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  • Reuters THE GREAT DEBATE column on how this election in Japan just might change everything

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on August 26th, 2009

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    Hi Blog. I was asked by Reuters to write a little something at the end of last month. This popped out in a little more than 45 minutes. Felt good, hope it reads well and rings true. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    ===============================
    THE GREAT DEBATE: REUTERS
    06:58 August 25th, 2009

    Japan: The election that might change everything
    By: Arudou Debito

    http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate-uk/2009/08/25/japan-the-election-that-might-change-everything/
    - Arudou Debito, is a columnist for the Japan Times, activist, blogger at debito.org, and Chair of the NPO Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association. The opinions expressed are his own -

    Japan’s famous mantra is that things don’t change much or very quickly. But I have a feeling that this approaching Lower House parliamentary election on August 30 just might prove that wrong.

    But first some background. Japan has been ruled essentially by one party since the end of World War II — the Liberal Democrats (LDP). That’s longer than in any other liberal democracy, competing with other countries that have no other parties to choose from.

    There are many theories as to why that happened. Some might insist that risk-averse Japanese weren’t ready to tamper with the status quo, when economic growth was running so smoothly between 1950 and 1990, and everyone was feeling prosperous.

    But that theory breaks down when you realize that Japan is the only developed economy which actually SHRANK on average over the past twenty years. If prosperity breeds contentment, two decades is enough time to voters make the elected feel their winter of discontent.

    I believe there just hasn’t been a viable opposition party until now. The previous #2 party for most of the postwar era, the Socialists, were essentially a one-issue group, holding just enough seats to block any revisions to Japan’s “Peace Constitution”. They succeeded. Our peacetime constitution has never been amended.

    But the Socialists imploded in 1995 when their leader made a Faustian bargain to take power briefly from the LDP. Ineptitude and three decades of opposition politics soon tripped them up, and the LDP was back in power within a year.

    Arising from the ashes, eventually, was the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which eventually convinced enough voters that it wasn’t going to similarly implode. It’s only taken 15 years and a lot of horse trading (and some years holding the basically powerless Upper House) before it proved itself a viable second party.

    It really proved itself earlier this July, when it ambushed the LDP in the Tokyo Government elections. For the first time in 40 years, Japan’s largest city has the opposition in control. This is riding the wave of a shambolic LDP, with three disastrous (and unelected) prime ministers after the famously-charismatic Koizumi. The current PM, Aso, is essentially an oblivious political Brahmin, who has made it clear that his only claim to power is his personal sense of entitlement. Tellingly, he has refused to give up the LDP leadership even after the July ambush, and is driving his party into the ground.

    It is now clear how deep the rot runs. A near-majority of people in the LDP hold “inherited seats”, meaning they are sons, daughters, or blood relatives of former Dietmembers — some for several unbroken generations. This degree of cosy entitlement has only encouraged more elitism, rot, and preservation of a status quo that is long run out of excuses for Japan’s relative lack of prosperity. The LDP are the party resisting change, and the only weapon they have left in their arsenal is that you can’t trust the opposition party because it’s never held the reins. But that fear by circular logic isn’t selling this time.

    I think, as do most people, that we will have a change of government, with the DPJ taking power in September. Will it change anything, however?

    It just might. The DPJ Manifesto (They were the party that started this earlier this decade. How revolutionary! Making your policies clear to the voter!) is already out and it’s saying some pretty ambitious things. Paying families sizable amounts to support their children. Making schools up to junior high free. Making our toll highways free. Breaking the stranglehold the bureaucrats have over our policymaking levers. And quite a bit more that is ambitious if not a bit vague. (But that’s quite normal.) According to my backdoor channels, there’s even the promise of the DPJ facing up to the task of dealing with Japan’s decreasing population by broaching that taboo topic (until after the election) — loosening up the borders to let more immigration happen! That would mean EVERYTHING changes!

    Many of these may turn out to be merely political promises, of course. But they’re still better than anything the LDP has come up with, and the DPJ is setting the agenda for this election. Being in control of the debate is a good thing. And it has had the intended effect. Although a month is a long time in politics, I think at this time the attitude is, “Well, why not give the DPJ a try? Can they really do all that worse than the LDP are doing now?”

    I am an American-born naturalized citizen of Japan. Have been for nearly a decade now. I’ve voted in several elections. This is the one I’m most looking forward to.
    ENDS

    11 Responses to “Reuters THE GREAT DEBATE column on how this election in Japan just might change everything”

    1. Hoofin Says:

      Great piece, Debito. One of the best I’ve read about what it will really all mean.

      There is stuff out there, example: http://www2.marketwatch.com/story/the-coming-sea-change-in-japanese-politics-2009-08-24 from Marketwatch dot com, where it isn’t clear that the analyst ever set foot in Tokyo.

      I am happy to see that some of the big media outlets are supplementing their regular reporting with accounts or opinions of people who are actually in the country.

      – Yes, quite. I note the author at marketwatch even calls the DPJ the DJP…

    2. Steve Says:

      Great summary. I agree. :-)

    3. Jeff Korpa Says:

      Debito:

      Caught this gem on the BBC’s site:

      Will Japan re-elect its hereditary politicians?
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8218903.stm

      -JK

    4. chuckers Says:

      >Japan is the only developed economy which actually SHRANK on average over the past twenty years.

      Can I have the source for this, please?

      http://www.debito.org/?p=937

    5. Kimberly Says:

      Excellent. I don’t have the right to vote yet, but my 29 year old husband who has never voted in his life has promised to cast his first vote for Hatoyama, and I don’t think he’ll exactly be the only first-time voter speaking up this Sunday.

      Love your assessment of Aso by the way…. the leaflet his cronies left in our mailbox made me cringe.

      – Thanks. What was cringeworthy?

    6. George Says:

      Do they have fact-checkers at Reuters?

      “That’s longer than in any other liberal democracy, competing with other countries that have no other parties to choose from.”

      Please name me a “liberal democracy” with only one party.

      “But the Socialists imploded in 1995 when their leader made a Faustian bargain to take power briefly from the LDP.”

      No. The Socialists did implode after a Faustian bargain but it was one in which they agreed to RETURN the LDP to power. That agreement was in 1994, not 1995. The agreement (in 1993) to go in with an anti-coalition government almost certainly delighted supporters of the party.

      “It’s only taken 15 years and a lot of horse trading (and some years holding the basically powerless Upper House) before it proved itself a viable second party.”

      No. The DPJ, the current DPJ, has only existed since 1998. It has therefore taken 11 years for it to prove it is viable.

      “Japan is the only developed economy which actually SHRANK on average over the past twenty years.”

      Well yes, but the economy grew between 2001 and 2006, so while this is not technically incorrect, it does not quite fit with your argument that voters should have abandoned the LDP during this time. Average figures are quite deceptive. For the last two decades I was ten years younger than I am now, on average.

      “his is riding the wave of a shambolic LDP, with three disastrous (and unelected) prime ministers after the famously-charismatic Koizumi. ”

      No prime minister in Japan’s history has ever been elected by popular vote. They generally aren’t in parliamentary systems.

      – Pedantry corner. And if you can understand grammar, I didn’t say any liberal democracy has only one party.

    7. AWK Says:

      [quote]…According to my backdoor channels, there’s even the promise of the DPJ facing up to the task of dealing with Japan’s decreasing population by broaching that taboo topic (until after the election) — loosening up the borders to let more immigration happen! That would mean EVERYTHING changes!..[/quote]

      I will repeat again. DPJ can change and STOP fingerprinting and photographing ALL legal residents and treat them like criminals. STOP separating families at the entry to Japan. This would be big first step.

    8. AWK Says:

      By the way, one of their change will be tax more those without kids (some people cannot have it, so…) and less for those who have them. It means take from childless and already very stressed couples and give to happy one, right?
      Next, put every gaijin to dying system like NHI and Kokumin Nenkin, which no one is going to get anyway, first of all when you leave country even as PR before 25 years last. NHI many Japanese don`t pay but you cannot take away passports from them, so someone must pay.

    9. Graham Says:

      I’m sensing the same atmosphere that America had back in the Obama election: the slogan “Change” repeated ad nauseam, without a lot of good explanation as to what that change exactly is. Some of the things on their agenda (official or non-official, such as the Asian version of the euro-style common currency Hatoyama just promoted in NYT) put a big question mark above my head as to whether they are beneficial for Japan as a whole or not. Granted LDP is not exactly a godsend party either, but I’m not sure if DPJ deserves the attention it receives as a messiah of some sort.

      Personally, I can’t trust the DPJ not because they don’t have experience as the leading party but because it seems like lip-servicing to outside influences (specifically China and South Korea) seems to be way at the top in their agenda, which they have kept their mouth shut about for fear of opposition and loss of support now that the election day is near.

    10. Jcek Says:

      @ Graham

      “I’m sensing the same atmosphere that America had back in the Obama election: the slogan “Change” repeated ad nauseam, without a lot of good explanation as to what that change exactly is.”

      Unfortunately Japan is still a long ways off for real change to happen, and have their Obama moment. The atmosphere here is mostly of boredom of conservatives running their country for their own benefit. Much like America was during the last election, and just like the Bush administration, they have plenty of hereditary candidates.

      – Before this gets into a slugging match between American liberal vs conservative viewpoints, let me just remind people that this is a blog about issues germane to Debito.org, and if posts lose sight of the Japan-focus aspect I won’t let them through. Sorry. Your friendly moderator.

    11. George Says:

      Wasn’t Nonaka Hiromu supposed to be Japan’s Obama?

      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/16/world/asia/16outcasts.html?n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/People/A/Aso,%20Taro

      In any case, the DPJ does have what Obama didn’t: A manifesto. They may not implement all their policies, but at least you can hold them to account for it.

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