The enduring weakness of the parties

Over at Shisaku, MTC writes about l’affaire Ōe — Ōe being Ōe Yasuhiro, one of the three DPJ HC members who attended the gathering of prefectural assembly members mentioned in this post.

Kan Naoto has called for Mr. Ōe to resign his seat. That is unlikely to happen: MTC notes that since Mr. Ōe was elected last July — and since the DPJ has a plurality, not a majority, in the HC — the DPJ is likely to be stuck with him and his overt flirtations with the LDP until 2013. I’m also dubious of pronouncements issued by DPJ executives who aren’t Ozawa Ichiro; Mr. Ozawa seems to have the last word in the party executive, if not necessarily the party.

Indeed, this episode is but the latest sign that the creation of top-down, centralized, programmatic parties that was supposed to accompany the emergence of a two-party system has not occurred as expected. Both the LDP and the DPJ (despite talk of Mr. Ozawa’s “dictatorial” control of the party) remain deeply divided. The leaders of both parties have few tools with which to discipline unruly backbenchers. Take, for example, the LDP leadership’s frustrations with the activities of Nakagawa Shoichi (discussed here). Apart from the blunt weapon of expelling party members, what can the leaders of both parties do to discipline “uncooperative” members?

Another round of population transfers between parties (i.e., another political realignment) might help centralize the parties, but I doubt it. Factions, whether based on personality, pork, or policy, will continue to exist, and individual members will continue to wield considerable power, both on the basis of their fundraising abilities and because the political system may be in for a period of weak coalition and minority governments whose need to preserve working majorities will give considerable leverage to rebellious backbenchers.

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