After a few days of intense negotiation, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) finally conceded to the high demand proposed by the opposing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito in order to pass the tax and social security reform bill. They have agreed on pushing forward a bill to increase consumption tax to 8% by April 2014 and 10% by October 2015 and to suspend the decision on the crucial parts of social security reform for now.
The DPJ began meeting with the leaders of the LDP and New Komeito to gain their support for the consumption tax increase bill after Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda failed to gain the support of Former DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa and his followers on June 3. The three parties initially could not find any agreement since the LDP demanded the DPJ to renounce the party manifest, which promises to provide guaranteed minimum pension as well as to completely rework the Latter-Stage Elderly Healthcare System.
The negotiation was in an imbroglio until the afternoon of June 14. Even then, LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki pushed Mr. Noda to swallow the demand to renounce the party manifest. After the failed talk with Mr. Tanigaki in the afternoon, Mr. Noda called again in the night and this time talked for an hour with the opposition party leader. Finally, Mr. Tanigaki agreed not to clearly indicate in their agreement that the LDP has gotten its way on social security and the Latter-Stage Elderly Healthcare System. All major morning papers on June 15 indicated that two parties came to a general agreement.
The fact of the matter is that Mr. Noda won only in letter and not in spirit. But this is all he needed. He had to maintain an appearance of the party’s commitment to its manifest otherwise he would have lost not only Mr. Ozawa’s followers but also those who were in the middle. These moderates of the party were unwilling to break the party but at the same time were unwilling to renounce the party manifest. Mr. Noda’s concession to the LDP to create a national conference on social security system reform (社会保障制度改革国民会議) accomplished killing two birds with one stone. He’s got the LDP as well as the moderates in his hand.
New Komeito followed the footsteps of the LDP in the late afternoon of June 15–though not without its own entanglement. The opposition to the tax hike is still strong among many members of Soka Gakkai who are the main supporters of New Komeito. Initially, the leaders of New Komeito were going to oppose the bill. But because of the LDP had joined the DPJ, in order to play the key role in the political theater, the party has decided to join in a bill.
What does all this bring to? A predicament is now on the side of Mr. Ozawa and his followers. Their hope was to let Mr. Noda state clearly that he is breaking with the party manifest and so to gain the moderates’ support. Then, come the party’s leadership election in September 2012, either Mr. Ozawa or his devotee should become the leader. But now, it is likely that the three parties will go ahead and try to pass the bill by the end of the current Diet on June 21. If Mr. Ozawa and his followers rebel and vote against the bill, they can be expelled from the party. At best, Mr. Ozawa’s influence in the party will diminish.
In order to avoid the decline of his influence, Mr. Ozawa and his followers would try to prolong the current Diet, at least, until September. Party’s Secretary-General Azuma Koshiishi, a friend of Mr. Ozawa, is doing his best to do so.
However, the likely scenario is that the bill will pass by the end of the current Diet on June 21. Mr. Ozawa and his followers would not be able to oppose the bill openly, so they would either walk out of the vote or give blank votes. In any case, their struggle to gain an upper hand in the DPJ party politics will have to end within the current framework.
What about the people? The general attitude of the people will soon change. The current poll done by Kyodo on June 4 still shows that the majority opposes the current bill. But once the bill passes, a sense of resignation takes over, and most likely the people would not protest against. While they clearly see the blatant betrayal of the party manifest by the current administration in spirit, their disappointment would not move them to a further political action but only disinterest them from much of political possibilities.
The people’s political actions leading up to the historic victory of the DPJ in 2009 really opened a political space for Japanese people. Many saw a possibility of real democracy and change. And yet, the fire is being extinguished. While many do see the need to reform tax and social security, the political process taken by the current administration utterly marginalizes the people and their voices.
It is hard for the people to be engaging in times like this. Mr. Noda and his supporters should know that the implication of their action is not merely a tax hike but a suffocation of the people’s hope. They should know that their action has a great implication for the shape of Japanese politics in years to come.
But is not true that a light shines the brightest in the dark? Will a light shine? That is not for us to decide but for the people.