Sunday, September 14, 2008

Why Does the DPJ Continue Picking on the New Komeito?

I never understood why the DPJ would want an early Lower House election. After all, the Prime Minister would only be calling a snap election when coalition fortunes were looking up. Besides, the DPJ needed time to identify, nominate, and set up its candidates. Now, coalition prospects are better than they’ve been for some time, and it will be heading into the election, reportedly to be held on 26 October, less than two weeks after it has been proclaimed on the 14th.

Within the ruling coalition, New Komeito had been pushing for an early election, around the turn of the year. It places great importance on the Tokyo Prefectural Assembly elections, and the next one is scheduled for next July. It is heavily reliant on the Sokagakkai Buddhist sect for its foot soldiers and did not want to overtax those resources by holding another major election (in this case the Lower House election) in its vicinity—thus the desire for an early Lower House election. Besides, the New Komeito was only reluctantly supporting the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean, so it did not want to resort yet again to a supermajority override in the Lower House. A supermajority override would also prolong the upcoming extraordinary Diet session to the year’s end and possibly even early January.

Ichiro Ozawa decided to make sure that the New Komeito would put even more pressure on the LDP for a short session (thus ensuring an early election) by threatening to summon Junya Yano to the Diet for questioning. Mr. Yano is a former Komeito leader who later fell out with Komeito/New Komeito and Sokagakkai and is suing Sokagakkai for damages, claiming that it has tried to suppress his activities as a political analyst. He is very much willing to testify, presumably embarrassing both Sokagakkai and New Komeito. There is something sordid about hauling up a civil suit to the Diet as part of the political game, but a one-to-one connection between Sokagakkai and New Komeito does raise questions regarding the constitutional ban on state involvement in religious affairs.

In any case, the New Komeito has been running scared, just as Mr. Ozawa hoped. And with Prime Minister Fukuda’s surprise resignation and subsequent race for his LDP successor, an early election has been all but sealed and delivered.

Mr. Ozawa, however, is not letting up. When the DPJ announced the first batch of 187 candidates for the Lower House election, Mr. Ozawa’s name was left off the list, so that he could stand for election outside his Iwate Prefecture 4th District. It is widely believed that he is leaving himself the option to challenge New Komeito leader Akihiro Oota in his Tokyo Prefecture 12th District, where Mr. Oota hopes to be reelected, again with LDP support.

This looks like overkill to me. The early election is in the bag. An extra Lower House seat (assuming that whoever replaces Mr. Ozawa in his current district also is elected) could make the difference between any two of adjacent scenarios within the very wide range of possible outcomes. But assuming that the DPJ somehow wins a majority, there remains the task of gaining a majority in the Upper House. There, the DPJ has 108 out of 242 seats, 14 votes short of a majority. Since the nominally independent President (DPJ) and his Deputy (LDP) cancel each other out, five independents are affiliated with the DPJ, and one has received its support (as well as all the other opposition parties’ support) as an Upper House candidate, they might be able to make do with a minimum of seven more votes. Rule out the Communists (seven), the Reform Club (four; two DPJ outcasts and a couple of former conservative independents), and the DPJ is left to choose from leftish Social Democrats (five; the rump, unreconstructed Socialists), more-old-school-than-LDP People’s New Party (four), and the prickly New Party Nippon (one). In fact, the 21-strong Upper House New Komeito and its Lower House colleagues would be a better match for the DPJ than any of these other microparties. Not to mention the benefits of a bullet-proof, bicameral majority.

So isn’t it time for the DPJ to stop baiting the New Komeito? Or is the relationship between Mr. Ozawa and the New Komeito so beyond the pale that anything that the DPJ could do now would be useless?

* The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity. (Japanese Constitution, Article 20, paragraph 3.)


Ross said...

Perhaps Ozawa et al want to burn any bridge to the New Komeito to make it clear that if they win a plurality, they are out to split the LDP.

Jun Okumura said...

That’s a reasonable explanation. In fact, with the New Komeito out of the picture, the LDP would be the only source of enough extra votes for a majority that does not come with bothersome policy strings attached.

Incidentally, Yukio Hatoyama just said on Sunday Project that Mr. Ozawa would not stand for election from his old Iwate seat. It was pretty clear from his talk that Mr. Ozawa would put his back against the wall in Metropolitan Tokyo, mostly likely against New Komeito's Mr. Oota. It makes sense for Mr. Ozawa, who is going to leave center stage anyway if the DPJ loses, and will produce plenty of media buzz as the election process moves forward.