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There's no reason Maehara, Koizumi can't do what Merkel, Schroeder could

From left to right: Y. Tanaka, S. Maehara w/ J. Koizumi, M. Fukushima, T. Kanzaki

Earlier this month Angela Merkel of Christian Democratic Union and Gerhard Schroeder of Social Democratic Party of Germany struck a deal to form a "grand coalition" after the election whose return was too close to call. The two parties were so divided over how to turn around the nation's ailing economy that it took them weeks to reach an agreement.

On the other hand in Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party headed by Junichiro Koizumi won a sweeping victory in the September 11 poll. Hence, on the part of the LDP there's no reason to seek a coalition with any other party than the old coalition partner, New Komeito. But it's a different story as far as the loser, the Democratic Party of Japan, is concerned.

Despite desperate efforts by former and current president of the DPJ to differentiate their party from the LDP, it's been more and more apparent that the DPJ is nothing more than a double of the LDP. Essentially we were seeing something little more than an infight between intra-party factions during the campaign period.

In this context I believe it will be a natural course of action, just like the river (or perhaps a ditch) flows into the (polluted) sea, for Seiji Maehara, newly-elected party president, to ask Koizumi to remarry him a decade or so after the divorce.

Another factor that will possibly prompt Maehara to seek a grand coalition or merger within a matter of four years from now is the fact that a major discord within his party, which was sealed during the campaign period, has started quickly surfacing. Just for one thing the Oct. 17 issue of the Daily Yomiuri reported, in an article titled "Discord emerges within DPJ," that Yoshimitsu Takashima, who is an upper house DPJ member and a member of the All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers' Union, complained at a senior party members' meeting on Oct 4 that "Maehara's remark regarding labor unions was taken as calling union members war criminals."

Fifty years ago the LDP came into existence as a result of the merger between the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party. In the mid-1990s, Yukio Hatoyama, an LDP spin-off, formed the DPJ, after hopping from a bubble party to another. Similarly, another LDP defector Ichiro Ozawa started the Liberal Party after drifting about among a couple of short-lived parties. In September 2003, Naoto Kan, yet another former LDP member who was the president of the DPJ at that time, struck a deal with Ozawa to merge his LP into the DPJ. The DPJ wasn't renamed then because it wasn't an equal merger.

The history may look too confusing to memorize. But in short, in the last half century, we have witnessed the same set of letters, "L" and "D", combined, separated, recombined, and resequenced all the time.

So it should come as no surprise if Maehara desperately seeks to join forces with Koizumi. Don't take me wrong, though, I'm not expecting the coalition, as such, to bring about a significant change in the Japan's political landscape. What I'm expecting from it is the likelihood that some party members will most probably spin off from the DPJ-LDP alliance if and when it materializes. Basically that is what my wild anticipation is all about.

I am not particularly interested in the next move by Ichiro Ozawa. He is the person who knows best that the DPJ has never been a valid and viable alternative to the ruling LDP. That's why he has always opted to remain behind the scenes. When Maehara ran for the party presidency in September, Maehara somehow felt obliged to ask the shady power broker to become his running mate. Quite predictably Ozawa, who had already refused to run for the presidency himself, declined Maehara's offer because he knew very well that the DPJ under the leadership of Maehara, or anyone else for that matter, could not make a difference to the cursed destiny inherent to the party.

Ironically enough, though, Ozawa would not fit into the grand coalition scheme because he has always remained an element representative of the old LDP within the DPJ whereas Koizumi now claims to have transformed his party into "a new LDP". Being the DPJ's coccyx, or Achilles heel, Ozawa would find out there's no place to move forward, or backward, to, any more. He would be sunk, then.

Much less am I interested in the fate of the New Komeito, the politically obscure lay Buddhist party led by Takenori Kanzaki. Under the Koizumi administration it has been acting like a parasite or mistress of the LDP. But the LDP would not need it any more once it remarried the DPJ.

On the other hand, I have a hunch that something very positive would also result from the possible alliance between the two parties. In all likelihood some real reform-minded members of the main opposition party, albeit only a handful of them, would refuse to join the ruling party. And the most likely destination for them would be the New Party Nippon which Nagano Governor Yasuo Tanaka started in August.

In fact the NPN would have been the only valid alternative in the Election 2005, had it not been for the fact that there were only a handful of politicians who claimed to share the same aspiration to thoroughly revolutionize the Japanese political system. When launching the party in the middle of the campaign, Tanaka had to turn to obscure political figures, even including some LDP dropouts, so his group would qualify as a full-fledged party, headcount-wise. Article 86 of the Public Offices Election Law stipulates that a newly founded party must comprise a minimum five members in it who are current or former lawmakers.

Needless to say, though, meeting the minimum legal requirement is far from enough to make a difference to the nation's politics. During the campaign period Tanaka was using a little far-fetched argument that he could still make a difference by employing the Charles de Gaulle's method. He was referring to the fact that the General-turned-President of France formed a national alliance that even included his archrival, the Communist Party, for the cause of the postwar restoration of the nation.

But the fact remains that Japan's post-bubble restoration is a little more complicated and formidable undertaking. To stretch his admirable accomplishment in the "Nagano Revolution" beyond the prefectural borders, Tanaka will need more than what the French communists were to Charles de Gaulle. I wouldn't be surprised even if Mizuho Fukushima's Social Democratic Party of Japan opted to team up with the NPN. But still that, alone, would be far from enough.

Although it remains to be seen if some of these days Maehara realizes he is heading a double of the LDP, I think that is a much more likely scenario as compared to the way things actually unfolded in Germany. Now that the "eiserne M ·

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