The Diet session convened just a few days ago, on January 28th, 2019. It will see only 58 Cabinet-sponsored bills the second lowest number since the Postwar era. Yet, a lot is going on in Japanese politics: the upcoming Emperor’s ascension, House of Councillors election in July, Tax hike in October, negotiations for a peace treaty with Russia, etc.
Join Timothy Langley and Michael Cucek for their exclusive insights into the burning issue!
(Full Transcript below:)
Timothy: The 2019 political calendar: what’s in store? Don’t forget to hit ‘subscribe’ in the button below.
Timothy: Hi everyone, welcome back to Tokyo on Fire. Today is January 29th, 2019. The Diet just opened up yesterday for a 150 day session. The Prime Minister was there, the Emperor opened up as he usually must. Michael?
Michael: Well, the Emperor did the usual short speech and then the Prime Minister launched into what was an absolutely stem-winder in terms of his policy address. Six years ago, when he just came into power for the second time, he got through thataddress in 17 minutes. Yesterday, he was going on past 50.
Timothy: How many cat calls were there?
Michael: Oh, there are a lot of cat calls because there was a lot of stuff. It seems he’s got a lot of explaining to do and that’s one of the things about this policy address, and the goals of this particular Diet session. There are a lot of things that are ongoing and have been ongoing, but they just haven’t gotten started and they haven’t been gelled into some kind of program. And, I swear, there’s really a correlation between how much he talks about something and how far along it’s moved.
Timothy: Right, we’re going to be spreading some Tabasco on this very short session that we have today, Michael, and just talking about what is on the the Diet calendar; what the Prime Minister will attempt to do in the first 150 day session, we don’t know whether there’ll be a second session after that, but there will be an election coming up. Let’s talk about the game plan, what’s definitely on the calendar, other things might come up: the ascension of the the new emperor will be, you know, on the boards as well.
Michael: And that’s going to eat up a big chunk right in the middle of 100 days. It’s a 150 days, it’s not work days, it’s a150 day span, so when they take that long vacation for, and everybody’s going to take it, the Imperial enthronement, the ceremonies with it, it’s a long golden week. When that happens that’s going to eat in the time they have to work on actual objects whether it’s something in legislation or international relations. Both of which the Prime Minister has to do.
Timothy: So the Prime Minister has to pretty much set the tone: he’s got an election right after Golden Week and he wants everybody to vote for him!
Michael: Well, he wants everybody to vote for the House of Councillors, the half of them that are up for election, and it might be a double election. You’re a big fan of that, I’m not. But, the truth of the matter is he could literally pull the ripcord and have a double election. There was speculation last year that there would be a constitutional referendum on top of that. That seems out of the cards, I don’t think there’s any way that in the short period of time we have between now and the run-up to the changeover in the Imperial era, that they’re going to be able to stuff in something, you know, so controversial and has to have a certain amount of days for public comment. They’re not going to do it, it’s just a pipe dream.
Timothy: Maybe in the fall.
Michael: Maybe in the fall, but we don’t know because then there will be the build-up for other big issues, particularly if they do it in the fall it’s so close to the tax rise that’sabsolutely going to happen. And he talked about that yesterday and there was a lot of reaction from the floor when he started talking about taxes: that was when things really heated up among the opposition cat callers who were there. They were just trying to knock him off his beat in order to, you know, disrupt and say the tax rise it is out of place out, of time. think he has a very good strong case ,and I don’t think there’s any chance that he’s going to delay the tax rise even if it’s going to mess up his electoral plans.
Timothy: Well, didn’t Finance Minister Aso kind of calm the waters with his statement?
Michael: Oh, we don’t even want to talk about Aso, but we have to think about the things they have to do. First, is that they have to pass the budget and they have to get it done in a very short amount of time, because you have the April 1st requirement that that’s when the new fiscal new year comes in, and we’re starting so late in January. For an Abe administration, this is a really late start and you have very little time: you have to get it done by the end of February in the House of Reps, so that you have enough time, so that the 30-day rule applies in the House of Councillors. You don’t know the Constitution of Japan: that’s probably incomprehensible. But, basically this government has less than a month to get the entire budget passed and the thing is, because of the Labor statistics scandal, they had to revise it and that’s just opening up huge avenues for the opposition.
Timothy: There are certain things that absolutely must be done and there’s certain things that are going to happen: they’re coming down the path. And when you see what he has on the Diet schedule it is the most unaggressive in like 30 or 40 years.
Michael: There’s just too much happening outside of the Diet chambers for him to have control over a large body of legislative pieces that are moving around. He has to keep that quiet and they did: it’s really remarkable that they are so incredibly conservative in the number of bills and the kinds of bills that they’re proposing. And it shows their great realism, which is one of the reasons why Abe has been in power for so long, the people around him sense what the atmosphere of the times allows and stays away from things that can cause major breaks. They definitely have one major goal: keep it quiet through July, keep the public unenthused, uninterested, in the House of Councilors election, get through it, use the base in order to elect all your LDP friends back again and then we’ll see what happens. Because, on the block right now is a huge chunk of LDP seats that were won, everybody says, in excess as they were too succesful six years ago. And that means they’re expecting to lose seats and if they lose seats they’re going to go farther and farther away from the two-thirds majority that they need for constitutional revision. And that great opportunity that started in 2016 summer to change the constitution: poof, It’s gone.
Timothy: Right there’s a little bit of a movement, I’m sure you’ve picked it up too: to, hopefully, separate from this alliance that they have with the Komeito party as well. If they have two-thirds majority in both houses without the coalition, then that coalition really doesn’t have the power that the Prime Minister needs.
Michael: Yeah, but at the same time in terms of elections they know that they need to Komeito. The Komeito provides about 25% of any district – LDP districts elected candidates final vote tallies. Maybe a little bit less in the western part of Japan maybe a little bit more in other places but they’re a solid group. So they would like to in terms of policy pull away from the Komeito and and see the Komeito knocked down a notch but when push comes to shove they’re going to need those votes. And we can see that because the CDPJ continues, the main opposition party continues to go from strength to strength. They’re nominating interesting candidates, it looks like they’re gonna fight in virtually every place on the map. They’re not coordinating with the other opposition parties the way they were in 2016. They’re pretty damn confident that they can nail a whole bunch of seats all by themselves and that’s also playing into the Prime Minister’s calculations.
Timothy: But the Prime Minister knows this, I mean, he’s watching this program too. So, it is possible, it is not inconceivable, that there could be a sweep because he has the power to call the lower house ‘closed’.
Michael: Yeah, he does have a power to dissolve it but it doesn’t make sense to me in terms of numbers that the one thing you want to do is not increase voter totals, you don’t want to have a double election, you want to keep things quiet, boring, uninteresting…It’s July I want to go to somewhere else into the mountains, the beach, whatever.
Timothy: Oh, I actually like the combination: it’s after a long Golden Week, the Emperor, the new Emperor has acceded to the throne. It’s kind of a party time and then to hold the election there I think there’s a lot of to be positive about.
Michael: So let’s agree to disagree on that one. But in general he has got a very crowded schedule. June is shot because of the G20 that’s coming up in Osaka, first time that Japan is a host and he’s hosting the leaders of the world.
Timothy: Do you think he will be glad to see Putin?
Michael: Oh, he’ll be glad to see Putin. He’s always glad to see Putin, even though that’s going nowhere and we could spend an entire hour talking about that. But he had that in the speech as well yesterday, he emphasized that he was going to try to be that Prime Minister that finally nails down the peace treaty with Russia. Good luck.
Timothy: Doesn’t look too positive…
Michael: No, but…that was basically the main foreign policy thrust aside from North Korea. Everything else was sort of a shunted to the side. Russia has really absorbed the Abe administration and become its albatross: its white whale that is pursuing across the horizons of the world and maybe it’s only for show. Maybe it was always just in order to provide a narrative. But it sure is taking up a lot of their time.
Timothy: The Prime Minister has a busy schedule over the next couple of months, we’re going to continue to watch that and make predictions as we see fit. Please stay tuned.
Timothy: Hi everyone, thanks for watching this last episode. Please don’t forget to hit like and subscribe and help us proliferate this channel!