Thursday, June 02, 2011

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.

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