Monday, November 17, 2008

The DPJ gambles

Prime Minister Aso Taro returned from the G20 meeting in Washington and immediately met with Ozawa Ichiro to discuss the conclusion of the extraordinary session of the Diet.

The LDP and the DPJ are set for another showdown over the MSDF refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, as the DPJ has announced that it will boycott upper house deliberations and prevent the enabling bill, which passed the lower house on 21 October, from coming to a vote in the upper chamber. By boycotting deliberations it will also prevent a vote on a bill to recapitalize struggling banks. By blocking votes, the DPJ hopes to force the government to extend the Diet session — originally scheduled to expire at month's end— in order to pass these bills. To pass both bills for a second time in the lower house (by way of Article 59), the government would have to extend the Diet session until 5 January; to pass only the refueling mission bill, it would have to extend the session to 2o December.

This time around the refueling mission is an incidental hostage. Mr. Ozawa's strategy in blocking a vote is eminently clear. By forcing the government to extend the Diet session to pass the aforementioned bills, Mr. Ozawa hopes to pressure the government into submitting a second stimulus package in the current session rather than waiting until next year's ordinary session. In his meeting with Mr. Aso, Mr. Ozawa was adamant — the stimulus must be submitted in the current session. The government is now on the defensive. If it fails to submit the bill in the current session after the DPJ declared its willing to cooperate, it leaves itself vulnerable to charges from the opposition that it is dangerously passive in its management of the Japanese response to the crisis. If it yields to Mr. Ozawa's demand, it runs the risk of the DPJ's withdrawing its offer of cooperation. Little wonder that the government is already trying to use the media to bind Mr. Ozawa to his promise. Yomiuri reports that according to the executive of the ruling party (parties? — Yomiuri's sourcing is vague), Mr. Ozawa said in his meeting with Mr. Aso that "if the second stimulus is submitted, we will cooperate. In the event that I break this promise, I will resign my seat."In a press conference after the meeting Mr. Ozawa denied that he said such a thing, and based on Yomiuri's dubious sourcing, I suspect there's little truth in the quote. But it does show the government's need for a guarantee for DPJ cooperation if it is to submit the supplementary bill before it would like to.

Of course, the government could simply call Mr. Ozawa's bluff and submit the bill, daring the DPJ to reject it. Asahi suggests that this is what the LDP is beginning to come around to this view. Presumably the DPJ reasons that if it does reject it, it will trigger an election contested on the question of economic stimulus. It is conceivable, however, that the government could stick to its intention to postpone an election until after April, resubmitting a new stimulus package in the regular session as planned.

However, it is worth recalling that amidst all of this tactical maneuvering by the LDP and the DPJ, the Japanese people are not entirely convinced that it will make any difference in their lives.

In short, this clash has less to do with the content of the legislation in question than in the images each party wishes to project to the public. The DPJ wants to show itself as concerned about the public, compared with the out-of-touch LDP. The LDP wants to appear responsible and deliberate, compared to the reckless and untrustworthy DPJ (led by the shifty Mr. Ozawa).

1 comment: said...

Aso did nothing at the G20 meeting. The Japanese press did everything.