To follow up on yesterday’s post, the DPJ joint session has come and gone and needless to say there was some reaction towards the concessions that DPJ leaders made to the LDP and Komeito. These concessions made all the more painful by members of the Komeito and LDP crowing to the media about how they have been successful in their aim of getting the DPJ to ‘withdraw their manifesto.’ Needless to say that rubs some of the reform minded DPJ members up the wrong way – but they need and probably do understand that this is part of the LDP and Komeito strategy to sow internal discord in the DPJ, something likely to be intense (日) over the next few days. As mentioned yesterday, the LDP will put pressure on the DPJ by threatening to bring a no-confidence measure against Noda if they delay the tax bill. If this pressure forces the DPJ to submit it on time without having got all of its ducks in a row, the LDP/Komeito hope is that a number of DPJ members will outright vote against it, leading to an irreconcilable split in the party. The ideal for the LDP/Komeito would be to have 49 lower house members or more of the DPJ vote against the bill and subsequently expelled from the party. The legislation would likely still pass but this would endanger the DPJ’s current lower house majority of 289, likely forcing Noda to declare an election (notwithstanding the unconstitutionality of holding an election under the current legislation). Since the LDP/Komeito have declared that they will not form a “grand coalition” before an election then we can see clearly that their desire is to establish such a coalition only after an election where the two parties expect to have an upper hand. The Yomiuri reports (日) that indeed 50 members of Ozawa’s group are likely to vote against the legislation, giving the impression that a party meltdown is inevitable.
However despite this it would seem that DPJ executives are confident that they will get the numbers they need at potentially low cost. While there will be more meetings over the next two days Noda has declared that he wants to adhere to the June 21 plan for a vote on the tax reform legislation. It is likely that despite reservations expressed at yesterday’s meeting by “middle-roaders,” DPJ leaders probably expect, for reasons identified in yesterday’s post, that the middle-roaders will go along with the bill when push comes to shove. The current sense of financial and fiscal international crisis revolving around Europe, and the IMF’s ‘recommendation’ that Japan do its bit by raising its consumption tax to 15%, will probably help Noda push these members along. Noda and his troops can probably also eat into the 50 or so members over the next few days as well. Most estimates are that the diehard ‘Ozawa’-ites may not number much more than 30 to 40 within the party. Hatoyama has publicly suggested that anyone not going along with the bill should be treated lightly in terms of party discipline, perhaps leaving the way open for an unspoken agreement where an abstention, or perhaps better for Noda, a no show on the consumption tax vote, will only result in suspension of some party privileges rather than expulsion, thereby maintaining Noda’s lower house majority for the time being. This could be an option favoured by those vulnerable first-term Diet members with constituency seats who want to stay within the party without either ‘rejecting’ their loyalty to Ozawa et al or fatally undermining their reformist credentials, which could still play a small part in a close single member district (SMD) election race. We could well see a number of these candidates running in 2013 under the DPJ but with neither the DPJ or ‘Ozawa’ brands on their campaign posters – a trend that has apparently already been detected.
Perhaps also working in Noda’s favour is the backtrack in the last couple of days on the idea that the Ishin no kai (InK) may not field candidates in the next general election. Hashimoto earlier this week suggested if he got the bill he wanted through parliament then he might view his work as having been done and refrain from fielding candidates in the next national election. However it seems that he may have misread the objectives of his supporters and colleagues who ultimately see the reform of Osaka’s administrative structure as only one step in the goal of reforming Japan’s administrative structure, not the primary goal as such. Hashimoto is looking less and less sure footed as time goes on and he has had to walk this statement back recently as well. Osaka governor and partner in crime Matsui Ichiro has in an interview (日) with the Asahi declared that not only will InK field candidates in the next general election but they will look to secure a majority. InK executives have also declared Watanabe Yoshimi’s Your Party (who are looking to syphon off any DPJ members quitting the party over the tax legislation if they will commit to the party’s policies on administrative reform) is the closest in terms of policy to the InK, suggesting they may be getting over their concerns about YP. Either which way such movements are useful for Noda as it will be a tacit restraint on the LDP’s pushing the DPJ into an election.
Likewise with the election reform bill. The election bill1 is useful for the DPJ and Noda for two reasons. First it drives somewhat of a wedge between the Komeito and the LDP due to the characteristics of the bill which advantages the Komeito, but does not do enough in terms of eliminating the proportional representation components for the LDP.
Second, while the Komeito has not confirmed that it will vote for the DPJ electoral reform legislation, as it is in general it is opposed to any reduction in the PR seats, the DPJ’s determination to submit the bill within the current Diet session will complicate the LDP/Komeito’s thinking around a “no vote” for two reasons. One is that they would essentially be voting against the rectification of the constitutionality issue identified by the Japanese Supreme Court. This would not be fatal for these parties as such but since the bill is probably a ‘bare minimum’ solution to the issue, then the DPJ at the very least would be seen as the more pragmatic and non-obstructionist in this specific case.2
This would usefully enable Noda to continue putting off an election with little public backlash until all parties come around to a solution. And the second reason is precisely this – if the Komeito and the LDP want an election so bad, then the ball is in their court – will they really vote against it knowing that the issue will not be raised again until the next session of the Diet (whenever that might be – if Noda gets his tax and other bills passed he may try to do as little as possible until next year, especially if the current session is extended until September)?
As we can see Noda is a thorough and systematic political actor that has managed to travel quite a lot of political distance since his inauguration, despite essentially having nothing to work with at the start and having to deal with the usual political scandals and upsets around his cabinet selections. Whatever misgivings one may have about his policies, we can only speculate about how different things would have been for the DPJ had Noda been the first, and not the third, DPJ PM. If Noda is successful in passing the bill, manages to fend off calls for an election anytime soon, and maintains party unity of some recognizable kind, then the prospects are not too bad for the medium term. Not only will he have “got something done” in extremely difficult political circumstances (some would have initially said impossible circumstances!) he can also probably expect the mainstream Japanese media to praise him and fall in behind Noda for a period of time – a rare commodity for the DPJ. This will likely not propel him into the plus 50 percent support range, but could stabilize his support base enough that he would be able to survive the September DPJ election, and then make through to next year. There will still be considerable skepticism and a pro-reform floating vote that any DPJ breakaways, the InK, or YP et al can capitalize on in the next general election but Noda lasting until 2013 (getting ahead of myself here!) may turn out to be a pivotal moment in the evolution of the Japanese political system.
The basic features of the electoral reform bill are:
1) Elimination, as suggested by the Supreme Court of the system where SMD seats are decided first through the allocation of one seat to each prefecture, with the remaining (253) seats allocated on the basis of population (the so-called 「１人別枠方式」). If passed it would simply be distributed on the basis of population.
2) Reduction of SMD seats to 295 (from 300). With the elimination of the １人別枠方式, based on the 2010 census results this would mean that Fukui, Yamanashi, Tokushima, Kouchi and Saga-kens would all lose one seat.
3)Proportional representation seats would be reduced by 40 from 180 to 140 seats. This would bring the total number of lower house seats down to approximately 435 (down from 180).
4) The regional PR ‘blocs’ (currently 11) would all be merged into a single national bloc for distribution.
5) Within the 140 PR seats, 105 will be decided by the current d’hondt method while 35 would be allotted by the additional member system (連用制) method which gives an advantage to smaller parties by essentially reversing the order of preference used to calculate seat apportionment.
6) Implementing a minimum 1 percent threshold for being eligible for receiving a PR seat.
7) For the election after the next one, cut the total number to 400 seats. In preparation for this election, a commission of enquiry will be set up to report back within one year on the best way to implement a reduced lower house size while also appropriately reflecting the will of the people.
2 And they may be able to make a little mileage out of the fact that they alone are willing to ostensibly “sacrifice” a part of the body politic given the difficult circumstances that have lead to the raising of the consumption tax. Along with the cutting of public servant salaries (temporarily) and other cost cutting moves then they may have a (IMHO) weak claim on being more responsible than either the LDP or Komeito given in their time in government (with the possible exception of Koizumi, although he did far less than is usually thought in terms of domestic reform given how much capital he expended on foreign policy initiatives of dubious outcomes) they were unable to do even this meager kind of cost cutting.