The beginning of divided government

The DPJ, now calling the shots on the administration of the Upper House, has announced the distribution of the chairmanships of Upper House committees, and in a gesture that strikes me as magnanimous, has given the chairmanship of the Budget Committee to the LDP. The LDP has named Konoike Yoshitada to fill the post.

While the House of Representatives has ultimate responsibility for the budget, it is important to remember that the budget committee in both houses is the main forum for questioning the government on all manner of subjects. With the LDP holding the chairmanship, it will have the power to end questioning and send the budget bill to the whole house.

As Asahi emphasizes in an article today (not online), Japan is in for an experiment in divided government akin to that seen in France and the US. I’m not sure if anyone really knows what will happen from Monday on: will the DPJ wield its new powers forcefully, or will it hold back, act cooperatively and let the government destroy itself? Inter-party cooperation is by no means a new phenomenon in Japanese politics, but the process is about to be turned inside-out. Whereas cooperation previously was the result of the LDP’s trying to include opposition parties in the policy making process through compromises behind closed doors, cooperation and competition will now take place publicly, along the institutional battle lines between Upper House, Lower House, and government.

Indeed, Asahi‘s editorial today views the start of the special Diet session as the first act of a new stage of political reform.

“If there is misgovernment, the majority should be exchanged, and administration should change hands,” writes Asahi. “This tension has activated Japanese democracy. This debate has proceeded from the introduction of single-seat electoral districts and the reorganization of political parties. With the reversal of the majority in the Upper House, the power to reject the governing coalition’s bills has been given to the opposition. Without the opposition’s cooperation, the government cannot be administered; the opposition bears this responsibility. This means that the circumstances coming into being should also be called ‘half change of government.'”

Whether the experiment in divided government will be long-lived remains to be seen. The DPJ will continue to push for an early dissolution of the House of Representatives and a general election, and with the floodgates open on reports of corrupt practices by members of the government and LDP executives, the DPJ will have a lot of help from the media. The Nelson Report, citing the analysis of Peter Ennis of The Oriental Economist, suggests that Mr. Abe could be gone by November and that the anti-terror special measures law will be allowed to expire, giving the DPJ a not-inconsiderable victory.

Meanwhile, the Yosano-Aso team may have ignited a civil war in the LDP by inviting Mr. Hiranuma back to the party. Undoubtedly the younger members of the LDP can see the writing on the wall for their political careers.

It is unclear how much longer this turmoil in the political system will last, but the pressure for change appears to be swelling relentlessly; when all is said and done, Japan may find itself with a more transparent, dynamic political system.

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