All’s well that ends well; or, much ado about nothing?

As expected, the DPJ-led House of Councillors approved the nomination of Shirakawa Masaaki, the acting governor of the Bank of Japan, to serve as the full-fledged governor, thus ending Japan’s three-week nightmare with only an acting governor at the helm of the BOJ. Mr. Shirakawa will make his debut on the international stage later this week at the meeting of G7 finance ministers and central bankers in Washington Friday.

Also as expected, the HC rejected the nomination of Watanabe Hiroshi, former administrative vice minister of finance and professor at Hitotsubashi University, to serve as a deputy governor.

Not surprisingly, the government responded to the DPJ’s rejection of Mr. Watanabe by complaining about the DPJ’s prioritizing politics over the public interest. As Ibuki Bunmei, the LDP secretary-general, said, “One can think only that this decision prioritizes party interests at the expense of national interests.”

In stating the DPJ’s reasons for opposing Mr. Watanabe, Hatoyama Yukio, DPJ secretary-general, said (somewhat pathetically, as noted by Jun Okumura), “It is President Ozawa’s strong desire to not accept amakudari.”

As Okumura writes, Mr. Ozawa actually outmaneuvered his DPJ rivals on this vote. Many of the hardline anti-Muto DPJ members were willing to support Mr. Watanabe’s nomination, but Mr. Ozawa nixed that idea on the same grounds that his rivals opposed Mr. Muto (thereby forcing Mr. Ozawa to take a harder line on the BOJ succession than he was prepared to take initially). In the end, only three DPJ HC members voted in favor of Mr. Watanabe. It is unclear how the DPJ can punish the three, given its slim hold on the HC.

It is worth noting that the BOJ’s monetary policy committee decided to leave interest rates unchanged in light of worsening economic conditions at home and abroad. For all the alarm that greeted the non-vacancy vacancy at the BOJ, the international economic “narrative” has been considerably less important than the domestic politics narrative.

This fight was about each party’s trying to position itself in advance of the next general election and to a lesser extent about the future of Japanese governance. Hence the LDP has to this day used this fight to emphasize the DPJ’s lack of concern for the national interest. Hence to this day the DPJ has emphasized that it is standing against amakudari government and the pervasive influence of the Ministry of Finance.

I think that the DPJ comes out looking better over the long term — and that is a good thing for Japanese democracy. The DPJ was able to say no to the government (and the MOF) and make it stick. The DPJ got exactly what it demanded. The new BOJ governor is a thirty-year veteran of the BOJ and he is the third consecutive BOJ OB to be named governor. The DPJ’s rejection of all MOF OBs may now have been taken to an irrational extreme by Mr. Ozawa’s response to intra-DPJ opposition — as even his opponents recognize — but it’s preferable to rolling over and accepting whoever the government sends over to the Diet.

It’s unlikely that the LDP will change its ways and become more accommodating of the DPJ after this battle, but the DPJ should take every opportunity to remind the government that there are two houses in the Diet, one of them is controlled by the opposition, and the government can’t govern solely by Articles 59-61. The DPJ should continue doing what an opposition party, especially an opposition party with some power, should do: question, cajole, expose, and undermine the government at every turn. That’s democracy. It should, of course, connect its actions to a broader message, but it should not feel compelled to govern. The upside of controlling the upper house is that it is unreasonable to expect the DPJ to act like a governing party. The DPJ’s access to the bureaucracy is still less than the LDP’s, so it is at a disadvantage in terms of policy formulation. The government’s budget took precedence due to Article 60. The HC has no way around HR approval for its approved bills. Control of the weaker chamber by an opposition party is good for little more than harrying the government and forcing it to change its ways to accommodate the opposition.

I suspect that media’s refrain that the public will vote against the DPJ if it is too obstructionism is vastly overblown. The LDP’s failures — like the still-vanished pensions, for example — will be more than enough to dampen whatever concerns voters have about the DPJ’s doing what an opposition party should be doing.

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