Post-summit election?

In recent days, the message from the LDP’s leaders has been that the government is considering calling a general election later in 2008, following the G8 summit to be held in Hokkaido in July.

Nikai Toshihiro, chairman of the LDP’s executive council, argued in a speech in Osaka on Saturday for a post-summit election, suggesting that a successful summit will put the government in a strong position from which to ask the people for a new mandate.

Prime Minister Fukuda, meanwhile, in a press conference on Friday dismissed the notion of an early election, insisting that his first priorities are getting the budget passed and successfully hosting the G8 (as well as the passage of a permanent law on JSDF dispatch). He also suggested that a cabinet reshuffle remains an option as a way to break the political deadlock, although it is unclear to me how a new cabinet lineup would make much difference. Is there a lineup that the prime minister could assemble that would (a) be free to corruption and a tendency for inappropriate remarks (such as Hatoyama Kunio’s friend-of-a-friend Al Qaeda member remark, which the prime minister recently called “interesting”) and (b) lead the public to rally to the government’s side in its showdown with the DPJ?

There is no magic bullet for resolving the divided Diet. A general election certainly won’t do it, seeing as how it would most likely deprive the government of its supermajority without giving the DPJ a majority, meaning that I still don’t buy talk of a general election in 2008. Note that in his remarks, Mr. Fukuda was careful to note that it would depend on the political situation following the G8 summit. And then it will depend on the political situation following the 2008 extraordinary session of the Diet. And then, before you know it, it will be September 2009.

Mr. Fukuda and the LDP have little choice but to continue to do what they’ve been doing: pressuring the DPJ to cooperate but preparing to overrule the Upper House as necessary. Granted, the LDP might not want to use Mr. Mori as its hatchet man for attacking the DPJ, but the principle remains. Barring any major swings in public opinion, the current situation will likely hold for some time. The government may not make much progress on dealing with national issues, but we may be about to discover how long the Japanese people are willing to tolerate gridlock in the Diet.

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