The original DPJ-PNP-SDP coalition (Photo: Reuters)

Over at my other site I have written about the perilous situation that the Kan government finds itself in in regards to the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s legislative program. To be sure this situation has been ongoing for sometime now but it has become slightly more problematic in the last week. If you are interested in Japanese domestic politics and the details you can read about them here and at Sigma1 here for the latest. In short the Kan government is in the situation where its only real option to pass the FY 2011 budget requires the support of its former coalition partner,the Social Democratic Party, in the Japanese House of Representatives. This would allow them to pass budget related supplementary bills by a 2/3rds vote should the House of Councillors (Upper House), where the DPJ coalition does not have a majority, vote against them.

The SDP needless to say wants something in return. For its support for the supplementary budget bills it has requested, in addition to reinstating a child dependents tax break,  that the DPJ eliminate from the budget a proposal to reduce the corporate tax rate and eliminate the money put aside to progress the building of the Henoko complex in Nago. Given the attempt by the Kan government to mend relations with the US, clearly this would be perceived as a step in a direction that would undermine much of the work on the alliance done by Kan, and Foreign Minister Maehara.

The SDP is currently waiting for the DPJ’s response. The DPJ appears to be looking at an option where the SDP votes with DPJ-PNP coalition to implement the budget as it stands but also submits a supplementary bill to freeze the funds allocated within the budget. The DPJ are much less enthusiastic about the other changes, which would undermine the other relationship the Kan government has been trying to mend (with the Japanese business world including the Keidanren), and would also mean considerable revisions to the budget (due for passage in March) given a change in tax takes and revenue and spending outlays.

The DPJ hopes that freezing, rather than “withdrawing” the funds will satisfy SDP leader Fukushima Mizuho, and not signify a reversal in the policy towards the controversial Futenma relocation plan that has beguiled the US-Japan alliance for the last year and a half. However a top Ministry of Defense official, and someone familiar with high-level government defense affairs both commented (jp) to the Asahi Shimbun that such a move by the government will cause consternation and that it will inevitably lead to another deterioration in the relationship. Furthermore, it may have a significant impact upon the Prime Minister Kan’s visit to the United States to meet with President Barack Obama and issue a joint statement on common strategic goals and vision on the bilateral alliance, which could give the Kan government and the DPJ a much needed boost to their foreign policy profile in Japan.

However an inability to pass the budget (a significant proportion which needs to be funded by the issuance of GOJ bonds which need to be authorized by the supplementary bills ) will fatally compromise the Kan government, likely leading to either an election, a realignment of political parties, or both. While it is not yet clear that the SDP will accept the concession mentioned above, if it does, and the old coalition is reinvigorated, the US administration may well have a difficult choice in terms of how it reacts to such a proposal. Reacting badly and treating the Kan government with the contempt that was directed the way of former Prime Minister Hatoyama is likewise likely to compromise the Kan government.

In short, the US may (if domestic politics doesn’t force the Kan government’s hand) soon be faced with a situation where they have to decide whether they want to abandon a Kan government now greatly influenced by the SDP and thus be willing to face the risk of a dealing with a political situation where no party has a majority in either house of the Diet (which opinion polls suggest is likely), or work with the old coalition again which would clearly lead to some compromises on the Futenma issue being sought by the coalition.

March will be an interesting month, perhaps tiring for many, for Japanese politics.

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Corey Wallace joined Japan Security Watch in 2011. He writes on Japan security-related topics, focusing on issues and stories that may not find their way into the English language media. He also hosts the blog Sigma1 where he writes on Japanese domestic politics and broader issues in international relations. Prior to taking up a PhD Corey was a participant on the JET program (2004-2007) and on returning to New Zealand he worked at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology from 2007-2010 as a policy adviser. Corey lectures two courses at the University of Auckland. One is on the international relations of the Asia-Pacific, which contains a significant focus on East Asia security issues. The other is a course on China's international relations. His primary academic interests before his current Japan focus were science and technology politics/policy, issues of ethnic identity, and Chinese modern history and politics. He carries over his interest in issues of identity and history into his PhD where he is looking at generationally situated concepts of national identity and their impact on foreign policy ideas in Japan.
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