DPJ, LDP to feint, not fight for time being

Focus seen on quick fixes, budget, dodging Hatoyama fund scandal

by Jun Hongo

A bell will sound Monday to mark the opening of the extraordinary Diet session and the legislative debut of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s administration.

But neither the ruling Democratic Party of Japan nor the opposition, which now mainly means the once long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, are likely to come out swinging.

“In effect, deliberations will kick off beginning from next year’s ordinary Diet session,” DPJ Diet affairs chief Kenji Yamaoka said earlier this month.

The DPJ and its two junior partners in the ruling coalition — Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) and the Social Democratic Party — have indicated they will wait until January to submit the crucial bills they need to fulfill their campaign pledges.

Analysts say this is because Hatoyama and his team are likely to breeze through the 36-day extra session, focusing instead on drawing up the annual budget by the end of the year.

“The DPJ will try to articulate its vision with the annual budget. This is because once the budget is drawn up, its policies will become more appropriate,” political analyst Eiken Itagaki said.

Since its landslide win in the August general election, the DPJ has been quick to carry out the changes it promised.

Hatoyama’s team sliced ¥2.9 trillion from the supplementary budget for this fiscal year drawn up by the ousted LDP-led coalition, in an effort to show it is serious about cutting wasteful spending.

But the DPJ hasn’t been able to agree with its coalition partners on other pledges.

Critics say the party must first draft next year’s budget before moving forward.

One example is the DPJ’s plan to provide a monthly child-care allowance of ¥26,000 per child. The party says it intends to provide half that amount to families for the first year, fiscal 2010, which will cost ¥2.7 trillion and require legislation.

But the SDP has been cool to the notion of giving the child-care allowance to rich households.

Although the allowance could go into effect on time if bills are submitted to the regular Diet session in January, observers say Hatoyama’s team needs to show where the money to pay for the subsidy will come from beyond 2010.

Another goody promised to voters — scrapping tolls on expressways — also faces resistance. A growing chorus of critics say that idea runs counter to Hatoyama’s pledge to curb carbon dioxide emissions. Another worry is that it would cut into government revenues at a time when Japan is laboring under mountainous debts.

Analyst Itagaki, author of several books on the DPJ and the LDP, said the ruling party must draw up the annual budget first in order to silence the criticism.

“The DPJ intends to illustrate its views through the budget. Its plan is to first make a policy framework,” rather than face opposition by submitting bills now, he said.

By the time the extraordinary Diet session ends on Nov. 30, the DPJ-led government is likely to pass about 11 bills, including measures to combat the H1N1 swine flu and a bill to freeze the sale of the government’s stake in Japan Post Holdings Co.

Political turbulence within the DPJ is another factor that will curtail the extraordinary Diet session. Critics say Hatoyama’s false entries on political funding reports, including listing dead people as contributors, will encourage the DPJ to pull the plug quickly.

“Obviously, Hatoyama doesn’t want the false statement issue to be brought up,” political commentator Minoru Morita said. Prolonging the extraordinary Diet session would be unwise for the administration, since it will give more opportunity for the opposition to grill the prime minister, he said.

“Avoiding the issue will be the key for the DPJ during this extraordinary Diet session.”

The LDP, still reeling from its election defeat, will find it hard to go after Hatoyama’s fund scandal jugular.

Critics say the LDP, which governed for over half a century virtually unchallenged, no longer has the vigor to take the charge to the Diet.

Sadakazu Tanigaki, the new LDP president, brought key members of the party together to work on rebuilding the conservative movement. Tanigaki asked the group to come up with basic policies by the end of the year to highlight their ideals and challenge the DPJ.

“The LDP will try to take on the offensive regarding Hatoyama’s inappropriate political funds. But it is also true that the party’s posture won’t be determined and ready (in time) for the extraordinary Diet” session, Itagaki said.

Analyst Morita said the DPJ is already looking beyond the extra session and next year’s budget. “They are working out strategies for next year’s Upper House election,” he said, adding the DPJ will strive to keep the LDP from gaining momentum.

“For the DPJ, it’s all about gaining a majority in the Upper House next July and obtaining complete rule over the Diet,” Morita said.

LDP to grill DPJ

Staff report

Liberal Democratic Party President Sadakazu Tanigaki said Friday the LDP would go on the offensive in the coming extraordinary Diet session and look to exploit the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s shortcomings, including its flawed financial and foreign policies.

Going in to the Diet session Monday as the largest opposition party, Tanigaki told a news conference in Tokyo that the LDP is ready to grill the ruling party.

“Diet sessions are where the opposition party needs to do its work,” he said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. “Like a sumo match, it’s always best to have two yokozuna grapple each other and fight it out.”

On the DPJ’s plan to review the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Tanigaki warned that remaining obscure on an accord agreed in 2006 will have serious repercussions on the Japan-U.S. security alliance. Withdrawing the Maritime Self-Defense Force from its refueling mission in the Indian Ocean is also questionable, he said.

“The dispatch of the MSDF is a role Japan can play as a part of the international effort,” Tanigaki said, reiterating his party will submit a bill to extend the mission during the Diet session. He also said the DPJ lacks a long-term vision on reducing the government’s snowballing debt.

It is also unclear how Hatoyama can adamantly oppose debating a tax hike while facing a record-breaking budgetary request of ¥95 trillion in 2010, he said.