Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Difference between the LDP and Komeito…Why It’s premature to Write Off the Kan Administration Just Yet…Plus My Pick for Kan’s Replacement

Opinion polls show the Kan cabinet dropping to near-last gasp Hatoyama lows and the DPJ falling behind the LDP for the first time in what seems like ages—when you are going through five prime ministers in four years, time seems to go by rather swiftly. So, is it time for a quick Kan write-off and a turn to a freshly recycled... Okay, not so great an idea, which may be one reason why nobody, not even an Ozawa surrogate, is willing to mount a leadership challenge. Still, with an opposition majority in the upper house, the April local elections (mayors, prefectural and municipal assemblies) looming, fragging from Ozawa and other discontents, and the media eager to promote major political upheaval, the Kan administration’s immediate prospects look dim. Or do they?

It is no secret that the DPJ is pining for Komeito, the one party—other than the LDP, which doesn’t count—that can ensure an upper house majority and erase the need for sucking up to the tiny SPD, former coalition member on the fringe-left, which can secure a lower house supermajority to force legislation past upper house opposition vetoes. (The problem with lower house overrides is that they will greatly increase the likelihood that the DPJ comes tumbling down in the next general election.) But conventional wisdom says that because of the April elections, the Ozawa smell test, and the sheer political inertia of the LDP-Komeito coalition years, Komeito is finding it difficult to provide assistance to the beleaguered DPJ, Kan or non-Kan, despite the shared urban, centrist leanings that would otherwise make the two parties natural allies. So it must be a relief to DPJ strategists to see that Komeito telegraphing its intent: We will fight the DPJ in the upcoming Diet session, but we will not push it over the brink and force a lower house snap election that the Soka-gakkai does not want.

For those of you who can’t read Japanese, Katsuya Okada, Kan’s second-in-command who runs the DPJ political operations, reiterated the Kan administration’s willingness to accommodate the opposition in order to avoid gridlock in the upcoming Diet session on the FY2011 budget, a turn of events that would doom the Kan administration and significantly raise the probability of a politically dangerous snap election. The opposition’s response?
LDP whip: We must create a political situation at the fiscal year’s end [March 31] where [budget-]related legislative bills will be voted down in the upper house.
Komeito whip: (The budget bill) has an extremely large number of problems, and [we] oppose it.
In last year’s extraordinary Diet session, Kometio voted against the supplementary (stimulus) budget but voted for the budget-related bills. Barring political failure of catastrophic dimensions, this means that Kan will survive the upcoming Diet session, which makes him an odds-on favorite to survive until the 2012 DPJ leadership election, when my money will be on a run-off victory by the top challenger, who will then call a snap election and win a new mandate for the DPJ.

Which begs the question: Which challenger? Good question, and the main reason, if some experts are to be believed, that the DPJ cannot afford to ditch Kan just yet. My pick: Goshi Hosono. He’s only 39, only in his fourth term as a lower house member in a society where seniority still matters, and has never served as a cabinet member. But neither did Shinji Tarudoko, who made a credible show of challenging Kan in the DPJ’s last leadership election despite similar shortcomings. Which brings me to what I think is the clincher. Hosono has something that none of the other telegenic, articulate policy wonks has: he’s on good terms with all the main actors, from Seiji Maehara to Ichiro Ozawa. That’s like playing for both national sides in the Japan-South Korea Asia Cup semi-finals. Go Blue Samurai!

My thanks go out to the people who have asked me why I haven’t been blogging recently.


Anonymous said...

I'm not going to ask why you haven't been blogging, but am glad to see you back!

Jun Okumura said...


Joe said...

I agree. I hope everything is okay.

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