Monday, January 19, 2009

Money and Ideology Draw Five Diet Members Together

Last November, five Diet members—Hiroyuki Arai, Hideo Watanabe, Yasuhiro Oe, Shinpei Matsushita and Shingo Nishimura got together and formed the Kaikaku Kurabu, or Reform Club. Hiroyuki Arai is an Upper House Diet member who left the LDP in opposition to the 2006 Post Office and joined forces with novelist and former Nagano governor Yasuo Tanaka to form micro-party New Party Nippon. The party fell apart the following year, leaving Arai as an independent. He has regularly voted with the LDP even after his self-imposed exile. Hideo Watanabe and Yasuhiro Oe are Upper House members who left/were kicked out of the DPJ over political differences. Shinpei Matsushita is an Upper House member elected as an independent but has close ties to the LDP. Shingo Nishimura is the lone Lower House member. He was expelled from the DPJ in 2005 when he was arrested for renting out his attorney’s license for cash. He received a suspended sentence two years later. He is expected to run for reelection in the upcoming Lower House election.

One thread that runs through this motley crew seems to be a conservative-nationalist outlook. Nishimura is particularly devoted to the cause—Wikipedia says that he rented out his good offices to a former right-wing activist—and is hosting a talk by Ret. General Toshio Tamogami later this month at the Memorial Hall of Constitutional Politics (憲政記念館). (Pay at the gate if you are curious.) But what really binds this otherwise motley crew appears to be: money.

As you can deduce from this previous post, as independents, none of these five Diet members would have seen a single yen of public money under the Political Party Subsidization Act. By creating the Reform Club before the beginning of the new calendar year, they met the minimum five-member threshold for half of the money. (The Reform Club is not eligible for the other half, which is distributed on the basis of the proportion of votes received by the party in the last two Upper House elections and the last Lower House election.)

The Reform Club’s prospects for keeping any subsidies beyond this calendar year are very dim, given that the Osaka 17th District is unlikely to send back to the Lower House a convicted felon and disbarred attorney who had lost the single-seat election but squeaked through on the proportional ticket. Its proprietors must be hoping that they will be able to hitch their wagons to a larger party to form a joint political entity in the post-election tussle. Watanabe and Oe in particular are not likely to make it back on their own when

In writing this, I noticed that the disincentive for leaving a subsidy-eligible party decreases as the end of the calendar year approaches, as the money from each new tranche is distributed among its many purposes, including (presumably) disbursements to individual Diet Members.

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