Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Has Disaster Saved The Day?

Yesterday, when I was trying to sift through the scenarios on how the deadlock over the 4K issues dividing the government from the LDP and the New Komeito might be broken, I lamented that the news organizations tended to conduct their public opinion polls at the end of the month, so it would be impossible to tell directly whether or not the public was ticked off by the standoff in the Diet preventing the passage of the bond issuance bill.

I lamented too quickly, for even as I was typing, the Yomiuri Shimbun and NHK (video clip and text) were letting loose with new polling results from over the weekend. As the Yomiuri poll has been translated into English, I will go over only the results of the NHK poll.

Support for the Cabinet

18% Support
65% Do Not Support

This is a click upward in Cabinet support of a single percentage point from the July numbers, with a 3 point drop in the Do Not Support numbers – both numbers being pretty much within the margin of error for these polls. What this demonstrates is that the performance of Prime Minister Kan Naoto and his cabinet has been sufficiently strong to prevent the prime minister's numbers falling along the normal downward curve toward irrelevance. However, holding steady at very low levels of support seems to be all the Kan administration can accomplish.

When Should The Prime Minister Resign?

By the end of this month (the end of the Diet session) 45%
By the end of the year 28%
Sometime next year 14%

If the Diet would just pass the bond issuance bill and the renewable energy bill, the plurality of the electorate will get its wish. Will the LDP and New Komeito oblige them, or have they become, as DPJ Deputy Policy Research Chairman Shirojima Koriki has claimed, a cheerleading squad for Prime Minister Kan? The longer he has remained in office, the higher have gone the numbers of persons saying they will vote for the LDP in the next election.

How should the deadlock in the Diet be broken?

By the ruling parties and the opposition working together on a case-by-case basis 35%
By the ruling parties crafting an alliance with parties other than the LDP 5%
By a DPJ-LDP grand alliance 11%
By dissolving the Diet and holding elections 37%

There is only one problem with the first solution, the one desired by 35% of those polled: the DPJ has already tried it, with disastrous results. Interesting it is to see how unpopular the idea is of the DPJ bypassing the LDP to form an alliance with another force in the Diet capable of breaking the legislative deadlock – i.e. a DPJ-New Komeito alliance. Interesting it is also how unpopular is the idea of a grand DPJ-LDP alliance, despite the national state of crisis. Just throwing the whole mess into the air with new elections is the most popular way of working out Japan’s problems.

When would you have the next House of Representatives election?

Immediately 24%
By the end of this year 26%
Next year sometime 20%
At the end of the current Diet’s term in office in 2013 20%

Half the people are sick of this Diet and want a new one, soon. How this squares with only 37% of the people thinking that the way to break the deadlock in the Diet is through elections is somewhat beyond me.

Who among current members of the Diet should be the Prime Minister?

None of them are worthy 38.3%
Maehara Seiji 5.6%
Ishiba Shigeru 4.2%
Ozawa Ichiro 2.7%
Edano Yukio 2.5%
Okada Katsuya 2.3%
Noda Yoshihiko 1.7%
Ishihara Nobuteru 1.6%
Kaieda Banri 1.0%
Tanigaki Sadakazu 0.9%
Mabuchi Sumio 0.7%
Koizumi Shinjiro 0.7%
Abe Shinzo 0.6%
Yamaguchi Kunio 0.5%
Watanabe Yoshimi 0.5%

Maehara Seiji, as usual, tops the list of existing members of the Diet, with the LDP's Policy Research Chairman Ishiba Shigeru right behind him. Ozawa Ichiro comes in third, a placing that can only be explained by a desperate belief that the man can do anything he likes, except of course fight off the shadowy group of ex-journalists and administrative scriveners that has been trying to put him behind bars all these years. As for LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu, the man who would become prime minister should an election be held today, he simply lights up the house with his 0.9% and ninth place finish. How the populace can concurrently hope for a new Diet yet have little love for their likely new prime minister is again a conundrum. Perhaps we are seeing is a lack of thinking through the consequences of taking certain actions, yes?

What is of course both disheartening and not entirely unexpected is that 38.3% of those polled said that no member of the Diet is worthy of being prime minister, a new record high.

As to the fruits of compromise, they seem to be only barely palatable.

How much do you appreciate the compromise worked out between the ruling parties, the LDP and the New Komeito over the child allowance system?

A lot 16%
Some 41%
Rather not 25%
Not at all 12%

Now taking together the Cabinet support numbers and the party support numbers found in Yomiuri poll, one would think that the government would not have the muscle to push through the bond issuance bill, given the reportedly irreconcilable differences between the DPJ and the LDP-New Komeito on the three remaining of the 4K issues. However, the press is reporting that a meeting of the secretary-generals of the parties has produced a compromise that will allow the bond issuance bill to pass the Diet during the current session. In return the DPJ has promised that the three remaining 4K items in the national budget will be thoroughly overhauled or abolished in next year's budget.

What put the fire underneath the feet of the LDP and New Komeito, and to a lesser extent the DPJ? It certainly was not the public polling results of the Yomiuri and NHK, which are largely in favor of the LDP and New Komeito continuing their policies of delay and denial.

Perhaps a little matter of a global financial market meltdown convinced the LDP and New Komeito that now was not the time to be playing hacky-sack with the national government's funding mechanism. The collapse in the markets certainly shook up Finance Minister Noda, who was all set to announce his run for the presidency of the DPJ today. With Tokyo markets crashing and the yen rocketing upward, he suddenly had an epiphany that announcing a run for higher office on a program of a rise of the consumption tax to 10% might not be the best use of a finance minister's time. (No worries for Noda's campaign, though. The latest edition of Bungei Shunju goes on sale tomorrow with an article inside penned by Noda explaining how he would run the government.). Perhaps it was the strength of the assurances of DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya that he and most of the party leadership really hated these programs as well.

Anyway, if current reporting reflects reality, only one more piece of legislation now stands between Prime Minister Kan Naoto and his resignation: the renewable energy bill.

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