The Kan government is looking to re-engage for a third time with its old coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party. To recap, the original coalition of the DPJ, the PNP, and the SDP broke down after party leader Fukushima Mizuho, then a cabinet minister, was expelled by Hatoyama from his cabinet for refusing to sign the Cabinet Decision authorizing the go ahead of the Futenma relocation plan. Late last year the Kan government approached the SDP again looking for some love – this time in a weakened position in the aftermath of the House of Councillors election which saw the DPJ lose the ability to stitch together a working majority among like-minded parties. This meant the only paths to getting legislation approved were working with the opposition or forcing a 2/3rd vote in the House of Representatives to override the House of Councillors. The enlightened opposition was having none of the former. The SDP in entertaining the proposition managed to convince the Kan government to abandon its push to have the the Arms Export Ban relaxed – but eventually decided anyway that it was too soon and that in reality they too were part of the loyal opposition.
Kan’s only remaining option was to persuade the Komeitō to work with them on at least getting the budget approved. Initially it looked likely this would happen – while the Komeitō would vote against the budget bill itself (which in itself is not a significant issue – the budget bill passes into law naturally after a month if no further action is taken by the House of Councillors) it was considering voting yes for the budget-related bill which is required for Japan to issue bonds to cover the shortfall between government revenue and expenditures – which does have to be authorized by both houses. This was ostensibly for the purposes of continuity, political stability and not undermining the livelihoods of citizens who would suffer if the government ran out of money. It seems there was a backlash within the Komeitō and within its “mother organization,” the Sōka Gakkai, and now Komeitō will not support either bill. One wonders whether this confirms that the Komeitō sees itself long-term as firmly back in the political universe of its former partner, the LDP – the main reason for the backdown appears to be concern about the decline of Kan and the DPJ’s support ratings and the Komeitō being tarred with that brush.
So after unsuprisingly finding that tachiagare nippon was not enthusiastic about being in a conservative-fiscal reformist-left-of-centre-psuedo-socialist-special postal interests coalition of absurdity, the DPJ really does now find that the SDP, and the 2/3rds House of Representatives override, is its last resort to, well, do anything.
Needless to say the SDP has some demands/requests. It wants the funds approved to advance the Futenma relocation taken out of this year’s budget; reconsideration of the 5% reduction in the corporate tax rate; and reinstatement of the tax exemption for dependents which was phased out after the child subsidy was introduced (which has apparently led to some people receiving less in light of the inability of the government to fulfil its election pledge of 26,000 yen per child per month).
The SDP is currently waiting for the DPJ’s answer on these three topics before making a decision. Bear in mind that this just to consider the budget and related bills. After working so hard to project a US-Japan alliance friendly position, the first would certainly be politically inexplicable, no matter the realities related to the implementation of the relocation plan. The second and third will obviously not please business/fiscal conservative interests that the Kan government has worked to build a relationship with or has been trying to convince them that the DPJ is not antagonistic towards them.
If further cooperation is pursued there will be further requests – revisions to the Worker Dispatch Law (派遣法) will certainly be put on the table by the SDP. Perhaps more importantly for electoral impact, the PNP will finally want to extract its pound of flesh and the bill for reversing elements of postal privatization will be thrust back into consideration. This obviously poses some difficulties. While the Worker Dispatch Law may not be all that problematic electorally, Kan by pushing forward with the TPP while considering implementing a law greatly disliked by the Japanese business and financial sector, the international financial community, and for the most part the Japanese people, will be presenting an image of stewardship greatly at odds with the “Heisei Opening” mantra he has been promoting lately. Furthermore, the SDP is resolutely anti-TPP so certainly the TPP will not advance under such a political arrangement. The big “policy” prize (AKA proof that they have done something significant) that the DPJ wants before heading into another election, will probably be beyond their grasp.
And, (and this is the really special bit) even if Kan was able to navigate his way through all of this, it might all come to nothing. As this Yomiuri article points out (jp), the 2/3rds option is only possible because between the DPJ, PNP, and SDP and some friendly independents they have 319 HoR votes- 1 vote more than the 318 required given that there are 3 HoR vacancies. However, depending on how the party deals with Ozawa given his mandatory indictment, this could get so much more delicious. If he is expelled from the party, he is sure to bring a few of his most hardcore supporters with him – and the 2/3rds option will surely not be on the table. In fact himself and one other would do the trick. The DPJ is aiming for the Budget’s passage through the House of Representatives to occur in early March. And the DPJ will have to decide on what it will do with Ozawa in the next few weeks. And, Ozawa himself has predicted that there will be an election in March. Maehara, who has been very adept at positioning himself on the right side of issues for the last year or so and is seen as a likely successor to Kan, has also instructed his troops to be on alert. The key question might well be whether those in the DPJ who have leadership aspirations think it is better to remove Kan before or after the dissolution of the House of Representatives, rather than whether such a dissolution will happen. Perhaps the only reassuring thing for the DPJ is that opposition intransigence is hurting (jp) opposition parties as well as the DPJ in opinion polls as they have failed to capitalize at all – and parties like Your Party seem have gone backwards due to their lack of prominence on the national stage, perhaps in most part due to their inability to appear as cognitively dissonant and gallingly self-righteous as the LDP has been lately.
It will be interesting.
NB: This post likely contains significant sarcasm.
I also have another post up at Japan Security Watch- misplaced complacency (and lovers). James has produced a good informative post on American perceptions of the US-Japan alliance that is worth reading. I advise subscribing to JSW and putting it into your RSS reader.