Today, during the party leaders’ Diet debate, Prime Minister Noda stated his willingness to dissolve the House of Representatives on the 16th,which would set the stage for a general election no later than December 24, if Shinzo Abe, the President of the LDP, would give his promise that the LDP would fully cooperate in reducing the number of Diet members* in the next regular Diet session.** The LDP leadership later convened and gave its blessing through Shigeru Ishiba, the Secretary-General, while Abe confirmed it in a speech that he gave later in the day. Any question of backtracking became moot when the Noda administration and the DPJ, LDP and Komeito met in the evening and agreed to hold the election on December 16.
At first glance, it looks like the kind of Hail Mary pass that only someone with skin in the game (or butt in the crack, pick your idiom) could draw up and about as good as it gets, given the circumstances. Noda was following the DPJ down the polls and facing serious dissent in his party. He needed to reverse the momentum, and the only tools at his disposal were a snap election...or resignation in favor of a more election-friendly face, most likely—but not quite surely—Goshi Hosono. But for the snap election to work in the DPJ’s favor, he needed a hook to reverse the momentum. TPP could be used as a wedge issue against the LDP, but it promised to be a divisive issue within the DPJ as well. And yesterday, the DPJ executive committee had come out against an early snap election, a typically human response that would bring temporary relief at the expense of greater pain in the long-run. But in downsizing the Diet membership, he had a populist issue that the rank-and-file could ill afford to oppose…in principle. By issuing the challenge in the Diet, he was also staring down the DPJ dissidents. His announcement and the subsequent maneuvering also rips media attention away from the Third Force Movements, who will also encounter difficulties as they have to split up the national turf and line up solvent and presentable candidates, all in the next three weeks***.
Will it work? Who knows? But Noda is certainly giving it his best effort. I have a new respect for the man and his political judgment.
* Yomiuri erroneously reports that Noda also included the five-up, five-down in his demand for a pledge. Jun Azumi, the DPJ Deputy DG talked up efforts to get it done by the 16th but had the wits not to make it a precondition of the snap election. There’s some chatter around the unconstitutionality of the current configuration, the latest quack-quacking coming from the HOR President. I think that I’ve addressed the issued to everyone’s satisfaction earlier on this blog. Suffice to say that a multi-partisan pledge will further assuage the conscience of the courts when they allow the results of the “unconstitutional” election to stand.
** A regular Diet session is customarily summoned in early January and usually runs into June or July.
*** The election will be formally launched on December 4.