Catch-22 for the DPJ

Jun Okumura comments on an Asahi article — available here — that discusses former Prime Minister Koizumi’s speech to a meeting of the Machimura faction, in which he described the DPJ as being akin to the LDP anti-mainstream. Now, this might strike some as a strange, but it’s actually an apt description for the current political situation, especially since the LDP has largely united behind Mr. Fukuda, leaving an opening for an anti-mainstream group.

Winning the Upper House election might have been the worst thing to happen to the DPJ, because now the party is trapped between the demands of being an opposition party — doing whatever possible to hinder the government and raising the rhetoric to sharpen the differences between government and opposition — and the responsibilities inherent in controlling one of the chambers of the Diet. The latter problem is compounded by the weakness of the Upper House, which means that the DPJ can’t use its majority to pass legislation without cooperating with the LDP, even while the LDP possesses the trump card of its Lower House supermajority, enabling it to outmaneuver the DPJ when necessary.

With Mr. Abe in the Kantei, an aggressive DPJ strategy that abjured from cooperation in the hopes of forcing an early election might have worked, exacerbating internal disagreements within the LDP and perhaps sparking a rebellion reminiscent of the Kato insurrection (only this time successful). But the same strategy will not work facing the wily Mr. Fukuda, not least because the less likely a snap election seems, the more the DPJ will be expected to use its Upper House strength constructively. Indeed, the more confrontational the DPJ is, the easier it may be for the LDP to use its supermajority to override the Upper House without fear of public backlash (and thus put off a general election until September 2009).

What should Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ do? They might have no choice but to act like the LDP anti-mainstream — act as part of the government, but hold those with power responsible for their mistakes and use the power that they do have from controlling the Upper House to shape the agenda as much as possible and extract concessions from Mr. Fukuda, who apparently is willing to give them up.

Perhaps this arrangement will fall into place following the battle of the MSDF mission, but one way or another the DPJ has to stop hoping for an early election and actually beginning meeting Mr. Fukuda’s flexibility and nuance with flexibility and nuance of their own.

(I have developed this idea at greater length in an article in the forthcoming November/December issue of J@pan Inc.)

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