The government, he notes, will lack the time to pass the most significant pieces of legislation on the agenda (beyond a stimulus package) and override the upper house if necessary. No refueling mission extension. No tax reform. No road construction reform.
Naturally the government can squeeze some life out of the Diet session by working with the DPJ or by extending the Diet session yet again (over the objections of Komeito).
The LDP continues to hope for the former; Aso Taro recently called on the DPJ and other opposition parties to cooperate with the government to extend the Japanese mission in the Indian Ocean.
Such appeals are likely to fall on deaf ears. What, after all, does the DPJ stand to gain from extending a helping hand to the government on this or any other legislation at this point?
As for the latter, I would imagine that Komeito is not alone in its diminished enthusiasm for the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. Surely some LDP legislators must be wondering whether it is the best use of the government’s time and energy when the list of problems affecting Japanese households is so long (and when those households are watching the government’s actions closely). And if the government extends the session, it is practically daring Komeito to vote against the bill when it comes before the lower house a second time and thus trigger a general election precisely at the time when it wants to have an election.
Prime Minister Fukuda has promised and will continue to promise that the mission will go on; but even if he manages to pass the bill, the refueling mission might as well be dead. What began as a promising symbol of a new Japanese security role is now a symbol of Japan’s unwillingness to play a greater security role.For better or worse, we will likely see the seven-year-old (minus a couple months) refueling mission come to an end, with no mission to replace it. The refueling mission, much heralded in 2001 as a symbol characterizing Japan’s emergence as a robust security actor in the region, increasingly looks like the high water mark for Japan’s evolving thinking about its place in the world, with Japan once again withdrawing into itself as it struggles to achieve an economic and social revolution without a revolution.
And so it is with the LDP itself. After fifty-three years in power, the very foundations of the LDP rule are crumbling. An article in the Sept. 1 issue of AERA says it all: “Support groups abandoning the LDP.” The article observes that traditional LDP backers like the Japan Medical Association and postal workers (obviously) are increasingly open to backing DPJ and other opposition candidates, and concludes: “The governing LDP has overwhelming power, but the traditional structure of a monopolistic relationship with industry appears to be at an end.” After what happened to the LDP last summer, this seems to be only the tip of the iceberg. The longer the DPJ sits in control of the upper house, the more Japanese industries — long accustomed to working with the LDP because they had no other choice — are willing and even eager to look to the DPJ for help.
The LDP needs a strong performance in the forthcoming Diet session to have even a chance of returning to power with a majority (forget a supermajority). It needs to deliver concrete results on a number of policy areas, with the economic stimulus package not necessarily the most important in the eyes of voters. With a short Diet session and no concrete plan for coaxing agreement out of the opposition, the government appears to be setting itself up to fail.
I want to note in closing that it is common among some foreign observers of Japanese politics to assume that somehow the LDP will pull through, because the LDP has always managed to survive. That may have been true, but it only explains situations past. It does nothing to predict how the LDP will turn its dire circumstances today into an improbable election victory. I’m open to explanations for how the LDP can do this, but the lack of LDP defeats in the past tells me nothing about the LDP’s future, which to me appears bleak and short indeed.
This is a classic example of the problem of induction: the LDP’s failure to lose an election over the past fifty-three years (1993 doesn’t count as a loss for technical reasons) by no means guarantees that it will not lose an election tomorrow (or next year).
This is, in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s recapitulation in The Black Swan of Bertrand Russell, the turkey problem:
Consider a turkey that is fed every day. Every single feeding will firm up the bird’s belief that it is the general rule of life to be fed every day by friendly members of the human race ‘looking out for its best interests,’ as a politician would say. On the afternoon of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, something unexpected will happen to the turkey. It will incur a revision of belief. (P. 40. See also Ch. 4, passim.)
Of course, the seventy days means the Diet session is scheduled to end in late November.