Illicit unions and unholy alliances
Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Flickering in and out of sight is that any agreement (between the two parties) will be a way to split the ticket to the interests and rights to be gained from the recovery.
- Onishi Hiroshi, marketing analyst
THE FIX will soon be in — Okada Katsuya and Ishihara Nobuteru, the secretaries-general of the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, trotted round the Sunday television blabathon circuit and agreed to pursue the idea of a Grand Coalition, though Mr. Okada didn’t want to call it that. Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio is down with the idea too, thereby signaling that his guru and party heavyweight Sengoku Yoshito is already working behind the scenes to make it happen.
If it does happen, some editorialists in the mainstream news media and commentators in Japan will join the telescopic political philanthropists of the West to sing hymns of praise, behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity, and chide the sinners for waiting so long to take their righteous advice.
Others, however, would rather not stand in the Amen Corner.
Two of them are also secretaries-general of political parties. Inoue Yoshihisa of New Komeito, who are not interested in joining the coalition at present, limited himself to the observation that it will be “Easier said than done.” Shimoji Mikio of the Peoples New Party, already in the governing coalition, doesn’t like the idea at all. He got red in the face as he fulminated against the plan in a TV studio:
“The problem is that Okada, the one who brought about a change of government, is using the phrase “grand coalition”. The problem is that they have to dissolve the Diet and get the people’s verdict in an election (and they won’t).”
Mr. Shimoji sees the failure to call a general election as the problem, but the DPJ sees it as one of the attractions. There was another gubernatorial election on Sunday, this time in Aomori. The incumbent LDP-backed candidate was expected to win, so attention focused on the margin of victory over the DPJ candidate.
He received less than one-fourth of the winner’s vote total.
A third secretary-general, Eda Kenji of Your Party, wrote on his website:
“It’s easy to talk about a coalition, but they’ll have to create a Cabinet together. That means agreement is essential not only for recovery and reconstruction measures, but all affairs of state, including the basic policies of foreign policy, national security, social welfare, and economic and fiscal policy. Otherwise, at Cabinet meetings, where unanimity is the prerequisite, there’ll be a constant uproar over who will or will not sign off on each individual piece of legislation.
“The people want the ruling and opposition party to cooperate for recovery and reconstruction. But a grand coalition with people battling for posts and interests isn’t needed. If that’s what they want, however, go right ahead. That will clearly identify those who want recovery with tax increases and those who want recovery without them.”
During the first go-round for the grand coalition idea two months ago, Mr. Eda explained there would be no need for one if the parties were serious about negotiation. There is already an organization for officials at the ministerial and secretary-general level of all parties to discuss disaster relief and provide input.
Kakizawa Mito of the same party is also unconcerned about being shut out of the coalition because they’ll be one of the few criticizing the government. He wrote:
“What will the DPJ and LDP do in a grand coalition with their overwhelming strength of more than 400 combined Diet members? Won’t they raise the consumption tax in the name of promoting a recovery tax and integrating taxes and social welfare? That’s absolutely the same thing Prime Minister Kan would do. If that’s the case, changing prime ministers is meaningless. It’s like throwing cold water on someone with a low body temperature.”
His follow-up was even better, and the last sentence was the best:
“It won’t make any difference whether it’s Prime Minister Maehara, Prime Minister Edano, or Prime Minister Sengoku. If they form a coalition, those two parties will decide everything out of public view. Real debate will disappear from the Diet. And those who’ll be deciding things out of sight won’t be the prime minister; it will be people like Mr. Sengoku and Oshima Tadamori (LDP vice-president).”
There are also a few apostates in the media. The Ryukyu Shinpo of Okinawa headlined an anti-grand coalition editorial two months ago this way: “Without an election, it’s an unholy alliance”. Here are some excerpts, and again the best comes last:
“For the two major parties with such large policy differences using an emergency to haphazardly jump into a grand coalition is a betrayal of the voters who cast their ballots for both. The formation of a coalition would amplify the mistrust in politics.
“If they’re going to form a grand coalition, the course would be to make that pledge during a lower house election and earn the trust of the voters. But Japan doesn’t have the time now to spend on dissolving the Diet and holding a general election.
“What is required of the ruling and opposition parties is a comprehensive debate on the relief and support of the affected areas and people, and measures to deal with the nuclear power accident. They should strive for cooperation and accord, and start by finding money in the budget.
“We do not think an illicit union resembling bamboo spliced to a tree will function. The issues facing the government are not limited to the earthquake….
“The opposition’s cooperation for the recovery is indispensable, but a recovery plan can be formulated without a coalition. The grand coalition between the two major parties is reminiscent of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association during the Second World War. Nothing is more frightening than politics that would crush minority opinion in the name of national policy and the national interest.”
More than a few people agree with these assessments, and offer several other good reasons. An unidentified source with the LDP said that business and financial circles are the ones who really want this to happen. Sure enough, both Keidanren and Doyukai (The Japan Association of Corporate Executives) support a coalition “as an effective method to resolve the difficulties”. Some people think the LDP wants to get involved because of all the money that will be disbursed for reconstruction, while others suggest the LDP and the DPJ left wing (Edano, Sengoku, Kan) feel threatened by the growing strength of regional parties. LDP President Tankigaki Sadakazu has already come out in favor of a tax increase, and the coalition will likely be a vehicle to both increase the consumption tax and levy a special earthquake recovery tax. Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko admitted as much today.
Speaking of Mr. Kan, he made an offer to the LDP to form a coalition two months ago, and the circumstances of that impromptu offer are a portrait in miniature of the reasons he isn’t prime ministerial caliber, the reasons so many are so anxious to pry him out of office, and the reasons his departure heads the list of LDP conditions for joining.
Prime Minister Kan offered the post of yet-to-be created Deputy Prime Minister for Reconstruction to Mr. Tanigaki over the telephone without telling anyone in his own party first. (Some suspect he didn’t want Sengoku Yoshito to know.) When the LDP chief said he’d take the offer to his party and discuss it, the prime minister shouted at him and accused him of lacking the spirit of cooperation. Mr. Tanigaki repeated his wish to discuss it with party leadership before making a decision, whereupon Mr. Kan said, “OK, that’s a refusal, and I’ll announce to the media that you turned it down.”
And he did, one hour later.
Veteran observers of the class act that is Kan Naoto, the LDP immediately diagnosed the presence of several pathogens. In addition to the seat-of-the-pants policy proposal and an out-of-control temper, there was also the cheap shot for political advantage. No specifics were mentioned in regard to the authority Mr. Sadakazu would have over what would become the most difficult position in the Cabinet and the reconstruction process, or the number of personnel and the budget allocated to the new ministry.
There was also the reappearance of the dullwit trying to be clever combined with the opportunity to indulge in the pastime of blaming other people for his failures — the public would assume the LDP was in charge of the recovery, and the prime minister would attribute the inevitable problems or delays to them. Finally, Mr. Sadakazu would have to work in a Cabinet with people whose primary political skill in the opposition was loudmouth obstructionism and who would seek every opportunity to make him look bad.
The LDP leadership assumed the real intention of the prime minister’s offer was to prolong the life of his Cabinet, yet another Kan trademark. They ratified Mr. Tanigaki’s decision after less than an hour’s worth of discussion.
After the news became public, Linda Seig provided Reuters consumers with the benefit of her years as a foreign correspondent in Japan by offering this informed analysis:
“Japan’s new public mood of togetherness has yet to spread in any real way through the corridors of power.”
“Prime Minister Naoto Kan attempted on Saturday to capture the unity spirit when he invited the leader of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to join the cabinet as deputy premier for disaster relief.
“But the offer was swiftly rejected.”
Back in the reality-based community, some LDP elders also counseled against a coalition government. Mr. Taniguchi wholeheartedly agreed when former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro told him, “We should now demonstrate the approach of a sound opposition party.” Former Prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki also chimed in: “A coalition isn’t possible unless policies are in accord.”
The LDP chief continues to receive similar advice two months later. Last weekend, he flew to Kyushu to attend a seminar with Kumamoto Gov. Kabashima Ikuo, a former political scientist. (He is also a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.) Mr. Kabashima gave an address in which he emphasized that successful coalition governments were very difficult to pull off. He said there were five conditions for that success. The Asahi Shimbun didn’t see fit to tell its consumers what four of them were, but said the most important was that ample time should remain until the next national election. For example, if an election was one year away, the government would have to do its work in six months.
The next national elections are two years away, when the upper house holds its next regular election and the current term of the lower house expires. There are rumors that the coalition now under discussion would be for two years, which would set up a convenient double election in the summer of 2013.
A coalition government is likely to improve and accelerate the work of reconstruction. After all, the DPJ can’t quite get the hang of this walking while chewing gum business, and shows no signs that it will anytime soon.
We can only hope that if Tanigaki Sadakazu and the LDP ignore the excellent advice they’ve been receiving not to join a coalition, the benefits of this illicit union will outweigh the serious collateral damage likely to occur.
The Ryukyu Shinpo published another anti-Grand Coaltion editorial today. They made several of the same points they did two months ago. Here’s some of what they added:
“If there were a common recognition of the urgency of reconstruction, the government and the opposition parties could develop a consistent series of policies in the spirit of cooperation. If they were to be part of the same government, however, we are concerned they would degenerate into a struggle for leadership with an eye to the next election. That would have a negative impact on prompt decision making and the implementation of policy…
“The DPJ and LDP are groping toward a time-limited grand coalition for both disaster recovery and the integration of social welfare and taxation. There is an urgent necessity to pass legislation for the second supplementary budget and to allow the government to issue additional bonds. The people are not in agreement, however, on the need to integrate social welfare and taxation, which would include an increase in the consumption tax.
“The LDP demands a reevaluation of the DPJ party platform, including the child allowance. A major reevaluation will inevitably lead to a split of the DPJ, as the Ozawa group will reject such a move. They insist on maintaining the DPJ principles at the time of their 2009 election victory, and their slogan of ‘putting people’s lives first’…”
An Asahi Shimbun editorial is now urging the Kan government to go slow on the idea of a grand coaltion. The gist of their argument seems to be that a coalition would waste all the effort that went into creating a two party system. The Tokyo Shimbun is also saying that a coalition is not required for real cooperation on reconstruction.
Penn and Oldham sing about the site of DPJ/LDP coalition and policy discussions.