U.K. experts split on chances of grand coalition

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

Observers in Britain are divided on the prospects of a grand coalition forming in Japan.

A former editor of The Economist, Bill Emmott, believes the immense reconstruction challenges facing Japan in light of the March 11 disasters and nuclear crisis mean that a grand coalition of its main political parties is more likely.

“We can see in politics great uncertainty about what will emerge as a result of the crisis. I think there will eventually be the formation of a grand coalition but it is looking difficult . . . it may take a few months for clarity,” he said in a recent interview.

Since the earthquake and tsunami devastated northeast coastline of Honshu, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, has floated the idea of forming a national coalition to secure agreement on a reconstruction package.

But although the plan is reported to have the support of a majority of the public, it has been rejected by the main opposition force, the Liberal Democratic Party, which has been calling on Kan to resign.

Emmott, who recently visited Japan, said the country needs a coalition now because the DPJ only controls the Lower House and needs opposition help to pass bills in the Upper House.

Talking about the benefits of a coalition, he said, “The advantage should be to form a consensus about the reconstruction agenda for a limited period of about two years, for example, and getting it through (the Diet).”

But Emmott believes politicians in both parties are putting party politics before the national interest by hindering attempts to form a coalition.

“I think it is unfortunate that even after the disaster, the sins of the Japanese politicians are still there,” he said.

Although a supporter of a coalition, Emmott believes there are “legitimate questions” over whether Kan is suitable to lead such a grouping of diverse views. Indeed, he believes there is no obvious leader to head the national government.

Hugo Dobson, a professor specializing in Japanese politics at Sheffield University, was less optimistic about a grand coalition forming.

“Evidence would suggest to me that the chances of a grand coalition are slim. The LDP has rejected any advances and the DPJ is divided on the issue,” Dobson said.

The academic says that it is his understanding that Kan’s personal approval ratings have gone up recently but are still at low levels and that the prime minister is still in a vulnerable position.

Reinhard Drifte, a professor emeritus of Japanese politics at Newcastle University, agrees the chances of a grand coalition are narrow but cannot be ruled out.

“At this moment, I don’t think that there will be one (a coalition), although a further deterioration could lead to it, but the LDP would demand Kan’s head in exchange. The LDP just wants to use this triple disaster to get rid of Kan and to weaken the DPJ so as to deprive it of any chance of later electoral success,” he said.

Despite claims from some quarters that Kan failed to show leadership, Drifte believes that the prime minister has done a fair job.

“Under the circumstances Kan has not done too badly and should be given more credit for it,” he said. “Any sacking of him will face the dearth of an appropriate successor.”

Emmott argues against government plans to raise taxes to fund the reconstruction of the northeast coast, where damage is estimated at $300 billion. He says this will be a big mistake “because it will depress the economy and at this time Japan must avoid a long-term depression.”

Instead, the writer and consultant favors the government raising additional funds by issuing more bonds.

He said, “My belief is that the government needs to prepare a credible economic reform program which offers deregulation and investment in innovation with a view to raising the long-term growth rate so that investors of bonds can be given confidence that the government can service the debts.”