The DPJ’s dilemma

With the Abe Cabinet determined to press ahead with passage of a bill establishing a national referendum system so that when the time comes a revised constitution can be submitted to a vote, the Democratic Party of Japan finds itself in something of a bind, because unlike previous opposition parties, the DPJ is not opposed to revision of the constitution — it does not have a totemic attachment to the postwar system.

But, of course, it still wants to be an active opposition party that makes life difficult for the government.

That is the dilemma found in current deliberations about submitting a rival national referendum bill to the Diet. As Mainichi reports, the DPJ has decided to submit its own plan, which differs from the government’s draft only in that the DPJ wants to set up a “general” national referendum system.

Once Japan’s political parties get around to discussing the actual substance of constitution revision, there will no doubt be plenty of debate and disagreement, but for the moment that’s neither here nor there, because both parties are looking to July’s upper house elections. The DPJ, torn between its policy goals and its desire to hammer the government and improve its standing in advance of the elections, once again looks weak and indecisive.

This is a problem that will not go away. The DPJ has yet to find a way to present itself as a viable opposition party with the potential to form a government, without looking like an LDP-lite (having the old LDP operator Ozawa at the helm may not be the best way of presenting the DPJ as a new wind in Japanese politics).

As such, for all the Abe Cabinet’s troubles one should not expect revolutionary political change any time soon. On the contrary, as suggested in a conversation with another American Japan watcher with whom I met this past week, Japan may well be in for another period of short-lived LDP governments headed by bland pols.

The Koizumi era seems like it was ages ago.

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