The DPJ embraces tactical retreat

Yamaoka Kenji, the DPJ’s Diet strategy chairman, indicated in Diet proceedings Wednesday that the DPJ will consent to a quick vote on the bill extending the MSDF’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. He didn’t say that the DPJ would support it, of course, but he did say that the DPJ would consent to moving the bill through the Diet with minimal debate.

Naturally Mr. Yamaoka and the DPJ are not acting out of charity. Rather, Mr. Yamaoka took care to emphasize in his remarks that why should the opposition sit on the bill when the LDP is assured of Komeito support in passing the bill a second time in the Diet.

By that Mr. Yamaoka clearly meant is that the DPJ should not waste precious time debating a bill that will pass anyway — now that Komeito has apparently backed down from its threat to not vote for the refueling mission should it come before the lower hosue a second time — and refocus the discussion on how the LDP has mismanaged pensions and health care.

The DPJ seems to have concluded that the next election will not be won on the floor of the Diet. It gains nothing from appearing unreasonably obstructionist, and it loses little from giving Mr. Aso victories on issues of lesser importance or of paramount importance, like the stimulus package, in which case the party would suffer if it were to oppose the bill. The election will be won in delivering the party’s message that it is more responsive to the public on healthcare and pensions than the cold-hearted, “market-fundamentalist” (a term that surely resonates more today) LDP. This necessarily entails buying time for DPJ candidates to work that much harder to communicate with voters. Depriving Mr. Aso of salient issues is one way to buy some time.

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