Support for Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has reached a new low. The latest Asahi Shimbun poll shows the approval rating for his Cabinet has fallen to 27 percent, with the public apparently angry with Kan and his government over perceived diplomatic failings.
But the pragmatic Kan and his Democratic Party of Japan-led administration seem to be quietly getting on with their job in the face of an increasingly obstructionist opposition Liberal Democratic Party.
On a day of encouraging economic news (GDP grew 0.9 percent in the third quarter, although this is partly due to rush purchases of cigarettes before a tax hike and the end of incentives for purchases of green cars), the lower house of the Diet on Tuesday passed a 5.1 trillion yen ($60 billion) stimulus package aimed at, among other things, boosting regional economies and small businesses—or as Kan’s mantra goes: ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs.’
The supplementary budget could have passed on Monday were it not for the LDP submitting no-confidence motions against two Cabinet members. The motions were ostensibly submitted to hold Transport Minister Sumio Mabuchi and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku responsible for the leaked footage of the now infamous collision between a Chinese fishing vessel and Japan Coast Guard ships in the East China Sea.
But the DPJ’s overwhelming lower house majority meant the motions had no chance of passing and it’s clear the opposition was simply using them as tactic for holding up the passage of the package. The delaying by a day of an already tardy budget is a classic example of the futile symbolic posturing that grates with the public (the DPJ were also guilty of wasting Diet time with no-confidence motions on numerous occasions during their long years in opposition).
How the LDP must wish they could invoke a US-style filibuster (something that is thankfully not an option in Japan).
Under Diet procedures, a budget bill passed in the lower house goes to the upper chamber for a vote. Even if it’s rejected (or not voted on) in this less powerful house (in which the government lacks a majority), it will be automatically enacted within 30 days. So given that the bill will become law, the LDP could win plaudits if it played ball. Indeed, rather than taking part in a political pantomime, the opposition could clearly state its opposition to the content of the bill, but vote for it in ‘the national interest.’
Don’t hold your breath, though.
We shouldn’t forget that the LDP also slowed down the passing of the supplementary budget by doggedly insisting it wouldn’t engage in debate unless DPJ heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa testified in the Diet about his alleged involvement in a political funding scandal.
Yet while the LDP continues its onslaught on the government, it’s struggling to rebrand following the thrashing it got in last summer’s lower house election. In fact it’s so short of ideas that it recently called on members for ideas on ways to revamp its party newsletter, desperately saying: ‘If you think the LDP can’t change, please design our party paper as boldly as you like.’
If the LDP wants to shed its image of being a political dinosaur, it needs to stop its constant growling at the incumbent government and make itself relevant through reasoned policy proposals in keeping with today’s economic and political climate. Or at least it could start putting rationalism before symbolism.