AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Quick hits on yesterday’s lower house vote

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, June 27, 2012

JAPAN’S lower house voted yesterday to pass the consumption tax increase and social welfare-related legislation. The implications of that move are as I described in a post last weekend. The basic facts are available everywhere, but other aspects are worth noting.

*57 members of the ruling Democratic Party voted against their government’s bill, and 16 abstained. That’s serious business; 54 is the margin at which the DPJ loses its lower house majority. The Sankei said the total jolted Prime Minister Noda, because he had been working to limit the defections and thought there would be only about 30. The possibilities of a no-confidence vote and a DPJ split are real.

Prime Minister Noda and Deputy Prime Minister Okada are jubilant at the passage of their hallmark legislation

* Despite days of speculation that he would form a new party, rebel chieftain Ozawa Ichiro says he is staying put for now. He asked his allies to leave the handling of the situation up to him. Those with a taste for watching power struggles will appreciate his cleverness. First, he insists that his vote represents the original will of the party as expressed in the 2009 election manifesto. Second, by standing pat, he forces Mr. Noda into taking the destructive step. The prime minister said he would be “strict” with those who didn’t follow the party line, which could include suspension of party privileges or even expulsion. But that’s too many people to expel and survive. The internal opposition lives.

Complicating matters is that Liberal Democratic Party head Tanigaki Sadakazu is demanding that Mr. Noda do something with Ozawa and the rebels. In fact, he said the LDP’s condition for cooperation to pass the bill in the upper house is that he “deal firmly” with those who failed to vote the party line. Yes, he is making the internal affairs of another party his business. Was part of the three-party deal to pass the tax bill an unspoken agreement to strike down Mr. Ozawa?

In short, Mr. Noda is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. He has one potential weapon, however: Even though Mr. Ozawa was found not guilty of violating the political funds law earlier this year, that was a function of the legal process. It was not necessarily in accord with the actual facts of the matter. The LDP has demanded that he be questioned in the Diet about the circumstances of all that money. The prime minister might now allow that to happen.

* After the vote, DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma said, “The DPJ will absolutely not fall apart.” The man’s wishin’ and hopin’. Maintaining the DPJ as a semi-functional unit has been his priority throughout the whole sequence of events. He represents the nether left of the party, and a viable DPJ is their only means to so much as sniff a position of power or influence in government. That disappears with a DPJ breakup, and many of the rank file would then have a hard time getting reelected, much less listened to.

* Former Prime Minister and DPJ Supreme Advisor Hatoyama Yukio voted against the bill and resigned his position of Supreme Advisor. Still among the party’s Supreme Advisor ranks is Watanabe Kozo. Recall that Mr. Watanabe cordially asked both Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Hatoyama to vote against the bill and leave the party for good.

Yesterday the Sankei Shimbun published one of those “all you have to do is look” photographs. It showed a smiling Ozawa Ichiro walking back to his seat in the chamber after casting his vote. He was enjoying a pleasant chat with another smiling Diet member. The other man was Watanabe Kozo.

That tells you all you need to know about the National Political Establishment (NPE).

* Prof. Ikeda Nobuo recalled an interview he conducted with Ozawa Ichiro about the heavy financial burden placed on the younger generations of those actively working to financially support the growing population of the retired elderly. He quoted the Ozawa answer:

“National pensions are for (the people) to help each other, so that’s part of the system.”

Prof. Ikeda concluded that Mr. Ozawa was not so interested in the votes of the younger demographic.

* Meanwhile, during his 6:00 p.m. news conference, Mr. Noda stressed the importance of the bill for maintaining the social security system. He does not seem to have considered the idea of overhauling the system to add serious reforms to keep it both viable and affordable, nor has he given much thought to serious reforms of government to reduce expenditures. In other words, he is ignoring the global collapse of the social welfare system as we know it.

* The Sankei was struck by the contrast between a subdued Prime Minister Noda and a jaunty Tanigaki Sadakazu. Mr. Noda got what he wanted, but was unhappy. Meanwhile, the Sankei thought Mr. Tanigaki was behaving as if he were the head of government who had just pushed a bill through the Diet. Said the LDP boss:

“The (three-party) agreement that reflected the LPD position in its entirety, and the passage of the bill in the lower house, represent a major advance that has achieved “the politics of decisiveness”.

This is also a classic case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Consider:

“It is clear that (the DPJ) has lost the ability to lead a government, from the perspective of both policy and the basis of government. The necessity for taking their case to the people (i.e., a general election) grows stronger.”

Give him credit: That combines self-congratulation for getting the DPJ to swallow the LDP requests, congratulating the DPJ for passing the bill, criticizing the DPJ for having problems passing the bill, and calling for the prime minister to dissolve the lower house and call for a general election. Not everyone can concentrate the universe of power politics brutality into a few short sentences.

And despite their deal with the DPJ, the LDP could still introduce a no-confidence motion.

* Ozawa Ichiro said yesterday that he thought it wouldn’t be long now before a lower house election was held. Commentator Takahashi Yoichi suspects that the two major parties will replace both Mr. Noda and Mr. Tanigaki as their leaders for an election in the early fall.

* Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru was pertinent, as usual:

“Before the change of government, the Democratic Party clearly said it would not raise taxes for four years. If this tax increase is allowed to stand, we will no longer need pre-election policy debate or manifestoes. That sort of situation would allow politics in which anything goes.”

Finally, as Shakespeare said, “The daintiest last, to make the end most sweet,” so here’s the observation of lower house LDP MP Koizumi Shinjiro, who inherited both his father’s Diet seat and his verbal skills:

“Isn’t the political muscle causing the revolt of 57 people (of his own party) that of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko? That’s because the Democratic Party did what it said it wouldn’t do. These numbers aren’t the result of Ozawa Ichiro’s influence. Aren’t they due to the strength of Prime Minister Noda?”

And hasn’t all that led to this?

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