Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The end of the beginning

I'm not entirely clear to me why the cabinet decision to submit a new bill on the MSDF refueling mission deserves this kind of treatment from the BBC, considering that the government announced days ago that it would make its final decision on October 17th — and that there was no doubt that the government would decide to submit its bill to the Diet.

This is nothing more than the end of the beginning, a decision that introduces a new, parliamentary front in the battle over the MSDF mission. The new law limits refueling to ships explicitly involved in maritime interdiction operations and eliminates provisions about parliamentary approval, which will undoubtedly be subject to intense debate in the Diet.

It is still unclear exactly how this drama will play out, and what role the DPJ counteroffer of civilian contributions to Afghanistan's reconstruction — Mr. Ozawa agreed to the compromise position earlier this week — will play in the final outcome, but the debate is moving forward. My money remains on the government's getting its way, extending the Diet session to the end of the year and passing the bill over an Upper House veto. Mr. Fukuda will undoubtedly make all manner of conciliatory gesture to the DPJ, in part as a way to coax the public to support the government's doing whatever necessary to pass the bill.

But I could be wrong, because it's still unclear precisely how a divided Diet will function and how the public will react to the parties' efforts to cope with it, meaning the cabinet's deciding to support the continuation of the refueling mission does not have the air of finality that it might have had four months ago.

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