After an initial delay the legislation has been submitted and the roll call for the first of the various bills that fall under the “social security and tax reform” designation pushed forward by the 3-party DPJ, LDP and Komeito (non-)coalition is expected to take place around 2.20pm Japan time today.
The situation seems to be coming into focus and there is good news and bad news for the Noda administration. As predicted Prime Minister Noda seems to have been quite successful in convincing the “middle-roaders” to bite the bullet and vote for the bill(s). He has not been so successful however in picking off those less resolute Ozawa/Hatoyama group members by convincing them to abstain or not turn up to the vote. The media strongly believes that 57 DPJ lower house parliamentarians have resolved to vote “against” the bill. If it was somewhere in the 40s then Noda could deal with these members however he wished. However any number above 50, and then 54 if we include the DPJ’s now quite subservient PNP coalition partner, would mean expulsion would likely lead to a no-confidence vote against Noda actually passing. Noda will thus be forced to either be lenient on even those that voted directly against the legislation, or be willing to take the risks of operating a minority government where LDP outrage on any issue – faux or otherwise – could lead to the end of Noda, or if a replacement cannot acquire the confidence of parliament, lead to a general election.
The LDP, citing Koizumi’s actions after the postal reform bill was rejected the first time in 2005, will be pushing the DPJ to expel the rebels from the party. Of course. The difference is however that these rebels will not have actually prevented the legislation from actually passing and thus not as spectacular a public challenge to Noda’s leadership. There is leeway – especially as there is no DPJ precedent for dealing with this kind of situation – for Noda to treat the rebels somewhat more leniently. Indeed it will likely be very much in his interest to do so.
And the good news on this front for Noda is that it seems that only about 36 to 40 of the most hardcore Ozawa-ites have determined to leave the party after the vote and to set up a new party. With the Kizuna party, they would form a bloc of roughly 40 to 50 or so parliamentarians. While there might be up to 70 DPJ members who will not vote for the bill, not all wish to leave the party. Hatoyama, curious as always, has declared that he will vote directly against the bill – but he will not leave the party and does not wish to break the party apart. Under normal circumstances such a statement would seem to be putting the cart before the horse, however Hatoyama understands that DPJ executives will ultimately be forced to treat those like himself more leniently.
The question will therefore be how lenient – and how will those who wish to stay in the party react to that? One suggestion has been the suspension of party privileges for a designated period of time. However if the suspension is three months or more, then this will prevent such members from voting in the September DPJ presidential election. This may be unacceptable to some and they may end up leaving anyhow. There are some calls within the DPJ for the application of any penalties to be “delayed.” One option here may be only applying the penalty closer to election time, where essentially the DPJ would withdraw official party endorsement for that members reelection campaign. This would probably be the expectation of anyone submitting a “no” vote anyway, and at least in the interim they could enjoy the benefits of being in the government party while they consider their next move.
The DPJ party executives will be working the phones up to the last minute. They have constructed a document ranking DPJ members in terms of their resoluteness in terms of voting yes or no. Noda himself has been calling around. Will there be any last minute deals struck that may get the straight no votes down to around the low 50s? Another interesting thing to watch out for will be whether party discipline holds for the LDP as well. We may know around 5pm today.
…and then we will need to start thinking about the passage of the bill through the House of Councillors. It will pass – but there will be implications for defections and subsequent treatment in this as well – especially since one way or another the House of Councillors is locked until July 2013.
Update: Hatoyama has just now thrown (日) up another option that may justify lenience- he is only going to vote against the specific bill raising the consumption tax, not the full suite of bills. He and seven others may do this. Could this be a last minute Hatoyama classic which undermines the resolve of other members to vote against the prime minister (ie safety in numbers)? Or simply a distinction without a difference?