Sunday, February 07, 2016

On A House of Representatives Election in April

I hate writing about stupid things...and a Diet dissolution after the passage of the Budget is a very stupid thing.

However, everyone is speculating about an early House of Representatives election, how it will allow Prime Minister Abe to take advantage ofhis  excellent Cabinet and party support poll numbers, how it will allow him to renew the employment contracts of his HoR colleagues well before the next rise of the consumption tax, how it will set up a knockout blow to the opposition in the mandated Summer  2016 House of Councillors election.

Assuming he and his party win big...which is an assumption.

The issue is turnout...and holding a snap election in April could increase turnout -- which could lead to a reversal of fortune (though probably not a loss of the majority) in the currently very accommodating House of Representatives.

Losing seats in a House of Representatives election could set up a reversal in the current scenario for the House of Councillors. The operative plan is to ride the current popularity of the Liberal Democratic Party (it is outpolling the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan 4 to 1) to a repetition of the wholesale larceny of seats seen in 2013, driving the DPJ to marginal status and possibly securing enough seats for an assault on the Constitution -- though that latter goal may require the cooperation of Hashimoto Toru's Osaka Ishin no Kai seat holders  -- and who in his/her right mind wants to associate/negotiate with the volatile Mr. Hashimoto?

We have to remember Fall 2014, when Mr. Abe blew everyone away with his sudden, duplicitously packaged (Reed, Pekkanen and Scheiner called it a "bait-and-switch") dissolution and general election. The DPJ was caught flat-footed in that instance by the dissolution (as was yours truly). It and the other opposition parties never really got a campaign going before the election day was upon them. Nevertheless, the DPJ managed to claw back seats it had lost in 2012 to Hashimoto's Japan Innovation Party and Watanabe's Your Party, while LDP stayed stuck in place.

This time:

1) the DPJ is not waiting for Abe Shinzo to surprise it: the party apparatus seems to have selected House of Representatives candidates and seems to be sending them out on pre-emptive, campaign-like encounters with the voters.

2) Unlike in 2014, Abe does not have a clear referendum issue in his docket, as he had with delaying of the rise in the consumption tax. Discussion of Trans Pacific Partnership legislation will take months, not weeks. Meanwhile, the shock of the Bank of Japan's latest extreme gesture of imposing negative interest rates seems to have already worn off.

Abe could, of course, announce a further delay of the rise in the consumption tax and make that his new referendum issue for an April dissolution. Somehow the adage "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me" pops into the head when I think of Abe trying to pull off the same trick twice.

If we could add to this 3) a return to some of the enthusiasm the electorate used to have for gleeful punishment of the LDP for being the LDP -- an springtime dissolution could be disastrous for Abe Shinzo's hopes of climbing past Nakasone and Koizumi in the list of longest-serving prime ministers.

However, considering the contempt Abe is displaying toward the opposition (check out his introductory paragraphs of his Policy Speech on January 22 or his smart ass replies to question in the Diet regarding a revision of political donation laws), maybe he really is prepped and primed to pull the plug on this Diet come April Fools Day.