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Monday, July 30, 2007
Getting bills through Diet will be a lot tougher for the LDP
By MASAMI ITO
The clear message of dissatisfaction that voters sent Sunday to the Liberal Democratic Party will lead to a lengthy period of political instability and legislative gridlock, analysts say.
"People are extremely angry at the ruling coalition," said Takayoshi Miyagawa, president of the Center for Political Public Relations. The election "was a chance for the public to declare that they didn't need or want the LDP anymore."
The opposition parties, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, were given control of the House of Councilors.
With the DPJ becoming the largest force in the chamber, the LDP will lose its grip on the Upper House presidency. This will make it difficult to get bills through the Diet.
The LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc still holds a comfortable majority in the more powerful Lower House, so getting bills passed in that chamber won't be a problem. But coalition-proposed legislation could be blocked at the Upper House and sent back to the Lower House, where a two-thirds majority is needed to override the Upper House.
With the DPJ holding the Upper House presidency, managing Diet proceedings will become extremely difficult, political analyst Eiken Itagaki said.
"The LDP suffered a crushing defeat because the general public felt disgust over the various scandals of the ruling coalition," he said, adding that voters opted for the DPJ due to anti-LDP sentiment.
The LDP has ruled Japan since its creation in 1955, excluding the 10 months from August 1993 when it was out of power.
Itagaki stressed that Japan has yet to establish a true democracy because it has been governed by the same party.
"And when the same party rules, it leads to corruption like bid-rigging (and misuse of) political funds," he said.
For its part, the DPJ under the leadership of veteran lawmaker Ichiro Ozawa, who defected from the LDP in 1993, looked on this election as a stepping stone toward becoming the ruling party, first by seizing power in the Upper House and then pressuring Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to call a general election in which it could seek a majority in the Lower House.
Ozawa put his political career on the line, declaring that if the opposition parties didn't win a majority, he would step down as party leader and not seek re-election to the Lower House.
"In this way, this was the last battle for Ozawa . . . and a crucial (battle) to establish a democratic system for a change in government," Itagaki said.
In 1998, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto was forced to step down after losing an Upper House election. Abe, however, expressed his intention to remain in office despite the defeat.
But analysts say it will be difficult for Abe to stay in power for a significant length of time, and sooner or later he will be pressured from both the opposition and his own party to step down. Abe's government will be extremely weak, actions for taking policy measures will be slow and political instability will continue.
The LDP "will not be able to push forward various policies and (will) come under attack by the opposition parties," said Norihiko Narita, a political science professor at Surugadai University in Saitama Prefecture. The opposition parties "will call for a general election so the public can be the judge of who should be in power."
One major reason the LDP was hammered was the pension fiasco, in which the Social Insurance Agency admitted 50 million pension records can't be matched with the people who made the payments. This means many people are getting less money than they are entitled to receive.
On top of this, the possibility of a consumption tax hike was on voters' minds, and the LDP refused to clarify its plan before the election. In its campaign platform, the party merely stated that a thorough discussion would be held after autumn.
Analysts said it's highly unlikely the LDP will maintain the current consumption tax but avoided the unpopular issue out of fear of the impact it would have on the election.
Miyagawa said the public was deeply interested in this election because "the political issues directly affected their wallets."
The scandals rocking the Abe Cabinet in the 10 months since its inauguration didn't help.
Three ministers have had to be replaced.
First, administrative reform minister Genichiro Sata stepped down in December after admitting to "accounting irregularities" by one of his political support organizations. In May, agriculture minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka committed suicide amid severe criticism for reporting enormous — and unexplained — office fees as well as his ties with an organization involved in bid-rigging. Most recently, Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma was forced to resign earlier this month after stating that the 1945 atomic bombings "couldn't be helped."
Apart from the pension scandal and Abe's lack of charisma — unlike his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi — Surugadai University's Narita said Abe's choice of Cabinet ministers was plain bad. In doling out Cabinet posts, Abe picked from among the close aides who supported him in the LDP presidential election, with media calling it the "friends' Cabinet."
"That is what happens when you choose your Cabinet ministers based on friendship," Narita said. "There is no tension in the atmosphere and lacks centripetal force" to govern well.