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

Election to Choose Which Party We Want to Put in Power
FUKUHARA Koichi  / Journalist

August 20, 2009
The House of Representatives election to be held on August 30, 2009, is often referred to as "the election to choose which political party is most fit to govern." It is only natural for Japan, whose politics is based on parliamentary system of government, that the Lower House elections offer the chance for the people to choose which party they will let rule the country. Why is it, then, that the coming election is being so particularly emphasized? The answer is that there have actually been only a few cases that have led to the change of government as the result of elections to date. Since 1947, general elections have been held 22 times, but there are only two cases where a change of government has taken place:
1) As a result of the 1947 elections, the new Socialist-led Tetsu Katayama administration was formed of a multiparty coalition of the Socialist, Democratic and National Cooperative Parties with the Japan Socialist Party amassing 143 seats to become the single largest party and took over the reins of government from the first Shigeru Yoshida administration, a coalition of the Liberal and Progressive Parties.
2) In 1993, the Liberal Democratic Party was divided and a three-party coalition of the Shinsei (Newly Born) Party, Japan New Party and New Party "Sakigake" government led by Hosokawa Morihiro was established.
Even though the number of opposition seats have widely fluctuated, no change of government has occurred since then. The Liberal Democrats have always been in power, except for the cases mentioned above. The political power struggles have been limited to a tug-of-war or factional strife among various cliques within the party. But this time, it is widely believed that the leading opposition party has a good chance to seize power, which would be an entirely new situation in Japanese politics.

However, in order to achieve a transfer of power all at once, the Democratic Party needs a landslide victory. It is more likely that they will fail to obtain such needed strength and the political situation will become murky and unstable. No matter what situation arises, it will contribute to a recovery of the people's faith in politics as it means the start of a National Diet that reflects popular sentiments based on the great change that has been taking place in recent years in Japanese politics.

Since 1994 when the single-seat constituency and proportional representation system were introduced in Lower House elections, slow but steady progress has been made toward the establishment of a two-major-party framework. The concentration of population into big cities and the widening of disparities among local areas have also been occurring, while the firm conservative electoral bases have gradually eroding away.

More than anything else, the overwhelming military and economic power of the United States, which has provided stability for Japan’s diplomatic and security policy through the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, is losing significance because of stagnation from the war in Iraq and the global recession (triggered by the American financial crisis). Thus, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan, with the second largest economy in the world – now out of breath due to the extended business slump, has been losing in recent local elections. The LDP just relinquished its leadership position to the Democratic Party in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in the July election.

The Diet members who now stand for election after the dissolution of the House of Representatives are those who won their seats in the election held in August of 2005, under the then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who forcefully advocated the privatization of the postal services. Koizumi dissolved the Lower House in response to the decision made in the Upper House against the privatization of the state-run postal services. It was a spectacular move by Koizumi. He refused to give the party authorization to LDP candidates who had opposed his postal reform and even tried to block their re-election by backing rival candidates, nick-named "assassins." The "theater-style" electoral battle, in which the Prime Minister shouted out: "This is a real reform that may demolish the LDP," enfevered the voters and brought about an all-time landslide victory for the LDP, winning more than two-thirds of the seats. However, the LDP is still suffering from the after-effects of that election.

Koizumi resigned as Prime Minister in September of 2006, at the expiration of his term as the LDP presidency. In a substantial transfer of power, the Shinzo Abe administration was inaugurated. The young, new Prime Minister inherited Koizumi's "House of Representatives two-thirds majority" legacy and intended to realize amendments to the Constitution as well as strengthen Japan's military. But he suffered a fatal defeat in the House of Councilors election in July of 2007 and resigned after only one year in office.

The LDP tried to cope with the worsening situation by handing over the reins of government to Yasuo Fukuda (in September of 2007) and then to Taro Aso (in September of 2008), but they were criticized severely both at home and abroad as a "weak regime changing its leader every year." Prime Minister Aso came in with the resolve to "reconstruct the regime by dissolving parliament and winning elections." But he was unable to do so for various reasons, and he finally dissolved the Lower House just two weeks before the expiration of the term of the members. He had no other way, but he succeeded in forestalling the intra-party move to force him to bring forward an LDP presidential election.

In the past, the Prime Minister's prerogative to dissolve parliament has been regarded as a trump card to suddenly break a deadlocked political situation. Certainly it must have been true in the days when the Japanese people were making efforts to practice democracy introduced to Japan under the American occupation when alliances between and rupture of political parties were in full play. As we gain more experience in democratic politics, it is now hoped that major parties will bring about a change of administration by competing with each other on policy matters. It is, therefore, earnestly expected that the ruling party make every effort to fulfill their campaign promises during the four-year term of the members of the House of Representatives as provided for by the Constitution. On the other hand, the opposition is expected to use their resources to appeal to the public by proposing countermeasures to government policies through normal discussions at the Diet.

It was nothing but nonsense for Prime Minister Aso, therefore, to proudly reiterate throughout the summer that, "I am the one who will decide the time to dissolve the Diet." Likewise, the Democratic Party that won the landslide victory in the House of Councilors election in July of 2007 appeared quite unpleasant as they tried to boycott Diet deliberations and demanded an early dissolution of the House, claiming that "the will of the people is now with us."

In the early stages of the campaign for the coming August election, the Democratic Party (DP) seems to have assumed the offensive by publishing a manifesto, a list of high priority policies and claiming "the need for drastic reforms as well as an exclusion of government bureaucratic rule." On the other hand, the governing LDP is counter-attacking vehemently by saying, "DP policies are just irresponsible hand-outs without financial backup." The current political atmosphere is full of feverish excitement. The opposition's new policies sound attractive, but will they really be able to carry them out? Which side will attract more votes, the government parties' past achievements and stability, or the opposition parties' willingness and possibilities? In the process of narrowing the issues, if the opposition's policies are not completely satisfactory, whether or not the voters agree to give them a chance and test their abilities to handle the difficult issues, recognizing that it is the only way to advance Japan's politics—this actually is the key to the outcome of the coming election that may bring about a change in the administration.

The writer is a former Chief Editorial Writer of Kyodo News Service.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

福原 亨一 / ジャーナリスト

2009年 8月 20日
8月30日投票の衆院議員総選挙は「政権選択の選挙」と呼ばれている。議院内閣制をとる我が国では自明の理である「衆院選=政権選択」が、今回ことさらに強調されるのは、これまで総選挙の結果が政権交代につながった例は少ないからだ。1947年以降、22回の総選挙のうち、①1947年、社会党が143議席で第一党となり、社会、民主、国民協同3党連立の片山哲内閣が自由、進歩両党連立の第1次吉田茂内閣に取って代わった ②1993年、自民党が分裂し、新生党、日本新党、新党さきがけ3党連立の細川護煕内閣が成立した----二例だけだ。野党の議席は比較的大きく変動、消長しても政権交代には至らず、政権党内部の主導権争い、派閥闘争の域にとどまるのが普通だった。今回、野党第一党が政権を奪う可能性あり、と広く認められていることは日本政治の新局面を示している。









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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Election to Choose Which Party We Want to Put in Power