Friday, March 28, 2008

Isolation Play Called for Gasoline Taxes; Watch Tabloids and Weeklies Come Out

The LDP road tribe and its fellow travelers are expressing dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Fukuda’s definitive package. I suspect that it’s mostly show; they have their own rafters to play to. Mr. Fukuda’s initial bid keeps the surcharge intact for the time being, and money for public works is officially supposed to continue shrinking anyway. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a lot of resistance over the summer, as various interests, vested and non-, line up for the autumn battle over tax reform. Here, Mr. Fukuda will not be without formidable LDP allies, not least the ever-popular ex-Prime Minister Koizumi and his loyal minions (and the ever-present faction head and former Prime Minister himself Yoshirō Mori).

Not so, of course, the tabloids and the non-newspaper general-purpose weeklies. For them, it’s always been trip it if it moves, shove it if it doesn’t. In fact, the tabloids have been having a field day with stories about the imminent demise of the Fukuda administration, and this trope will gain momentum in the coming weeks. Do not be overly scornful of the muckraking horde; they went after Prime Minister Abe like mad, and you know what happened to him. On the other hand, they relentlessly hounded Prime Minister Koizumi as well, with notably less success. For my penny’s worth, barring unforeseen circumstances, it’s up to Mr. Fukuda and his willingness to threaten his coalition colleagues with the dreaded Lower House nuclear option. (Will he or won’t he risk a snap election?) Either way, the battle should heat up in earnest after the summer holidays.

ADD (March 29): I'm not predicting that Mr. Fukuda will actually have to threaten the LDP and the New Kōmeitō with a snap election to keep them in line, but I do believe that he will have to let people know that he is not afraid of using it. Do you remember Toshiki Kaifu? In 1991, as a highly popular, if somewhat ineffectual, Prime Minister, he threatened to dissolve the Lower House when the LDP did not go along with his political reform package, but lost his nerve and resigned instead.

I take this opportunity to note that the two sides have come to their senses as they agreed today to pass an emergency bill that will extend the non-gasoline special tax measures for two months in exchange for a coalition promise that it will not use it as a pretext to pretend that the original government tax bill has been rejected in the Upper House and exercise the supermajority override in the Lower House. At the end of the day, neither side is that stupid.

No comments: