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

The Significance of the Democratic Party's Landslide Victory and Issues that Lie Ahead
YAMADA Takao  / Journalist

October 20, 2009
The public opinion that gave the Democratic Party its landslide victory in the 2009 elections and the public opinion that gave the Liberal Democratic Party its landslide victory in the 2005 elections are, to my eyes, one and the same. Japan had pursued a national policy of becoming a "lightly armed economic power" since the end of World War II, and that policy is now on the rocks. The Japanese people have been seeking a political leader and party with the vision and power to bring about change. In 2005 they chose Koizumi Jun'ichiro, and this time they chose the Democratic Party.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is a pro-U.S. conservative party that was born in 1955 as the Cold War settled in. It became an opposition party for a brief period in 1993, when the Cold War ended and Japan's significance as a base against socialism waned. However, the LDP returned to power in 1994 since North Korea and China were still a threat in the Far East and economic growth was still the national policy.

The LDP had its foundations in the powerful alliance among parliamentary representatives, bureaucrats and industry associations. The party and the bureaucracy guaranteed economic growth and allocation of its spoils, and in return the industry associations provided support for the LDP. This "golden cycle" was established as a system during the period of high economic growth in the 1960's and became deeply embedded in Japanese society.

Then in 1973 the Oil Shock caused a slowdown in economic growth. Japan plunged further into stagnation with the bursting of the bubble economy in the early 1990's. The LDP continued to pursue economic growth by issuing more government bonds and expanding public works projects. As a result, Japan kept on building useless dams, airports, ports and roads, escalating the destruction of its environment and bringing fiscal ruin to the national and local government.

It was Koizumi who sought to end this vicious cycle. He tightened the reins of monetary policy and pushed to reform the bureaucracy, which was helpless against the inertia left by the period of high economic growth. This resulted in a breakdown of the alliance among government, bureaucracy and industry. Municipal mergers that were promoted on a national scale to recover sound financing to local governments also made an impact. It caused a dramatic decline in the number of LDP representatives who had spread their roots in each town and village, which in turn led to a rapid weakening of the LDP power base.

As discontent with fiscal austerity erupted and Koizumi's successors lost direction and became lost in the confusion, the Democratic Party focused on administrative reform and honed its policies, just as Koizumi had done. Ten years since its founding and constituted for the most part by young parliamentarians, the Democratic Party is a party that "lacks caliber" in the words of their own former leader, Ozawa Ichiro.

The Japanese remain persistently suspicious of North Korea and China. And as the global economy continued to be rattled, many people had placed their trust in the LDP and its track record. However, their trust turned to contempt for reasons including the repeated change of Prime Ministers, the frequent misreading of Chinese characters by Prime Minister Aso Taro and a press conference at the G7 meeting in Rome given by an inebriated Finance Minister Nakagawa Shoichi.

The conviction that the LDP could no longer offer any reliable leaders spread among the public and led voters to support the Democratic Party. And thus seizing power, the Democratic Party is currently at work on environmental protection and administrative reform.

However, the Democratic Party itself has yet to clarify the balance between economic growth and environmental protection. Neither has it resolved the contradiction of depending on the U.S. military while acting as mediator for peace. Whether the party can find a solution to these issues and present a national policy for the post-postwar period remains to be seen.

The writer is Senior Editorial Writer of Mainichi Newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

山田孝男 /  ジャーナリスト

2009年 10月 20日
山田孝男 ジャーナリスト










(筆者は毎日新聞 専門編集委員。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

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