Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Can Anyone In The Opposition Play This Game?

On Friday I speculated that the Democratic Party of Japan, faced with a determined and suddenly invigorated Liberal Democratic Party, had out of desperation moved to the Four Corners Offense, where the point is to dribble the ball interminably and pass the ball back-and forth pointlessly so as to keep the other side from ever getting control. (Link)

I was therefore surprised when LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru was able to twist enough arms as to secure a Monday meeting of secretaries-general of the DPJ, the LDP and the New Komeito, the only three parties that matter.

[An aside - Japan does have other parties, a stunning plethora of them. The DPJ's coalition partner, the People's New Party, seems content to have the DPJ speak for it. The opposition parties outside the LDP-New Komeito alliance are, by contrast, frothing at the mouth, furious that they are never invited to meetings of any consequence. Instead, their leaders gather together to issue condemnations of the "three party cabal" ruling Japan.

No combination of any of the other opposition parties adds up to any meaningful number of votes in the House of Representatives for either the LDP or the DPJ. In the House of Councillors, the other opposition parties could come together to help the government pass legislation. However, due to ideological incompatibility with the DPJ’s current political course, they have taken to side with the LDP, whose politics they dislike even more, to just say "No" to every important government bill landing in the House of Councillors.]

Ishiba's success in gaining meeting on what the next working day seemed a harbinger for a more aggressive LDP and compliant DPJ. True, it was only a meeting to set up another meeting, the next step being a meeting of the leaders of the three parties to talk about and perhaps agree on a date for the opening of the extraordinary Diet session and the sequencing of the government's presentation of its bills. Ishiba and his New Komeito counterpart Inoue Yoshihisa went into their meeting with DPJ Secretary-General Koshi'shi Azuma determined to draw out of the DPJ's man an acquiescence to the the LDP’s and New Komeito’s demands that Prime Minister Noda honor the promise he made to former LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu to dissolve of the Diet "soon" (chikai uchi ni).

What Ishiba and Inoue came out of their meeting with Koshi'ishi was...a promise to meet again on Thursday.

Koshi'ishi opened with the gambit that he would want the heads of the three parties to meet later this week and for the extraordinary session to begin by the end of the month. In both cases, he was lying. However, having placed these ideas on the table put the onus on his counterparts to characterize him later as being close-minded and merely trying to delay the opening of the extraordinary Diet Session.

Koshi'ishi continued with the standard DPJ trio of suggestions -- not demands. First, that the bond issuance bill be passed soon so as to prevent a disruption of the lives of the citizens. Second, that an electoral reform bill be passed 1) eliminating any question as to the constitutionality of the boundaries of House of Representatives electoral districts, and 2) reducing the number of House of Representatives seats, this in order to demonstrate to the citizens, who have been asked to accept a doubling of the consumption tax, that the government is making a best effort at cutting back on its size and spending. Finally, the DPJ would want the convocation of the the National Council on Reform of the Social Welfare System (Shakai hosho seido kaikaku kokumin kaigi) in order to begin discussions of the implementation of the reforms passed along with the consumption tax bill.

Ishiba countered with a concession that he would not want his party to be seen as holding the bond issuance bill, an electoral reform bill and a convocation of the National Council hostage to his and the New Komeito's demands. However, he continued, two months has passed since the prime minister made his promise to dissolve the Diet "soon" (Link - J). Inoue piped in, saying that given the deadlines for the compilation of the national budget, the time limit for the holding of an election is early December. (Link - J)

Let us take a moment to consider Inoue's demand. Article 54 of the Constitution mandates that an election take place within 40 days of a dissolution. However, the Constitution is silent as to the minimum number of days that can pass between a dissolution and an election. Article 31 of the Public Elections Act, however, requires that a final determination of the candidates up for election must be made at least 12 days prior to election day. (Link)

Given that an election is almost invariably held on a Sunday, and the process of the Diet's electing a new prime minister, the new PM’s selection of a Cabinet and his/her delivering a Diet policy address eats up a week, and compiling of a rushed budget will take at least three weeks, the realistic December date for an election is December 1. Working backward 12 days from there brings us to Monday, November 19.

So whatever happens, the extraordinary Diet session will have to finish up all its business in a little less than a month. That is the relevant House of Representatives committees discussing the bills, then voting on the bills, sending them to the plenary session for an up/down vote, then presenting the bills to the House of Councillors, with their committee discussions, votes and final plenary session up/down vote.

Of course, the two Houses could look at identical texts of bills at the same time, pass them at the same time, come together and decide that the bills are the same and thus law.

Except, of course, all of this speculation may be moot. Bringing the House of Representatives district boundaries into conformance with requirements set down Article 13 of the Public Elections Act requires months of research, analysis and compromise, not just a few days of politicians bargaining over legislative band-aids.

So what the LDP and the New Komeito are demanding as regards an election "soon" may be possible but will be illegal.

Koshi'ishi knows this. However, he did not have to pull this card out of his sleeve on Monday when Ishiba and Inoue pressed on the dissolution. Already on the 15th he had made clear that he was not going to say diddly about a date for a dissolution on the grounds that a dissolution of the Diet is a solemn duty and privilege of the prime minister and not something he can just lightly say whatever he may think on the subject. (Link)

After 20 minutes of back and forth, the trio broke up, agreeing to meet again on the 18th.

A clearly frustrated Ishiba then went and put his foot in his mouth. Angry that he came out of the meeting having neither learned nor won anything, he told reporters that unless the atmosphere becomes less duplicitous, having a meeting between the heads of the parties will lead nowhere. (Link -J)

Rule #1 of adult behavior: never shut down avenues. Never say that you will not meet to talk.

How long can the DPJ's torture of the LDP and the New Komeito continue? The first and foremost hurdle that must be vaulted is the passage of the bond issuance bill. That has to happen sometime soon, though just when is rather murky, The Prime Minister Noda and the DPJ, weakened as they are, can call an extraordinary session of the Diet and then dare the opposition to allow the government to run out of money. It is a risk the PM and DPJ seem increasingly confident in taking.

As for how long the public will put up with the DPJ's dodging and weaving whenever the LDP and the New Komeito start talking about holding elections, there may be a limit there. Editorialists will start to castigate the DPJ secretariat for stalling just to avoid the certain electoral defeat awaiting them. Guests on this morning's Asa Zuba! news program complained that, "If they are members of the Diet, and they don’t want to go into session, then they should just quit."

However, as regards the delays in convening of an extraordinary session, Koshi'ishi, who has no limits to his ability to state the chapter and verse on any subject, can tell the press, "Look, an extraordinary session is just that, extraordinary. The National Diet Act requires us to be in session for 150 days. We went way past that mark in the regular Diet Session. We have earned our salaries for the year. If the opposition cleans up its act and stops trying to extort Diet dissolutions from our prime ministers in return for votes on normal government bills, then we can go back to work in extraordinary session."

So on my score sheet, after the first round, it is Dead Pharaoh 1, Python 0. (Link)

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