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2008年5月 2日 (金)


EDITORIAL: Opposition party's job




Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano recalls asking former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone a question about politics. "Sir, what is the job of an opposition party?" Yosano asked his political mentor.


"Well, it is to overthrow the government, no matter what it takes. Policy doesn't matter. Just unseating the government is the job of an opposition party," Nakasone answered.


This is an episode Yosano describes in his new book, "Dodotaru Seiji" (Dignified politics).


Defeated in the general election in 1993, the Liberal Democratic Party found itself in the opposition camp for the first time in its history after a coalition of other parties formed a government headed by Morihiro Hosokawa.


Totally at a loss, Yosano posed the question to Nakasone, for whom he had once served as a secretary.


Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) is now trying to do "the job of an opposition party." Bent on forcing Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election, the main opposition party is awaiting a suitable moment to submit a censure motion against Fukuda to the Upper House.


Even if a censure motion passes, Fukuda has shown no intention of responding to it by calling an election or resigning along with other Cabinet ministers.


Unlike a no-confidence vote against the Cabinet passed by the Lower House, a censure resolution passed by the Upper House is not legally binding.


With Cabinet approval ratings languishing below 20 percent, the ruling camp wants to delay the general election as long as possible.


The results of Sunday's Lower House by-election in Yamaguchi Prefecture left no doubt that favorable political winds are blowing for Minshuto.


It is natural for the party to carefully plan its next political move to box the Fukuda government into a corner.


But the political meaning of "overthrowing the government" has changed dramatically since the days of the so-called 1955 system, when the LDP had a solid lock on power. All that the opposition camp could hope for in attacking the government back then was the replacement of the prime minister by another LDP bigwig.


In contrast, the opposition bloc now has a reasonable chance of wresting power from the LDP-led ruling coalition through a general election.


What kind of role should the leading opposition party play today?


Nakasone's argument that the primary mission of an opposition party is to overthrow the government is still relevant today.


Given the growing momentum of political reform to ensure more frequent power transfers in this nation, efforts to displace the ruling party from power have political implications that go beyond a simple power struggle.


In order to achieve this mission, an opposition party may have to use hard-ball tactics that seem to defy reasonable thinking, such as Minshuto's repeated rejections of the government's nominees for the Bank of Japan governor.


Bringing forward a censure motion against the prime minister for the purpose of halting Diet deliberations altogether is another example of such tactics.


Whether this kind of political maneuver succeeds depends on whether it is supported by the public.


At the same time, Minshuto needs to win the trust of the voting public as a party prepared to govern the nation.

Otherwise, it cannot hope to pull off a victory in the next Lower House poll.


In addition to offering viable policy alternatives, Minshuto needs to make tenacious and effective efforts to force the ruling camp to change its policies.


Even if it cannot easily compromise on the gasoline tax surcharges and other issues, Minshuto should continue pressing the government to cut wasteful expenditures on roads.


As for the newly introduced health insurance program for people aged 75 or older, which Minshuto criticizes as a raw deal for the elderly, the opposition party should do more than just call for the scrapping of the program.


Minshuto should propose a system that is fairer and more sustainable.


It is by no means asking for too much to call on Minshuto to try to unseat the government while pursuing its policy goals.


As the main opposition party with an ambition for ascension to power, Minshuto needs to deal with both challenges with convincing political prowess.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April



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