Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Political Clown Acts

Street Clown

You know how in some circus clown acts, the act sort of ends by mayhem breaking out, with everybody running madly around, honking horns, throwing pies and water buckets, dropping their pants, falling into tubs of custard, shooting confetti into the audience and generally just being as noisy and obnoxious as possible?

Think about such a scene. Fix the image in your mind. Got it? OK. Now you have quite an accurate image of the current Japanese political situation.

The DPJ is pushing through a consumption tax increase. Ozawa is — as always — taking his toys and leaving the party in a huff, taking his playmates with him into, presumably, another new party of his making. There's enough defectors to deny the government any ability to push through legislation without broad support from the opposition, but not enough for them to lose their majority outright and force an election.

..an election, by the way, that is currently impossible in practice, as the current election system has been ruled unconstitutional by the high court1, and the deadline for fixing it has passed. For an election to happen the houses have to pass a set of bills creating a new, constitutional election system. To do that, of course, they now need the support of the LDP and New Komeito in the opposition.
..an opposition whose sole idea for the past few years has been to vote against anything the government does in order to force a new election as soon as possible. And it's the opposition that has the most to lose from a new election system as it will remove power from small parties (such as New Komeito) and lessen the influence of rural districts (typical LDP strongholds). So they have to pass those bills for an election to take place, while they really, really do not want to. Oh, and both the DPJ and the LDP will have new leadership elections, adding a heady zest of internal power politics to the mix.

The passage of those bills and the results of the next election is really the only remaining thing that matters. At that point we'll see how Ozawa and the other small-fry parties will fare, whether Osaka mayor Hashimoto and Tokyo mayor Ishihara — who have been flirting in public for a while now — will make good of their threat to form a new national party2, or whether the LDP and DPJ will manage to hold together as unified parties.

Anything that happens up until that point is just clowns honking horns and throwing custard pies at each other.

#1 In short, the difference in voting power across the country was judged far too great; a single vote in some small rural districts can count for several times a vote in populous Tokyo or Osaka.

#2 Both come across as nationalist and populist strong-men; the main argument against a common party is that neither seems likely to accept anybody but themselves as the sole Big Guy at the top.

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