Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Honesty...Is Not The Best Policy

"6) If a Democratic Party member claims something is true on television, it is probably not true. When it is true, it was political suicide for him to have said it."

- MTC, "The Rules of Japanese News" (2006)
On August 20, Democratic Party of Japan Diet Affairs Chairman Jojima Koriki and LDP Diet Affairs Chairman Kishida Fumio met to discuss electoral reform. This was an "Adults Only" discussion, as not even the New Komeito was invited to the confab.

Jojima told Kishida that the DPJ was ready to submit its version of a reform bill to the House of Representatives Special Committee on Political Ethics and Election Law. Kishida responded that his party wanted to have a debate on the Noda government's management of foreign affairs in the Budget Committee beforehand. Jojima replied that he was not making a proposal, he was delivering a message.

That was supposed to be the end of the conversation. The DPJ would submit its bill to the Special Committee on Political Ethics and Election Law on August 22. If the DPJ was going to make good on Prime Minister Noda's promise to hold an election "soon," the LDP and the rest of the opposition would just have to take it on the chin.

The DPJ electoral reform bill is truly "a patchwork without principle" (hagidarake de rinen mo nai) as the editors of the Tokyo Shimbun put it.

It starts with the LDP's +0/-5 proposal, abolishing the five smallest electoral districts. Through this bit of legerdemaine, the degree of disparity between the most and least populous districts, currently 2.52, falls to 1.78, below the maximum of 1.99 set by the Supreme Court in its March 2010 ruling.

To this minimal and, for the LDP, entirely self-serving proposal, the DPJ has tacked on a reduction of the number of number of proportional party list seats by 40, half of the reduction of 80 promised in the DPJ's 2009 manifesto.

Any unqualified reduction in the number of proportional seats is unacceptable to the LDP's alliance partner, the New Komeito. In the election wipeout of August 2009, the New Komeito lost all of its district seats (and as a result, the entire top two layers of its party leadership). All of the current New Komeito's seats are proportional seats.

In order to convince the New Komeito to swallow the bitter pill of a reduction of the number of proportional seats by 40, the DPJ bill has 35 of the remaining 140 propotional seats chosen not via the d'Hondt method current in use but by the Additional Member System (renyosei). The d'Hondt seat assignment system disproportionately rewards the largest parties. The Additional Member System, by contrast, disproportionately rewards mini- and micro-parties.

Unfortunately, the Additional Member System is countintuitive to the point of incomprehensibility. According to Wikipedia, the voters of Scotland, whose Parliament is the only significant legislative body with seat assignments made through the AMS, suffered a deterioration in their understanding of the system in between their first and second parliamentary elections -- i.e., they understood the AMS less after having used it than when they had never used it.

The LDP hates the AMS, as does anyone who tries to read through an explanation of it.

What is perverse is that the patchwork bill does nothing to improve the chances of the DPJ in the next House of Representatives election. The DPJ needs revisions of the electoral district boundaries which will increase the representation of urban and suburban voters. Some argue that this is a dated, sisyphean endeavor since the level of voters dissatisfaction with the DPJ is so great the party is going to lose big in its traditional urban strongholds -- not just the rural districts that switched sides and elected a DPJ representative in 2009.

However, leaving the electoral map virtually unchanged, as the LDP has proposed, will render the elections of August 2009 moot. Whatever may have been in the manifestos of the parties, the crown jewel being fought over in 2009 was the right to redraw the districts. Breaking the patron-client relationships between the LDP, its voters in the rural districts and the central government bureaucrats who administered them was the prize that was worth the fighting for.

The DPJ's strategy, and it was a purely cynical one, was to submit the patchwork bill to committee. There the LDP, the New Komeito and the other opposition parties would launch into long tirades on the bill. The DPJ, amidst the clatter and the din, would weave back and forth over revisions both big and small. Meeting after meeting would take place, proposals and counterproposals would fly. Then, all of a sudden, an alarm bell would ring: it would be September 8 and no bill fixing the electoral system would have been passed before the end of the regular session.

"Ooops!" the DPJ would say. "Guess we'll have to start all over again in the fall extraordinary session."

Running out the clock, leaving open the question of whether or not LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu would receive his return gift of an election "soon" (chikai uchi ni) as he understood it -- before the end of the current Diet session -- might have worked. At the very least it would have left Tanigaki confronting the impossible task of winning reelection as LDP party president after having had his pocket picked by Prime Minister Noda twice in one month. At best, seeming to waver on the electoral reform bill might have encouraged the LDP to bend on the bond issuance bill, letting that bill pass in the hopes of wringing out a better deal on the election reform bill and Diet dissolution schedule.

Except, of course, Jojima had to go on television immediately after the big meeting with Kishida and blurt out The Truth That Must Not Be Told.

On the night of the 20th, on Fuji Television, Jojima was asked whether or not there would be a Diet dissolution and elections called before the end of the current Diet session. In what can only have been a transient cessation of all higher brain functions (TCAHBF) Jojima said, "Have it during this session? Ridiculous!" (Kon kokkaichu wa arienai). When asked to elaborate, Jojima dug himself in even deeper, asserting that:

"The disparity in the value of a single vote is unconstitutional. When seen from the point of view of the citizens who are voting, it is just common sense that the demand is, 'Let's have a dissolution after you have cleaned up this electoral system that has been labeled unconstitutional.'" (E)

Aaaaarrrggghhh! Yoooouuuuu iiiidddeeeiiiiottt!

What Jojima said was absolutely true -- one cannot hold an election where the populations of 94 of the 300 districts are more than 1.99 times larger than the population of the smallest district. With the current DPJ reform bill unacceptable to the LDP-New Komeito coalition, it would die in the House of Councillor. Time would run out before an acceptable alternate solution could be worked out. Attempting to write a replacement bill would furthermore require a suspension of the Diet's rules of order, which mandate that no single issue can be considered twice in the same Diet session.

Even in the case of the passage of bill employing the quick and dirty +0/-5 solution, however, the holding of a snap election would be constitutionally suspect. A 1976 Supreme Court ruling mandated that a host of factors -- changes in municipal boundaries, proposed changes in municipal boundaries, physical size of the district, population densities, "the structure of the residents" (jumin kosei - a euphemism for communities of the very poor and previously excluded social groups), transportation networks and geographical characteristics (unifying the communities of a single river basin, for example) -- must be taken into account when settling on electoral district boundaries. (Source: 衆議院及び参議院における一票の格差. 国立国会図書館 ISSUE BRIEF NUMBER 714(2011. 6. 9.)

A process of several months, in other words, involving a great deal of research and haggling.

The LDP and the New Komeito, out of either willfull ignorance or naïveté, have been expecting the DPJ to accept the grandfathering in of the current district boundaries, daring the Court to declare the research work done 10 years ago to be grounds for invalidating an election now.

My guess is that the DPJ, which is a party that has a healthy respect for the law, has been holding the 1976 ruling in its back pocket, waiting only to flick it out after the passage of the bond issuance bill.

After Jojima stated on television that a dissolution and a calling of elections during this Diet session was impossible, the excrement hit the fan.

Realizing that it had been duped, and that "soon" meant "whenever it is that the LDP is forced to swallow the passage of the electoral reform bill the DPJ really wants," the LDP retaliated with a threat to submit a motion of censure against the prime minister in the House of Councillors. With the LDP/New Komeito alliance and the rest of the opposition furious at the DPJ, the motion would pass, leaving the government the very unpleasant alternatives of either submitting a confidence motion in the House of Representatives to counter the censure motion, or accepting the end of all Diet business prior to the September 8 closure date.

The LDP is planning to make good upon its threat of a censure motion tomorrow (August 29).

With the disintegration of the plan to lead the opposition into debating a worthless electoral reform bill (just how the DPJ intended to keep the Communists, who are legal eagles, from calling the procedings a sham, is something I have not quite managed to wrap my head around) and the hope that the drama in the committee debating the electoral reform would serve as cover for the quick passage of a bond issuance bill, the DPJ was left with the ugly business of holding committee meetings on the electoral reform bill and the bond issuance bill in not-quite half-empty rooms. Members read newspapers and checked up on their email. They then went through the motions of voting on the bills, sending them to the floor of the House of Representatives:

Vote in the House of Representatives Finance Committee
August 24, 2012

Vote in the House of Representatives Special Committee on Political Ethics and Election Law
August 27, 2012

Barring any last minute miraculous changes of heart on the part of the LDP, the DPJ will schedule a vote on the bond issuance bill, pass it, then send it on to House of Councillors, where it will either die of neglect or be voted down.

As for the electoral reform bill, it is likely to remain an orphan. The DPJ, unless the leadership suffers a collective TCAHBF, will leave it on the House of Representatives floor to die. The worst possible outcome would be for the DPJ to pass the bill, send it to the House of Councillors, only to see the LDP and the opposition suddenly switch gears and vote for the measure.

Photo image credits: Jiji Press

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