My basic outlook on the political scene hasn’t changed much in the last few weeks. If anything, I’m even more convinced that there’s going to be a snap election this autumn. If the latest polls showing the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) opening a significant lead over the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the Noda administration reaching a new low don’t convince the LDP and Komeito to put an upper house hold on the deficit bond authorization bill long enough to force the Noda cabinet to capitulate and call a snap election, frankly, I don’t know what will. But do they have the numbers?
The LDP-led upper house caucus has 87 upper house members (82 LDP, 3 New Renaissance Party 3, and 2 independents), its junior coalition partner People’s New Party has 3, and Komeito has 17. That’s 107. They need 14 more there to be able to be sure that they can vote down any bill there. Keep in mind that they need one less if there is one abstention, and need one less for every two abstentions after that. So where will they be coming from?
Your Party (YP) is all but guaranteed to post its 11 votes against the bill. As the only committed small-government, neoliberal party in the Diet, it will be voting its conscience. Just as important, its leadership should be seeing a window of opportunity to reap the broad anti-VAT (consumption tax) sentiment, a window that will narrow significantly when Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto’s Ishin movement assembles a viable slate of national election candidates. If the YP is treading water now despite the DPJ’s free-fall and the LDP’s lackluster performance, imagine what will happen when it’s sharing the national stage with a similarly small-government, neoliberal party with a charismatic and articulate spokesman—assuming he doesn’t actually make an always-preposterous immediate run for a Diet seat himself—who commands the respect of his kisha club, i.e. the mainstream reporters on the Osaka municipal government beat. It is even more certain that the Japan Communist Party (JCP), six-members strong in the upper house, will also vote against the bill, as they’ve been doing since forever. Besides, the JCP must be calculating that it is better positioned than the fractious Social Democratic Party (SDP), which has lost every election since it dropped every principle that it had stood for just to produce a prime minister in 1994, to capitalize on the protest left-wing vote. And sure enough, it’s arguing against the bill in the lower house, where I’m sure they’ve turned up the thermostat in the interests of energy conservation. (No, the Japanese Diet is not taking a five-week summer recess. So eat your heart out, Paul S----c!) That brings the total to 124, three more than the 121 minimum necessary. Game, set, match.
The DPJ is sure to complain that the LDP and Komeito are playing politics with national finances. Very true, but the same charge could be levied with the same force against the DPJ. With the VAT hike passed and the social safety net debate pushed back another year, the Nuclear Safety Commission up and running (fingers crossed), and the FY2013 budgetary process mostly up ahead, it will look as good as any time to let the voting public pass judgment on the Noda administration. The media, which never saw a general election that they didn’t like, are likely to see it that way, too, and will color their editorials and reports accordingly. A snap election, of course, won’t change the situation in the upper house, which leads to my base-case scenario, which is an LDP-DPJ-Komeito coalition.
My all-I-want-for-Christmas scenario? Major realignment along ideologically more consistent lines, that’s what. But I don’t see how that is going to happen, even after the likely post-election politicking, so that takes the national political class muddling through, all the way out to the 2013 upper house election, when the Ishin movement should be ready to take advantage of the electoral system that allows it to more fully exploit its national appeal.