Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What the Procedural Agreement on Consent for Appointments Means

As a procedural agreement*, it is quite modest in scope. For one thing, the agreement only covers a total of eight positions in four institutions, including the Bank of Japan. This leaves a total of approximately 200 positions in 31 other institutions that require the consent of each of the two Houses outside the purview of this agreement**.

I assume that the two sides consider the nominations for the other 31 institutions to be uneventful. And that should usually be the case, as long as the administration stays away from bureaucrats without specific technical expertise or possible appearance of conflicts of interest. But appointments to, say, NHK, the state-owned broadcasting corporation, will usually be fraught with more controversy than to the Board of Audit, one of the four institutions that fall under the procedural agreement.

Needless to say, the agreement covers only the nomination procedures, and does not change in any way how the two full Houses will treat the nominations if and when they come to the floor. It will be highly damaging to the administration to nominate someone, only to face rejection for understandable cause - say, a non-criminal but still embarrassing personal scandal. Thus, all candidates for the four institutions, will be weighed and vetted with care, and feelers sent out to the opposition before the process officially unfolds, just like those for the other 31 institutions.

But such worries are reserved for the future. As far as the hypothetical nomination of Toshirō Mutō as BOJ Governor is concerned, it’s in the bag. In fact, the entire process appears to have unfolded with the unstated purpose of engineering the nomination without causing serious harm to any of the parties concerned.

Official discount rates and money supply, in the current instance at least, have little, if any, of the kind of public resonance that gasoline taxes/road expenditures (waste! corruption!) or JSDF soldiers in Iraq (our boys in danger! Article 9!). All the while, economic actors had clamored for certainty, increasingly with Mr. Mutō in mind. It became increasingly clear that there was no political upside to an outright rejection reminiscent of the “eternal opposition” of the LDP v. Socialist years.

Not that the DPJ was alone in looking for a graceful climb-down. The ruling coalition could not hope to stare the DPJ down and hope that public opinion would force it to cave. So once the issue came down to procedures, it had to give in to every reasonable opposition demand, lest the coalition itself come to be perceived as the cause of undue delay.

If this affair, in retrospect, has the look of a pre-season match, the two sides play for keeps when the gasoline taxes and the rest of the revenue package reach the Upper House. Here, the Fukuda administration is losing traction with the public. If this continues - and there seems to be little of substance waiting in relief over the coming weeks*** - it will only help the opposition make, and achieve, bolder demands before it allows the fiscal package to pass/be voted on in the Upper House.

* Mainichi as of this writing, had almost as much information as Yomiuri. The Mainichi archives also appear to have the longest shelf life of the Big Four. I’m beginning to feel more left-centrist now.

** The Japanese Wikipedia has the full list of the 35 institutions.

*** Hu Jintao’s visit has been in the sights ever since Shinzō Abe went to Beijing. Thus it should provide a momentary bump at most.


Anonymous said...

We think you are getting a bit too dour. Same old, same old. Yadayada Japanese politics yadayada. Maybe your Sports Illustrated hasn't come yet (seems to be the theme of your last post).

So we feel again the need to share, and better yet you can share this with your other doursour friends,


Your Global Friends

Jun Okumura said...

Don't worry about me, Global Friends, the SI Swimsuit issue is stacked a foot-(30 cm-)high at the Kinokuniya bookstore.

Can Captain Capitalism dunk from behind the backboard? Discuss.