Playing games

After consultations among the governing parties, the Aso government has extended the current session of the Diet for fifty-five days, with 28 July the final day of the marathon session.

Ostensibly, the government wants time to pass the supplementary budget-related bills and the anti-piracy bill. But, as Asahi reports, the government only needs to wait until 12 July to have the opportunity to vote again on legislation ignored by the upper house; given that extending the session to late July virtually guarantees that the general election will be held as close to the end of the Diet’s four-year term as possible, the long Diet is clearly more about politics than about policy. Naturally opposition parties said precisely that in criticizing the extension. And LDP officials responded to the extension by pushing back the likely date of a general election: on Tuesday Koga Makoto, the LDP’s chief election strategist, suggested that an October election in possible.

Who wins the most from the extension? Komeito gets its wish, a virtual guarantee that the general election will be held after the Tokyo prefectural assembly elections in early July. Aso Taro will have more time to travel and play the statesman, and time to hope for another miracle that could give his party the slightest chance of victory in the election. LDP members unsatisfied with Aso’s leadership have more time to oust Aso (a petition is now circulating to accelerate the LDP presidential election that must held later this year, in the hope that Aso could be bested). The LDP gets more time to figure out precisely how to sell itself in the campaign — LDP secretary-general Hosoda Hiroyuki said it’s fine if the LDP compiles its manifesto closer to an election.

Ultimately it may make no difference. Both the LDP and the DPJ are engaged in posturing with little policy content. (At Shisaku, MTC calls the DPJ on its newly submitted bill “banning” hereditary politics.) The two parties have been debating whether to slash the number of lower house members (as always, Yamamoto Ichita is in the thick of the debate with his own proposal) and the merits of a ban on hereditary politics, as if Japan’s biggest problem is too many politicians related to too many other politicians. Japan remains in the midst of a historic economic crisis — even if there are some “green shoots,” the overall picture is, as Claus Vistesen argues, one of a deteriorating economy. Indeed, the government recently reported a 4.4% increase over the previous month in the number of unemployed irregular and temporary workers, a reminder of the social consequences of the crisis. Despite having an extra fifty-five days for parliamentary debate, neither party is close to having an answer for the crisis. Political reform of the kind being debated among the LDP and the DPJ are not irrelevant for Japan’s future, but they are irrelevant for its present.

The political system, now more than any time during the past several years, is passing time until the general election. The Aso government and the LDP are too busy figuring out how to survive — their time horizons having narrowed considerably — to make plans for a long-term recovery. The DPJ, obsessed with taking power and reluctant to give the LDP ammunition, has no interest in a good-faith debate on any urgent policy matter, not when it can see victory in sight.

I’m with Yamaguchi Jiro: there’s simply nothing left for this Diet to do that cannot wait until after a general election. That this Diet will seat for fifty-five days past its expiration date is a travesty.

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