The direction of the stand-off between Ozawa's 'Anti-tax hike' faction and the LDP・DPJ・Komeito 'Pro-tax hike' faction - the key to understanding future developments lies in the three party agreement on 'policy before politics'. (J)
49 former members of the DPJ, including former leader Ozawa Ichiro, have created a new party titled "The People's Livelihood Comes First". Meanwhile the LDP and Komeito have increased their pressure on the government by calling for a general election, and it appears that the political fortunes of the Noda cabinet are growing ever more dire.
The brilliance of the absolute majority derived from the three party agreement
However, PM Noda, as a result of the "creation of a consensus on the consumption tax increase between the DPJ, LDP, and Komeito", has successfully formed an absolute majority in favour of the tax within the Diet. When voting was conducted on the "Consumption Tax Increase and Other Related Bills" in the House of Representatives, of the 480 seats in the lower house, 363, or 76% of the House voted in favour of the bill. Even if the bill is defeated in the House of Councilors, it will be passed upon re-introduction to the lower house, given the over two-thirds majority that support the bill.
Furthermore, of the 242 seats in the House of Councilors, the combined numbers of the DPJ, LDP, and Komeito means that 199 seats, or 82% of the upper house, are in favour of the bill. In order to break the hold of the three parties (who already have the 121 seats necessary for a majority in the upper house), a further 79 members of the DPJ would have to desert their party in opposition to the tax. The creation of this majority, when compared to the 81.8% (or 381 seats) secured by the "Taisei-Yokusankai" (大政翼賛会, a conglomeration of political parties) in 1942, shows you just what an achievement it is.
The departure of the Ozawa group allows the three parties to know who the "real enemy" is.
Nonetheless, attention has been focused on the activities of the new Ozawa-led party. Ever since the division of the DPJ, the possibility of a vote of no confidence against the Noda government passing the House of Representatives, combined with a censure motion against the government in the House of Councilors, has increased. However the only way this could occur is if the "agreement between the three parties" collapses prematurely.
The creation of a new political party by Ozawa has reduced the possibility of a breakup of the triumvirate. At the same time, it has made the standoff over the consumption tax increase all the more clearer. Although the three parties may argue over the details of the tax, and trip over one another in the process of doing so, the appearance of Ozawa, the so-called "true opponent" of the consumption tax increase, means that the time for squabbling among the LDP, DPJ, and Komeito has passed. Allowing their opponent to take advantage of such a situation to quash the tax would do more harm than good to the three parties` interests.
Ever since the LDP and Komeito lost power in 2009, they have never stood against a tax increase. They possess a considerable amount of political clout and have maintained a close relationship with the Ministry of Finance's principal taxation bureau. As such, they are very aware of the need to increase consumption tax in order to rebuild the economy. When one examines the progress of the consumption tax increase bill through the House of Representatives, while the LDP and Komeito have stated that they are aiming at a return to power as soon as possible, in reality they have placed greater priority on making the consumption tax increase a reality.
It is commonly said that [in relation to Japanese political parties] "politics come before policy". This is not just an adage used by journalists, for in the academic world, Anthony Downs was the first to point out that, in essence, "policy is merely the roadmap necessary to hang on to political power". However in defence of the consumption tax increase, a phenomenon has occurred that is completely different to the norm. A majority of politicians are putting "policy before politics".
We should understand that this is the stance being pursued by the three parties against the Ozawa group. If the Ozawa group remained within the DPJ and ran amok, as far as the LDP and Komeito would be concerned, a DPJ torn apart by internal dissent would be the main impediment to the introduction of a consumption tax increase. This is why both the LDP and Komeito will continue to pursue their current line for bringing down the government. The separation of the Ozawa group from the DPJ means that, for the LDP and Komeito, those left within the DPJ are, like them, in favour of a tax increase. Furthermore, in order to take on such as strong opponent as ol` "Iron Arm" Ozawa, the LDP, Komeito, and DPJ will gradually strengthen their bonds with one another.
The activity of the LDP is directed towards making "policy (a tax increase)" a reality rather than "politics (bringing down the DPJ government)".
The following antithesis has been put forward in relation to the above statement. As Ibuki Fumiaki said in relation to the `division of responsibilities` among the three parties, the LDP, in order to encourage the disintegration of the DPJ, decided to join the three party agreement. Therefore the LDP are putting emphasis on politics first.
Yet if the LDP truly wanted to bring down the government, there would be no need for them to pursue such a roundabout way of doing this in order to breakup of the DPJ. In reality, the LDP have never been opposed to an increase in consumption tax. Indeed, one of the conditions they laid down in order to cooperate on raising the tax rate, the complete repeal by the DPJ of their `social insurance reform package`, was dropped halfway through negotiations. Instead the LDP proposed the creation of a `Citizens Assembly for Reform of the Social Insurance System` in which such issues would be debated over the course of a year. The LDP`s activities therefore should be described as providing a `lifeboat` for the Noda cabinet.
It is true that the three party agreement seeks to bring about the breakup of the DPJ. Yet this is not being done in order to `bring down the government`, but in order to sure up support for a majority in favour of the consumption tax hike. This will involve hounding those opposed to the consumption tax increase out of power within government, reducing them to a minority. To put this another way, putting pressure on the Noda cabinet in order to force it from power requires manipulation of the anti-consumption tax increase faction. What the LDP is doing by raising awareness of the importance of a `consumption tax increase` is using politics to make this goal a reality.
The high hurdles that the anti-tax increase faction directly face in order to defeat the tax hike.
Next, I want to look at the positions of the so-called `anti-tax increase` factions, namely Ozawa`s new party, the `Your Party` (みんなの党), and regional parties. Firstly, each of these parties must be feeling daunted by just how many high hurdles they must clear in order to repeal the consumption tax increase bill.
By way of example, let`s look at the next House of Representatives` election. It seems very likely that the DPJ, by betraying the policies set out in their manifesto, will lose seats. Yet it is unclear whether the LDP will be able to recover support to the extent that they believe possible either. As such, it will be particularly difficult for either party to win an outright majority. At the same time, the triumvirate of the LDP, DPJ, and Komeito hold an enormous amount of power in the lower house by controlling 76% of seats there. Hence even if they were to lose some seats, there is a very strong chance that the combined numbers of the three parties will still enable them to continue with a majority.
On the other hand, when we look at the opposition factions, Ozawa Ichiro`s support base is only at 3%, while the `Your Party` `s time has already come and gone. While they may have been able to count on support from the `One Osaka Party` (維新の会) led by Osaka mayor Hashimoto Toru, recently Hashimoto has begun to praise PM Noda where previously he only offered criticism.
This shouldn`t be a surprise to anyone. The One Osaka Party may insist on transferring the right to create budgets to regional governments, yet it has never opposed a tax increase. It`s also likely that Mayor Hashimoto believes that any ties with Ozawa Ichiro would have a negative impact on his party`s image. Moreover, both the DPJ, LDP, and Komeito have all agreed to support legislation for the creation of a `second capital` in Osaka, whereas in the present Diet there does not appear to be any prospect of its passing either house. Hence any reasons that Mayor Hashimoto may have had for opposing PM Noda have disappeared.
Mayor Hashimoto has also said that "those people who think the same way that the PM does, if they were to gather together regardless of party affiliation, would create an enormously powerful government." A realist such as Mayor Hashimoto understands all too well the brilliance of creating a majority within government by bringing three parties together.
As for the number of seats the One Osaka Party would be able to capture in the next lower house election, experts are divided between as little as 10 to as many as 100. Yet if they were predicted to capture 100 seats at the most, it would be difficult for them to break the majority hold of the three parties over the lower house. Mayor Hashimoto would look at the situation in front of him in a calm, collected manner, and then make a realistic decision not to become involved in a `lost cause` by adding his support to the anti-tax factions.
Moreover, even if the anti-tax increase factions were suddenly to experience a boom in popularity and capture a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, they would still face a `twisted Parliament` that has been a headache for many a government over the years. The next upper house election is due to take place in July of 2013, and it is likely that the LDP, DPJ, and Komeito will continue to maintain their overwhelming majority in that house. As such, the opposition will not be able to bring a halt to the adoption of the consumption tax increase bill.
In order to make a repeal of the consumption tax increase a reality, the opposition would need to win both the upper and lower house elections. Yet every government since that of Abe Shinzo has had to deal with a `twisted Parliament`, which is directly linked to a drop in popularity for the ruling party. Hence one is forced to admit that a hurdle like a victory in both houses may be too high to overcome. Given the difficulty of the situation, I don`t think it is very likely that more desertions from the DPJ to Ozawa`s new party will continue.