Japan from the inside out

More on Sentaku and the Miyazaki governor

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 30, 2008

THE NON-PARTISAN POLITICAL GROUP Sentaku is working to reform politics at the national and local levels by encouraging the devolution of authority and greater citizen participation. The group deliberately chose the word sentaku for their name because it is a homonym—one of the pairs means “(to) choose” and the other means “(to) clean”. (See this previous post for a detailed description of the group.)

Kitagawa M. (L) and Higashikokubaru H. (R)

Kitagawa M. (L) and Higashikokubaru H. (R)

Sentaku was back in the news this weekend as their Council for the Creation of Local Government, chaired by Kyoto Governor Yamada Keiji, held what was billed as an “emergency meeting” at a Tokyo hotel on the 28th. The council agreed on a resolution known as the Eight Sentaku Principles, which encapsulate the group’s policies for national and local governments. Their immediate objective is to make the next lower house election one that presents “a true choice for government”.

Their demands include the adoption of a provision in the Constitution to give local governments authority equivalent to the national government as a way to remove political power from the bureaucrats and return it to the people. They also call for a transfer of tax revenue sources to local governments and the elimination of wasteful spending.

The principles also address problems at the local level, challenging local governments to police themselves by prohibiting intercession when awarding public works contracts. There is also a provision seeking to eliminate the multiple election of governmental executive officers, which seems to be a call for term limits for governors and the heads of municipalities.

The draft of the Eight Principles was signed by 323 local politicians, including executive officers and assembly members. Twelve of them are prefectural governors, a total that accounts for roughly one-quarter of the number in Japan. At a press conference held after the conference, Sentaku head Kitagawa Masayasu told reporters that the Eight Principles would be distributed with an explanation to all political parties, and that the group would work for their adoption by the parties.

The Eight Sentaku Principles take their name from the Senchu Hassaku (The Eight Shipboard Principles), a political policy statement of reformer Sakamoto Ryoma, written while on board a ship en route to Nagasaki in 1867.

It’s hard to see how could anyone object to these ideas. But while Sentaku has the angels on its side, we should remember that the devil has plenty of disciples to do his work in Nagata-cho.

Sentaku charter member and Miyazaki favorite son

Meanwhile, one of Sentaku’s most recognizable members, comedian-turned-pol Higashikokubaru Hideo, the governor of Miyazaki, held a press conference of his own back home in Miyazaki City the next day. Local reporters are intensely interested in whether the governor, who has huge approval ratings in the prefecture, will run for a seat in the Diet in the upcoming election. It is widely expected that the governor will eventually aim his sights at the lower house to pursue a political career at the national level—he already has the name recognition—but the question is one of timing. He was elected to public office for the first time in January 2007 following a bid-rigging scandal involving his predecessor, so opponents can reasonably charge that he has used the governor’s office as a brief stepping stone.

The governor was asked yet again at the meeting whether he would be a candidate. He replied:

“I am not actively involved with running, but if it is the wish and the request of the prefectural citizens, as I am of the “prefectural citizens’ party”, my actions as a politician must conform to the will of the people.”

In other words: “I’m thinking about it.” (Mr. Higashikokubaru has to this point refused to declare a political affiliation. He insists that the “party” for a prefectural governor should be the people of the prefecture, hence his reference to a “prefectural citizens’ party”.)

Reporters being reporters, they couldn’t let it go at that, so they circled in from a different direction and asked, “Does that mean it’s not the case that you won’t run at all?” The governor did some circling himself, replying:

“The possibility is not zero…Politics is a living thing, as are government and the lives of the people. It is my responsibility to promptly respond.”

So from that, we should not conclude that the governor will not choose to run for a Diet seat instead of staying in the Statehouse.

And now you know what the Japanese mean when they say that their language is vague (though what they’re really saying is that their usage of it can be vague when it suits their purposes).

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