Many important bills are pending in the current extraordinary Diet session that closes Dec. 15, and the government and the ruling tripartite coalition no doubt are considering an extension of the session. The three opposition parties, meanwhile, are gearing up to quash the bills and present a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s Cabinet before the session closes.
The administration’s difficulties stem from the Oct. 5 inauguration of a coalition that combines the Liberal Democratic Party, the Liberal Party and New Komeito. Far from stabilizing Japanese politics, the giant alliance — which accounts for 350 seats in the 500-seat Lower House and 160 in the 252-seat Upper House — threw it into disorder.
Opinion polls indicate growing public concerns over disturbing similarities between the coalition and the wartime Imperial Rule Assistance Association. Action taken by the alliance in the past two months has corroborated such concerns and subsequent turmoil has exposed weaknesses of an administration created to win a political numbers game, without agreement on ideologies and policies. Typical was the recent turmoil over the public nursing-care insurance system and corporate donations to individual lawmakers. The problem laid bare the arrogance and lack of principles among government and LDP leaders.
The instability culminated in the latest confusion in the Diet over the coalition’s railroading of pension-reform bills, which the opposition forces vehemently protested.
Still awaiting action in the Diet are a second fiscal 1999 supplementary budget and some major bills. These are aimed at revising the Public Offices Election Law to cut the number of Lower House seats, modifying the Political Funds Control Law to ban corporate donations to individual lawmakers and establishing independent public organizations.
Turmoil in the Diet has come against the background of mounting speculation in the political world about a dissolution of the Lower House for a snap election.
The opposition forces, encouraged by growing public criticism of the coalition government, are looking to force an early Lower House dissolution after slapping the Obuchi Cabinet with a no-confidence motion. However, the top opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, has lagged in selecting candidates for the election. It has managed to select only about 200 candidates for the 300 single-seat constituencies.
The coalition, meanwhile, is having trouble coordinating campaign plans. LDP-LP coordination, in particular, has been practically impossible, and LP leader Ichiro Ozawa has occasionally threatened to leave the coalition over the problem. New Komeito, however, is blessed with a strong voter base. Many LDP leaders now believe that the three ruling parties should wage their election campaigns separately, while maintaining the coalition.
Conflict over the pension-reform bills was settled early through the intervention of Lower House Speaker Soichiro Ito. But confrontations between the ruling and opposition forces continue, and further turmoil may occur toward the close of the Diet session.
There is little likelihood of the Lower House being dissolved during the current Diet session, because the government is now extremely busy compiling a fiscal 2000 budget. The ruling coalition would like to use the budget to wipe out widespread public criticism of the administration and lower the high unemployment rate. The alliance would prefer to face an election after improving prospects for economic recovery in 2000 and regaining lost public confidence.
Speculation is mounting on the timing of a general election, focusing on January, April-May or July-August (after the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa). I would not rule out the possibility of the Lower House being dissolved at the outset of an ordinary Diet session in late January, for a general election in February. Obuchi, who has the power to dissolve the Lower House, must be weighing different possibilities.
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