Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Abe Administration Yields Yet Again to the Wishes of Its Junior Coalition Partners.

According to media reports, the Liberal Democratic Party has bowed to Komeito wishes (as well as to opposition within the LDP itself) and abandoned plans to give consumer lending businesses a temporary window during which they could continue to charge small-scale borrowers interests rates above legal limits. Whether this helps the hapless consumer stave off financial ruin or merely push him/her towards even more predatory loan sharks is open to question. Still, it is a measure of the power that the junior coalition member wields.

The dovish views of Komeito are casting their shadows on education reform as well. Rewriting the Basic Law on Education (we like basic laws; there are lots and lots of basic laws in Japan) is one of the key items in Prime Minister Abe's political platform and number one legislative priority for the current, truncated Diet session. Here again, the reference to patriotism has been watered down to accommodate Komeito, and the Abe administration's version now outflanks the DPJ version on that point

Komeito's policy positions reflect the values of its singular source of support, the laic group of Nichiren Buddhists, the Sokagakkai. They are staunchly middle-of-the-road, internationalist, and dovish. Komeito likes to stick up for the salaryman and small business owners. It could easily find a place in a coalition led by the DPJ if it wished to do so. Though it shows no signs of rethinking its durable union with the LDP, it is the one party that has lasting swing potential, and the pragmatic Mr. Abe will surely continue to tend to their needs.

Our neighbors to the west must be taking comfort from seeing this moderating effect in play as Mr. Abe seeks to solidify his hold on power and maintain his more conservative tack.

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