Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Mini- And Micro-Parties Wing the DPJ And Clobber the LDP

There were a lot of long, exhausted faces at Liberal Democratic Party headquarters yesterday. A basic fact of life had sunk in: nobody loves the LDP.

Check out this [TBS video report - link already dead] NHK video report of the leaders minus Tanigaki filing into headquarters yesterday (WARNING – link will likely fail within 24 hours). Even someone knowing not a jot of Japanese can tell from LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru’s blank stare and flat diction that his real message is: "Disregard what my lips and tongue are saying. I do not want to be here. If you do not believe what I am saying, don't worry: I don't either."

The LDP and its coalition partner the New Komeito had been hoping to have their cake and eat it too: first vote with the government on a set of reform bills including a rise in the consumption tax, then turn around and submit a motion of no confidence against the Cabinet in the House of Representatives and a motion of censure against Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko in the House of Councillors.

Coalitions of the mini- and micro-parties of the Diet blew that plan to splinters yesterday. A six-party coalition submitted their own no confidence motion to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. A seven-caucus coalition submitted a motion of censure to the president of the House of Councillors. (E)

Under the rules of order of both Houses, these submissions put all other Diet business on hold, pending the outcomes of the votes on these two bills. This includes the House of Councillors vote on the reform bills, which the LDP had seemingly forced the DPJ to move forward to today (August 8).

The only way the LDP can delay a vote on these no confidence and censure bills is to submit its own two bills, which the party has threatened to do if Prime Minister Noda does not promise today to dissolve the Diet within the next 40 days.

The LDP’s original deadline for action by the prime minister was yesterday. However, yesterday passed by without prime ministerial action. One can pretty much expect the same lack of action today.

If the LDP follows through with its threats to submit its own versions of the bills, the attempted flanking action runs up against a wall of procedure. Which versions of the no-confidence and censure motions make it to the floor is a matter of trans-party negotiations. Since the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the House of Councillors are both members of the DPJ, though on hiatus from membership during their tenures in their offices, the likelihood that the LDP versions of the two bills will win out is nil.

In theory, the LDP could treat the six-party and seven-caucus submissions with contempt, absenting themselves from the votes saying:

"We are the main party of opposition. Nothing happens without us. You did this without consulting with us. We do not care what is on offer: we do not vote on motions where we have been passed over and our views not considered."

Such a strategy has an Achilles heel, however. There is a rule – but an unwritten one (kanrei) – that a House cannot consider the same bill twice in a single Diet session. The LDP’s voting down or abstaining from the vote on the six-party coalition motion or the seven-caucus motion would, under the accepted patterns parliamentary behavior, shut the door on revisiting the substance of those motions until the fall extraordinary session of the Diet.

Of course, the LDP could try to argue that the rule is an unwritten one, and submit a no-confidence motion or a motion of censure after the vote on the consumption tax bill. The news media and public's reaction to the LDP's opposing a piece of legislation only to resubmit it later would be ferocious.

Furthermore, a major party has a strong incentive to uphold the informal rules of order of the Diet, lest under its rule, the opposition, in a tit-for-tat response, flouts the rules to the point that the Diet becomes unmanageable.

A contrarian option remains open, whereby the LDP abstains or votes down the six-party coalition’s no-confidence motion and the censure motion now, freeing up the House of Councillors to vote on the reform package. The LDP then submits a motion for a vote of confidence in the Cabinet in the House of Representatives, which it then votes against.

This option is freakish (submitting a bill in order to vote against it?) and has not, to my knowledge, been discussed by major commentators. However, it does not violate the "one vote on a single bill per session" (ichiji fusaigi) principle.

As for the six-party and seven-caucus coalitions, all of their members deserve a bouquet from the DPJ. This includes, perversely, the People's Life First and Kizuna parties, which are composed of DPJ defectors. While submitting a no-confidence motion in the House of Representatives and a censure motion in the House of Councillors seems a strange way of making oneself beloved of the DPJ and the prime minister, the timing of submission has both tied the LDP up in knots and damaged the LDP's relations with its partner the New Komeito.

The mini- and micro-parties have their issues with the Democratic Party of Japan. There are many things that the mini- and micro-parties want that they are not getting. However, the leaders of the mini- and micro-parties are not nearly so stupid as to believe that they will receive the benefits they seek following a return to power by the LDP.

A pair of motions that appear to attack the DPJ but in fact box in the LDP, driving its leaders to commit absurd acts, are very much to the mini- and micro-parties’ liking. That the motions can be submitted out of what seems to be principle, opposing a raising of the consumption tax because an increased tax rate will have a depressive effect on the national economy, is icing on the cake.

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