Friday, January 23, 2009

The foolish crusade against the House of Councillors

In May 2008, I wrote about the creation of an LDP study group with the goal of eliminating the House of Councillors — the Diet's upper house — and moving to a unicameral system, a proposal that I suggested was an anti-democratic temper tantrum in response to DPJ control of the upper chamber.

This proposal and its advocates, however, are still at work trying to undermine Japanese democracy. The study group is working hard to introduce a plank demanding a unicameral system into the LDP's manifesto for the next general election. As Yamamoto Ichita, a member of the study group, explains, the proposal is not just to dissolve the upper house but to dissolve both houses and create a new unicameral legislature with significantly fewer legislators. The plan calls for the number of legislators to be cut by thirty percent and for single-member districts to give way to prefecture-wide multi-member districts. He claims it isn't simply a response to the DPJ's control of the upper house.

As I noted last year, given that such a radical change would require Japan's first ever constitutional amendment (Article 42: "The Diet shall consist of two Houses, namely the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors"), and given that the days of the government's supermajority are almost certainly numbered, this proposal is singularly farfetched. It is doubtful whether this proposal would receive majority support, let alone supermajority support. Prime Minister Aso is circumspect; Komeito is favorably disposed to cutting the number of legislators but opposed to removing the upper house; and the DPJ's Ozawa Ichiro thinks this should not be a subject for discussion at all before a general election.

So why am I writing about this proposal?

Only because it shows how batty some LDP members have gotten as their party has decayed. Not only do this proposal's proponents — including the past four prime ministers — ignore the steep obstacles standing in the way of ever making a unicameral system a reality given present political circumstances, but they are so short-sighted that they fail to realize that given the probability of the LDP's going into opposition, the upper house will be a useful tool for crafting an LDP revival.

The DPJ, the upper house's largest party but not the majority party, needs every vote it can get in order to control the upper chamber. For now, it is dependent on the Social Democrats and the People's New Party. Even if the DPJ wins an absolute majority in the lower house and forms a government, it will still have to cobble together working coalitions in the upper house. In this situation, the LDP will be powerful both as a potential partner and as a potential spoiler of DPJ plans. The same will apply to Komeito. Surely the members of the coalition parties, surrounded by signs of impending collapse, have begun thinking about what life in opposition will be like. Surely they know all too well that the upper house can be a useful platform for disrupting government business.

But the unicameralists not only exhibit a shortsightedness on the part of LDP members, they show how LDP members have looked to attribute policy failures to anyone or anything but their own party. Naturally there are exceptions, most notably Mr. Koizumi and his followers. But the desire to blame structural forces — the electoral system, the parliamentary system, the policymaking system — is persistent, and unconvincing.

How can the same structures that in many ways sustained LDP rule now suddenly be contributing to the LDP's demise? For example, if the much-vilified bureaucracy, Nakagawa Hidenao's bete noire, has misgoverned Japan, the obvious question is why the LDP has allowed the bureaucracy to make such a mess of things. Mr. Nakagawa would answer that the bureaucracy is an all-powerful complex — which Mr. Nakagawa explicitly describes as akin to Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex" — that is capable of manipulating the LDP, the media, the universities, and so on.

Not good enough. At some point the LDP, accountable to the public for policy, must pay the price for failures. No more excuses. No more scapegoats.

1 comment:

Bryce said...

It's not really that strange. Before 1993 the LDP always tinkered with the electoral law to make opposition victory more difficult. Tinkering with parliamentary structure because it hurts their chances in an election is simply taking things one step further.

And as I noted before, it is kind of ironic because the very first suggestion for amendment to the American draft that conservative politicians made when it was presented to them was to establish a bicameral legislature. They wanted to ensure that a simple electoral victory would not lend too much power to the socialists. But no bicameralism doesn't suit them, so they think it must go...