Friday, September 19, 2008

DPJ-PNP Merger Back to Square One

The merger talks between the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ; House of Councilors (upper house), House of Representatives (lower house) and the People’s New Party (PNP; HC, HR) fell through when the two sides could not agree on a way to enable a PNP lower house member to join the post-merger political party. A former top bureaucrat for the Postal Ministry*, Norimasa Hasegawa had been elected to a proportional seat in the House of Councilors in 2004 on the strength of the Post Office vote. The following year, he bolted the LDP and joined three HR exiles and a DPJ defector to form the People’s New Party. The election laws allow a HC member elected on a proportional ticket to switch to a party that was formed after the election but not to a party that had already been in existence at the time of the election.** To meet this requirement in the event of a merger, the DPJ would have to join either the PNP en masse or a new party to be formed by the members of the two parties. The DPJ was not willing to do either, so the two parties will continue to maintain the current relationship, at least until the HR election rolls by.

There will be no immediate consequences to the collapse, as long as the DOJ doesn’t field a candidate in a district where the PNP intends to field one. The agreement to freeze Post Office reform is in place regardless. The former alliance in the upper house all but ensures that the two parties will continue to vote in unison in the Diet.

The effect on the upcoming HR election is less certain. Assuming a merger does not affect voting behavior, a merger could mean at most one extra proportional seat for the post-merger party at the expense of another party not necessarily belonging to the LDP-DPJ coalition. A merger might have enabled to them to more effectively join forces in the electoral campaign, leading to more votes for mainly DPJ candidates, but many of the PNP supporters still feel a strong kinship with the LDP, so there could be downside. This highlights another important feature of the PNP. It is comprised of localized pockets of support, where it already has Diet members. In districts where it is not represented, it is highly unlikely to bring many votes to the table that is not already the DPJ’s for the asking.

No, what we really missed out on was an opportunity to see how cohesive the DPJ is going into the election. Dissolution and merger with the old-school PNP just might have been the last straw for dissidents who are dismayed at the highly politicized turn that party decision-making has taken under Ichiro Ozawa and/or just hate Mr. Ozawa. If the DPJ lost party members, particularly in the upper house, that would have dealt a devastating blow to the DPJ’s chances in the upcoming election. On the other hand, if it had withstood the merger test unharmed, it would have been a good show of party unity.

* Later merged into the newly created mega-Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

** It is not as absurd as it appears at first glance for a holder of an HC proportional seat to switch parties. Note that the number of seats that a party gains on the national, proportional vote is determined by the relative size of the total number of votes cast for the party and the individual candidates on the party proportional ticket. In other words, an HC proportional candidate must win enough votes to place among the top vote-getters up to the number of seats that is allocated to that party as the result of the overall proportional voting. In fact, proportional seat-holders winning more votes, say, than the average level of individualized votes for all the party’s proportional seat-holders can make the claim that below-average seat-holders rode their coattails to the HC.

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