DPJ, two allies agree to form coalition

But stubborn SDP may yield 'mix of oil and water'

by Jun Hongo and Alex Martin

Leaders of the Democratic Party of Japan and two minor parties agreed Wednesday to form a coalition government, laying the groundwork for the launch of the new administration on Sept. 16.

The agreement, however, papered over major rifts among the DPJ, Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) on diplomatic and security policy, including the overseas dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces. The question now is how much influence the partnership will have on the DPJ’s already incoherent foreign affairs strategy.

While major points of contention were left out, including specific mention of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, the agreement covered broad-based issues ranging from Japan’s security alliance with the U.S. to curbing unemployment.

“In a way, we have now been able to stand on the starting line of the new administration,” DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama said after reaching the alliance deal with SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima and Kokumin Shinto chief Shizuka Kamei at the Diet.

Hatoyama also said he conveyed to the two his intention to create a discussion panel within the Cabinet where the three parties can coordinate views on polices, and said he had asked the leaders of the two parties to join the Cabinet.

Hatoyama also made clear his intention to follow through on his promise to fire Japan Post Services President Yoshifumi Nishikawa once the new administration kicks off. His younger brother, Kunio, resigned as posts minister in the Liberal Democratic Party over a row with Nishikawa.

Also included in the agreement was a plan to keep the consumption tax unchanged at 5 percent while the coalition is in power.

But some of the DPJ’s campaign pledges, including ending expressway tolls, were not mentioned.

The coalition will be launched after a special Diet session is called next Wednesday to elect Hatoyama as prime minister.

The deal came after talks failed Tuesday by the three over DPJ-proposed wording on a planned reorganization of U.S. forces in Okinawa, a contentious issue that had kept the SDP, which strongly advocates maintaining the war-renouncing clause in the Constitution and scaling down the U.S. forces in Japan, from giving the final nod.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting of the three parties’ executives earlier in the day, DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada said he believed he and his counterparts were able to reach a satisfactory accord that reflected the SDP’s requests.

“We articulated on the issues concerning Okinawa, particularly regarding the U.S. bases, the realignment of U.S. forces, and the Status of Forces Agreement,” Okada said.

Okada read out the exact wording: “We will propose amending the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces agreement, and will consider revising the planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, as well as reviewing the nature of U.S. bases in Japan.”

With the wording, the DPJ managed to keep SDP demands at bay. The left-leaning party had demanded the coalition end the Maritime Self-Defense Force refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and modify an accord to close the Futenma base as part of a review of the SOFA with Washington.

But the final agreement did not go into specifics regarding the refueling mission or the MSDF antipiracy patrols off Somalia. Instead, it put an emphasis on Japan’s increased role in U.N. peacekeeping operations in general.

“This agreement is like an attempt to mix oil and water,” political analyst Hideaki Kase said, adding that a “conflict of interest is highly likely to take place under such a fragile partnership.”

While the DPJ had said prior to the Lower House election last month that it would seek to form a coalition with the SDP and Kokumin Shinto, the accord took longer than expected.

Overcoming the obstacles to a coalition with the minor parties was crucial for the DPJ, which is still 12 seats short of holding two-thirds of the Lower House that would grant it dominant power in passing bills.

The DPJ holds less than half the Upper House seats, but with its allies they hold sway.

SDP Secretary General Yasumasa Shigeno revealed it was Hatoyama who first phoned SDP Chairwoman Fukushima last week to discuss the new administration.

Perceiving Hatoyama’s fervor to forming a coalition, Shigeno confidently acknowledged the disparity on foreign policies to reporters and said his party is ready to discuss the issue with the DPJ.

Analysts say the equivocal stance on foreign policy could cause the coalition to eventually fall flat, and many expect Hatoyama’s efforts to find common ground with its partners will be brief.

“For the DPJ, this is a temporary framework that they will put up until July,” analyst Kase said, explaining that the DPJ won’t remain under the thumb of a coalition if it gains an Upper House majority in next summer’s election.