Q+A-Japan political drift spells bleak policy outlook

By Linda Sieg

TOKYO, Dec 14 (BestGrowthStock) – Support for Japanese Prime
Minister Naoto Kan’s government has fallen to just 21 percent,
a newspaper poll showed on Tuesday, as a rift in the ruling
party complicates efforts to decide policies and cope with a
divided parliament.

Below are some questions and answers about the outlook for
Kan’s six-month-old government and the policy implications.

WILL PM KAN RESIGN?

Maybe. Pressure on Kan to step down ahead of nationwide
local elections in April is likely to rise, especially if his
ratings, now just above 20 percent, fall further.

But Kan, 64, is already Japan’s fifth premier since
Junichiro Koizumi ended a rare five-year term in 2006, and
voters are tiring of the revolving door of leaders.

Another change at the top would probably spell more policy
confusion as any new government sorts out its priorities.

Nor is it clear that any of the possible successors would
be able to do a better job. “They can’t dump him when there is
no one to replace him,” said Nihon University’s Tomoaki Iwai.

Kan may reshuffle his cabinet to try to boost his ratings.

Opposition parties have said they will boycott
parliamentary debate if Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito
Sengoku, Kan’s de facto No. 2, and the transport minister are
not replaced after the upper house adopted non-binding censure
motions against them last month. Sengoku is also heartily
disliked by ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) powerbroker
Ichiro Ozawa’s backers.

WILL THE RULING DEMOCRATIC PARTY SPLIT?

Probably not for now. The DPJ, which swept to power last
year promising big change, avoided a bust-up over
scandal-tainted Ozawa on Monday.

But bickering over the future of Ozawa, a former party
chief who faces indictment on suspicion of misreporting
political funds, continues to distract the government from
addressing deep problems such as bulging public debt and a
stalling economy.

Katsuya Okada, the DPJ’s secretary general, seems to hope
that taking a tough stance towards Ozawa would boost the DPJ’s
voter ratings and help get opposition backing for bills in a
divided parliament. But Ozawa seems unlikely to play along by
agreeing to appear before a parliamentary ethics panel.

Speculation simmers that Ozawa, a 68-year-old political
mastermind who has denied any wrongdoing, might bolt the DPJ
and try to form a new party, but analysts doubt many of his
backers would follow him if he did, given his waning clout.

That means that the two sides may remain locked in an
unloving embrace, with neither strong enough to make a break.

“Will it be more likely that Okada fails and the DPJ is
again criticised for ineptitude? I would think that is the
most likely outcome,” said Sophia University professor Koichi
Nakano.

“The alternative is for the sorry saga to get completely
out of control and the party to split, but that is not
particularly likely.”

CAN THE DPJ FIND PARTNERS TO PASS LAWS?

Not easily. Kan has already reached out to a small former
coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), in the
hope of forging the two-thirds majority in the lower house
needed to override decisions by the opposition-controlled
upper chamber.

But the leftist SDP is making noisy demands on security
matters. Another tiny ally, the People’s New Party, wants to
spend more despite Japan’s huge public debt.

Tying up with the second-biggest opposition party, the New
Komeito, would be the simplest strategy. Their policies are
often in tune but the Democrats’ limp ratings are a big
obstacle.

Speculation has also simmered that the DPJ might try to
tie up with former ruling party the Liberal Democratic Party
(LDP) in a “grand coalition” but at present, the conservative
LDP is likely to see scant merit in such a deal.

All of which means that passing laws will be a
time-consuming and probably torturous process in which
government-drafted legislation may need to be revised to win
opposition support. Major legislative initiatives look
unlikely, despite suggestions of non-partisan discussions on
raising the 5 percent sales tax to fix Japan’s tattered
finances or on social welfare reform.

WILL KAN CALL A SNAP ELECTION?

No general election need be held until 2013 and an early
poll is thought by many to be unlikely.

Some analysts, though, say that if a parliamentary
deadlock prevents passage of laws to implement the budget for
fiscal year 2011/12 from April 1, Kan might call a snap lower
house election.

Were that to happen, the DPJ would almost certainly win
fewer than the 306 seats it now holds in the 480-member
chamber, but the LDP would have trouble winning a majority.

Since no single party has a majority in the upper house,
the problem of a divided parliament would remain.

(Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

Q+A-Japan political drift spells bleak policy outlook