Saturday, July 10, 2010

July 11? Defeat of Kan, Holland or Spain?

"On Sunday, a respectable share of Japan's 104 million voters will walk to their local elementary schools or public meeting halls to cast their ballots in the country's House of Councillors election. Yet opinion polls show that with just a day to go, nearly a third of these potential voters have yet to decide who they’ll be voting for.

Such uncertainty so close to an election would be troubling if it reflected a volatile national character or even an array of choices so dispiriting that many voters have difficulty caring. However, the failure of 3 out of 10 Japanese voters to have made up their minds is down to one simple fact-the election has no meaning, or at least its meaning has changed so many times over the past few months and weeks that a reasonable person could well be asking what they’re actually voting for."

Following a plunge in support for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan ahead of the July 11 House of Councillors election, the possibility that the ruling parties will not be able to secure a majority in the house has arisen, prompting parties to maneuver to secure coalition partners.

What exactly does Japan want?

"Kan and other officials from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) have been casting amorous glances at New Komeito and Your Party as possible coalition partners. Shizuka Kamei, leader of the People's New Party (PNP), a ruling coalition member, also has his eyes on New Komeito as well as the New Renaissance Party.

With a tough election ahead, DPJ politicians close to former party Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa have suggested that Kan, who has referred to an increase in consumption tax, should be held responsible if the party fails to obtain 50 seats in the election. It is believed that Kan has had to make early moves to pick possible coalition partners to counter this situation and avoid the possibility of a "twisted" Diet in which the opposition controls the upper house while the ruling parties maintain control of the House of Representatives."

"The DPJ's current coalition partner opposes raising the 5 percent sales tax any time soon, as do some potential allies. Other opposition parties agree a hike is inevitable but would probably be reluctant to help out the rival DPJ, which has not yet mapped out any detailed tax reform proposals. The 63-year-old Kan has called for non-partisan talks on tax reform and said any rise in the 5 percent sales tax would take at least two to three years to implement.

He is also touting a "Third Way" economic strategy that would use tax revenues to target growth areas such as healthcare and the environment, although many economist are dubious. The leaders of two potential partners, the pro-reform Your Party and New Komeito, which partnered with the Liberal Democratic Party until its ouster last year, have rejected the idea of an alliance with the DPJ. Analysts say they might change their tune later, but would drive hard bargains if the Democrats fare badly."

The July 11 parliamentary elections are widely considered as a referendum on the ruling Democratic Party of Japan's 10 months in power since defeating the long-ruling conservatives and the prime minister Kan is loosing support. Despite assuming power in June with a public support rating of over 65 percent, the DPJ administration has lost nearly a third of that after only a month in power, according to the latest polls. Observers speculate the swift slide was influenced by Kan's suggestion that the consumption tax should be raised to 10 percent to reduce the public debt. The latest poll credits the current cabinet with less than 45%.

Question is: should the DPJ fares poorly in the election, it is almost certain that Kan's power on the government will loose authority and will deepen within the ruling party ahead of the DPJ presidential election in September.

University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies graduate, professor of International Relations at TUJ in Tokyo, Dr. Phil Deans sees the choice of the electorate as rather simple: ‘‘Japan like many countries is facing severe economic problems. It’s spending too much and not raising enough in tax. So the ruling party has gone into this campaign with the unusual promise of increasing consumption tax, which of course will never make them popular."

Kan is the Japan’s fifth leader in three years, only replaced his predecessor last month after a rift between the DPJ led government and the US Obama administration on the issue of relocation of Marine Corps units on a resort island north of the Okinawa main island.

Sources: Mainichi Shimbun, Diplomat, agencies, Reporter's notes

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