One more month

As anticipated, the Fukuda cabinet has decided to extend the extraordinary (and extraordinarily long) Diet session thirty-one days, to 15 January, ensuring that the sixty-day rule will take effect and allow the House of Representatives to pass the new anti-terror special measures law.

As noted by MTC, the extension means that the Diet will recess for two days — when the LDP and the DPJ will hold their national conventions — before reconvening for the regular session of the Diet on 18 January.

Has the government, as suggested by Komeito, “crossed the Rubicon?”

It may look that way, especially since the decision to extend the Diet session — in effect a demonstration of the government’s resolve to do whatever it takes to pass its bill — has coincided with the reemergence of the pensions scandal at the forefront of the national discussion. Mr. Fukuda has acted quickly in an attempt to soften the blow — in this week’s mail magazine, he wrote, “As the representative of the Government, I offer my apologies to the people for the misconduct that has gone on for many years” — but his public support will probably drop some more, and, as suggested by Jun Okumura, Masuzoe Yoichi may be forced to offer up his head, an unfortunate consequence for the government.

Is this the beginning of a death spiral that will result in a dissolution, a general election, and possibly a change of ruling party? As reported by Mainichi, Komeito is evidently not convinced that the government will be able to avoid a snap election. And, of course, the LDP has given the DPJ yet another gift that will allow it to remain on the offensive against the government.

But I still think that should the Upper House pass a censure motion against the government in response to the re-passage of the anti-terror law in the House of Representatives, Mr. Fukuda will be able to ignore it and carry on with governing, at least for the time being.

It is interesting to see the approach that the prime minister has taken in response to the new pensions scandal. Aside from wasting no time in apologizing to the Japanese people, he has also wasted no time in making clear that the issue is the bureaucracy and its failings:

It turns out that in numerous cases these unidentified records involve rudimentary mistakes, including typos and record transfer errors, on the part of the Social Insurance Agency. The further we advance in our investigations, the more it has become apparent just how slipshod work had been at the Social Insurance Agency. Each and every one of the pension records is directly connected to the livelihood of a person. Nevertheless, the Social Insurance Agency failed to act in a manner consistent with this basic fact, which I find to be truly regrettable.

Is Mr. Fukuda able to take this approach — which Mr. Abe conspicuously did not take when first faced with this issue — because of the supposed respect he receives from the bureaucracy? (Remember back to September when this was mentioned frequently as one of the strong points of his candidacy for the LDP presidency.) Is it a matter of principle, a burst of Koizumism? Or is it simply an expression of LDP survival politics, an acknowledgment that the LDP is more than willing to jettison the bureaucracy’s privileges to save itself?

Whatever the case may be, it would truly be a shame if Mr. Masuzoe — who, as I’ve discussed before, sincerely believes in the need to transform the bureaucracy to limit the kind of behavior noted above by the prime minister — were to be forced out of the cabinet as a result of the bureaucratic misdeeds against which he has railed.

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