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.

The Boot on the Other Foot

This has just about made my week:

Japan’s finance minister yesterday highlighted growing desperation in the ruling Liberal Democratic party by claiming a looming landslide victory for the opposition Democratic party of Japan in Sunday’s general election could lead to “one-party dictatorship”.

Japan faces one-party rule, says frantic LDP – FT.com

Which you have to admit takes some balls, given that the person saying it belongs to a party that has ruled in Japan for almost all of that last fifty years.

It’s looking increasingly likely that 民主党(DPJ) will win 300 seats (out of 480), and maybe even get close to a super-majority. While it’s easy to fret that they’ll waste their opportunity, i’d like to be allowed to savour the idea of 自民党 (LDP) getting a good whipping.

Giddy as a schoolboy, i’ve even persuaded my wife to vote. We read through the electoral papers yesterday. The DPJ candidate lists all the things that you’d expect: age, education, work experience / qualifications. Where as the LDP candiate lists: height, weight, body type, hobbies, and his love of meat. It reads more like a profile at a dating agency than an attempt to get elected.

Election Fever

I can see myself getting all caught up in this whole election business. There is a lot of stuff out there to read, a fair amount of cynicism, but also a lot of optimism that the DPJ is actually going to shake things up a little.

My favourite find so far is a set of quotes attributed to Katsuya Okada, which actually sound like the sort of things that you’d want to hear a Japanese politician say. A few examples, on corporate tax cuts:

“In the previous election, Keidanren (Japan’s biggest business lobby) stood at the forefront and supported the LDP, and they made a very harsh assessment of our policy. That is because of differing perspectives, and I do not think that can be helped.

“We do not particularly want Keidanren to support us. We will firmly stress our policies to the voters.”

On relations with the U.S.:

Unless Japan has its own nuclear strategy, nuclear disarmament, and nuclear non-proliferation policies and it strikes a balance with the United States, and if Japan thinks there is no mistake if it just follows what the United States says, then I think as a sovereign nation that is very pathetic.”

Similarly, on the over reliance on exports to the U.S.:

“Growth that relies on exports to the United States, in particular, clearly has its limits as the U.S. overconsumption is being corrected.”

On equal opportunities:

“In the current Japan company system, highly competent women don’t find many opportunities, so they go outside of Japan, or go to foreign firms … What we need to do is to open the doors and let in new winds.”

Yes, yes, he’s a politician, when his lips are moving he’s probably lying (or offering to blow me at some point down the road if i’ll just him my vote.. <cough>), but when was the last time you heard an LDP politician express himself in such honeyed tones?! With the LDP it’s always been about how the people must sacrifice themselves for the corporations, for the economy, for the good of the nation. But Okada sounds all grown up and progressive… crazy talk. I’m excited for them to get elected and even do ten percent of this stuff!

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 – FT.com

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…