Friday, July 30, 2010

PNP, SDP Tries to Sell DPJ on Lower House Supermajority

The Odd Couple are doing the nasty again. Shizuka Kamei’s People’s New Party and Mizuho Fukushima’s Social Democratic Party, both devastated in the July 11 lower house election*, agreed to join forces to push the three postal “reform” bill (Kamei’s pet project, which will keep the Japan Post group under government control and expand its massive savings deposit and life insurance businesses) and the worker dispatching regulation bill (reverses much of the deregulation of the worker dispatching business (broadly similar to temp agencies) under LDP administrations, its effect on dispatched workers as a class and employment in general is hotly disputed). Prime Minister Kan agreed to work with them to expeditiously introduce the bills. But will they pass in their current form? And will the cabinet raise the ceilings for the Japan Post’s savings and life insurance businesses, if and when the Diet passes the bills?

The DPJ and PNP, which is still in the coalition, have 110 upper house seats between them**. The SDP has four, which gives the group 113 votes. They can probably count on one independent to vote with them. Let’s say that Hiranuma’s Stand Up Japan adds its three votes to the tally. That still leaves them at 114—eight votes short of the 122 votes to ensure a majority, assuming none of the 242 upper house members fails to cast a valid vote for or against the bills. The idea, then, is to throw the bills back to the lower house, where the three parties have between them 318 seats (DPJ 307, PNP four, and SDP seven). Add the two members in the Hiranuma group there, and they have 320 votes, just enough to cross the 319-vote*** threshold for a supermajority. But can the DPJ afford to do that?

Remember how sparingly the LDP-Komeito coalition was in exercising its supermajority after it lost the upper house majority in the 2007 election. If anything, it would bend over backward to accommodate the DPJ on legislative bills, or even abandon them altogether for all but the barest necessities. It did this as a concession to media pressure in line with the perception that the LDP would not be able to regain its public mandate until it faced another lower house election. Likewise the post-7.11 DPJ. It must be looking beyond the two bills. And it must be aware that a supermajority override at the first opportunity after the Upper House election is an effective way of killing any immediate prospects of building a workable upper house coalition or, more likely, fluid issue-based alliances. Besides, there is no assurance that the SDP (and Hiranuma’s friends for that matter) will vote with the coalition on future override attempts (or for that matter that Kamei won’t continue to be the camel that refuses to be housebroken)

A lower house override on the postal “reform” bills will cause immediate and specific harm to the DPJ, since the mainstream media will oppose resubmission in their current form. The DPJ will in essence take a hit on the massive floating vote, with questionable political returns from the postal office electoral machine. It is useful here to remember that the DPJ originally wanted to reduce the Japan Post’s financial operations by half and sell off all of what remained in a public offering. It only reversed its position as part of a broader attempt to destroy the LDP altogether by taking away its special interest support. However, the election showed the waning influence of the postal office vote machine—PNP wipeout!—and, more broadly, special interest politics in general.

The workers dispatching bill should have a more mixed media response, and big labor, which now gives much of its support to the DPJ, supports it, so I expect it to fare better. However, with the SDP out of the coalition and in disarray, there is now a very good chance that the bill will revert to the original business-big labor compromise, rejecting the even tighter restrictions that the SDP and PNP forced on an unwilling DPJ. Here again, though, I can’t be sure that the DPJ is willing to pay the political price of an early lower house override, if it comes to that. Even if the Japan Communist Party pitches in with its six upper house seats, the alliance will still be a couple of seats short there—and that’s assuming that Stand Up Japan will not vote against it or abstain. I’m now leaning toward a scenario—there are other possibilities—where the DPJ will accept an amendment, possibly in the upper house, to secure passage without resorting to the lower house supermajority override.

Those are my immediate thoughts on the initial steps beyond the September election for the DPJ leadership. I still think that Kan will survive an Ozawa-inspired challenge, but his troubles then will only have begun.
* The PNP went in three upper house seats at stake and was wiped out, leaving it with the remaining three, which will be up for grabs in the next, 2013 election. The SDP ironically beat out PNP to keep two out of three, leaving it with four upper house seats, but could not stop the long, steady in voter support. The SDP could still implode, as Kiyomi Tujimoto, one of its few stars took her lower house seat and defected, touching off a blame game/power struggle among the remaining Diet member. Tsujimoto is likely to eventually caucus with the DPJ, vastly more instrumental than the SDP in her election.

** 108 seats if you exclude the upper house president, who by parliamentary custom is nominally an independent and normally withholds his vote. Likewise the vice president, who hails from the LDP, so the two cancel each other out.

*** This is not a typo. Two of the 480 lower house seats are currently vacant, so there are currently only 478 members there. Note that if the president and vice president of the lower house follow custom and abstain, there will be 466 votes. This would bring the supermajority threshold down to 318, in which case the Hiranuma group’s votes will be unnecessary. This may be consequential to the worker dispatching bill.

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