“Japan PM forces navy bill through” — BBC.
“Japan’s ruling party steamrolled a new anti-terrorism law through parliament.” — Morning Brief, Foreign Policy Passport.
“Japan’s ruling coalition forced a bill through parliament today…” — LA Times (AP)
“Fukuda forces through law on Japanese naval deployment” — International Herald Tribune (NYT)
“Japan forces through terror law” — Financial Times
Anyone else detect a theme here? The Western press coverage (with the exception of the AFP, it seems) of the passage of the new anti-terror special measures law emphasized the supposed aggressiveness of the government’s action — echoing the DPJ, whose secretary general, Hatoyama Yukio, described it as “outrageous” — and highlighted the rarity of the use of a supermajority in the HR to override the HC.
Of course it’s rare: when was the last time the government had an HR supermajority at the same time that the largest opposition party was in control of the HC?
So the emphasis on the “forcefulness” of the measure is, I think, mistaken. The word “force” implies that this step was undemocratic. But Mr. Fukuda is entirely within his rights. The constitution gives the HR the right to overrule the HC if it has a sufficient number of votes. Just because this right has rarely been exercised does not make it any more forceful. It simply reflects the singularity of the present moment in Japanese politics, in which the LDP has had to take an extraordinary step to pass a high-priority measure.
If the constitutional legitimacy is beyond dispute, the political legitimacy of the act is uncertain, more open to dispute and more likely to change over time, depending on what the Fukuda government does in the coming months. I suspect that the consequences of using the supermajority will be limited. I am sure that Mr. Fukuda would have preferred not to have to pass the law this way, but the fate of his government will not rest upon this decision. If the LDP’s majority is to shrink or be lost entirely in a general election, it will be due to the accretion of policy failures and cases of misgovernance, in which case the use of the supermajority to override the HR will be cited as but one case among many illustrating the LDP’s failures. Meanwhile, in the event that the Fukuda government is able to sort out the pensions problem and recapture the mantle of reform in advance of the next general election, I expect that the Japanese people will forgive the government for its supposed transgression on this issue.
Indeed, yesterday was a happy day for Prime Minister Fukuda. Not only was his government able to pass this bill after months of uncertainty, finally removing it from the center of the parliamentary agenda, but the process of passing the bill exposed the rifts within the parliamentary opposition. As I noted previously, the DPJ was forced to change its approach to the bill in the HC due to pressure from other opposition parties, which wanted the HC (and thus the DPJ) to take a clear stance in opposition to the government. In HR deliberations on the bill Friday, DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro left the chamber abruptly and abstained from voting on the bill. Mr. Hatoyama claimed that Mr. Ozawa had duties to attend to in relation to the forthcoming Osaka gubernatorial election, but Mr. Ozawa’s hasty departure prompted charges of “irresponsibility” from both the LDP and other opposition parties.
Whatever the reason for Mr. Ozawa’s departure, there is no question that the manner in which this bill passed was a personal defeat for Mr. Ozawa, who preferred that the HC let the sixty-day waiting period pass without the DPJ having to register its opposition in an HC vote. As MTC argued in this post, the endgame of the anti-terror bill exposed the DPJ’s dependence on Socialists and Communists in its opposition to the government, due to the DPJ’s holding a plurality — not an outright majority — in the Upper House.