Track record of coalition plans not always grand


Staff Writer

Amid the chaos breaking out in Nagata-cho since Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced his intention to resign, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan is once again seeking to form a grand coalition with its long-time conservative foe, the Liberal Democratic Party.

The LDP dominated politics for about five decades until the DPJ dethroned it just two years ago. Although the idea of forming an alliance between the ruling and the opposition camps has been floated many times in the past — most recently by the DPJ — each attempt ended in failure.

Some political observers have criticized the idea as a slap in the face to the public, which finally gathered enough resolve to oust the LDP and change what has essentially been one-party rule.

Here are some basic questions and answers on the Diet’s prospects for forming a grand coalition:

Why a grand coalition now?

The DPJ needs cooperation to pass a number of critical bills in the opposition-controlled Upper House, including those to help rebuild disaster-hit Tohoku and special legislation to allow the issuance of more deficit-covering bonds to finance the effort.

Without the bond bill, the debt-ridden government will be unable to finance about 44 percent of the general account budget this fiscal year, which might force a government shutdown in the fall.

In addition, the DPJ desperately needs to form a coalition with other parties, especially the top opposition force, in order to stabilize the government.

Meanwhile, many members of the LDP are eager to do anything to have the party become the ruling power again so they can regain their influence over the budget — particularly at a time when the government is planning massive spending to rebuild after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Who is pushing for a grand coalition and how?

Soon after the quake, Kan called on LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki to join the Cabinet as minister in charge of postquake restoration, which was widely viewed as a political gesture toward forming a grand coalition. Tanigaki turned down the proposal immediately.

But on June 5, three days after Kan announced he plans to resign, the secretary generals of the DPJ and LDP started discussing a coalition again.

What is likely to happen?

It may be difficult to form a coalition at the moment because many LDP members are against the proposal.

Among them are Yuriko Koike, a top LDP executive, and Kenji Kosaka, secretary general of the LDP’s Upper House caucus.

Kosaka said on a TV news program Saturday that a grand coalition is unlikely. He said the LDP is more willing to cooperate with the DPJ on an issue-by-issue basis, especially for reconstruction measures.

The DPJ meanwhile will have to renege on some of its main campaign pledges, including monthly child allowance, to convince the LDP to team up.

What are the pros and cons of a grand coalition?

Some say that a grand coalition will stabilize Japan’s long-reeling political system. But others say it will betray the trust of voters who helped the DPJ end the reign of the LDP in 2009.

In addition, the formation of a grand coalition government would reduce the number of opposition lawmakers with the power to oppose it.

A DPJ-LDP alliance would occupy 421 of the 480 seats in the Lower House and 189 of the 242 seats in the Upper House.

How many attempts have been made to form a grand coalition?

Aside from Kan’s attempt earlier this year, in 2007 Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda pitched the idea of his LDP forming a grand coalition with the DPJ, which had a majority in the Upper House at the time, to end the legislative gridlock in the Diet.

Ichiro Ozawa, DPJ president at the time, was willing to form a coalition, but most of the executive members opposed the idea.

Fukuda later resigned, citing the political quagmire in the Diet as one of his reasons.

Has there ever been a grand coalition in Japan?

Not really. There was an organization called Taisei Yokusankai (Imperial Rule Assistance Association) in the 1940s, but it was more of a wartime regime that was sued to dissolve all the political parties and form a single-party system as a government instrument instead.

The organization was founded in 1940 by then Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe.

In 1942, the majority of the seats in the Lower House were won by politicians who were backed by a parliamentary group formed by lawmakers who supported Taisei Yokusankai.

The association later helped the government control public morale and resources during World War II.