’Twisted parliament’ bodes ill for Japan

’Twisted parliament’ bodes ill for Japan
# 14 July 2010 02:58 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. In Japanese, it’s called a "twisted parliament," and it doesn’t bode well for the country’s future, APA reports quoting news.yahoo.com website.
The Democratic Party-led coalition enjoys a comfortable majority in the powerful lower house, but it lost control of the upper house in an election this week. If past experience holds, the twisted parliament is a formula for policy gridlock, because both houses must approve legislation.
The predicament, which has plagued earlier governments too, comes at a time when Japan badly needs action. The world’s second-largest economy faces serious challenges, from reducing its bulging budget deficit and reviving growth to fighting deflation and shoring up its social security system as the population ages and shrinks.
"This is potentially very bad news for Japan as a whole on various fronts, because very little can move ahead as far as government policies are concerned," said Takahira Ogawa, an analyst at Standard & Poor’s. "There might be some more years wasted, which is a pity for the country."
Ogawa warned that Japan’s AA credit rating could be lowered if the twisted parliament keeps the Democrats from reining in government debt — which is twice the nation’s GDP — and carrying out other reforms. A lower credit rating would raise borrowing costs, adding to the country’s budget woes.
The Democratic Party of Japan and its small coalition partner lost 12 seats in Sunday’s upper house election, leaving it with 110 seats in the 242-member chamber. In the lower house, the coalition is short of the two-thirds majority needed to override upper house opposition to a bill.
Control of the upper house — often seen as a barometer of confidence in the prime minister or ruling party — has proved an elusive goal for governments over the past 20 years.
Japan has had twisted parliaments three other times since 1989, and each time the ruling coalition struggled to get anything done.
In the most recent case, former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda quit in frustration in 2008 after facing repeated difficulties passing bills through an opposition-dominated upper house.
The Democrats, who came to power last year with an ambitious agenda of slashing wasteful government spending, fighting global warming, reining in the power of bureaucrats and putting cash in the hands of consumers, will almost certainly have to scale back their goals.
"The DPJ should take a very serious second look at what they can afford to do within the parameters of their own choices," said S&P’s Ogawa, referring to the party by its acronym.
So far, the Democrats aren’t wooing any other parties to obtain a majority in the upper house, and none say they want to join. The newly formed Your Party was considered a potential partner until its leader, Yoshimi Watanabe, demanded that Prime Minister Naoto Kan dissolve the lower house and call elections.
Democratic officials haven’t ruled out expanding the coalition, but for now say the most likely strategy will be seeking support from other parties on individual bills.
If that leads to gridlock, Kan could be forced to call an early election, which doesn’t need to be held for three years.
Some experts say Kan’s job may be at risk. Japan has had five prime ministers in the past four years and 14 in the past 20.
Opposition parties may be waiting to see the outcome of a Democratic leadership election in September, when Kan may face challenges from fellow party members.
"No one is going to jump on a sinking ship," said Gerald Curtis, a professor of political science at Columbia University. He believes that Kan will remain in power, but "in a very weak position."