Friday, February 27, 2009

War of Words within the Opposition a Harbinger of Things to Come?

Today, a reliable source told me that I would soon be proven wrong on the DPJ response (or lack thereof) to the economic crisis. Let’s hope he’s right, and I’m wrong.
On Thursday, the People’s New Party threatened to boycott opposition consultations over a DPJ slight. According to media reports, Masaaki Itokawa, the PNP Upper House whip, sought to introduce an Upper House censure motion against the Prime Minister. The DPJ is understandably reluctant to do that since it doesn’t want to push Aso so hard that he resigns, opening the way for an electorally more attractive face (Kaoru Yosano?) to lead the LDP-New Komeito coalition into the Lower House election that must be called no later than September. Jun Azumi, the DPJ deputy whip, could have tried to mollify his PNP colleague, but instead went on the attack, pointing to the PNP’s reluctance—more specifically Shizuka Kamei’s—to go along with an earlier, DPJ push for a censure motion against the troubled then-Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa. Azumi further insulted Itokawa by telling him:
“go tell that to your party.”
He did, and Kamei talked to the press, saying:
“Even if the DPJ wins the next Lower House election, it won’t be able to maintain power if the PNP and the Social Democratic Party say no because it won’t have a majority in the Upper House). They’re being full of themselves, not understanding how scary that is.”
The DPJ-PNP-Shin-Ryokufūkai-New Party Nippon bloc holds 118 seats. Add to that the four seats that the SDP holds, and the DPJ and its allies have 122, or a razor-thin majority, of the 242-seat Upper House.

The rhetoric notwithstanding, this is a minor dustup. The DPJ needs the PNP’s votes in the Upper House, but the PNP needs the DPJ’s electoral help if it intends to keep its place in the Diet. (Three-way battles with both the LDP and the DPJ could spell disaster for all but the strongest PNP candidates.) So the two sides will kiss and make up. But it gives you a preview of how the two small tails, one of them old-school conservative, the other pro-labor paleo-pacifist, will wag the new dog on the block if it manages to catch the meat truck. We’ve seen the wagging happen in more important matters, as in the DPJ’s acceptance of PNP desires to turn back the clock on Post Office privatization. And there may be something personal about Ichiro Ozawa’s newly-evident stance against the U.S. military presence in Japan, but it certainly helps to keep the SDP satisfied.

The problem, as we’ve seen before, is not limited to the DPJ’s relations with its prospective coalition partners. To reprise the point, the DPJ itself is just as motley a crew of everyone from SDP defectors to fiscal and national security hawks, who are united only in the desire to finally topple the LDP-centric 1955 regime for good. The divisions, many latent, have led most conspicuously to the DPJ’s inability to address the growing financial/economic crisis head on despite its formidable cadre of in-party policy wonks and academic suporters.

In the here and now, the DPJ is being gifted by a Prime Minister that the mass media and the Japanese public have almost completely tuned out, as well as an LDP that has come up with duds three in a row with little relief in sight. (Which must be why new Finance Minister and septuagenarian Kaoru Yosano is gaining credibility just for being coherent, affable, and at peace with himself.) But in the long-run, the fault lines are likely to become evident under a DPJ-led regime, as the consequences of its policies become manifest in the face of the realities and the coalition members and the DPJ’s own factions begin making new demands. That has also been true, of course, with the LDP-New Komeito axis and the LDP itself, which have most recently suffered from their own dissonances, most recently under the wobbling, lurching Aso administration. They have set the bar pretty low, so to speak. Still, the media and the public will expect more than just more of the same. A DPJ honeymoon, particularly under an Ozawa administration, in an economically challenging climate is likely to be short, and filled with unpleasant surprises.

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