The DPJ and LDP are more or less resigned to the inevitability that the Nihon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Association; JRA hereinafter), Mayor Hashimoto’s prospective national party, will win a significant number of seats in the House of Representatives (HOR) as the result of the looming general election. The most recent polls, which have the JRA neck-and-neck (can you find the intended the pun?) with the LDP ahead of the DPJ, and the seven sitting Diet members (of whom four are in the House of Councillors) apparently in the bag—two more than the minimum five required to enable its candidates to run simultaneously in a HOR single-member district and the regional proportional representation district—ensure that it will be well represented in the HOR when the dust settles. Still, it will be extremely difficult for the JRA to come up with a slate of credible and self-financing candidates for the 300 single member districts that is large enough to fully capitalize on its national popularity. Since there is unlikely to be much air between the DPJ, LDP and JRA in the battle for the 180 regional proportional representation seats, the most likely overall outcome has the JRA in third place, while I see very little chance of its vaulting both the other two to seize the top spot and make a credible claim for the prime minister’s office. A 100 seat ceiling with a 50-zombie floor seems reasonable, don’t you think, enough to give the DPJ and/or LDP a lower house majority, enough to elect the prime minister and pass budget bills? But what will it actually do?
Formally joining a coalition government is out of the question. Dropping, or even fudging, any of the JRA’s soon to be formally adopted policy positions in exchange for cabinet and subcabinet assignments will be the quickest way to lose momentum at this critical juncture in the leap from an Osaka regional movement to a credible national party and beyond. Moreover, it will be difficult for Mayor Hashimoto and Governor Matsui to maintain control over their national troops if the topmost among them—LDP, DPJ, and Your Party defectors all—begin striking out on their own, as they would be virtually compelled to do if they assume cabinet and subcabinet posts. And of course total capitulation by the DPJ or LDP to JRA demands is even more unthinkable.
Besides, a coalition with the JRA will not solve a problem that has plagued the DPR in its three years in power: the need for a House of Councillors majority to pass legislation. A HOR supermajority can also do the trick and 320 seats between the DPJ or LDP and the JRA is not out of the question. But the supermajority override was used sparing when the LDP had one in the face of significant public opposition and a largely unforgiving media, and there’s no reason to think that the situation will be any different for a new coalition.
The upshot of all this in my view is that the JRA will cooperate with whatever administration is in place*, but only on an issue-by-issue basis, where there is a nice fit with its own policy agenda. If I’m correct here, the JRA will have little immediate direct impact on policymaking, except where it can amplify public opinion to the point where it affects decision making within the administration or, alternatively, increase the political credibility of measures that run up against considerable vested interests and/or public opinion where they are consonant with its own policy agenda. For example, it will definitely put a damper on the chances of work resuming any time soon on the new nuclear power units currently under construction even under a nuclear-friendly LDP-centered administration. In the opposite direction, it’s support could help the LDP and DPJ overcome the political timidity that has kept them postponing some modest co-payment hikes and price-indexed pension payment reductions that force the superannuated to shoulder a more equitable share of the social safety-net upkeep.
Critical, but constructive: that’s the posture that the JRA will be taking on the post-election political scene. But I’ve been wrong before.
* That administration is most likely to have at its core an LDP-DPJ coalition, with the Komeito also in the fold.