Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The return of the grand coalition (proposal)

After going into hiatus in the wake of Mr. Fukuda's election as LDP president, advocates of an LDP-DPJ grand coalition are making noise again. Feverish speculation about the meeting between Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Fukuda is focused on the idea that they were either a) planning a snap election or b) making plans for a grand coalition, and with that cue, Yomiuri is back to work proposing an idea it was keen on back in August as a way to salvage the Abe administration.

Mr. Fukuda no doubt fueled speculation by not dismissing the idea outright but instead talking about practical difficulties in implementation. Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura was slightly more open about his disdain for the idea, but even he didn't reject it outright. Former LDP secretary-general Takebe Tsutomu was more forthright in his support for the idea in a speech at a meeting of his campaign training school.

I remain as dubious about an LDP-DPJ grand coalition as I was in August.

I also remain skeptical about Mr. Ozawa's falling for a grand coalition. Doing so would mean watching his party crumble beneath his feet, and would likely demolish the rump DPJ's electoral prospects. The DPJ would become ever more like the anti-mainstream faction that Mr. Koizumi suggested it had become by winning the Upper House — and why would voters bother defecting from the LDP...for the LDP. I am convinced that Mr. Ozawa's goal is to unseat the LDP and make his own party the new governing party. It's hard to do that without a party.

But that doesn't mean that Mr. Ozawa isn't looking for a way to be able to work with the LDP to get legislation passed. I think the "secret" meetings between the party heads are concerned with drafting rules of the game for a divided Diet. As I've suggested earlier, the DPJ has no choice but to cooperate with the LDP if it wants to see legislation passed; the LDP has the luxury of not cooperating, even if, as Jun Okumura discusses in this post, the LDP is extremely reluctant to use its supermajority. Not surprisingly, the moment the anti-terror special measures law expires and the MSDF ships set sail for home, Mr. Ozawa's confrontational posture slackens and he sits down to talk with Mr. Fukuda. I agree with MTC: the end of the MSDF mission has, in a sense, let the air out of the tense political environment. Mr. Fukuda does not share his predecessor's enthusiasm for the mission, and now that Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ have earned their "victory," having done exactly what they set out to do in the aftermath of the Upper House election, the two leaders can get down to business and figure out how and on what issues the two parties and the two houses can work together to forge a national agenda.

And so to address Jun's question about why the LDP remains extremely reluctant to use its supermajority to pass the new law, I don't think the government is prepared to pay political costs well out of proportion to the benefits that could accrue to the LDP as a result of the continuation of the refueling mission. I really think that Mr. Fukuda would prefer that the issue go away, regardless of the tough rhetoric used by Mr. Machimura to criticize the DPJ (indirectly). (The CCS described Japan as returning to the "minor leagues" for pulling out of the Indian Ocean.) The new bill may very well die in the Upper House, the government will do its best to spin the defeat as irresponsibility on the DPJ's part, but it will do nothing further.


MTC said...

Japan Observer -

The title of the article on Machimura's criticism is misleading. The body of the article explains that according to Machimura, the DPJ's intransigence on the renewal of the dispatch has relegated Japan to the international community's "minor leagues."

Japan Observer said...


Thank you for the correction. That's what I get for writing on the run.

In any case, I don't think there's any question who Machimura would hold responsible publicly for Japan's being relegated to the minors.