Komeito riles the LDP

It is safe to assume that when Mori Yoshiro admonishes someone, the mood in the LDP is bleaker than previously thought.

Mr. Mori, whose mission is not the advancement of an agenda of reform or reaction but the preservation of LDP primacy, has taken it upon himself to use his bully pulpit as a former prime minister and head of the party’s largest faction to warn those who threaten the LDP’s position that they are mistaken. (See his criticism of Nakagawa Shoichi for his dealings with LDP exile Hiranuma Takeo, for example.)

With Mr. Mori’s criticism of Komeito, we can now be sure that the LDP’s guardians are panicked now that the coalition’s long-silent partner has discovered that it holds the balance in the nejire kokkai.

Speaking at a Komeito event in Ishikawa prefecture Sunday, Mr. Mori — in Yomiuri‘s reckoning (note the passive voice) — “was seen to have as its purpose the containment of Komeito’s growing distance from the Fukuda government.” It bears mentioning that Jiji‘s report on Mr. Mori’s remarks paint them in a different light, as a defense of the recently announced stimulus package shared with Komeito leader Ota Akihiro. Yomiuri‘s emphasis on the perceived threat to Komeito actually reinforces the idea that Mr. Mori’s remarks hint at the depth of the fears of the LDP’s doyens in the face of an invigorated Komeito; if any press organ shares the philosophy of Mr. Mori and the other risk-averse LDP elders, it is Yomiuri.

And they should be afraid.

Only now, a year into the divided Diet in which Komeito, thanks to its status as the guarantor of the lower house supermajority, holds power disproportionate to its numbers, is the junior partner beginning to flex its muscles and push for a lowest common denominator consensus. I had anticipated Komeito playing such a role in the Fukuda government, but I didn’t anticipate that it would take a year before Komeito began to take its position seriously.

It appears to be making up for lost time, pushing for a late start to an abbreviated Diet session that could spare Komeito from having to vote for the renewal of the MSDF refueling mission, trumpeting a stimulus package that appears to be little more than a sop to its supporters (i.e., “energy subsidies for businesses most hit by higher energy costs, medical benefits for the elderly”), and generally using its clout to cajole the government (on the date of Prime Minister Fukuda’s policy speech, for example).

The Fukuda government is increasingly looking like a lame duck, with Komeito increasingly looking like the probable executioner. Jun Okumura suggests that on the issue of the refueling mission — which will once again casts a shadow over the extraordinary session — it is theoretically possible for the LDP to overrule the upper house without Komeito’s votes, provided Komeito’s members stay away from the vote. Maybe so, but presumably the price of Komeito’s staying away will be steep (perhaps even the power to decide the date of the next election?). Is Mr. Fukuda prepared to pay such a price, particularly on an issue that has little payoff for his political prospects? Beyond Mr. Fukuda, how will the LDP’s members take Komeito’s growing clout? Arguably Komeito’s growing activism could fuel the conservative revolt against Mr. Fukuda. Japan’s conservatives are, to the say the least, dubious about Komeito, its mother organization Soka Gakkai, and Ikeda Daisaku, the head of Soka Gakkai. Excessive deference to Komeito could well be the final straw for the LDP’s conservatives.

Given a choice between acquiescing to Komeito and pushing for a general election that may be disastrous for the LDP, the conservatives may be drawn to the latter, seeing as how it would likely mean the end of both the LDP’s partnership with Komeito and the Fukuda adminstration, clearing the way for the rise of their champion, Aso Taro.

All of which suggests that Mr. Mori’s pleas will be useless. Like King Canute, Mr. Mori is trying to hold back forces beyond his control.

What is the DPJ to do in the midst of the feuding within the coalition?

Hokkaido University’s Yamaguchi Jiro argues, “Now is the time for DPJ politicians to walk about the regions, see people’s hardships, and hear their miserable hopes regarding politics.”

“In the extraordinary session of the Diet,” he continues, “the opposition should take the line of all-out confrontation. The lame-duck Fukuda administration lacks the skill and the legitimacy for policy discussions. If Komeito is opposed to reapproval in the lower house, important legislation cannot be passed at all.”

Professor Yamaguchi’s advice is probably sound. There is little the DPJ can and should do at this point than take the party’s case directly to the people, call attention to the government’s short-sightedness and disarray, and prepare the party for a general election that looks increasingly likely to occur by year’s end.

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