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Japan PM's Fight for Life in '08 (2)
[Analysis] Yasuo Fukuda faces a possible crucial general election and other challenges
Hisane Masaki (hmasaki)     Print Article 
Published 2007-12-24 05:02 (KST)   
This is the second part of a four-part article. Read the first part.  <Editor's Note>
The government submitted to the Diet a new anti-terrorism bill, which passed the lower house on Nov. 13. Days later, Fukuda visited Washington for talks with President George W. Bush and expressed his firm determination to send naval ships back to the Indian Ocean at the earliest possible date. Recent surveys, however, show that Japanese public opinion is split almost down the middle over the bill.

The ruling coalition has extended the current extraordinary Diet session twice -- the legal limit allowed under the Diet law -- in a desperate attempt to secure enactment of the new anti-terrorism bill, which is now pending in the opposition-dominated upper house. The re-extended session will run through Jan. 15. It is the first time in 14 years that the Diet will remain in session over the year-end and New Year period.

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The House of Councilors' foreign and defense affairs committee, which is now deliberating the new bill, is chaired by a Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker. At the committee, the DPJ-led opposition camp has given priority to an investigation into the corruption scandal involving a former top Defense Ministry bureaucrat. In the scandal, disgraced former Vice Defense Minister Takemasa Moriya was arrested in late November with his wife on suspicion of accepting bribes from Motonobu Miyazaki, a former executive at defense contractor Yamada Corp.

The re-extension of the Diet session, decided on Dec. 14, has made it almost certain, however, that the new anti-terrorism bill will be enacted by Jan. 15. Under Article 59 of the constitution, the bill can be sent back to the lower house for a second vote if the upper house votes it down or holds off on taking a vote on it within 60 days of receiving it, or by Jan. 12. The bill will become law if passed in the second vote with the support of a two-thirds majority. The DPJ now appears ready to agree to put the bill to a vote in the upper house sometime before Jan. 12, but not by the end of this year.

Until recently, it had been widely believed that if the government's new anti-terrorism bill was sent back to the lower house and enacted in the second vote there, the DPJ-led opposition camp would submit a censure motion against Fukuda in the opposition-dominated upper house in a bid to pressure him to dissolve the lower house for a general election. Now, the DPJ is wavering on whether to actually do that.

DPJ secretary general Yukio Hatoyama said on Dec. 16 that the party will carefully make a decision on whether to submit a censure motion against Fukuda, taking into account the trend of public opinion. Such a censure motion in the upper house would be non-binding, unlike a no-confidence motion in the lower house. Still, the possibility of a censure motion against Fukuda in the upper house, leading to the prime minister's dissolution of the lower house for a general election, cannot be ruled out.

Even if the new anti-terrorism bill goes through by mid-January, as is now widely expected, Fukuda's ruling coalition will continue to face significant difficulties pushing its legislative agendas through the divided Diet. This will leave a logjam of bills, especially controversial ones that pit the ruling and opposition camps against each other.

While the lower house members are elected for four-year terms in principle, their upper house counterparts are elected for six-year terms, with half facing reelection every three years. If the DPJ-led opposition fails to wrest control of the lower house in the next general election and form a government, the current divided Diet will continue at least until the next upper house election in 2010.

The situation will almost certainly get worse for the ruling coalition. Even if it manages to keep power in the next general election, it will most likely lose the power to resort to the legislative procedure permitted under Article 59 of the constitution. The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, a party backed by lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, will most likely lose a two-thirds majority in the lower house, which it gained by scoring a landslide victory in the last general election, held in September 2005 under the highly popular Koizumi.

If this happens, the Diet could come to a standstill and the nation's policy-making could be paralyzed completely. As a way out of such a possible dead-end political situation, the idea of a "grand coalition" between the LDP and the DPJ could come back into the spotlight.

On Nov. 4, DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa, a former LDP heavyweight, submitted his resignation, saying he felt he no longer had the backing of the DPJ executives after they immediately opposed the idea of entering a grand coalition with the LDP. The idea of a grand coalition had come up during his meeting with Fukuda, held two days earlier. Ozawa officially retracted his resignation three days later and returned to his and the DPJ's long-standing stance of confronting the ruling camp. "We won't think about a coalition," he said at the time.
Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based journalist, commentator and scholar on international politics and economy. This is the second part of an article that originally appeared on Asia Times on Dec. 22.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Hisane Masaki

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