Thursday, June 16, 2011

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?


Anonymous said...

Spot on I think. I seems by Kan's demeanour that this is certainly his plan. I hope so. If he can get through the budget and bond bills, and strengthen the FIT, etc, then along with the NPO bill I think we can say that Kan did something at least - two of them (NPO and FIT) likely to have significant positive, if somewhat long-term and nuanced, effects on Japan's political well-being, in addition to the necessary bills for reconstruction.

Joe said...

I think the LDP and New Komeito don't see what's going on because they are so fixed on the prize: bring down Kan, and then hamstring the next PM(s) with the willing cooperation of the media in the hopes that a general election is called.

As for Sengoku, he may have been part of a plan, he may not. I can't recall the last time a PM or Cabinet from either of the main parties coming down like an avalanche on someone calling for the ouster of his own PM.

MTC said...

Joe -

I cannot think of a time when a member of the government -- Sengoku is a deputy chief cabinet secretary -- suggested that the PM should step down as soon as possible, then remained in his post. A member of the party executive making the suggestion then sticking around, sure, but a member of the government?

Climate Morio said...

Correct me if i am wrong, but even once the regular Diet session ends, the bill on the bond issuance would not just die? If we are granted an extended Diet session (rinji kokkai) during the autumn, bills can be picked up again for further discussion once the Diet reconvenes?

My understanding was that bills only get discarded if there is an intervening election...

MTC said...

Climate Morio -

As far as I understand the law, if the Diet session ends whilst a bill passed by one House is in committee in the other, then the entire law is scrapped. However, if a bill is passed by one House but not considered by the other, then that bill can be taken up intact by the House it has not passed.

May Amaterasu help me if I got that backwards.