IT’S NOT EASY to tell the political players without a scorecard in Japan, and matters are made more complex because the players wearing the same party uniform may not be on the same philosophical team.
Hara Eiji is a veteran of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry who served as an aide to Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi when the latter was the minister for government reform during the Fukuda administration.
In a recent article for Gendai Business online, Mr. Hara helps clear up the difficulties by providing the best scorecard I’ve seen for the Japanese political leagues today, and added some words in praise of government gridlock. Here it is in English.
During the recent upper house elections, it became impossible to discern any policy differences between the two major parties. The greatest point at dispute was the consumption tax, and Prime Minister Kan declared that he would use the (opposition) Liberal Democratic Party’s policy as a reference. In addition, some candidates within the (ruling) Democratic Party of Japan were opposed to a consumption tax increase.
It has become impossible to choose a party based on policy.
That’s why the LDP claimed during the campaign that the DPJ couldn’t be trusted, and the DPJ played up the fact that Prime Minister Kan was the son of a salaried employee. Rather than policy, the main battles were fought over a sense of trust or personal background.
This occurred because it is no longer possible to distinguish the parties or their ideologies (political philosophies, policy directions, etc.). No sooner do you realize there are people in the DPJ and the LDP who share the same sort of ideas than you also realize there are MPs within the same party who mix like oil and water.
Before there was the problem of gridlock in the Diet, there was the problem of gridlock within the parties.
It would be easier to understand the true distinctions between the primary political forces today by breaking up the different wings of each party and rearranging them into the following four parties.
In something of a caricature of real political realignment, with a bit of hyperbole thrown in, it might look like this.
1. The Party that Listens to Organizations
Supporters: Those hunting for the votes of interest groups.
Party principles: We’ll listen to any of the requests of organizations or groups if they collect a certain number of votes for us.
Examples of pledges:
* We will solicit public works projects in areas that collect votes for us during an election.
* We won’t do anything that people associated with post offices dislike.
* Public sector labor unions are powerful support groups, so we’ll never cut civil servant salaries.
2. The Dreamland Party
Supporters: Those hunting for the floating votes of those with an agenda for “transformational change”
Party principles: When we’re in charge of government, the world will become a dreamland.
Examples of pledges:
* All public fees will be eliminated. We will increase national pension benefits. The money to pay for this will surely emerge.
* We’ll move American military bases overseas. We’ll defend our own country ourselves.
* We’ll fire all the bureaucrats. We’ll drive all the amakudari bureaucrats out of the country.
3. The Japan Bureaucracy Party
Supporters: Those hunting for the floating votes of people looking for stability.
Party principles: Leadership by politicians has resulted only in terrible turmoil, starting with the Futenma base issue. Bureaucrats are the ones who should rule Japan after all.
Examples of pledges:
* Policy will be entrusted to the professional bureaucracy. Therefore, to tell you the truth, it doesn’t make any difference what our campaign pledges are. “The same as the other parties” is fine with us.
4. Serious politicians
These people are different from the others in the three parties above, and support policies in consideration of the national welfare.
Today, members of both the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party are scattered among the membership of these four parties.
Of course I’m laying it on thick.
There are strong elements of The Party that Listens to Organizations and the Japan Bureaucracy Party in the LDP. In other words, they seem to be a blend of the zokugiin, those legislators who lobby for the interests of a particular ministry, and those dependent on the bureaucracy.
In contrast, the DPJ scored a victory in last summer’s lower house election with a Dreamland Party manifesto. After the election, however, they didn’t implement the pledges in the manifesto, and their transformation into a Party that Listens to Organizations accelerated.
Meanwhile, the Kan Cabinet has spurred the rapid ascent within the DPJ of the Japan Bureaucracy Party, which has now become the dominant force. There has been a quick recovery of the forces backing leadership by the bureaucracy, as illustrated by the Cabinet decision to pursue a course of “integration with the bureaucracy” on the day the Kan Cabinet took office.
Viewed from this perspective, the “change of government” (proclaimed by the DPJ) has, in fact, already come to an end.
The coalition government formed by the Party that Listens to Organizations, which was in power for many years, and the Japan Bureaucracy Party handed over control of the government last summer, but it quickly made a comeback even before the upper house elections.
Of course there were no policy disputes in the upper house election.
Of these four parties, the least influential is the Serious Politicians. The reason is simple: It is far more advantageous in elections to take the position of the Party that Listens to Organizations or the Dreamland Party. Therefore, more than a few people drift into one of these parties, even if they have the temperament or the vision of a Serious Politician. As long as they are in the minority, however, politics will not improve regardless of the political realignments that occur.
Is it not possible to achieve a politics in which people with different philosophies conduct policy debates and the Serious Politicians conducting those debates over party lines account for most of the people in political circles?
The gridlock between the two houses would be a way to achieve that. Use the gridlock as a lever to generate serious policy debate among the parties. If policy disputes are revealed to the public through debate, the good and the bad of each party’s policies will become apparent of themselves. This will expose the parties and their members that cannot withstand policy disputes, and enable everyone to see who is a Serious Politician.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito is taking a “live it or live with it” approach to gridlock. He said on the 26th in Tokyo:
This situation will not change for six years. Regardless of who is in government, they must manage government affairs with the premise that gridlock will not change….Different alliances, coalitions, and groupings will emerge through policy debate, as long as they are not considered “unholy alliances”.
Mr. Sengoku has dropped hints of a grand coalition with the LDP, an idea the LDP says it does not intend to entertain. Let’s hope they stick to that decision. Those two parties as presently constituted locked in loveless embrace to govern Japan would be the equivalent of a person with cholesterol-clogged arteries deciding that a diet of sausage, French fries, and bagels and cream cheese would be the royal road to health.