After days of intense haggling between the Liberal Democratic Party and Liberal Party, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi finally launched a coalition government Thursday. But despite his desire for a stable government, he appears to be headed for trouble.
Because the two parties alone fall short of a majority in the Upper House, Obuchi’s new Cabinet is expected to face an uphill battle to secure Diet passage of important bills, such as those related to the fiscal 1999 budget and others related to the updated Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines.
The coalition was initially sought to shore up the LDP’s minority in the 252-seat Upper House, following its devastating election defeat in July. However, the two parties combined Upper House seats only equal 116, and the LDP will be forced to seek support from other opposition parties to secure passage of important bills in the house.
It is also uncertain whether the coalition government, which has been severely criticized by some political analysts as a “marriage of convenience,” can capture enough popular support. “The decision to establish a coalition government was actually made only by a handful of politicians in the two parties. Voters, party supporters and rank-and-files members were all ignored in this process,” said Yoshiaki Kobayashi, a professor of politics at Keio University. “People will have a hard time understanding why two parties that had criticized each other most severely will join hands to form a coalition government,” he added.
Some analysts even say that the newly formed LDP-Liberal Party alliance will only satisfy the LDP, which hopes to gain more support for the government, and Liberal Party politicians who have longed to sit within Japan’s political center. The coalition is believed to especially benefit Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa because he is likely to strengthen his political clout after bringing a ministerial post to the Liberal Party, which holds only 50 Diet seats.
He also managed to stay outside the Cabinet despite enthusiastic offers from Obuchi to join. “By remaining outside of the Cabinet, Ozawa has obtained a free hand in managing party politics. It would also be easier for him to exert pressure (on the Cabinet) from outside if anything happens to the coalition,” said Takeshi Sasaki, a professor of politics at the University of Tokyo.
Many important bills await Diet deliberation, and the new Cabinet’s top priority will be to realize smooth passage of the fiscal 1999 budget plan, and to put the nation’s economy back on a recovery path in the next fiscal year as Obuchi has repeatedly promised. However, the LDP-Liberal Party alliance, which marks the first realignment of conservative forces in national politics since Ozawa left the LDP with a group of politicians in 1993, seems to have alienated the opposition parties.
New Komeito, the second largest opposition force in the Diet, has already expressed its reluctance to support the 1999 budget. Immediately after policy agreement was reached Wednesday between the LDP and the Liberal Party, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka and LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Makoto Koga had dinner with New Komito Chairman Takenori Kanzaki, with the understanding that wooing New Komeito could be the best way to secure passage of important bills in the Diet. It is widely believed that Nonaka and Koga asked for New Komeito’s support in the next ordinary Diet session.
Some analysts predict that the security issue could also cause disparity within the coalition government when deliberations of bills related to the updated defense guidelines in the next ordinary Diet session begin.
Of the agreed-upon policy issues, the 50-seat reduction of Lower House proportional seats while protecting single-seat constituencies met strong opposition from the other parties. “In the next ordinary Diet session, the Democratic Party of Japan will wage a battle against the LDP-Liberal Party government … and will strongly demand the government to call a general election,” Tsutomu Hata, secretary general of the DPJ, Japan’s largest opposition party.
Besides interparty relationships, power struggles within the LDP could also develop and become a major concern for Obuchi. To carry out his promise with the Liberal Party to reduce Cabinet posts from 20 to 18, Obuchi, this time, sacrificed Cabinet ministers from his own faction and left the rest of ministerial posts and the party’s executive posts untouched.