By Rajaram Panda
While struggling to come to terms with the triple disaster, Japan is facing another bout of political instability with pressure mounting on Prime Minister Kan Naoto to demit office. Kan, however, survived a no-confidence motion in Parliament on June 2, 2011. He has offered to step down once plans to recover from history’s costliest natural disaster are on track, although the date of his resignation remains unspecified. He wants a smooth power transition to a younger generation of lawmakers. Curiously, the Diet rejected the no-confidence motion against his government hours after Kan made his offer of resignation. The tally of votes in the Lower House showed 292 lawmakers voting against the motion, while 252 voted in favour of ousting Kan. Some of those opposing the Prime Minister were members of his own party. The Opposition led by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) charged that Kan had failed to adequately lead Japan during the crisis. As a result, his public approval rating plunged below 30 per cent. For the record, Kan is Japan’s fifth Prime Minister in five years.
oon after the disaster, Kan had proposed the idea of a grand coalition and invited the Opposition LDP to participate in the huge task of evacuation and reconstruction. The LDP rejected the invitation as it feared that if something went wrong, it would have to equally share the blame.. However, similar plans for a grand coalition are being talked about again by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). This has accelerated a movement to force Kan to step down as early as this month.
The LDP seems to have given conditional support to the idea of a grand coalition. On June 5, the DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada said a short-term coalition would be necessary to ensure progress in the rebuilding process. A second supplementary budget and legislation is required to allow for the issuance of deficit-covering government bonds. The LDP made it clear that the grand coalition was only possible after Kan stepped down. It is rumoured that Kan may indeed step down after the Diet passes a basic law for reconstruction as early as June 17. The dissidents within the ruling DPJ feel that Kan’s resignation will help to get the Opposition’s support for the second supplementary budget bill and a bill required to finance the fiscal 2011 budget with bonds.
While underlining the importance of and need for a grand coalition, Okada has said that the prime minister would have to be selected from the party with the largest number of seats in the Diet. Former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara has said that if the bill to issue government bonds does not pass, the second supplementary budget and the rebuilding process will not move forward. Therefore, he feels, “a grand coalition will be necessary for a predetermined period of time” to resolve the issue. Koichiro Genba, the state minister in charge of national policy, also stressed the need for a coalition, which will lead to a strong political foundation.
The LDP is open to the idea. Senior LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki has warned that the LDP will not form a grand coalition with the DPJ if they do not agree on key policy issues. On the other hand, DPJ Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara has said that a grand coalition would be in place for half a year or so at the longest, meaning that elections should be called immediately after that. Tanigaki with Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of New Komeito, is considering the grand coalition proposal. Yamaguchi is worried that his small opposition party would lose its influence if the LDP joins hands with the hastily built coalition. The LDP is likely to adopt a wait-and-see approach without entering into the grand coalition. Its strategy is to raise the bar for the grand coalition so that the DPJ is forced to call a snap election around October 2011.
For his part, Kan has indicated that he wants to remain in power until the summer of 2011. He has told Tsuyoshi Saito, the DPJ’s acting Diet Affairs Committee Chairman, that he would step down after he was assured that the second supplementary budget and legislation for the issuance of government bonds appeared headed for Diet’s passage. The second supplementary budget is expected to be submitted to the Diet in July/August, and Kan apparently wants to step down after it passes with the cooperation of the LDP and New Komeito.
However, an increasing number of DPJ lawmakers are voicing support for Kan’s early resignation. The DPJ members are afraid that the political turmoil in the country would exacerbate if the time frame for the Prime Minister’s resignation remained ambiguous. Some DPJ members feel completely betrayed by Kan. They voted for the no-confidence motion on the premise that Kan would resign immediately. Indeed, the anti-Kan sentiment even affected DPJ legislators close to Kan, threatening to send the ruling party out of control through bickering and infighting.
Kan stated on June 7 that he would decide the timing of his resignation by using “common sense”, a stand that will embolden those demanding his resignation. The lawmakers and the opposition ought to ensure that the political vacuum is as brief as possible and work hard to meet the expectations of the people in disaster-hit areas.
The LDP wants Kan to resign immediately after the enactment of the bill outlining the rebuilding of areas affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The enactment is expected as soon as June 17. Tanigaki has said that the LDP is ready to establish cross-party cooperation to avoid policy paralysis. While Kan is willing to quit only if the LDP extends cooperation to pass the two financial bills, the LDP has said it will not help the DPJ-led administration pass the budget bill if Kan stays in office. The LDP and other opposition parties control the Upper House and if the bills are not passed in the Diet, the administration would not be able to secure about 40 per cent of the revenue planned in the 92.41 trillion Yen budget for the year that started in April 2011.
The leaders of influential business groups have urged Japan’s two leading political parties to stop bickering and form a “grand coalition” to tackle disaster reconstruction and other pressing issues. Yasuchika Hasegawa, Chairman of Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), criticised the absence of any clear-cut reconstruction strategy in the wake of the March 11 event. Indeed, the bicameral political system, in which either house of the Diet can block legislation, has resulted in the political impasse. Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) also backed the coalition idea so that the entire nation remains united to deal with post-disaster reconstruction promptly.
If the DPJ succeeds in roping in the LDP and New Komeito into a grand coalition, it might last more than a year. This will help in making significant progress in reconstructing the Tohoku region. Kan’s Cabinet colleagues are also supportive of creating the grand coalition so that the administration can address the raft of challenges facing the country. However, there are significant policy differences within the ranks of both the DPJ and LDP that will prevent the formation of the grand coalition. The New Komeito is also unwilling to participate in such an exercise and in the process lose its identity in Japanese politics. Kan will thus continue to walk a tight rope for some time.
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/HurdlesbeforeaGrandCoalitioninJapanesePolitics_rpanda_100611