Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Storm Clouds Gathering, But To What End?

Today the Diet opens its 180th regular session. It promises to be a murderous one, with absolutely no quarter being given by or cooperation coming from the opposition Liberal Democratic, New Komeito and Your parties.

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has emanated an aura of preternatural calm in advance of his policy speech today but it masks an intense amount of pressure upon him and his Cabinet. To every single piece of legislation or proposed legislation there is heated, almost hysterical opposition, not only between the ruling coalition and the opposition, but between the coalition partners and even between large segments of the Diet membership of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Even the budget, which would normally be guaranteed passage by the DPJ's huge majority in the House of Representatives, is threatened by its contents, most particularly the plan to restart construction of the Yamba Dam -- a plan that is anathema to what seems a clear majority of DPJ Diet members (just why the Noda government caved in to Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism pressure on this issue late last year never made the pages or the programs of the mainstream media).

The Fall 2011 extraordinary session saw a miserable 34% passage rate among bills presented to the Diet, the worst rate of bill passage seen since the Heisei Era began. The upcoming regular session, with its series of extremely controversial and radical bills, may end up deadlocked at an even lower level of success.

The question on everyone's lips is whether or not a state of crisis in this upcoming session of the Diet will trigger a House of Representatives election.

Three scenarios predominate:

1) The House of Representatives refuses to consider or rejects the debt ceiling and law modification legislation necessary to implement the Fiscal 2012 budget, triggering a deadlock so tight the prime minister must call an election (a dream of the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party).

2) The Noda government negotiates a settlement with the LDP and the New Komeito whereby they will band together to pass the budget enabling legislation and the raising of the consumption tax in return for a dissolution of the Diet and an election (a dream of political journalists).

3) Internal dissension within the DPJ over the consumption tax rise grows so fevered that Prime Minister Noda, in a fit of pique, calls an election to rid the party of its of its anti-tax faction (the dream of those who believe Ozawa Ichiro is the black hand behind all of the DPJ's internal problems).

Arithmetic, Ozawa's ongoing trial and recent polling results would argue for deals being struck, possible leading to or made after the toppling of Tanigaki Sadakazu from his perch atop the LDP.

If an election were held prior to the predicted end of the regular session of the Diet and/or with no important legislation passed, the DPJ would lose a huge number of seats, particularly in the rural districts. It was a once-in-a-half-century change of heart on the part of voters that enabled the DPJ to capture these bastions of LDP power in 2009. The party would be loath to part with them.

As for the internal divisions of the DPJ, they are very much as "all bark and no bite" affair. The most loudly barking groups in the party are those most vulnerable to losing their seats in the next election (hence the volume of their barking). They know quite well that if they gum up the works on consumption tax legislation or Japan's entering into negotiations on joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership so much so that Prime Minister Noda feels compelled to hold an election, they are electoral toast. The direct followers of or those ready to bend an ear to Ozawa Ichiro, who love to look around the room and admire their numbers whenever Ozawa deigns to bless them with his words of political wisdom, are also numbly aware that any breakaway party with Ozawa at its head or under his thrall will get thrashed in an election.

Furthermore, neither the DPJ nor the LDP want to go before the voters right now. In a stunning recent poll by the Mainichi Shimbun only 17% of the voters supported the DPJ and 16% supported the LDP (E). The two major parties are terrified of non-mainstream parties, either the Your Party or the proto-national party being formed by Osaka City mayor Hashimoto Toru (J). Even the normally lock-step the-LDP-is-my-party-right-or-wrong Yomiuri Shimbun is terrified of the prospects of a populist revolution and is counseling the LDP to get off its duff and cooperate with the DPJ-led government (E).

So much thunder and lightning will be evident today and through the next two weeks, as the governing and opposition parties get their turns at the rostrum.

Whether the typhoon will bear down upon the land, however, remains surprisingly uncertain.


wataru said...

You've got "thrashed into extension" at the end of para. 12 and an unfinished sentence in para. 13, marring this exciting commentary.

MTC said...

wataru -

Thank you for pointing out the errata. I have made what I believe are the necessary revisions.