Noda must waste no time in restoring his leadership
The turmoil in the Diet over the government-envisioned raising of the consumption tax rate has brought to the fore the fragility of the power base of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's administration. It is urgent for the prime minister to restore his leadership.
A set of bills for comprehensive reform of the tax and social security systems was set to pass the House of Councillors and become law, Friday.
This is because of an agreement reached Wednesday night between the heads of the Democratic Party of Japan and two major opposition parties, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, on the need for early enactment of the reform bills.
We welcome this development, in which a worst-case scenario was averted in an 11th-hour compromise to avoid scrapping the bills as a result of bickering among the three parties over when to dissolve the House of Representatives for a general election.
If the bills had been scrapped, domestic and overseas opinion of Japan's political system would have been irrevocably damaged. That would have triggered various negative repercussions, such as declines in the creditworthiness of Japanese government bonds.
A major factor that enabled the last-ditch accord may be the fact that Noda and LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki, who have both served as finance minister, concurred on the urgent necessity of rehabilitating the government's debt-stricken finances.
Both Noda, Tanigaki under fire
On the other hand, there is no denying that Noda and Tanigaki, each facing a party leadership election in September, are facing higher hurdles for reelection as their power bases within their respective parties have weakened because of the tripartite accord.
The commitment Noda was driven to make to seek a mandate from the public by dissolving the lower house "sometime soon" after the Diet passes the bills has drawn fire from such intraparty groups as one headed by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
Tanigaki, for his part, did not win assurance from the prime minister that the lower chamber would be dissolved during the current session of the legislature, which ends Sept. 8. As a result, hard-line LDP legislators who want an early dissolution of the lower house are dissatisfied with Tanigaki.
Although the prime minister seems to have built up mutual trust with Tanigaki, the two men's abilities to steer their intraparty affairs have been called into question.
For example, the prime minister's lack of caution has been conspicuous, as exemplified by his careless remark regarding compilation of a state budget for next fiscal year, which provoked outrage from the LDP.
To secure cooperation in Diet affairs under the divided legislature, in which the opposition controls the upper house while the ruling camp has a majority in the lower house, the prime minister must watch his step extremely carefully.
LDP holds bargaining chips
There are also other causes of conflict.
When a no-confidence motion submitted to a plenary session of the lower house against the Noda Cabinet by six minor opposition parties such as People's Life First and the Japanese Communist Party was voted down Thursday, almost all LDP and Komeito lawmakers were absent or abstained from voting.
This was because the two parties were against the no-confidence motion but did not want to endorse the Noda administration by explicitly opposing it.
The LDP has held such bargaining chips as submission of a censure motion against the prime minister, which it opted not to present this time, and blocking Diet approval of a government plan to issue deficit-covering bonds.
The DPJ and LDP also differ widely in their interpretation of the vague term "sometime soon" regarding dissolution of the lower house.
While the LDP has persistently sought dissolution before the end of this Diet sitting, a great majority of the lower house members belonging to the DPJ are for holding a general election later than sooner, as the party's popularity ratings have been low.
The different interpretations of "sometime soon" are expected to rise to the surface sooner or later, in the form of a demand from the LDP for early dissolution of the lower house, thus certainly intensifying the tug-of-war with the DPJ.
Under these circumstances, Noda must swiftly redouble his efforts to consolidate the power base of his administration, to rack up specific achievements by addressing not only tax and social security reform but also other key pending political tasks.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 10, 2012)