The End of the DPJ?

It is somewhat sad. A case where the promise of change has evaporated in the face of the white heat of bureaucratic intransigence. On the other hand, it was certainly one of the more likely outcomes. As usual i feel a fool for having been even remotely optimistic. Japanese politics is a cruel game…

Over at the Shisaku blog, there is some hand wringing, and it’s not hard to sympathize. In the end it realistically comes down to this:

“Why not hold an election then? If all the first-termers and lefties fry, so what? We will just take our place at the table as the Noda Faction of the LDP.”

A level of cynicism and disregard for public service that you almost have to admire… still, have to hope that the public at least see some sport in trying to break Abe again. One might reasonable suggest that there are tough times ahead for japanese progressives – it’s going to be a long slog through the wilderness while the rightwing popularism sweeps the nation back to the dawn of the Meiji era.

Edit: as an aside, i have some sympathy with the idea that Japan should attempt to become a more normal state (one of the popularist goals) but very little sympathy with the idea that imperialist throwbacks like Abe, Aso, Ishihara, Hashimoto, et al. are the means to achieve such a normalization.

All they want is a de facto remilitarization (via constitutional change) of Japan. This seems like suicide in a region dominated by a resurgent China. And as the voice of progressives is essentially inaudible over the blaring sirens of these blowhards, more radical options to achieve a regional power balance aren’t even discussed. Improved relations / cooperation with China and the Koreas are unquestionably the only way forward, but that is trumped by the right’s (unachievable) desire to return to empire, and need for the US to maintain a client state as counter-balance to China.

Westminster in Japan

Good article in the Japan Times today. Gives a few details on how 民主党 (the DPJ) is planning on confronting the bureaucracy:

In June, DPJ Deputy President Naoto Kan took a six-day trip to Britain to hold talks with officials from the government and opposition parties about power transitions and the relationship between bureaucrats and politicians.

The trip implies that the DPJ has a strong interest in adopting Britain’s Westminster system, in which power is concentrated in the Cabinet at the expense of the governing party and the bureaucracy.

Which feels a little … disturbing, given how little i think of the English parliament. And not just the picture of John Prescott. Perhaps it’s possible to (begrudgingly) admit that it might be what is needed in Japan, and would actually give some meaning to a system involving the election of a party.

Upon his return, Kan published his thoughts on the topic in the July issue of Chuo Koron magazine, where he outlined his plans on how to concentrate power in the Cabinet by abolishing the customary practices that allowed the bureaucracy to accumulate its vast power over the years.

Would be good to read the full article in 中央公論 (Central Review) but it doesn’t look like it’s online… let alone translated.

More informed comment at Observing Japan.

Battle Lines

Had an interesting conversation with 宇宙人 about how 民主党 (DPJ) could possibly expect to enact radical change in Japan when all the decisions were informed by the bureaucracy:

Cabinet meeting agendas would no longer be set by unelected administrative vice-ministers, while the practice of amakudari, or descent from heaven, where elite bureaucrats are parachuted into jobs at government agencies or private companies, will be banned.

“When all this is done, we will have realised a new politics for all: no longer a politics of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats and for the bureaucrats, but of the people, by the people and for the people,” said Yukio Hatoyama, DPJ president.

Japan’s DPJ pledges radical reform –

Being a couple of gin fueled, slightly paranoid (with good reason, i tells you!) outsiders, we are still questioning whether the Japanese people will have the nuts to vote for such radical upheaval. A manifesto of this kind (along with the promised tax cuts, benefit increases, etc) is shamelessly popularist, and exactly the kind of thing that motivates the young to come out and vote… but will they embrace the chance to kick 自民党 (LDP) while they are down?

Even if only some of the reforms are actually enacted, it will probably cause massive changes in Japanese politics, just because someone will be forced to stand up and defend the systems of open corruption…

Is Change Possible?

In the 朝日新聞 (our “left leaning” daily…) today is this (er, this, it would appear permanent links are a bad idea after all (aside)):

In addition, 52 percent of the respondents said they would prefer a government led by Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), up from 45 percent in the previous survey. It is the first time the ratio has exceeded 50 percent for the main opposition party.

Which makes it sound like 自民党 (LDP … famously “neither Liberal nor Democratic”) is going to have to pull something special out of the bag in the next couple of months. Their previous effort, getting the leader of the opposition 民主党 (DPJ … famously unelectable until recently) to quit over accusations that he had been receiving money from a construction company (believe me, if this was the standard by which Japanese politicians were judged, the Diet would be empty!), does not appear to have gone down well. It was pretty clear to the public (presumably) that it was a politically motivated move, and made to look especially venal when it was revealed that at least four LDP members had taken money from the same company, but weren’t being bothered by the prosecutors… oops.

I’m reading Karel Van Wolferen‘s controversial book, The Enigma of Japanese Power, at the moment. Despite having been written in 1989, many of the names and a lot of the issues are just as relevant now as they were 20 years ago. If there is one country that needs some change, having spent the last twenty years in recession, it’s Japan.

The timing is rather odd… i’ve been meaning to read this book for literally years, and now that i’m finally getting round to it, not only  is the author back in Japan, but many of the issues with political stagnation under the LDP might finally be challenged.

My guess is that if the DPJ does manage to get itself elected this Autumn, the bureaucracy aka System will insure that they fail to enact reform, and will do whatever it can do restore it’s cosy relationship with the LDP. Life in Japan, for many of those that still care enough to vote, is comfortable enough that they are likely to be tempted by the siren call of the devil they know.

One day Japan will have to change… but i’m willing to bet that day isn’t going to, in any meaningful way, come soon.