Sunday, July 29, 2007

I Go forth to Choose Between the Return of the Lost Decade and the End of Democracy (Or Do I?)

Unlike most of the people who are kind enough to read my blog, I have the opportunity to vote for the LDP and put an end to democracy in Japan; the DPJ and push Japan right back into the political chaos and economic stagnation of the Lost Decade and please the North Koreans no end; or none of the above. Given these choices, can "none of the above" be too bad? We'll see.

The expected opposition victory - the morning voting, as well as the two-week pre-election day voting, is up and the weather is holding – or, rather, the coalition loss, is likely to leave a divided Diet, which will make it difficult for the Abe administration to achieve much legislation during the next regular Diet session, typically beginning in December and going through June. If the coalition wants to avoid this predicament, it will have to do more than just corral unaffiliated Upper House members, or even bring the New People's Party; it must reach into the ranks of the opposition parties and seek out potential defectors.

The likelihood of legislative deadlock has brought on speculation in many quarters, including a cabinet member, that the Lower House will have to be dissolved for a general election well before its term expires in 2009. Indeed, I have done so myself. But I have not been able to think through the consequences of the outcome. Have you?

Looking further ahead, political deadlock has the potential to become a recurrent problem, as the electorate decides every three years to reward or punish the parties in power through the Upper House election. Now U.S. Congress can muddle through Senate-House divisions (or even executive-legislative splits) by vote seeking across party lines on individual issues, but Japanese party discipline is strong.

Two things could change these long-term prospects: a serious and lasting deterioration in the fortunes of the DPJ, or a major realignment of the political parties. The former seems unlikely. Although the LDP has beaten back many challenges before (Mr. Ozawa is taking his third crack at it), the DPJ appears to have the lasting power that comes from a reasonable facsimile of the human resources (sizeable representation in the Diet seats, viable candidates, and a growing party machine) and policy diversity (which some people might call lack of principle) that has served the LDP so well. The latter seems more likely, particularly if the public tires of persistent deadlock and the media pick up on such public sentiment.

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