The DPJ-Shin-Ryokufukai-People’s New Party (PNP)-Nihon Shinto (NSP) coalition forms a Registered Upper House Association (considered a single party for parliamentary purposes, it’s a more formal version of the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the United States) holding 118 of the 242 seats in the Upper House. Since two of the remaining 224 seats belong to the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the House, who leave their respective parties—in this case No.1 DPJ and No.2 LDP—and the Chairman casts the tiebreaking vote, the DPJ-led coalition needs two more seats to reach the 120 threshold to ensure passage of legislative bills without a supermajority in the Lower House.
As a practical matter, if the Japan Communist Party (JCP) decides to take its seven Upper House seats off the table and abstain, the DPJ-led coalition will have more than enough votes to pass the relevant legislative bill. Then there are the independents. So it’s not as simple as that. Suffice to say, though, that the DPJ-led coalition needs the cooperation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), with its five votes, to ensure that it will be able to secure an Upper House majority without the cooperation of the JCP. Thus, the SDP will demand its pound of flesh in return for the loan of its votes, pushing domestic and foreign policy further to the left than its numbers on their own could ever justify.
The formal Upper House coalition as it is currently constituted without the SDP has its own problems. The PNP is a throwback to the pre-Koizumi LDP. It is reportedly pushing for a three-year, 50-trillion, public-works payout (financed perhaps by maintaining the gasoline surcharge), as well as a much-publicized bid for a return to the pre-privatization Post Office system. But these demands threaten to throw a wrench and much of the rest of the kit and caboodle into the DPJ’s reformist plans. This is obviously where the best-laid plans and rumors regarding Hidenao Nakagawa’s plans for a breakout rom the LDP to form a new centrist-progressive party come from.
Now some of reformist Nakagawa’s ideas—cut unnecessary expenditures, for example—dovetail nicely with the DPJ’s. But the hypothetical Nakagawa’s hypothetical startup-deck party will have its own newly formed political agenda, and some of the particulars are bound to conflict with the DPJ’s. Compromising its principles from the outset is an uncomfortable position to be for a new political party to be in. And this is where the New Komeito, with its 20! Upper House votes, comes in.
Komeito stands up for the little guy, and has a decidedly pacifist outlook. Otherwise, its political agenda is quite flexible, as evidenced by its political meanderings between the LDP and its opponents. In fact, the DPJ’s annual multitrillion-Yen outlay for child support checks to households with under-aged children could be considered a permanent, more refined version of the 2 trillion helicopter money that the New Komeito forced the Aso administration to cough up. And with regard to the DPJ’s generally more conciliatory approach towards China and the Koreas on history and other thorny bilateral issues, Komeito arguably has more in common with it than with the LDP’s more hard-line position. The DPJ’s reluctance—however tactical—to project the Japanese military except under the strictest of UN controls also appeals to the New Komeito, which has been forced to grudgingly go along with the LDP on such matters.
As we have seen here, the New Komeito is at least as natural an ally of the DPJ as a Nakagawa-led LDP breakout could be. And it’s not as if the Gakkai-Komei complex hasn’t flip-flopped between the LDP and an anti-LDP coalition before. Which begs the question: Why, then, is no one talking about the possibilities? Two names: Ichiro Ozawa, and Daisaku Ikeda, the lifetime head of Sokagakkai (an extremely powerful laic organization in the Nichiren Buddhist sect) and the power behind the New Komeito throne. The animosity between the two run deep, and is a clear hindrance to the New Komeito breaking out and joining a DPJ-led coalition.
That being said, there are no laws of physics that preclude a DPJ-New Komeito coalition. The idea deserves more attention than the media has been devoting to it, as Japan’s body politic approaches the Lower House general election.