Yesterday, this was a ghost story.
My morning paper on page 6 had a small article claiming that Sugimoto Kazumi, a first term Democratic Party of Japan district seat member of the House of Representatives (Aichi #10) had decided to leave the DPJ and join the Your Party.
If true, this was seriously bad news for the Noda Cabinet, the DPJ and the country, on the order of the disastrous jump in the popularity of the Liberal Democratic Party after that party's presidential election.
Unfortunately, yesterday the story was nowhere to be found. No online service carried it. Sugimoto's own website had no mention of such a plan.
Today, however, Sugimoto's wish to leave the DPJ is out in the open and everywhere...and it still is seriously bad news for Noda, the DPJ and the country
With Sugimoto leaving, the DPJ-Japan New Party coalition holds a bare seven vote majority in the House of Representatives. Should just eight more DPJ House of Representatives members offer their resignations -- and there are far more than eight disaffected DPJ members -- the government would fall into minority status. This would trigger an immediate submission of a no confidence motion by the LDP and the New Komeito, perhaps with the Your Party in tow.
Sugimoto is no fool, and not just because he has read at Sociology at Oxford and has a Masters from the Kennedy School of Government. He seized upon the raising of the consumption tax and the recent decision to water down the Cabinet Decision on Japan's reliance on nuclear energy for electric power as pretexts for his party switch (and has been bitterly criticized for opportunism by commentors to his blog). His real reason for leaving, however, is the DPJ's popularity numbers continuing to decay, even as the popularity of the Cabinet has been rising and the majority of the those queried declaring a lack of faith in newly-elected Liberal Democratic Party president Abe Shinzo.
Sugimoto's resignation is the first hole in the dike. With the DPJ a seemingly irredeemably damaged brand, there is nothing standing in the way of anyone with a grudge, ambition or a little money departing.
That the Noda government could fall just hours after the opening of an extraordinary session of the Diet is bad. That a new coalition government would have to be cobbled together in order to pass legislation allowing the issuance of government bonds to pay the government's bills is doubly bad. That the electoral district map is still unconstitutional, meaning that Prime Minister cannot call an election to punish the opposition for holding the nation's finances hostage is trebly bad.
In order to forestall the government shutting down, the LDP-New Komeito alliance can demand an electoral district reform bill to their liking. A failure to redraw the districts, shifting voting power from over-representated rural districts to under-represented urban districts, will render moot the last three years of DPJ government. Whatever may have been in the 2009 DPJ Manifesto, the real prize worth the fighting for was the shifting of voting power away from the declining, LDP-dominated, parasitic rural districts to the more populous, more competitive and more productive urban ones.
A doomsday scenario from a single defection? Perhaps. But the viability of administrations in this blessed land's parliamentary system follows the arc of a currency collapse: all it takes is for one smart cookie to pull out and the herd follows in a pell-mell rush for the exits.
With the problems emerging around the appointment of Tanaka Keishu as Minister of Justice (E) the day of reckoning seems all the closer.