Monday, November 05, 2007

The Man Who Would Not Wait, and What Comes after

If the art of drama lies in surprising the audience, only to leave it saying, of course how else could it have been, then Ichiro Ozawa is a true genius of the political theater. Once again, he has fulfilled the hopes and fears of every friend and foe, as well as the expectations of bystanders, in grasping for the Holy Grail and, falling short, exiting stage left - leaving everything around him, not least of all his ambitions, in shambles. His parting soliloquy (surely Naoto Kan and Yukio Hatoyama's crocodile tears will fail to convince him to turn back) was vintage Ozawa in all his haughty splendor, heaping scorn on his amateurish colleagues and pouring invective on the lying, scheming press. All this with an air of post facto inevitability that few, if anyone else, could conjure.

The DPJ will survive; the old left and the new right have nowhere else to go. With time, the old guard will grow old and pass away, and the rest will learn to live with their differences, as the LDP has done for years.

The LDP gains some short-term momentum. This should serve the Fukuda administration well in dealing with the refueling extension bill, as the fear of a censure motion leading to a forced snap election (a fear that I never understood) recedes. The Prime Minister has also been spared of the worst effects of party dissent at compromising the overseas projection of the JSDF and, more important, giving up a substantial portion of the Cabinet posts.

My guess is that the DPJ will keep slamming the LDP and the Ministry of Defense on the outstanding discrepancies and corruption issues, but will go to an Upper House vote on the refueling bill in time to allow the ruling coalition to use the Lower House supermajority override. The Upper House will subsequently pass a censure motion (or a less strident resolution), and everyone will see where the chips fall before deciding the course of action in the next general Diet session when it is convened in mid to late January. On another significant matter in the current session, there will be further negotiations on the political financing reform bill to beef up reporting requirements. The results should be such that the DPJ will be able to claim a modest victory.

In the regular Diet session, I expect the DPJ to try to show its responsible side by coordinating with the ruling coalition on some issues, daring it to use the override on others. There will be more challenges, including public pension reform, than not. However, it will very rarely, if ever, use up the maximum 60 days in the Upper House without a vote to force an automatic revote or retraction. It will not be looking forward to an early snap election. Realistically, the people there must be looking at least a couple of general elections ahead for a realistic chance at gaining the upper hand in the Lower House. It must look responsible and reasonable, and wait for something really bad to happen. In the meantime, it must hold itself together, and I think it can.

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