AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Open primaries

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 28, 2009

DANIEL HANNAN, a member of the European Parliament for Southeast England since 1999, has an idea for improving British Parliament.

The essence of democracy is that the country gets a regular chance to turn the rascals out. But, as things stand, almost every seat is owned by one or other of the main parties. If you live in one of these seats, the only way your MP will lose his job is if his party de-selects him. So, being a rational human being, he will tend to side with his Whips against his constituents.

What does that have to do with this country?

Notwithstanding the many new members of the Diet that were coined in the last two lower house elections, that system would also be a tonic for Japanese politics.

Put it to the test yourself by changing just a couple of words in the last sentence and applying the entire passage here:

So, being a rational human being, he will tend to side with the party bosses against his constituents.

Follow the money to find out why.

What could be more democratic than letting the people decide?

Mr. Hannan explains that the benefits would be more than philosophical:

Open primaries would abolish the concept of a safe seat, restoring the independence of Parliament and ensuring that the legislature was once again an effective check on the executive.

In Japan’s case, it would establish the independence of the Diet and ensure that the legislature was an effective check on the executive for the first time.

An additional benefit would be to end the hypocrisy about hereditary candidates. The people would get whom the people want.

By taking power out of the hands of the party bosses, it would also spark a political realignment almost immediately.

Combine that with a residency requirement preventing people from parachuting into a district from somewhere else in the country, and some of the excellent ideas floating around for reforming the upper house, and you’d be cooking with gas.

4 Responses to “Open primaries”

  1. Bryce said

    Hang on, weren’t you just saying in your more recent post that you didn’t like the legislature meeting too often, and thus providing a check on effective governance? Having been brought up in a Westminster system (the “purest” in the world before 1996) and having witnessed the marvels of the legislative process in the United States in recent weeks, I’m only too comfortable with the notion that what you are really getting when you vote for a local candidate in Britain or elsewhere is an executive that can set national policy without deferring to regional or factional interests. The problem with the informal nature of the Japanese system up until recently was precisely executive weakness vis-a-vis policy councils, factions and regional interests. Bosses there may have been, but they were hardly “party” bosses. And the recent election, where several of those bosses were wiped off the electoral map (along with, say, the 2007 election in Australia where a sitting PM almost lost his seat) tends to militate against the notion of “safe seats.” We have checks and balances in Westminster systems. They are called elections, and they have served that purpose in Japan for the first time. Perhaps we should wait a while to see what happens in this “new era” of Japanese politics before we shake the system up again.

    And in any case, there have been recent initiatives to strengthen the hand of the legislature. The very electoral system (Ozawa’s baby, with a bit of input from minor parties) is one. Obuchi (Ozawa?)’s decision to ban bureaucrats from answering questions on behalf of ministers is another. While I’m not too fond of the leaders’ debate, Japanese version of question time, where governments also get to pose questions to the opposition it is a fairly recent development (Obuchi again, probably with prodding from Ozawa–again), and anyway there are plenty of opportunities to needle ministers in committees that work more like condensed versions of parliament. I am personally quite happy having the executive being “held to account” through robust debate and questioning in the house. Something that almost never occurs in a system that relies on deal-making and false collegiality.

  2. ampontan said

    B: The legislature doesn’t have to meet often to be capable of a no-confidence vote. As long as they’re under the thumb of party bosses (now) or factional bosses (in the old LDP), that’s never going to happen. If they have some leeway in how they vote, it makes that possible. That’s what I was getting at.

    The issue is not what happens between the parties, but what happens within the parties.

    In the American system, national party strategists sometimes (but not always) recruit/encourage certain people to run in certain seats, and provide them with funds, but that doesn’t guarantee victory. Anybody can register and run for a party’s nomination in any district or state, and if they win, the party has to deal with them if it wants to maneuver in the House or Senate, not the other way around.

    One of Obama’s problems is that more centrist Democrats in districts that are toss-ups or traditionally GOP don’t want to commit suicide by voting with him. That’s why he hasn’t been able to do what he wants to do, despite heavy majorities. (Assuming that he’s controlling his party’s agenda, which might not be the case.) His problem is with Democrats, not with Republicans. The party’s leadership is a lot further left than many in the party, and they have to deal with those members rather than dictating terms to them. That doesn’t happen here.

    If someone in the DPJ crosses Ozawa, or the boss consensus, they’re going to get tossed from the party, or at least suspended first to teach them a lesson. (Like with Koizumi). Running without party backing is not easy to do here, especially financially.

  3. Bryce said

    >His problem is with Democrats, not with Republicans.

    And this is a good thing? Regional interests holding up national strategy. A odd way to legislate, if you ask me, but I wasn’t born in a blue dog district. Or any district in the States, for that matter. If the Democratic party leadership is so damned far to the left of the national center, well, why not just stamp their authority on the party and let the voters decide? Presumably a more centrist party should emerge as a credible alternative or the leadership should reform.

    >If someone in the DPJ crosses Ozawa, or the boss consensus, they’re going to get tossed from the party, or at least suspended first to teach them a lesson.

    Indeed they are. And if too many people get tossed too many times, the party comes across as arrogant and either falls to a vote of no confidence when its coalition partners desert it, or falls at the next election. Perceived arrogance is actually how most governments fall in such systems. And it works to remind incoming governments not to act that way.

    >(Like with Koizumi).

    So Kamei should have been able to hold up Koizumi’s plans?

    I think we are going to disagree no matter what. I am simply of the opinion that if life without government is impossible, you might as well have effective government, within the bounds of what may reasonably be considered democratic, of course.

    I’m also of the opinion that parties should exist for a reason. At any election, you do not know what issues will arise within the next parliamentary term. Unless you have some sort of ideological shorthand to identify hypothetical behaviour, you don’t know how your members will react when they encounter new issues. Parties should provide that. And strong party systems tend to develop parties with strong identities, which is why you don’t have to worry about “bosses” so much. If anything, you want “bosses” to make people toe the party line–it is what you voted for, after all. Slacken party authority and you just get mob rule on a slightly more representative scale. And an expensive, inefficient health care system. But I’m in the federal system and I can’t vote, so I’m not sure it should matter to me. Have all the town halls you want.

    Anyway, I’m hoping that both the LDP and (although less so because they have already done so in this regard) the DPJ begin to develop stronger identities, so that people do know what they are voting for. For reasons of choice, I’m also a fan of greater proportional representation even if it deepens the control parties have on their members.
    —————-

    So Kamei should have been able to hold up Koizumi’s plans?

    I wouldn’t have liked that at all, but it’s not a good idea to adapt basic principles to situations, rather than the other way around. In an open primary system in which opposition members have more freedom to vote, that might not have been necessary.

    I don’t follow the logic of it, but some serious Japanese think what Koizumi did was unconstitutional. Whether that’s an emotional reaction on their part or not, I don’t know.

    – A.

  4. bender said

    The problem with the informal nature of the Japanese system up until recently was precisely executive weakness vis-a-vis policy councils, factions and regional interests.

    I gotta agree on this, as it pretty much sums up how the Japanese political situation is (or was), including the nature of “Mistgate” bureaucrats. Also, one needs to also shed light on their Musekin-taisei (structural lack of responsibility)- to climb up the ranks, the less problems you face the better, so they tend to sleep on any real problems they see and hold breath until they get moved to another position, which happens every 2 or 3 years. After decades of this, the system is in shambles- time to revamp!

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