Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japan's Blues – Why We Envy the U.S. Presidential Elections
MATSUYAMA Yukio / Journalist

May 8, 2008
U.S. presidential elections take too long, are excessively influenced by television and the candidate who captures the super states always gains the upper hand - in other words, it is a system full of flaws. Yet, as we follow candidates Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and John McCain engage in a battle of words, telling the people what they would do once in office or what they promise to accomplish, I can't help but feel a sense of envy as a Japanese. All too often, under our brand of "democracy," the Japanese people play no part in choosing the top leader.

Sometimes - or almost all the time, rather - someone who'd never dreamt of becoming a national leader is hoisted to the top as a result of backroom negotiations among party bosses. This kind of democratic society is rare among advanced nations. Some years ago, when Mori Yoshiro became Prime Minister, I was preparing a lecture for Harvard University under the title: "From Obuchi to Mori." I discovered that the university, which was fully aware of the "undemocratic process" that led to the selection of Prime Minister Mori, had changed the title to "Can Japan be called a democracy?" and stuck posters all over campus. From an American point of view, a system that doesn't allow its people to decide its leader must seem feudal. Lawrence Beer, professor of comparative constitutional law at the University of Colorado, has in fact described Japan as a "feudalistic democracy."

Talking about feudalism, nearly 50% of Japanese parliamentarians are second-generation politicians - another anomaly among advanced nations. Having inherited the family business of politics and grown up surrounded by supporters, it must be awfully hard for them to gain firsthand knowledge of the daily struggles experienced by ordinary people outside the realm of politics.

Current Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo is a reasonable man with a sense of balance, someone who is not conceited for a son of a former prime minister. As a legislator, he could be placed at the better end of the spectrum. However, with only the post of Chief Cabinet Secretary on his resume, he undeniably lacks the experience, preparation and competence necessary for the top job. He is not a faction leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and has never held any of the top three party positions. Neither is he a populist favored by the people. Fukuda found the post of prime minister on his lap when predecessor Abe Shinzo abandoned government in an unprecedented act of irresponsibility. The LDP's characteristic political dynamics was at work – the choice of Fukuda met the least opposition. He never had the time to cultivate followers and minions who would sweat their guts out for him.

Thus it was impossible from the onset to expect from him the kind of leadership required to solve complicated domestic and foreign policy issues that had piled up. Fukuda himself has complained jokingly to reporters that he didn't particularly want the job himself, and that he was left holding the short end of the stick. Honest he maybe, but Japanese politics has come to a standstill - as everyone expected.

In view of the skewed state of the Upper House, where the opposition holds the majority, things may have been the same no matter who became prime minister. Yet the LDP's overwhelming defeat to a Democratic Party candidate in the April 27 election for a vacant seat in Yamaguchi Prefecture was a symbolic demonstration of the extent of frustration being felt by the Japanese people. Trouble at home is no secret abroad, and the situation is having a negative effect on foreign relations as well. Unfortunately, there are no promising successors to Fukuda waiting in the wings of the LDP.

The situation hasn't given momentum to Democratic Party leader Ozawa Ichiro's chances of becoming prime minister, either. The landslide victory in the last Upper House election was more an expression of voter discontent with the LDP-Komei Party coalition government than expectations for the Democratic Party. Furthermore, while Ozawa's political past may have earned him credit as a "destroyer," he has no track record of being a "constructive" leader. His gloomy personality and despotic air are a major reason behind the lack of enthusiasm for "Prime Minister Ozawa."

General elections are slated to take place either this year or the next, but a contest between Fukuda and Ozawa is likely to be a battle to decide the "lesser evil." Why is it that sixty years since the end of World War II we are still stuck at this level of democracy in Japan? Sadly, there are no signs the blues will go away. And so we look on with envy at the U.S. presidential elections.

The writer is former Chief Editorial Writer for the Asahi Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

日本の憂鬱 ―― なぜアメリカの大統領選挙が羨ましいか?
松山幸雄 / ジャーナリスト

2008年 5月 8日

時には、というより、非常にしばしば、ご本人さえ夢にも思わなかった人が、密室でのボスたちの話し合いの結果、あっという間に国民のリーダーになってしまう。こういう民主主義国は、先進国ではそうあるものではない。私が数年前、森首相が誕生したさい、ハーバード大学での講演の演題を「小渕から森へ」として通知したところ、「森首相誕生の非民主的過程」を熟知している大学側が、勝手に「Can Japan be called a democracy?」と印刷したポスターを構内にべたべた貼ってしまったことがある。アメリカ人の感覚からすれば、国民が自分たちで自分の指導者を選べないのは封建主義に見えるに違いない。現にコロラド大学のLawrence Beer教授(比較憲法学)は「日本は feudalistic democracy だ」と言っている。






いずれ今年か来年には総選挙が行われるであろうが、「福田対小沢」の争いはlesser evilの戦いになるのではないか。戦後60余年してなぜわれわれはこんな程度の民主主義しか持てないのか。日本人の憂鬱には、解消の出口が見えそうもない。アメリカの大統領選挙を羨ましく感ずる所以である。 

一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan's Blues – Why We Envy the U.S. Presidential Elections