Turning of the tide

Methinks that the momentum that the DPJ has enjoyed since the Upper House elections is about to dissipate.

The new LDP leadership’s first pronouncement has been to emphasize the need to cooperate with the opposition. Mr. Aso said today, “The important task given to the LDP is restoring confidence and effectively dealing with the people’s insecurity about the future.” Mr. Ishihara, meanwhile, suggested that the party’s utmost mission is cooperating with the opposition as much as possible. This, of course, is bowing to post-election reality, but it will make it more difficult for the DPJ to persist in its confrontational Diet strategy. The LDP and the DPJ may ultimately be unable to cooperate on legislation, but now, should the LDP have to use the Lower House to override an Upper House veto or inaction, it can credibly shift the blame to the DPJ.

This new dynamic is of most immediate importance for the extension of the anti-terror special measures law. Foreign Minister Machimura signaled that the government will exert “all its power” to get the DPJ’s understanding on the law. That sounds a lot more credible coming from the new cabinet than it did from a cabinet that was shedding members weekly and headed by a prime minister who didn’t have a clue as to how to stop digging, let alone escape from the hole. Expect the DPJ to begin searching for the terms of a compromise in the coming weeks; indeed, NHK reported today that Yamaguchi Tsuyoshi, shadow foreign minister in the DPJ’s shadow cabinet will be visiting Washington in mid-September to exchange opinions with US legislators and possibly discuss a way for Japan to contribute other than the current MSDF mission. (Full disclosure: I provided advice on people Yamaguchi should meet while in Washington.)

The Abe cabinet will no doubt enjoy a boost in popularity in the coming weeks — I agree with MTC that the new lineup is a considerable improvement over the previous team, and I expect that Japanese voters will think the same. But over the long term, both the Abe government and the LDP are still in trouble, and must figure out the party’s post-Koizumi identity.

The DPJ is still in an advantageous position, but now it has a competent opponent on the other side. If the DPJ is be in a position to win the next general election, it will have to earn it. The party cannot rely on the new Abe cabinet to make the same stupid mistakes that paved the way to victory in July.

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