Saturday, November 03, 2012

Noda And The DPJ's Ultimate, Black-Hearted Double-Cross

When the Divine wants to punish you
It answers your prayers...
In his most recent post to his blog GlobalTalk 21, Okumura Jun offers some guesses as to why the Liberal Democratic Party, which has until recently sworn it will boycott and block all Diet business unless Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko commits to dissolving the Diet and calling elections in December, has, while not swerving from its commitment to December elections, suddenly de-escalated the crisis over the bond issuance bill and the formation of the commission in charge of implementing the social welfare reforms package. (Link)

Okumura-san sees three main drivers behind the LDP climb-down. I do not disagree with his first two, that

1) the Keidanren and other business lobbies are shouting in the LDP's ear to not play politics with the nation's economy and

2) the LDP leadership senses that the party is so far ahead in the polls its mandate is to avoid doing anything stupid, rather than trying to provoke change.

To those screaming in the ears of LDP Diet members I would add prefectural and local officials, the vast majority of whom are members of the LDP. The message they are screaming? "When the government is reducing budget outlays and is threatening complete cutoffs of all distributions because of your opposition to the bond issuance bill, we are the ones getting killed. Are we in the same party or what?"

As to Okumura-san's third point, I agree that the LDP does not want Noda to resign. However, Okumura-san does not go far enough in imagining the LDP's worst nightmare. His nightmare scenario is that a) Noda resigns and b) the telegenic DPJ Policy Research Council chairman Hosono Goshi takes over as party leader and Prime Minister.

I see two weaknesses in this nightmare scenario.

First, having Hosono "Hot Lips" Goshi as the Democratic Party of Japan's new leader seems insufficiently terrifying. The DPJ's party support and "which party are you going to vote for in the proportional list vote" numbers are so awful that the popularity bump from Hosono's handsome face and youth will merely shift the needle of the DPJ's post-election outlook from "essentially extinct" to "irrelevant."

Second, a Noda resignation and a Hosono takeover will leave unchanged the fights over the bond issuance bill, the formation of the social welfare commission and, most critically, the electoral district reform bill.

That last item is about to take a turn for the worse, if Acting Secretary-General Azumi Jun's Friday announcement is any indication. According to Azumi, DPJ members will need more than a week to talk about the bill amongst themselves (Link) -- which is pretty much a confession that whatever the DPJ leaders are cooking up will be significantly different from the bill they submitted in the Regular Session, which they pushed through the House of Representatives only to watch it die on the doorstep of the House of Councillors.

It is also a fair bet that even if the LDP cooperates this coming week on the bond issuance bill and the social welfare reform commission, Noda will not reward the LDP with a palatable electoral reform bill.

He never gives up a centimeter on anything.

The LDP leadership is not unaware of Noda's ability to lead his enemies into moving too quickly and thus squandering their advantages. The LDP therefore has an incentive to cooperate on the bond issuance bill and the social welfare reform commission, but at a glacial pace, in order to at least try to pressure Noda into offering a reasonable deal on an electoral district reform bill.

If everything grinds to a halt on the bond issuance bill or the LDP devises some other sort of mischief to hobble the prime minister, Noda and his Cabinet could very likely resign…...but not because they would have to...because they would want to.

Because if the Cabinet resigns, Noda and the DPJ can deploy the most vengeful, most malicious and most wicked weapon imaginable against Abe Shinzo's LDP: hold an immediate vote for a new prime minister and vote, one and all, as a party -- for Abe.

Implausible? Not really.

Make Abe the prime minister: heck, that is what he wants, is it not? All at once the problems bedeviling Noda and the DPJ -- the government's having neither operating funds nor a means of conducting a constitutional election – become Abe's problems – which he would have to address immediately and, because he could not call a constitutionally valid election, he and the LDP could only tackle in a coalition with the DPJ -- with the DPJ, as the larger partner in the coalition, calling most of the shots.

Insane. And brilliant. Insanely brilliant. Brilliantly insane.

What is more, there is nothing the LDP or any other party could do to stop Noda and DPJ from dumping the nation's problems in Abe's lap. The House of Representatives elects the prime minister (Constitution of Japan - Article 67). Even if every member of every other party boycotted the premiership election, and even if a few flabbergasted DPJ members refused to back the plan, the remaining DPJ members of House of Representative would still be numerous enough to form the quorum (Article 56) able to vote Abe into office.

It cannot be for no reason that LDP's cry is "dissolve the Diet" (kaisan) – this even though everyone knows that dissolving the Diet without the passage of an electoral reform bill would plunge the country into a constitutional crisis -- and not "Resign!"

Aha, but did not Prime Minister Noda say on Friday, in response to a question from LDP House of Councillors member Nomura Tetsuro, that

"As for a resignation of the Cabinet, I believe that would represent a prime minister abandoning his responsibilities." (Sojishoku ni tsukimashite wa naikaku soridaijin to shite no sekinin o hoki suru mono de aru to kangaete orimasu)?

Yes he did.

However, as former LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu found out, what one thinks a phrase means and what Prime Minister Noda thinks a phrase means can be two very different things.

Reading the sentence again, Noda does not say, "I will not resign!" does he?


wataru said...

The brilliant schemes of bloggers never happen, and neither will this one. If it does, I will start a new religion with Shisaku as the bible and MTC as god.

sigma1 said...

Well, I don't know if Abe really cares about the electoral constitutional issue. The public is 50/50 also. There is also the fact that the DPJ and Noda have also said they wouldn't mind calling an election before redistricting finished. So they would be little political fallout from just instantly calling an instant election as long as the budget-related bills are passed. That is unless the Emperor or the Supreme Court decided that maybe the constitution was worth defending after all...of which I see no evidence for optimism.

Philippe said...

You’re a bad person… — there, I said it :-).

Good Mr Abe is trying to prepare the ground for building a beautiful country and all that, and you’d force him to go down in the field to fix all those trivial things. Bad, bad, bad MTC.

More seriously, I’d love to see your scenario become reality, beautifully wicked as it is. It might even bring some sparkle fun in observing the Japanese political developments. And a drip of hope, eventually. I hope Noda-san reads Shisaku.

There must have something odd in the tea I drank tonight that makes me suspect it won’t happen, though…

MTC said...


Adoration is invigorating but blasphemous. Cash or bank transfers, however, are an acceptable means of expressing feelings of deep respect.

sigma1 -

Abe's not caring about the constitutional issue is irrelevant. It is there; he would have to deal with it. Were he to try to call an election without a reform, the country would erupt.

As for the Emperor or the Supreme Court, do not count them out. The Supreme Court decision on the House of Councillors electoral disparity was devastating, with the Court finding the entire system rotten to the core.

As for the Heisei Emperor, he is an old man with a lot of street cred and very few loose ends left to tie up. His sons, who were at war for the longest time, seem to have ironed out their differences (the birth of Hisahito helped a lot in this). That has cleared up the third of the emperor's worries: that the Imperial family would be split into right-wing and left-wing factions (the other two worries being that the Imperial Family would become irrelevant or go extinct and that it).

In a quiet meeting between Abe and the Emperor, with all the pre-1945 baggage Abe carries with him, I would say there is a better than 50% chance that the Emperor would find dissolving an unreformed Diet "difficult."

As for "Noda and DPJ" saying they would not mind calling an election before redistricting is finished is a misreading. As regards electoral district reform, Noda's line is that he cannot resign before having made the "necessary structural changes in the environment." Koshi'ishi has never wavered from a position that it is impossible to hold an election without district reform. The only high-ranking DPJ figure who has argued that the prime minister can call the election whenever he wants has been Fujimura. However, as the government's spokesman, it is Fujimura's duty to lie.

Philippe -

What is the rational choice for the DPJ? Go into an election, after having surrendered on the electoral district reform -- the only reform that really matters -- with a strong chance that you will lose the mantle of main opposition party to Hashimoto's gang of crackpots, retreads and parvenus -- or go in after having extracted from Abe and the LDP a more comprehensive electoral reform, whilst giving the public a taste of Hashimoto's Best Friend Abe as leader in the process?

sigma1 said...

"the country would erupt" - Evidence please? A year ago I would have believed you and argued likewise but I now wonder if it is wishful thinking. The latest Kyodo poll only put it at 52 percent thinking it to be the no.1 priority now that the debt bonds question is removed, not all that much ahead of those who think calling an election is the no.1 priority (35 percent). Most still want an election called within this year according to Yomiuri's polls despite it being in my mind now administratively impossible. I suspect it would only be an issue in so far that the media draws attention to it.

As for the SC and the Emperor - I hope your right - but I would brace to be disappointed!

As for the last point - yes I am sure Noda et al are going to go for as much as they can but that wasn't my point and thus not a misreading - namely that because of the statements of important people like Fujimura they cannot, in the scenario you have described, take a holier than thou attitude on the issue of constitutionality. Saying things has consequences after all even if it is for political gain and maneuvering. Thankfully.

As for your scenario - I would love for it to happen but I can only see it working if the LDP votes along with the DPJ for Abe. Otherwise it would look far too cynical to voters who would become more determined to vote for a third party not less, and would unlikely swing back to the DPJ after a short-term Abe tilt at fixing these issues no matter how disastrous.

MTC said...

sigma1 -

The news media has deliberately misinformed the public regarding the issue of constitutionality. In part this was in order that the talking heads could pontificate about the possibilities of a snap election when no such possibility existed.

However the news media misinformed or underinformed the public so it could also turn on the prime minister who calls an election without having passed comprehensive electoral district reform.

If Abe were to try to dissolve the Diet without reform, the same reporters who have been lying through their teeth about the chances of an early election would declare Abe an enemy of Japan's postwar era of peace and order.

This is the way the news media has always operated, and, given the impossibility of a Japanese version of The Daily Show, the way it will always operate.

Philippe said...

MTC (re comment 4)

Oh, but I quite agree with you that something bold or drastic they (both the DPJ and Noda-san’s government) will have to do to regain some general credibility and to achieve a better than nominal change regarding the constitutionality issue. It’s just that I don’t really see Noda-san going that way; he always appear to me as overtly cautious & conservative. He might still achieve his goal, just not in such a funny wicked way.

While I’d agree with sigma1 that such a crazy step might be seen as too much of a cynical ploy, it might still work depending on how good the DPJ PR is (which I don’t rate as good in general). I’m sure someone will go against the narrative (cough cough Maehara-san…).

As to the question of voters / public concern about the constitutionality issue, I suspect the latest polls understate it, particularly among urban voters. I’d agree with you that the issue might still blow up in the face of ‘good Mr Abe’ and his merry band of LDP’ers.