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Japan ruling party’s punishment of rebels lenient

Was this the best the Democratic Party of Japan could do to put its foot down?

The ruling party on Monday decided on punishments for 15 of its House of Representatives lawmakers who did not attend or abstained from voting on a recent no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

Former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa and seven other lawmakers had their party membership suspended for three months, and five first-term lawmakers were severely reprimanded. Two others who submitted doctor’s certificates to show why they were absent from the vote were not punished.

The three-month membership suspension effectively deprives the lawmakers of the right to vote in a DPJ presidential election if it were held during that period.

Ozawa, who has been forcibly indicted for allegedly violating the Political Funds Control Law, had already had his party membership suspended until a verdict is finalized in the case. The bottom line is that no fresh punishment was imposed on the party heavyweight.

Voting against the party line on a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet has grave implications for ruling party members―in particular for Ozawa, who did not attend the vote after initially calling openly for Kan to step down.

DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada originally considered imposing stricter punishments on the rebels. However, he had no alternative but to choose extremely lenient penalties in the face of opposition from within the party.

No one in the party takes responsibility, or is asked to do so, even for blunders that undermine the national interest and result in election setbacks. Is it the DPJ’s culture to blur where responsibility lies?

Slapping harsh punishments on Ozawa and his followers would have been a touchstone for the party leadership over its resolve to drastically review the party’s manifesto for the 2009 general election, an overhaul the pro-Ozawa lawmakers oppose. But the party leadership buckled.

The DPJ’s manifesto review committee held its first meeting last week and finally started checking how much of the party’s 2009 platform and campaign pledges for the 2010 House of Councillors election have been achieved.

Almost one year and nine months have passed since the DPJ-led coalition government was inaugurated. It compiled regular annual budgets for fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011. But given a lack of fiscal resources and political clout, it has become obvious that the DPJ will not be able to implement policies it expounded in its campaign platform.

It is useless to examine now to what extent the policies in the manifesto have been implemented because the platform itself is flawed. The DPJ is being urged to make a sweeping review of its campaign pledges, which is a prerequisite for forming a grand coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party and other parties.

Given that reconstruction projects in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake will require an astronomical amount of money, handout policies such as child-rearing allowances and making expressways toll-free must be rescinded. A certain level of tax increase also will be essential.

If the DPJ carries out a lukewarm review of its campaign platform at this juncture, any government created with opposition parties after Kan steps down will not be sufficiently strong. A bid to forge a grand coalition would fail and the government might not even be able to secure noncabinet cooperation or a partial coalition.

Under a divided Diet where the upper house is controlled by the opposition camp, domestic politics will become gridlocked again. Such futility must be prevented from happening again by all means.

The manifesto review panel should put together concrete revision proposals as soon as possible and persuade the party to approve them.

(Editorial, The Yomiuri Shimbun)

(Asia News Network)
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