponsored motion.

With the Communists out of the picture, the hurdle for the anti-Kan forces creeps a little higher – to 85 members needed to defect from the ruling coalition for the vote against the Cabinet to pass.

Will Ozawa and his ever faithful basset hound Hatoyama Yukio round up 85 votes from amongst the DPJ members of the House of Representatives to vote for the no confidence motion? Quite possibly. Will Okada have to expel from the party all those who vote for the no confidence motion? Quite definitely.

So even if Ozawa and Hatoyama fall a few votes short of the 85 they need to topple Kan, they seem to have already have already done something far worse to the country: blown the DPJ to pieces.

Oh, it is not official yet -- the five DPJ officials who resigned their posts today may have just misread Ozawa's hints and body language and in so doing done in none but themselves -- but it looks like Ozawa the Destroyer has done it again.