Six important questions, it seems, will be postponed into the final days of the Diet session. (1) Will the DPJ reject the anti-terror law outright, or (2) will it simply not act on the bill? In response to the former, (3) will the Fukuda government use the supermajority to pass the bill again? In response to the latter, (4) will it extend the session into January so that the sixty-day waiting period will lapse, giving the LDP a chance to pass the bill again in the Lower House (depending, of course, on its answer to question #3)? (5) Will the DPJ respond to use of the supermajority with an Upper House censure motion? And (6) will the government respond to an Upper House censure motion by dissolving the House of Representatives and calling a snap election?
MTC presents his answer to the penultimate question in this post, in which he argues, “A censure motion is, in a certain sense, a declaration of war. The power of the censure motion comes not from what it says about the present but what it says about the future.” His argument that a censure motion will effectively sink the prime minister by ending any chance that the DPJ and LDP would work to facilitate cooperation between Diet chambers is convincing, but I cannot help but wonder whether the DPJ actually views it that way.
For my part, I remain agnostic about the meaning of the censure motion: by its very nature as a non-binding resolution, its power derives entirely from outside factors. Would a non-binding censure resolution have any power against a prime minister with Koizumian popularity? Would it have power if used against the prime minister over a policy issue in which he enjoyed public backing? I’m not saying that Mr. Fukuda enjoys a shield of high poll numbers — he doesn’t — or that he has the public’s overwhelming support on the refueling mission — again, he doesn’t — but that’s precisely the point. The public has been decidedly indecisive on both Mr. Fukuda and his refueling bill: he obviously doesn’t enjoy the support he enjoyed upon taking office, but the public hasn’t abandoned him, and the refueling mission continues to enjoy a near-majority of support so far as I can tell (and insofar as the Japanese people care). Thanks in part to public ambivalence, the meaning of a censure motion is essentially open to interpretation. (Another factor is, of course, that there are no meaningful precedents for this situation.) As a result, both parties will be busy with extracurricular maneuvering in the media to either talk down (cf. Mr. Koga) or play up the significance of a censure motion in the hope of moving the public decisively in one direction or the other.
Accordingly, the current situation is not unlike the situation in early 1993, as described by Gerald Curtis in The Logic of Japanese Politics — “It is a story of how politicians maneuver to exploit opportunities and how the context of their actions constrains the choices they make.” The answer to the above questions will depend on contingencies. Which leader — both, as MTC notes in another post, extremely adroit — is gutsier? Which leader has the fatal flaw that will become apparent at the critical moment in the drama? Which party (and party leadership) is more disciplined? What role will the Japanese media — the omnipresent chorus of the drama — play in answering the six questions? And the fickle Japanese public? What part will the ongoing sideshow of Mr. Moriya, his relationship with Yamada Yoko, and corruption at the Defense Ministry play in the shifting calculations of the various actors?
As Curtis (and Richard Samuels, another advocate of the importance of leaders in spite of structural constraints, as discussed here) recognize, individual politicians have tremendous room to shape outcomes for better or worse. As this Diet session reaches its climax, we will get an illustration of just how much individuals matter.