Lazy Speculation

Assuming Masuzoe’s promise to play nice (J) within the LDP is sincere, then I think this simplifies the potential outcomes for the House of Councillors election later this year.

I am going to make a few assumptions.

That Watanabe’s party continues to make a few strides, but nothing like what they might do with the money of Hatoyama and the appeal of Masuzoe and his study group, and perhaps most importantly, the STV electoral seats Hatoyama/Masuzoe would bring – thus picking up a fair amount of the undecided proportional vote (potentially 37%) and a couple more STV seats but not enough to swing the electoral math oneway or another.

That without the above “energizing factor” that a lower turnout will advantage those parties that tend to have faithful followers and do well on PR- such as Komeito, Socialist Party, and the Communists. SDP and the Communists look like they may do worse than previous years, but let’s assume they hold. Komeito might be able to pick up a couple with the excitement or possibility of going into coalition again and thus galvanising what is already a reasonably galvanised support base.

That independents retain seats. That PNP retains their seats. Also that the DPJ will find the PNP ultimately more trouble than its worth.

That the LDP gets a few reactionary votes.

So, my highly scientific prediction based on a few scribbles and a lack of information (namely the exact percentage of STV seats vs PR seats each party’s allocation is made up of, and, the STV seats actually in play!):

DPJ et al: 114

LDP (&kaikaku?): 79

Komeito: 22

Minna no Tou: 10

Communists: 7

SDP: 5

Independents: 5

I can see that the DPJ as the government is in the best place to improve their situation through policy victories. However, that is somewhat murky. Futenma and postal privatization would seem to be the big ones in the immediate future.

Futenma:

* Biggest win would be an out of Okinawa solution by May. But this seems most unlikely. No justification for Hatoyama to step down and perhaps party gets support.

*Weak “in” Okinawa solution – Hatoyama looks more incompetent but party replacing him could lead to lost votes due to not strong enough justification for PM to quit, given the disgust at the recent past history of short-term PMs beseiged by scandals and/or scandalized Cabinets.

*No Okinawa solution by May (perhaps “engineered”?) – Hatoyama must go, justifiably so. Okada to lead, may gain some votes but not as much as would under a “win” on Okinawa

Postal Privatization: In this part, majority management rather than public perception management is key here as I think the public is itself ambivalent about postal privatization.

Concede to Kamei: Risk rebellion in own party. Status quo in terms of election outcome will probably continue – but bad for “Japan”. Hopefully some DPJ members (“the seven magistrates?”) will not allow this, emboldened by the seeming weakening power of Hatoyama and Ozawa.

Don’t concede: Have to throw him out of Cabinet before July. Normally this would be were I could see a place for some of the Minna no tou like parties – but in a strange and slightly nonsensical effort to burn their bridges with the DPJ, a pre-election deal would not happen on non-postal privatization legislation- and I am sure Watanabe et al would be very happy to let the current plan stay just where it is which is all that is going to happen if Cabinet cannot agree (and some may so good).

I personally would have thought that an ambivalent but pragmatic message about working with the DPJ would actually be a better electoral strategy to pick up the undecideds – “a vote for me because I will keep the b*****ds honest” kind of approach. I am not sure what is to be gained by outright alienating the DPJ and give the public the impression that you would rather use the likeness of Koizumi as fumie than cooperate with those who have forever corrupted Japanese politics (sic).

Which leaves us with Komeito, who from what I can tell have a similar approach to postal privatization as the DPJ – privatization with a smile. In the past the Komeito have been concerned (such as during the 2005 lower house snap election and in the wake of the 2007 HoC elections) with electoral stability as much as specific policies so they may be able to lend a helping hand on majority issues in the upper house – and perhaps beyond. Actually a minority government with an agreement with Komeito on specific issues of cooperation (but not a full Cabinet centred coalition), and the ability to use either of the two potential partners to go to on any given issue could well be quite stable. In NZ, where we also have a mixed PR system and also a Westminster style democracy, this is actually the modus operandi and it is pretty stable. As it is, with control of the lower house, the DPJ does not require even a confidence and supply agreement.

Furthermore, a minority government rather than a full coalition represented in Cabinet might be the best way for any Japanese government to establish some “constitutional norms” around Cabinet and party discipline and agreement and disagreement, issues Tobias Harris very ably touches on in the last couple of posts here (with bit contributions in the comments from Michael Cucek and I).

A loose agreement with probably Komeito might be a good way to open up the debate within the DPJ also – allowing members to occasionally vote with their “conscience”  as we call it, on certain issues without either jeopardising electoral stability, or the person objecting’s good name on the issue they feel passionate about. The upshot of this is that the DPJ would feel less compelled to exert a strong whipping influence over every single vote and some idol chatter from backbenchers on issues they feel passionate about would hopefully become uninteresting to the national media – they would not want disagreement to happen too often, but it would be tolerable as long as the fundamental basis of the party’s existence or nature was not challenged at the same time – which is what is effectively happening now. I don’t see any of this being that problematic AS LONG AS DISAGREEMENT STOPS HAPPENING IN PUBLIC BETWEEN MEMBERS OF CABINET!!! The latest example of this mess being here (J). Seriously, the debate that is going to happen – that is what Cabinet is actually for! If the important people or a large majority agree, then those that disagree either shut up, or leave Cabinet. If the right people do not agree, you either agree to go away and work on the policy more, or you leave Cabinet. I cannot honestly figure out if it is just complete incompetence (and in the case of Kamei, outright insolence) on the part of Hatoyama, or if the concept of “Collective Responsibility” of Cabinet is just completely alien to Japanese politics. If it is, then fine. I guess time will tell.

Anway, since, given the “electoral math” provided above, Komeito are only one of two possible coalition partners, Jun Okumura’s claimed prescience would indeed seem to be just that. Perhaps the “Seven Magistrates” understand all this and are lying in wait for the opportune moment – of course, let’s just hope the likes of Hatoyama, Kamei, and Ozawa do not stuff it all up one way or another before then.

3 years of an Okada lead minority government (in the strongest sense) with support from Komeito and a reformist “third pole” when needed could well be best outcome out of all of this!

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