The first extraordinary Diet session under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan-led administration ended Friday with the legislature approving 10 of the 12 government-sponsored bills during the 40-day period.
But when push came to shove with the Liberal Democratic Party abstaining from voting on legislation to protest Hatoyama’s funds scandal, the DPJ resorted to the same tack the LDP used to great effect during its decades-long rule: ramming bills through due to its majority.
“This session ended up being a test run for the rookie DPJ administration,” with the government setting the bar low and sticking only to what they can handle, said Yasuharu Ishizawa, a professor at Gakushuin Women’s College.
The expert on politics added that the DPJ’s competence will be put to the test in January’s ordinary Diet session, where passing the fiscal 2010 budget by the end of March will be the chief mission.
Hatoyama will have an extensive to-do list to handle during the short recess.
One key issue that haunts the prime minister is his political funds scandal, which also involves his 87-year-old mother, the oldest daughter of the Bridgestone Corp. tire empire. Although prosecutors have reportedly decided not to question Hatoyama over alleged irregularities in his funds records, polls have shown that his explanation to the public has been insufficient.
Hatoyama has not assumed responsibility after reports revealed his fund management body listed contributions made by deceased individuals and by people who deny ever making donations. The scandal widened during the extraordinary Diet session when the faked sources of donations were revealed to come from Hatoyama’s own bank account as well as his mother’s assets.
Some of the donations are believed excessive and thus a violation of the Political Funds Control Law, and may require Hatoyama to pay gift tax.
“With this fund scandal, the DPJ wanted to cut short the extraordinary Diet session,” Gakushuin Women’s College’s Ishizawa said. The scandal hampered management of Diet, he added, saying the administration must avoid prolonging the topic into next year.
Experts say other hot potatoes — including the 2010 fiscal budget and reaching a conclusion on the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma — will require closer coordination with the DPJ’s two coalition partners.
During the span of the extraordinary Diet session, one of those partners, the Social Democratic Party, pressed its demand that Futenma not be relocated in Okinawa, although a 2006 Japan-U.S. accord stipulates otherwise. Some said this resistance prevented the DPJ from taking a realistic approach on the issue, triggering friction between Japan and the United States.
Signs of division were also visible between Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) and the DPJ, with Kokumin Shinto seeking a large supplementary budget, which the DPJ countered could not be afforded.
Koichi Nakano, political science professor at Sophia University, said the coalition was wobbly to begin with since all parties are aware the partnership is transitory.
Experts say the chasm may expand as the DPJ prepares to pitch its own pledges at the next Diet session, since some, including the unrestricted distribution of monthly child care allowances, have been opposed within the coalition.
“A meltdown of the coalition is not out of the picture, because they are all aware that the alliance goes only as far as next summer’s Upper House election,” Nakano said of next year’s prospects.
Gakushuin Women’s College’s Ishizawa hinted there could be larger modification of power come the 2010 ordinary Diet session.
“If the DPJ decides to cut ties (with coalition partners), then the issue will be that they won’t have control of the Upper House,” he said. For the DPJ, which seeks to be in command of both the Lower and Upper houses, dissolving the coalition will require the party to adopt a different operating strategy until the Upper House election in July.
Ishizawa said DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, who many see as the kingmaker running the show, could play new hands.
“Its hard to predict what Ozawa will do,” the expert said, but added that it is possible Ozawa may work to persuade some LDP Upper House members to join the DPJ in order for the party to gain a majority.
Meanwhile, experts said the LDP must resolve its own issues before the ordinary Diet session.
Sophia University’s Nakano said the LDP was unimpressive in its opposition role, missing the chance to further grill the new DPJ administration as it rammed key bills through the Diet.
Legislation that cleared the extraordinary Diet session includes a bill to freeze the government’s planned sale of Japan Post Holdings Co. shares, effectively bringing the postal system privatization to a standstill. The development puts the brakes on the government’s project, which kicked off under the LDP administration of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
The DPJ also cleared major lawmaker-backed bills, including comprehensive legislation to support people with hepatitis B and C (a measure the LDP initiated before the DPJ ousted it from power in August), and a law that will extend relief to those who haven’t been certified as hibakusha.
A law on a conditional moratorium on loan repayments by small businesses also cleared the Diet, with the LDP occasionally boycotting committee deliberations to protest the DPJ’s management of the sessions.
“The LDP wasted its time in hopes that Hatoyama’s administration would crumble on its own,” Sophia’s Nakano said. He added that throughout the extraordinary session, the LDP failed to rebuild itself from the historic August election defeat.
“The ruling party forced the passage of bills, while the opposition refused to attend the session in protest. In other words, it was the same old thing at this extraordinary Diet session,” Gakushuin Women’s College’s Ishizawa said.