Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Implications of the Two-Month Suspensions

Of the 19 lower house members who voted against the bill to raise the consumption tax* rate but elected to remain in the DPJ, Yukio Hatoyama received a six-month suspension reportedly because he was a former prime minister and leader of the DPJ while the other 18 each received a two-month suspension. So?

Assume that clock started running on the suspensions yesterday, when they held the DPJ leadership meeting to authenticate the decision that Yoshihiko Noda as DPJ Representative and Azuma Koshiishi as Secretary-General made, and Hatoyama’s suspension will be lifted on January 4 while the two-month suspensions will be lifted on September 4. Now, Noda is serving out the remainder of Naoto Kan’s two-year term as DPJ Representative, which ends on September 14. This means that the naysayers can vote against Noda in the DPJ Representative election. However, this means little; the ranks of the anti-tax hike have been greatly diminished by the Ozawa defections, while Noda already won a faceoff last September against the Ozawa candidate (remember Banri Kaieda?) on a pro-consumption tax hike agenda.

More important is the schedule for a snap election. SG Koshiishi has indicated that Diet members under suspension will not be designated as official DPJ candidates. According to the Japanese Constitution, a general election must be called within 40 days after the lower house is dissolved, so any suspended lower house member could be reinstated and designated as an official DPJ candidate by September 4 if the lower house is dissolve no later than August 29 (or 28, whatever; there are only so many minutes in the day and I’m not being paid for this). As a practical matter, though, the DPJ needs to designate its official candidates immediately or very soon after the lower house is dissolved so that it can put the full force of its resources behind its incumbents in what is sure to be an unpredictable, hard-fought and, for the DPJ, uphill election campaign. Therefore, Prime Minister Noda must wait until on or about September 4 before he rolls the dice on a snap election. Since the current Diet session runs until Setember 8, he must effectively hold out until its end.

There are three tools to consider in gauging the prospects for the opposition of forcing a snap election. The most potent is a lower house vote of non-confidence, which, under the Japanese Constitution, would force Noda to resign or call a snap election. The second is the para-constitutional upper house vote of censure, which is to the lower house vote of no confidence what porn is to real sex; it’s potency depends in large part on how desperately the media want a snap election—very badly in my view (snap election, not sex). And the third is rejection of a must-have bill, an act that requires a majority vote in the lower house or a majority in the upper house that cannot be overridden by a lower house super majority. The DPJ-PNP coalition maintained a safe majority even after the Ozawa defections. Momentum for an effective upper house censure motion needs a little time to build up. This leaves the rejection of a must-have bill as the most viable option for the opposition to force an early snap election (which I believe that they still want) since it has the necessary votes in the two Diet houses (and the eventual media support) to force it.

What does all this mean in terms of political tactics? The PDJ should take as much time as possible in moving the deficit bond authorization bill through the two houses, while the opposition should clear the legislative deck as quickly as possible so that it can submit the no-confidence motion that the media crave. Look, then, to the opposition to try to run the consumption tax and other related bills double-time through the lower house** while the DPJ becomes embarrassingly forthright in submitting the Noda administration to opposition grilling around the bill in the upper house; a turnaround, if I recall correctly, from the lower house process.

BTW Hatoyama really got shafted if there’s going to be a snap election earlier rather than later. The LDP the LDP will be putting up a former world-class speed skater (winter sports heroes are big in Hokkaido) and two-term prefectural assemblyman against Hatoyama, with Seiko Hashimoto, a much bigger speed skating national hero and three-term HOC and Hokkaido Chapter head for the LDP, spearheading the charge for him. I'd be running scared if I were Hatoyama. Looking at the results of past elections, he'll probably make it back, but I'd say that there's an undeniable opportunity for the LDP to knock him off with a strong candidate, in which case not being zombie-listed would be fatal.

(Note) * I’m tempted to call it VAT so people don’t mistake it for a sales tax. I complained because one news outlet whose name I shall not give you here because I do not bite the hand that feeds me (though it will be easy to figure out for people with elementary online search skills who can take a hint) used the term “sales tax” and got the explanation that it would be easier to understand.
** I’m still convinced that the LDP and Komeito want to go to the polls sooner rather than later despite any qualms over Toru Hatoyama and his Ishin-no-Kai’s potential. I may use some material from my end of an email exchange with friends to blog about this tomorrow if someone doesn’t dump a serious workload on me on top of a few other ongoing projects that I’m involved in.


Philippe said...

Can a snap election actually be held that fast, given the constitutionality issues raised by the Supreme Court ? As far as I know, the relevant laws are still being held up (by the LDP and ... ?) in the lower house committees or intra party negotiations. Or will the LDP suddenly agree to the current proposals and help passing the laws at high speed through both chambers?

Jun Okumura said...

Thank you for the question, Philippe. It has given me an opportunity to
clear my head on this and secure a better understanding of the post-election possibilities.

Philip said...

I'm confused. You are not the only person who knows Japanese politics inside-out who claims that a snap election is now very likely indeed. But while I can see why the opposition wants one, and I can see why the anti-democratic Japanese mainstream media (who think they decide who is Japanese prime minister) want one, I can't see why DPJ turkeys should be rushing for a vote on Christmas. Regardless of the level of media noise, it's only the chief DPJ turkey who decides the timing of the vote. Why would he do that given that the DPJ is sure to lose seats and probably lose power?

Jun Okumura said...


I agree. An early snap election is the last thing that the DPJ Diet members want. They must also be hoping that the reconstruction money will fully kick in at last and that, together with a multitrillion-yen supplemental budget to prevent a consumption tax recession, will keep the economy in an upswing through 2013, when Noda can call an election at the time of his choosing. Of course Europe and China will not cease to worry the rest of the world, but politicians must be like the rest of us and dwell more favorably on notions that help them avoid, not face, unpleasant decisions. The Ozawa rebels most certainly do not either, but they’ll lose what credibility that they have if they make any move to support the Noda administration. (The Social Democrats, who have been losing seats in most, possibly all (why bother to check?), national elections since the Murayama administration, also do not, but they don’t count.)

That leaves the DPJ without the upper house majority or a lower house supermajority necessary to pass legislation and no prospects of attracting allies to rectify this situation. Things will come to a head in autumn when the government approaches the shoals of insolvency and the Noda administration will run out of reasons—earthquake recovery, consumption tax, summer electricity situation—to claim to be putting the public interest ahead of politics. At that point, if the LDP and Komeito do not lose their nerves, they should be able to use the deficit bond authorization bill to blackmail Noda into dissolving the lower house.

I’m not sure what you mean by “the anti-democratic Japanese mainstream media”. However, if you have the same things in mind that I do, my view is that they comprise a common feature of the media everywhere and are manifested at both the individual and institutional level. I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time, but not tonight; I have work to do. Seriously. I’ll be back, though.

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