Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Intimations of change

The revised bill for the special measures law on taxation, which includes the government's ten-year extension of the temporary gasoline tax, has been scheduled for interpellation in the plenary session of the House of Representatives from Tuesday, 19 February. The bill on the road construction special fund will be under discussion from Thursday, 21 February. The tax bill will be submitted for questioning in the HR Financial and Monetary Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

In the midst of the slow progress towards the climax of the debate on the gasoline tax and road construction, Yamashita Yasuo (DPJ), chairman of HC State Basic Policy Committee, and Eto Seishiro, chairman of its HR counterpart (LDP), called upon Prime Minister Fukuda and DPJ President Ozawa to have a debate in the Diet. They have yet to do so this session, and did not debate last session until the final days of the session.

They're right: the party leaders should debate, regularly and publicly.

But even without regular clashes between Messrs. Fukuda and Ozawa, the current "Road Diet" (previously known as the Gasoline Diet) belies the popular notions that the Japanese political system is broken and that the DPJ is little more than a pale imitation of the LDP. The clash between the LDP and the DPJ over road construction is a policy debate with real consequences for the future of Japan — and shows that there are genuine and deep differences between the two parties. The DPJ, in taking a stand on the special fund for road construction, has placed itself firmly on the side of ending the privileged and corrupt system that has long characterized LDP rule; the LDP has shown, in the blatant attempt by road tribesmen to preserve the special fund, that vestiges of Tanaka Kakuei's LDP remain, even if their days are numbered. The line between the parties is clear; it is not just a matter of a twenty-five yen surcharge on gasoline.

Political change is happening before our eyes.

1 comment:

Bryce said...

Oh, I'm in a cynical mood today.

"and shows that there are genuine and deep differences between the two parties."

Yes, the difference is that the LDP is a fractured governing party and the DPJ, as a functioning opposition party, will leap on any issue in order to embarrass its leadership. Throughout his career Ozawa has hardly been the model free-market reformer. If you have a copy of "Blueprint for a New Japan" handy, check out his plans for the highway and shinkansen extensions, no doubt paid for by tax buck. (Eng. p. 166, Jap. pp. 199-201). The DPJ's most recent whimsy under Ozawa was buying up all the farming votes with promises of subsidies, hardly inconsistent with the "big-state" policy the road tax represents. And let's not forget who Ozawa's mentor was...

Unlike the the DPJ's (more specifically Ozawa's) stance on the Gulf deployments, I see criticism of the road tax as simply a way to stick it to the government.

It would be great to see the DPJ develop a true party identity based around a set of principles, and to some degree - notably with the party's fixation on the U.N. - this is happening. But there are other areas where this needs to develop further.

The problem with being an opposition party in Japan, though, is that once you develop your principles, the LDP comes along and nicks all your policies.