Friday, January 11, 2008

Use of force

"Japan PM forces navy bill through" — BBC.

"Japan's ruling party steamrolled a new anti-terrorism law through parliament." — Morning Brief, Foreign Policy Passport.

"Japan's ruling coalition forced a bill through parliament today..." — LA Times (AP)

"Fukuda forces through law on Japanese naval deployment" — International Herald Tribune (NYT)

"Japan forces through terror law" — Financial Times

Anyone else detect a theme here? The Western press coverage (with the exception of the AFP, it seems) of the passage of the new anti-terror special measures law emphasized the supposed aggressiveness of the government's action — echoing the DPJ, whose secretary general, Hatoyama Yukio, described it as "outrageous" — and highlighted the rarity of the use of a supermajority in the HR to override the HC.

Of course it's rare: when was the last time the government had an HR supermajority at the same time that the largest opposition party was in control of the HC?

So the emphasis on the "forcefulness" of the measure is, I think, mistaken. The word "force" implies that this step was undemocratic. But Mr. Fukuda is entirely within his rights. The constitution gives the HR the right to overrule the HC if it has a sufficient number of votes. Just because this right has rarely been exercised does not make it any more forceful. It simply reflects the singularity of the present moment in Japanese politics, in which the LDP has had to take an extraordinary step to pass a high-priority measure.

If the constitutional legitimacy is beyond dispute, the political legitimacy of the act is uncertain, more open to dispute and more likely to change over time, depending on what the Fukuda government does in the coming months. I suspect that the consequences of using the supermajority will be limited. I am sure that Mr. Fukuda would have preferred not to have to pass the law this way, but the fate of his government will not rest upon this decision. If the LDP's majority is to shrink or be lost entirely in a general election, it will be due to the accretion of policy failures and cases of misgovernance, in which case the use of the supermajority to override the HR will be cited as but one case among many illustrating the LDP's failures. Meanwhile, in the event that the Fukuda government is able to sort out the pensions problem and recapture the mantle of reform in advance of the next general election, I expect that the Japanese people will forgive the government for its supposed transgression on this issue.

Indeed, yesterday was a happy day for Prime Minister Fukuda. Not only was his government able to pass this bill after months of uncertainty, finally removing it from the center of the parliamentary agenda, but the process of passing the bill exposed the rifts within the parliamentary opposition. As I noted previously, the DPJ was forced to change its approach to the bill in the HC due to pressure from other opposition parties, which wanted the HC (and thus the DPJ) to take a clear stance in opposition to the government. In HR deliberations on the bill Friday, DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro left the chamber abruptly and abstained from voting on the bill. Mr. Hatoyama claimed that Mr. Ozawa had duties to attend to in relation to the forthcoming Osaka gubernatorial election, but Mr. Ozawa's hasty departure prompted charges of "irresponsibility" from both the LDP and other opposition parties.

Whatever the reason for Mr. Ozawa's departure, there is no question that the manner in which this bill passed was a personal defeat for Mr. Ozawa, who preferred that the HC let the sixty-day waiting period pass without the DPJ having to register its opposition in an HC vote. As MTC argued in this post, the endgame of the anti-terror bill exposed the DPJ's dependence on Socialists and Communists in its opposition to the government, due to the DPJ's holding a plurality — not an outright majority — in the Upper House.


vincent said...

No, I do not think ‘forced’ is all that wrong. The two-thirds majority is a Koizumi heritage: the September 2005 Lower House elections revolved around the single issue of postal privatization. Therefore I do not think the Fukuda government has a popular mandate to use this 2/3 majority.

On the other hand, I’m glad the refueling mission got off the agenda after months and months of obstruction. Really disappointing that the DPJ didn’t do anything constructive. Even their own proposal was only a tool for obstruction tactics. Their last idea to take the refueling mission over to the ordinary session beginning next week was really annoying. Good that the socialists and communists prevented this.

Janne Morén said...

Using the supermajority is absolutely legitimate, legally as well as morally. And I doubt it will affect a future election outcome even a little.

What it does, however, is to poison the relationship between LDP and the opposition, pushing it towards the antagonistic end of the spectrum. So, if they lose their supermajority in the next election they'll have two years of trying to get their bills through an opposition house that does remember how LDP went roughshood all over them and is in no mood to be any more conciliatory than LDP has been here.

In a divided government, remember, gaining the cooperation of the opposition is not a right, and the oppositon has no more a moral duty to be conciliatory than the LDP had a duty to refrain here. Tit for tat - and LDP just played the "tit" card.

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Bryce said...

"LDP just played the "tit" card."

Hey! When I was an undergrad the boys and I would play poker every Tuesday with a pack of those.

In any case, of course the supermajority is legit. Motivations for voting are complex, and although it's clear that postal privatisation was a motivation for a lot of voters in 2005, it is not up to you, me or Vincent to speculate where those votes would have gone had the issue been something like refueling. That's the government's job, and if they make the wrong guess, they end up losing their advantage at the next election. Except in certain circumstances (Japan 2005 was one of them) representative democracy is by necessity a system of post hoc legitimisation or censure.

Anonymous said...

What good is a majority, or supermajority, if you don't use it when you need it? While it may make the DPJ unhappy, the more important matter is that the government of Japan was able to do something for once, and carry on with a mission that has value to Japanese foreign policy.

What this whole process demonstrates is a structural weakness of the Japanese constitution - that is, the HC is nothing more than an obstruction and not a source for either innovation or leadership.

Bryce said...

"the HC is nothing more than an obstruction and not a source for either innovation or leadership."

I don't think that's true. The HC can propose and pass its own bills, so I guess it pretty much depends on the caliber of the politicians. I think you're also forgetting that in cases when the government doesn't have a supermajority in the LH (i.e. some 90% of the time), the HC is not "just an obstruction", but a fairly effective means of making the government review its policy, in other words, it serves the purpose that the Japanese proponents of bicameralism originally envisioned in the constitution (of course, their goal was to restrict LEFT wing power, but that's somewhat irrelevant now.)

Baltimoron said...

I tend to agree with those arguing that the vote is morally and constitutionally right. And, more importantly, might this incident, especially if the LDP resorts to it again, create another reason for two-party competition in Japan? Ozawa might have lost on this issue, but might some pols and voters argue, that the opposition needs more seats so that the LH can't deploy its supermajority. In other words, might this tactic create a groundswell for divided government instead of consensus?

Baltimoron said...

I tend to agree with those arguing that the LH vote is morally and constitutionally right. But more interestingly, might not this vote, especially if the LDP exercises it again, undermine consensus politics for legitimate two-party competition and divided government? Ozawa might have lost, but might not pols and voters realize that the supermajority rule creates an opportunity to make politics more exciting?

Bryce said...

Ozawa might have lost on this issue, but might some pols and voters argue, that the opposition needs more seats so that the LH can't deploy its supermajority.

I've had similar thoughts. The fact is, the government can't even begin to think about clawing back the majority in the House of Councillors until 2009, and even then an out-and-out victory would be unlikely unless they produced someone of Koizumi's stature. In the mean time, Ozawa and friends can hold things up in the Upper House and then point to the fact that the reason "politics isn't working" is because of divided government. If the election is this year, it will allow Ozawa to run on a "correct the imbalance in politics" ticket.