Damn the DPJ, full speed ahead!

The Fukuda Cabinet has announced a schedule for the passage of a new law enabling the MSDF’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. A final cabinet decision will be made on October 17th, following the conclusion of deliberations in the Upper House Budget committee, and the new bill will be introduced for deliberation to the Lower House’s special anti-terror committee on October 19th, with the bill expected to pass the whole house on October 26th.

Barring some kind of last-minute DPJ surrender, it looks like the sixty-day countdown to automatic passage will begin on the 26th, meaning that the MSDF will have to return to Japan — or leave the area of operations — for close to two months, unless the DPJ decides not to use up the full sixty days and act quickly to reject the bill.

There is some question as to whether the government will balk at re-passing the bill in the House of Representatives over Upper House rejection. Yamasaki Taku, who has been the party’s voice of reason on this issue from the moment it became clear that a new law would be needed, has once again expressed his concerns about the government’s forcibly passing the law. He suggested that using the supermajority to override the Upper House could result in an Upper House censure motion against Prime Minister Fukuda, forcing a snap election.

But I wonder whether an Upper House censure motion would be as devastating as anticipated by Mr. Yamasaki. The Japanese Wikipedia entry on censure motions shows only one motion passing, forcing the resignation of Nukaga Fukushiro as JDA chief back in 1998. There is not much precedent to work from when it comes to reacting to a successful censure motion. After all, unlike Lower House no-confidence motions, censure motions are non-binding. The government is not obligated to do anything — it would all depend on the public’s response to both the LDP’s use of its supermajority to pass the law over the Upper House’s rejection and the DPJ’s responding with a censure motion. Presumably with public support, Mr. Fukuda would be able to ignore a censure motion without fear of consequence. But it’s all part of figuring out the rules of the game for divided government.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear what role the DPJ will play in this drama, aside from opposing the government’s plans. Mr. Ozawa is already backtracking on his stated desire to see JSDF troops contributing to ISAF, suggesting that he will work within the DPJ to draw up a prudent plan and stating that stabilizing the livelihoods of the Afghan people is most important. Mainichi suggests that Mr. Ozawa’s gyrations have muddied his party’s stance and diminished the DPJ’s ability to challenge the government, and demands that the DPJ both question how long the government intends to keep the MSDF at work on refueling and formulate alternate plans for participating in the war on terrorism. Maehara Seiji admitted on Wednesday that there is some fatigue with Mr. Ozawa, in no small measures due to the party’s differing factions; members from before the DPJ’s merger with Ozawa’s Liberal Party are at odds, he says, with members who accompanied Mr. Ozawa.

The DPJ may also have lost the momentum with which to challenge the government on reports that US warships used Japanese fuel in Operation Iraqi Freedom, with the Pentagon nixing the suggestion by reporting that the 675,000 gallons of fuel received by the USS Kitty Hawk from the MSDF supply ship Tokiwa via the USS Pecos was used within three days in late February for maritime interdiction activities before moving to the Persian Gulf to participate in Operation Southern Watch. Defense Minister Ishiba reiterated the Pentagon’s explanation in his sparring with Kan Naoto in Budget committee deliberations, and barring any new revelations — by no means impossible — the government may be in the clear on this issue, not least because public opinion continues to trend the government’s way.

With the new law ready to be sent to the Upper House by month’s end, the DPJ better know exactly how it intends to respond. It is in the midst of a sustained war over public opinion, for which it appears wholly unprepared. In this second Kaku-Fuku war, the DPJ (the “Kaku” team) has thus far been about as overwhelmed by the unassuming Fukuda fils as my beloved Chicago Cubs were by the unassuming Arizona Diamondbacks last week.

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