Under the leadership of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka, the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are pursuing a political strategy for 1999 with these objectives:
Eliminating the image of an “incompetent prime minister” and boosting the popularity of the Obuchi administration with the surprise formation of an alliance between the LDP and the Liberal Party.
Baiting the opposition party New Komeito to share power, by establishing a coalition with the LP. A tripartite alliance, including New Komeito, would give the LDP a badly needed majority in the Upper House.
Obtaining Diet passage, with New Komeito’s support, of legislation for implementing the revised guidelines for Japan-U.S. defense cooperation.
Gaining victories for pro-LDP forces in the Tokyo gubernatorial election and other local elections in April.
Wooing New Komeito to join the ruling forces in the summer through consultations on the party’s proposal to reform the Lower House election system. Under the proposal, three-seat constituencies would replace the present system that combines single-seat districts and proportional representation. The single-seat system, which tends to favor the ruling party, threatens New Komeito’s political survival.
Paving the way for the re-election of Obuchi in the LDP presidential election in September, using a tieup with New Komeito as leverage.
Let me offer an interim report on the ruling forces’ strategy.
First, the LDP-LP coalition has been successful in jacking up the popularity ratings for the Obuchi Cabinet. Nonaka, a promoter of the strategy, has returned to the liberal fold in the LDP, and moves among LDP hawks to form a grand conservative coalition with LP lawmakers under Ichiro Ozawa have subsided.
Second, the ruling forces have been successful in wooing New Komeito. They were hoping that New Komeito would refuse to join the united opposition forces, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, in Diet proceedings. Meeting those expectations, New Komeito did not object to tax reforms that called for a tax increase for middle- and low-income employed workers. If New Komeito had joined the united opposition forces, the LDP-LP coalition would have lost its clout; this is unlikely to happen.
Third, New Komeito is ready to support the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation legislation, on the condition that prior Diet approval be required for mobilization of the Self-Defense Forces. The legislation is likely to pass the Upper House with minor amendments. The package is fraught with serious problems, but only members of the Japan Communist Party and former members of the defunct Japan Socialist Party have expressed concern about them. A political uproar is unlikely to occur over the issue.
Fourth, an emerging LDP-New Komeito tieup in the local elections has backfired. For the Tokyo gubernatorial election, the LDP fielded former U.N. Undersecretary General Yasushi Akashi, because he is close to supreme leader Daisaku Ikeda of the mass Buddhist religious organization Soka Gakkai, which backs New Komeito.
Akashi was a bad choice. None of the political pundits I know is predicting a victory for Akashi. The election looks like a close race between former LDP lawmaker Shintaro Ishihara and former DPJ deputy head Kunio Hatoyama, but the results are unpredictable, since they depend on the whims of young and floating voters.
Fifth, I believe that the five-year-old Lower House election system, based on single-seat constituencies, is undemocratic. LP leader Ozawa, a chief architect of the system, pushed his unreasonable proposal, calling for political reform by introducing single-seat electoral districts, to establish a non-LDP government. The political world, the business community and mass media were crazy to support the proposal.
I strongly support an end to the single-seat system. However, the single-seat system tends to help the governing party establish long-term rule. LDP lawmakers elected in single-seat districts are unlikely to give their blessing to the proposed reform. I think that there will be little progress in the LDP-New Komeito consultations on the issue.
Sixth, there appears to be an increasing chance that Obuchi will be re-elected as LDP president. That will depend, however, on economic recovery.
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