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.