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

Are the Japanese Ready for Change?
HANABUSA Masamichi / Former Ambassador to Italy

August 4, 2009
The general elections scheduled for August 30 are no doubt the most interesting in Japan's political history and will surely be of considerable significance for the future of Japan. In the political arena are the Liberal Democratic Party(LDP) which continually dominated Japan's post-war politics and the Democratic Party which has gradually amassed influence as the former’s antagonists. This is going to be the first elections in which the two major parties go to the country seeking support for each party's 'Manifest', policy platform, albeit imperfect. The election results will indicate how the Japanese wish to manage its ageing society in the future. They will also show how Japan wishes to put itself on the economic map of the world, that has undergone unprecedented change following the recent financial crisis.

It is clear that Japan's various systems are fatigued and newly-conceived bold ideas are urgently required over wide-ranging fields. A number of polls and recent local election results indicate that the voters are utterly disappointed by the LDP and entertain serious doubt about Prime Minister Aso's political caliber. At the time of this writing, they seem to forecast that the LDP/ Komeito coalition will fail to secure a majority in the Lower House in the forthcoming elections.

The popular support for the LDP has been on the declining trend over the years, except for the general elections held by former Prime Minister Koizumi in a dramatic fashion. It was the strong desire of the vested interests seeking the status quo, however, that has enabled the continuation of the LDP rule. Behind this lie the strong national characteristics of ultra-conservatism of the Japanese people who are generally contended with the present state of affairs and, hence, instinctively abhor uncertain systemic changes. The post-war history of Japan has been characterized by instances in which voters opted to muddle through the difficulties pressurizing the LDP to come out with better performance.

The common sense presently predicts a big victory for the Democratic Party. But as the voting day draws near, many voters' mind will be torn between the traditional conservative penchant and expectations for change this time. Part of strong mass media and commentators, often called "learned persons," vocally criticize that election promises of the Democrats are unrealistic. It is possible some wavering voters once again choose a safe bet of the LDP, while registering their strong dissatisfaction with the party.

Voters are both producers/wage-earners and consumers/living persons. As a wage-earner he or she receives benefits, however insufficient, from the existing economic and social order. On the other hand, he or she, as one who makes a living as a consumer, entertains significant dissatisfaction and uneasiness with regard to pension, medical care, education, etc. The Japanese voters must go to the polls to clarify how much actual change they may desire, while weighing merits and demerits of their political choice on their interests on each of these two positions.

The ultimate usefulness of change in the government would be to break down the solid asphalt of vested interests, allowing new shoots of hope to emerge from the cracks. If there is a change in the government, it is inevitable that someone to loose all or part of vested interests. In the meantime, new equilibria are needed in the generational conflicts of interests in areas such as social security, education, taxation system, etc. The new system-building is no easy task. It would be an illusion to expect that a Democarats-led new government can govern Japan with smooth continuity with the past.

Apparently most of the organizations with access to government money in accordance with the built-up pyramid of vested interests, must suffer from the governmental change. Even in media, for example, political reporters allotted to the government party, promoting themselves onto higher, influential posts thanks to the giving and taking with LDP leaders as their news sources, will lose not only their news sources but also their own positions in the company hierarchy. Likewise, if local autonomy proceeds, the transfer of authorities and resources from Kasumigaseki to local authorities could wreak revolutionary havoc.

In Japan the days are long over when national coffers are full of financial resources; rather national debts accumulations have long past their reasonable limits. The ruling LDP warns that consumption taxes must be raised. Under the circumstances, the final test before the voters would eventually converge on the choice of either pains for living persons by tax increases or pains for the producers arising from systemic changes.

Voters are even doubtful if some media pundits are clamoring for 'realistic' policy manifest on their hidden agenda intended to preserve vested interests. In hindsight, however, the Japanese voters have shown unbelievable political wisdom in the past elections. The writer is confident that they will again prove to be wise at this election, overcoming their wavering anxiety.

The writer is Chairman Emeritus of the English-Speaking Union of Japan.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

英 正道 / 元駐伊大使

2009年 8月 4日









(筆者は日本英語交流連盟 名誉会長。)
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) > Are the Japanese Ready for Change?