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Japan Diary

September 18, 2009

Will our new government bring a change?

My belated (I have been on trips) and concise analysis on our new government is as follows:

1. Why LDP (Liberal Democratic Party)’s rule could last for almost 60 years?
Elections were totally open and free, and were not manipulated heavily. There were genuine opposition parties, which always possessed about one third of the seats in the Diet.
LDP kept enjoying majority in the Diet, because it was convenient for most of the Japanese. Please note that after the war our economy constantly grew, giving almost equal benefits to the voters. Thus, LDP became an embodiment of the well-being. Most of the opposition parties were either communists or socialists with unrealistic foreign policies.

In our electoral system interests of the rural areas are overly represented. In other words a fewer population can produce one parliamentarian in rural areas than in urban areas. The rural areas are more dependent on government subsidies on rice growing and on construction of infrastructure. Therefore, they largely make it a rule to support a party in power, LDP after the war.
Most of the nationwide lobby groups, companies, physicians, shop-owners, hotel-owners and many, many others also supported the LDP. It is not the case that politicians, bureaucrats and the business formed an egoistic alliance under the LDP rule, working against the interest of the people.
Sweden is another example in which one party (Social Democrats) continued its reign for tens of years in a democratic society.

2. Then why the LDP rule has collapsed?
First of all it was because of the economy. Since the Plaza Agreement in 1985, in which the value of the yen jumped up by twice, Japan’s export industry began exodus, building factories in countries where labor was cheap. This caused loss in jobs and government revenues in Japan.
Prime Minister Koizumi realized reforms in early 2000s, reducing social benefits and rural public investments, and privatizing the post office. He received enthusiastic support in urban areas, but after his resignation many people noticed that they had lost something during his rule. Many lobby organizations, which used to support LDP, became hostile to LDP.

The people started looking for the culprit for all their hardships. First, the bureaucracy was named as the cause of all troubles, and then politicians came under the fire. Thus, Japan has had four Prime Ministers in four years after Koizumi’s voluntary resignation. The people tacitly say, “Mr.(Ms.) Prime Minister, if you do not improve our life, you will soon be discarded by us.” Such sentiment is always augmented by the mass media. In this sense the support for DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) in the election last August was not a genuine one. DPJ was chosen, simply because it was not LDPJ, the culprit of all the problems.

However, a profound change may be taking place in the Japanese society; people today want to choose their leaders by their own hands. The parliamentary democracy, in which Prime Minister is elected among the parliamentarians, is short of the people’s desire. In the same token the bureaucrats, who have been wielding real power in Japan, are hated by the people today, because they are not elected.

Thus, the old model “Division of labor between three branches of power, parliament, government and judiciary” is becoming obsolete. For the common people everyone and everything which stand above them are the politicians (even if he or she is a bureaucrat), and all of them belong to the “government”.

3. What kind of changes there will be under DPJ?
I would not dramatize things. First of all Hatoyama does not have an absolute power. DPJ owes its victory largely to Ozawa, now General Secretary of the party. Ozawa, an old disciple of Tanaka (a powerful LDP Prime Minister in early seventies), used conventional campaigning methods, extensively touring rural areas, rallying old lobby groups which used to support LDP. Ozawa’s power is augmented by the fact that about 100 out of 300 DPJ parliamentarians are avid followers of him.
Besides Ozawa, who is poised to monopolize power in the Diet affairs, there are several influential politicians in DPJ. Kan (Vice Prime Minister), Okada (Minister for Foreign Affairs) and Maehara (Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism) all used to be Chairman of DPJ, so Hatoyama will have to consult with them, instead of ordering them around.

The most important task for DPJ is to win the next election for the Upper House, which is scheduled for next summer. DPJ currently does not have a majority in the Upper House and that is why it had to build a coalition government with one leftist and one rightist parties. Although these two coalition partners are largely innocuous, DPJ is eager to establish majority in both Lower and Upper Houses. Otherwise, they will not have a free hand in legislation.

In order to win in the next election DPJ will have to show some achievement, and the first important test will be about the government budget. DPJ has pledged to increase social benefits, finding some extra resources in the government structure (there are many half-governmental corporations, some of which allegedly keep huge extra money). This should be done before winter.
In diplomacy, if I were in Hatoyama’s place, I would try to be on the safe side, avoiding making mistakes until the summer election. He is not anti-American anyway. Appointment of SUZUKI, a flamboyant former LDP member awaiting a Supreme Court sentence on his graft case, as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Diet, however, will bring many surprises.

4. Will the two-party system work in Japan?
Many people say that Japan finally has a genuinely democratic two-party system. But will it last? Perhaps, not. Because many lobby organizations and vested interests will flock around DPJ, seeking for budget money. And DPJ will respond to this, seeking for their votes. So, there is a possibility that DPJ will merely take LDP’s place.
Then will LDP break up? I am not sure, because LDP will keep receiving annually more than 100 million dollars of official subsidy (all political parties in the Diet except for the Communists receive the subsidy, the sum of which is based upon the number of votes which they received in the election).

Dichotomic approach is not common in Japan. The Japanese live not for ideas, but for practical interests. Because the Japanese does not have the only God, things are relative and compromises are possible.
The Japanese are committed to democracy and freedom of speech, but their strong propensity toward direct democracy makes the conventional democratic institutions obsolete. This is a healthy phenomenon, unless it will end up with a blatant populism.
On the other hand, if the Japanese get disillusioned by the DPJ rule, terror acts on politicians and business people are quite possible. Despair and resentment of the jobless youth are so deep. Before the Second World War Japan experienced a series of terror acts.


Author: DSLR-A850 | November 12, 2011 11:44 AM

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.

Author: Akio KAWATO | November 12, 2011 5:56 PM

Thank you,DSLR-A850.
I am now in Shenyang,China, for giving lectures at a university. Overwhelmed by their energy. The number of the middle class is enormous. The number of the lower class, too.

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