Tuesday, December 11, 2007

With This, Let's Hope I Stop Talking about the Refueling Bill for a Couple of Months

The latest Yomiuri poll (8-9 December) shows little change on the refueling resumption bill. Support dropped from the last Yomiuri poll’s 51% to 47.5% while opposition edged up from 40% to 41.1%*. This, after all the bad press that the Ministry of Defense and the defense establishment have been receiving, reaffirms my long-standing belief: the frontlines hardened a long time ago and resumption enjoys a strong plurality or a modest majority in an electorate that does not see this as a defining issue. The New Komeitō has been assured that Prime Minister Fukuda will not call a snap vote in the case of a censure vote - after all, Prime Minister sent troops to Iraq against the wishes of the majority of the Japanese public and the DPJH did squat; compared to that, this one is a cakewalk - and Taku Yamazaki has predictably eaten his words calling for a 2/3rds majority public support as a prerequisite.**

It is also important to realize that support for the Fukuda Cabinet (52.2% to 52.5%) and the LDP (34.3% to 35.3%) has held steady***. So the coast is clear for a ho-hum supermajority override. In the meantime, the coalition will keep reminding the public why we need to do it, just so support won’t slip further. Because, let’s face it, it’s so easy to forget.

Some LDP members may dread the thought of facing the same situation a year from now. If you want to play the guessing game though, first deal with what you know. And what you know is that there is going to be a presidential election on 4 November 2004, the resumption act will lapse, barring new legislation, on 15 January 2009 or thereabouts****, and Inauguration Day falls on 20 January 2009. The Japanese administration***** will have ample to time go over the issue with a rather junior level transition team member to determine what to do.

It is that kind of issue.

What then, are the real defining issues in the regular Diet session, which should be summoned in the bottom half of January? Will you let me pick two? Why, the time-limited tax measures (where the two sides will play yet another chicken game, this time for real money) and the public pension system (both the emotive 50 million missing records, of which more than 10 million will not be identifiable, and the chronic but ultimately more serious solvency issue), of course.

* Support for the DPJ has slipped from 22.5% to 17.1%. Did I overestimate core support for the DPJ? In any case, the DPJ must create an aura of competence. Otherwise, barring a macroeconomic catastrophe, it will never crack the force shield. By the way, I’ve been fascinated by the twist between the clear support for the operations, the much smaller plurality support for the bill (44.7% for, 42.6% against) and what is now a very slight plurality against an override (42.5% for, 43.9% against). The one group of people that this does not give aid and comfort to are the advocates of a censure vote.

** Mr. Yamazaki keeps making these preposterous statements that he has no way of backing up (remember ex-Prime Minister Koizumi Gearing up for a third trip to China?) Seriously, what does he put in the tea that he serves his faction members?

*** Unless the DPJ loses nerve and cuts a deal on the refueling bill that let’s everyone pull down the shutters and go home for the New Year’s Holidays; hey, stranger things have happened.

**** You’d have to be a huge risk-lover to bet against a Prime Minister Fukuda.

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