The opposition Democratic Party for the People (DPP) backed the initial budget proposal for fiscal 2022 when the bill passed the Lower House on Feb. 22.
It is not uncommon for an opposition party to give case-by-case support to individual bills submitted by the government, including supplementary budget proposals.
But support for a draft initial budget is extremely rare, although some opposition parties set precedents, such as the now-defunct Democratic Socialist Party in 1977 and the New Liberal Club, also defunct, in 1977 and 1978.
The backing of the draft initial budget, which is designed to support overall government policies for the coming one-year period, amounts to the DPP declaring itself a de facto ruling party.
A political party does not have to oppose all government policies just because it is in the opposition.
It goes without saying that it should decide on a case-by-case basis whether to support a government policy, just as opposition parties have done to date.
But backing a draft initial budget is something on a completely different level. Doing so is tantamount to showing confidence in the government itself, so one could be excused for believing that the DPP has given up its role as an opposition party.
The current DPP was founded in autumn 2020 by members of the former DPP who refused to join their party’s merger with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
During the Lower House election campaign last year, the DPP espoused the slogan of “settlement rather than confrontation” and distanced itself from the electoral cooperation of opposition groups including the Japanese Communist Party. It went on to secure more seats than before in the Diet chamber.
In the belief that the strategy of going its own way was effective, the DPP has since continued, in handling matters of the Diet, to draw a line between itself and the opposition parties that had put up the unified front and to place more emphasis on making policy proposals.
Its decision to back the draft budget was probably another way to emphasize its difference from the other opposition parties.
Yuichiro Tamaki, the DPP leader, supported the draft budget in a speech during a Lower House plenary session.
He said he supports the bill because Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had “promised to consider” unfreezing a trigger clause that would temporarily cut gasoline taxes, setting “a clear direction for making that happen.”
Activating the clause was one of the centerpieces of the DPP’s pledge for the Lower House election.
However, Kishida’s statement in the Diet was ambiguous. He only said, “We will consider measures, without ruling out any options including the trigger clause.”
That was probably only lip service for giving the DPP a pretext for backing the draft budget. The party played into the hands of the government and the ruling parties, which want the opposition bloc to be divided.
Tamaki pointed out during the campaign for the Lower House election that Kishida’s economic policy lacks concrete features.
He also called for a need to change a culture of politics “with rampant lies and concealment,” in veiled reference to the spate of scandals under the previous administrations of prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga.
Although the DPP distanced itself from the electoral alliance of opposition parties, it agreed to arrangements to back single candidates in certain constituencies. The DPP owes some of its Lower House seats to assistance provided by other opposition parties.
Snuggling up to the ruling bloc can only be called a betrayal of voters who placed hopes on the DPP as an opposition party when they cast their ballots.
It has become even more uncertain whether opposition parties can cooperate in the Upper House election this summer to stage one-on-one showdowns with the ruling bloc in the 32 single-seat constituencies, which will be key to the electoral outcomes.
Some incumbent DPP Upper House members who won their seats six years ago as unified candidates of opposition parties are up for election this year. One is left to wonder what stance Tamaki will put before the people.
“We are definitely an opposition party,” Tamaki told a news conference.
If he is true to his words, his party should play a role in not only realizing its policy proposals but also being a rigorous monitor of what the government does.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 26