Kan can expect rocky road

Must keep foes within DPJ at bay and woo allies to his 'sinking ship'


Political experts were quick and unanimous Monday in forecasting a tough road ahead for the Democratic Party of Japan, expressing concern that its Upper House election loss will threaten Prime Minister Naoto Kan on all fronts.

“No opposition party is going to join this government,” Columbia University professor Gerard Curtis said, predicting Kan will have a hard time finding a coalition partner to secure a majority in the Upper House.

Speaking in Tokyo at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Curtis said the DPJ may have had a better shot at joining hands with others if it had won at least a few more seats.

“But (the) DPJ did so badly that other politicians in the other parties are inclined to believe that this party is going in decline,” the expert on Japanese politics said. “No one is going to join the sinking ship.”

The DPJ won 44 seats Sunday, 10 fewer than Kan’s stated target. The Liberal Democratic Party, the main opposition force, won 51 seats, while newcomer Your Party, led by former LDP lawmaker Yoshimi Watanabe, grabbed 10.

After voters stripped the ruling coalition of its combined majority in the Upper House, experts said Kan’s first and foremost task — securing enough backing to pass bills in the Diet — may also be his toughest.

Kan indicated at a news conference following the DPJ’s dismal showing that he will “hold thorough discussions with the opposition camp” in deliberating key bills, hinting that the DPJ-Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) coalition could partner with other parties on a case-by-case basis.

Kan hasn’t found any takers yet.

Watanabe reiterated Monday that Your Party has no plans to join forces with the DPJ, saying only that his party may work with Kan to pursue its own legislative goals, including bills to reform the Bank of Japan.

Experts also said that because the DPJ’s setback was worse than expected, a union with Your Party has become even more unlikely since their combined numbers would still fall short of an Upper House majority.

New Komeito, also considered a possible coalition candidate, has shown no signs of collaborating with Kan other than on shared policy goals, including those pertaining to social welfare. New Komeito, a longtime LDP partner, lacks close ties with the DPJ.

According to Rei Shiratori, president of the Institute for Political Studies in Japan, a grand coalition between the DPJ and LDP appears the most feasible.

The LDP and DPJ campaigned with similar views on the 5 percent consumption tax, with Kan and LDP President Sadakazu Taigaki both favoring a hike to 10 percent. Although the two sides exchanged blows on some topics, joining forces would give them a comfortable margin in both Diet chambers.

“A grand coalition between the LDP and DPJ — you may consider this unrealistic,” Shiratori said during a lecture at the FCCJ where Curtis was also present.

But he noted how the LDP did the unthinkable in forming an alliance with what is now the Social Democratic Party in 1994 to retake control of the government.

The improbable coalition was formed “within one night,” Shiratori stressed, suggesting the only possible coalition partner for the DPJ at this point appears to be the LDP.

Meanwhile, other analysts said Kan should prepare for internal friction. Despite announcing he will remain in power, some DPJ members may think the party would have a better chance of finding new coalition partners if he steps down.

“Kan is considered left-leaning, and that is a shackle when the conservative LDP considers joining hands with the DPJ,” political analyst Eiken Itagaki said.

With DPJ don Ichiro Ozawa holding close ties with the LDP, removing Kan could facilitate cooperation between the two parties.

Ozawa still has strong relations with key LDP members, Itagaki said.

With the political money scandals still fresh in voter memory, it is unlikely Ozawa will again seek the DPJ presidency. But the kingpin could field a close ally, Itagaki said, suggesting internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi or Banri Kaieda as possible candidates.

Columbia’s Curtis predicted Kan will endure the intraparty challenges until September’s DPJ presidential election.

“Ozawa will try to drive him out,” Curtis said, but he won’t run himself because he is still unpopular with the public. Ozawa also doesn’t have a legitimate candidate to field against Kan, he said.

“Kan will survive. Survive, but be in a very weakened position,” Curtis said.