Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Assembling the new coalition government

The DPJ has been in intense negotiations with the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDPJ) and the People's New Party (PNP) to finalize the terms of their coalition government.

The DPJ's goal in negotiations is naturally to minimize the disruptiveness from having two parties (and their internal politics) interfere with the DPJ's plans for a streamlined policymaking process in which the cabinet will control the ruling party, and through its control of the ruling party, the Diet. In order to ensure that the same process works for the upper house, the cabinet will have to represent the will of the ruling parties — Hatoyama, in a conversation with SDPJ leader Fukushima Mizuho, stressed the importance of the government's policies reflecting the SDPJ's positions. Naturally the best way to have the ruling parties represented is by having their leaders take up positions in the cabinet. Indeed, the three parties — with Kan, the likely minister responsible for the national strategy bureau sitting in for Hatoyama, representing the DPJ — will form a committee within the cabinet to coordinate policies, the "Basic Policy Cabinet Committee," perhaps the first instance of a DPJ commitment to form a cabinet committee. (In his report on the British system of government and his article in Chuo Koron, Kan was particularly impressed by Britain's cabinet committees as a means of overcoming unanimous decision-making and stovepiping within the government, but until now it has been unclear just how the DPJ will use cabinet committees, if at all.)

As of Tuesday, the parties had agreed that leaders would join the cabinet, but were still negotiating joint positions in foreign policy, not surprisingly the area not included in the joint manifesto produced by the three parties during the campaign (which this Sankei editorial called "irresponsible"). The sticking point appears to be text related to the coalition's position on how to deal with opposition to the bilateral agreement on realignment as it pertains to a Futenma replacement facility: the DPJ and PNP have accepted a statement that stresses a bilateral solution without identifying the particular grievances (i.e., actually naming Futenma), while the SDPJ wants the statement to include specific details. The SDPJ also wants a commitment to involve only the Coast Guard in anti-piracy activities off the Horn of Africa.

Nevertheless, the parties are still trying to reach an agreement Wednesday. There appear to be few difficulties with the PNP: PNP leader Kamei Shizuka will join the cabinet as a minister without portfolio. The problem for the DPJ is, will probably continue to be, the SDPJ. The SDPJ wants to take a harder line than the DPJ is prepared to take, and given that its votes are needed in the upper house, it has power far disproportionate to its seven lower house and five upper house members. The difference is not necessarily a matter of policy preferences, but of tactics and emphasis. The DPJ appears to recognize that it can only push the US so far before it causes real damage to the alliance. I hope the Obama administration recognizes the difference between the DPJ and the SDPJ when it comes to the bilateral issues the new government wants to address — and that Washington finds some consolation prize to help the DPJ save face in lieu of full-blown renegotiation.

Managing the DPJ's relationship with the SDPJ will be much more troublesome than managing the left wing of the party, not least because the DPJ — with some credit going to Ozawa Ichiro — has forged a working consensus on foreign policy that is probably more acceptable to the left of the party than the right. (Revealingly, Yokomichi Takahiro, the unofficial leader of the party's left and an Ozawa ally, has been tapped to serve as the speaker of the House of Representatives after serving for four years as deputy speaker.)

Accordingly, even as the three parties were negotiating the terms of the coalition, Ozawa was meeting with Rengo, the labor organization, to ask for its support in next year's upper house election — stressing that the DPJ "must win a majority in next year's upper house election by any means necessary."

UPDATE: The three parties have finalized their agreement, which reportedly reflects the DPJ's softer line. Jiji's report adds that the DPJ can now accelerate the process of filling in the remainder of the cabinet.


Ken Y-N said...

One thing that puzzles me is why the obsession with having a supermajority? If it's down to just a handful of votes, illness or people ignoring the whips (do they have whips in the Diet?) could sway things either way, I would guess.

Given that allying with the PNP and SDPJ results in having to water down manifesto commitments, I would say such an alliance is counter-productive.

Tobias Harris said...


It has nothing to do with a supermajority and everything to do with the DPJ's not having a majority in the upper house. To pass laws in both houses, it will have to cooperate with both the SDPJ and the PNP.

It could cooperate on an issue by issue basis in the upper house, but that would be unnecessarily cumbersome. And without a supermajority in the lower house, it cannot ignore the upper house.

Janne Morén said...

Not to mention that the supermajority override is not valid for some issues (such as some personnel appointments), so the SDPJ or other small parties could still make life difficult even if DPJ had a lower-house supermajority.

More important, I suspect, is that doing a coalition (even if it's "coalition lite") increases the perceived legitimacy of the policies they'll pursue. They can legitimately state they're not just pushing their own hobby horse but implementing policy goals shared by multiple parties.

Martin J Frid said...

Yes, the upper house majority is the key. How do you feel about the SDPJ and PNP, are they going to play fair?