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

Time for Seeking a New Stability
MIKURIYA Takashi  / Professor, University of Tokyo

November 6, 2009
The latest election ended in a purge of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In sum, disgust at the opportunistic nature of the LDP - witnessed over the past few years in the annual switch of its leadership and reluctance to dissolve the lower house - had permeated the Japanese mind alongside a desire to eliminate all that was LDP, and culminated in the election results.

Instead of remaining a political phenomenon, the latest LDP defeat may trigger the collapse of every aspect of the Japanese system that overlaps with what the LDP signifies. Let us take the business community, for example. If we are to abolish corporate donations in earnest, the existence of the business community as we know it will lose significance. Each company will be left to take its own stand and ponder its relationship with politics.

Likewise with the bureaucracy. The bureaucratic system that had been building a special relationship with the LDP is now facing a dead end, and is unlikely to remain in its present form under a Democratic Party government.

With each election, the LDP was granted a "general power of attorney" from the people, and contradictory policies were smoothed over through the various maneuverings of politicians once the election was over. Come next election, and the LDP would once again demand the people for that same power. This had been the cycle. And it worked splendidly during the period of continued growth, when the politicians and the bureaucratic system was in synch. However, in times of decline, it is difficult to obtain overall approval from the people. First of all, the pie will not expand, and secondly, there is a growing need to prioritize on how to divide and allocate that pie.

The Democratic Party, which had remained an opposition party for more than a decade since its founding, has plenty of policy ideas and is also adept at criticizing existing policies. Of course, the party's policy menu is nothing but a pie in the sky. But having repeatedly criticized the LDP over many years, the party can now argue effectively on some issues. Namely, these are issues such as the pension problem, the environment and so-called public funding problem.

From the Democratic Party standpoint, its latest proposals on children's benefits, free public high school tuitions and free highways - while criticized by some as dole-out policies – carry inbuilt criticism of the LDP and the bureaucratic system. The LDP only gives out benefits indirectly, to make room for intermediary exploitation or mediation by eager institutions that are home to parachuting retired bureaucrats. In contrast, the Democratic Party is seeking direct payouts, in an expression of its intention to eliminate such exploitation and intermediary institutions.

As symbolized by this point, there is a crucial difference between benefits offered by the Democratic Party and benefits offered by the LDP. This gap will gradually expand in future politics. The direction taken by the Democratic Party, of breaking away from bureaucratic rule, delivers a direct blow to the old system and will no doubt cause considerable friction. However, this will not directly bring about a return of the LDP. Bureaucrats are fundamentally obedient once the government establishes basic stability. Furthermore, should the Democratic Party succeed in forging a new relationship with the bureaucratic system, a different type of tension will arise between the political party and bureaucracy. For all I know, that will vastly expand the options for policy making in this country.

The Democratic Party must quickly instill a sense of stability that it really means business. It must draw up a schedule for the remaining hundred days of the year and seek speedy execution and put the finishing touches to some of its key policies. It could reshuffle the budget or develop a new Japan-U.S. relationship. As long as it produces visible results, the people will continue to endorse a Democratic Party government.

The media will also expect quick results. Failure to produce them or fumbling in some respect or another will invite immediate criticism against the government. But it is only natural for a party that came to power for the first time to take some time before finding its feet. No government can last unless we recognize the handicap. It is easy to destroy, but extremely difficult to create something. Like the hundred-day honeymoon between the new administration and the media seen in the United States, for the time being, we should look on with a kind heart.

The writer is Professor of Japanese political history at the University of Tokyo. This is a summary of an article that first appeared in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper on September 2, 2009, published with the writer's approval.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

御厨 貴 / 東京大学教授

2009年 11月 6日









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟