It seems that the various attempted manoeuvres initiated by the DPJ to pass the budget and budget related bills have failed. The negotiations with the SDP for support for a 2/3 override vote in the lower house seem to have broken down – helped along by Hatoyama’s recent entertaining remarks (en) – and an attempt to break up parts of the budget and related bills so to facilitate party by party support, while considered for a brief period of time by some opposition parties, also seems to have come to nothing. The prospect of a snap election – likely by June if not in April when nationwide integrated local elections are held – is becoming all the more likely. Indeed according to a recent jiji poll (jp) the number of those who believe that there should be a lower house election (40%) or the Kan cabinet should resign (15%) are in the majority. Only 33% believe Kan should tough it out for a while.
While the big news is that the Kan cabinet support rate (17.8%) has fallen below the Hatoyama cabinet’s own low of 19.1%, the poll shows a continuation of another trend – that other parties are completely unable to capitalize on the DPJ’s missteps. In fact the poll shows that all parties except for the SDP have lost support since December and even the SDP only gained a measly 0.1 percent. More interestingly, and in this author’s view, more encouraging, is that the LDP has lost more support since December than the DPJ has (even if only by a margin of 1% – 2.9% loss for LDP v 1.9 % for DPJ). Certainly if there is an election soon it is anyone’s guess what the outcome would be – unless a catalyzing event, perhaps such as a good showing by reform parties in the upcoming local elections, or the break up of the DPJ itself leading to political realignment (of sorts), occurs, then it seems likely that the outcome will be an equivocal one.
However, with the recent psuedo-revolt (en) inside the DPJ by members aligned to Ozawa (who are claiming to be the true defenders of the DPJ manifesto) the eventual break-up of the party is looking somewhat more likely (jp). Needless to say this revolt could fatally compromise the legislation-making ability of the Kan government. But aside from the resentment regarding the way Ozawa is being treated inside the party, such a course of action is, as I have argued before, quite a rational course of action for those in the DPJ who benefited from the strong anti-LDP vote in 2009. All members of the current break away clique were elected on the proportional representation list and almost all are first-time members of the house. While they have at times, amusingly, been described as “young” by the Japanese press (若手 – only 3 of the 16 are under 45 ) they all are likely to suffer the most from an upcoming election under the DPJ banner, having not had even a local constituency to represent while trying to raise their personal profile in the last 2 years. A lot of the first-time candidates who were elected to local constituencies in 2009, under Ozawa’s direction took straight to using their new found status to raise their profile and have worked assiduously at a local level to consolidate their position, hardly touching 0n policy at all. These members in particular might find it most advantageous to distance themselves from the party at a later date – something they could well credibly do considering their lack of DPJ “institutionalization.”
Whether the initial revolt leads to a chain reaction of destruction remains to be seen but it really seems that we have entered a crucial stage. Kan, Sengoku and Okada in particular have inherited a poison chalice in leading the party at this time and it now seems certain that they will not be able to offload it before election time through constructive policymaking and the achievement of results- and it very much seems that the LDP as a whole still cannot get rid of theirs. With 65% of voters undecided, bold action in any direction would seem to be far less risky than it would normally be. If the DPJ decides to call an election in June as many are picking (some say in a deal to get the budget passed), the April local elections could well be a very interesting catalyzing event and may well have an impact on the perception of political and electoral incentives for many of the less institutionalized political players in the Japanese political system. While much of the English language media will further deride the ‘instability’ in Japanese politics, and lament the end of the ‘responsible’ Kan, it may well in fact be the case that we are seeing a path to stability open up in the current fog. As always, time will tell.