Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Anti-Terrorism Bill Was More of a Distraction than Anything Else

The latest DPJ idea of proposing to continue the deliberation of the new anti-terror bill aimed at resuming refueling operation in the next Diet session had been at best a symbolic gesture, since the LDP-New Kōmeitō coalition would be using the Lower House supermajority override during this Diet session regardless of what course the Upper House did (vote it down, extend or let it die*). The idea was that the ruling coalition would look more unreasonable in exercising the override in the face of an offer to continue Upper House deliberations rather than a no-vote or outright vote-down**. However, this distinction seemed to be lost on all but the DPJ’s leadership, giving rise to speculation in the media that the real reason for its latest maneuver stemmed from its fear that some of its Upper House members would actually vote for the bill. In any case, the other opposition parties in the Upper House, who had become increasingly annoyed at the DPJ since Ichirō Ozawa’s ill-fated attempt at a Grand Coalition, mercifully put it down.

In gauging the significance of this latest in the twist and turns that the DPJ has taken on the Japanese response to the War on Terror***, it is worth noting that most of the changes in direction except Mr. Ozawa’s initial opposition have had everything to do with poll-driven tactics and nothing to do with statecraft. In fact, some DPJ leaders such as Yukio Hatoyama were quite frank about this, routinely admitting that the DPJ would decide whether to do this (say, introduce a bill of its own) or that (say, hold an vote on the bill before the 60-day deadline) depending on the dictates of public opinion. This dithering and drifting on the part of the DPJ leadership is, of course, a reflection of deep fissures within the party on defense policy and more broadly on Article 9, a part of which can be traced to its varied origins. Luckily, the Japanese public had long decided that there were other, more compelling issues on the table****, so it appears to be doing little lasting damage to its credibility.

And with that out of the way, everybody should be ready for the popularity contest - will they bribe us with our (and your gaijin) money? - in the regular Diet session to begin. With the budget-related laws on deck - passing the budget itself will be a snap, since it is the de facto prerogative of the Lower House - the twisted Diet goes into truly uncharted waters. Keep in mind that it’s the measures that expire on April 1 that will be at the center of attention. If you have to keep an eye on one key item in that group, the gasoline tax, for mainly technical reasons but partly because of dissent within the LDP and DPJ, is the one. The unfolding Moriya et al scandal will serve as an unpredictable Greek chorus*****.

* A bit of parliamentary arcana: At the end of a Diet session, the two Houses must each make a decision on any bill (or any other issue that requires the decision of the Diet) that remains outstanding in that House. It can do nothing, which causes the bill to die, or decide by the usual simple majority vote to continue deliberation in the next Diet session. In the first case, the bill, if desired, must be introduced and go through the full legislative process all over again. In the latter, deliberations resume where it went off, and all previous decisions (such as the adoption of the bill by the other House) remain valid.

** Even more arcane arcana: The extension traditionally is given at the end of the Diet session in a single vote covering all the outstanding bills that the House has agreed to extend deliberations for; the DPJ wanted to vote for the extension of the anti-terror billbefore the 60-day limit expired and the Lower House could hold the override vote.

*** Which, I repeat is a policing action, not a war in the legal sense. The term itself is a mixed-up metaphor that the Bush administration used to its advantage

**** Mystifying to me is why the DPJ isn’t hitting the LDP harder on the Moriya et al scandal. Granted, this is still national security, but potential exposure of corruption has a visceral appeal that is lacking in the image of JSDF boats going back to the Indian Ocean.
***** I think that the chances of Fumio Kyūma being thrown under the bus has increased substantially.

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