Sunday, September 11, 2005

No matter who you vote for...

...the government always gets in. Nowhere is this truer than Japan, where we have a general election today. Koizumi's Liberal Democatic Party has been in power non-stop for the past 50 years, save for a brief aberration in the early 90s, and his victory, if not its precise magnitude, is a forgone conclusion. He'll either gain an outright victory, or lead a coalition.

Of course, one-party rule is usually associated with communism, dictatorships, and the "Axis of Evil" rather than economically-advanced "western-style" liberal democracies. If Japan was not such a strong ally of the USA, we can be sure that the LDP's long-term monopoly of power would be a subject of serious criticism (cf Saudi Arabia etc). But Japan has a way of turning western preconceptions upside down. While it could certainly be argued that I, as a well-off white professional, do not see the soft underbelly of the Japanese system, it is also clear that society here just works in a way that the West sometimes doesn't. Sure, there is corruption, waste, crime, etc etc. But the trains run on time, the health care system is pretty good, and people don't riot at the drop of a hat. Walking through the small village of homeless outside Shinjuku station is a completely non-threatening experience - they sit outside playing shogi by day, and take their shoes off and leave them lined up outside their cardboard boxes at night.

The price one pays for this social cohesion is "freedom" and "individuality". Coming from a western perspective, it often seems like a strange life, but not a bad one.

PS have a listen/read here :-)

Update 12 Sept
Well, the government did win. Easily. According to the BBC, "Japan's general election on 11 September is likely to be the most exciting one for decades". I can only wonder what a boring one is like...

2 comments:

Steve Bloom said...

Boring?! What about when the winner paints in the eyes on that little statue-thingy? It doesn't get any better than that...

Kooiti Masuda said...

I was not surprised at that LDP won, but I was astonished at how large
a fraction of the people endorsed LDP this time. Probably it happened half because they thought "It's LDP -- It's reliable." Long dominance of LDP had a self-enforcing effect. Ironically speaking, would-be politicians who want to make real acts would go to LDP, and only those who like to behave as opponents would go to the opposing parties. Thus people tend to think that the only party that have real capability of government is LDP. On the other hand, probably the current event happened half because they thought "Now it's not the LDP that we have known." Now the majority of the Japanese people do not like the dominance of "friends of construction companies" that was the typical LDP style since '50s. I think that to hope for the two characteristics together is illusory. Nevertheless it is difficult to find an alternative solution.

It is true that many Asian contries have achived economic development under dictatorship. It also applies to Japan before the Second World War, but I do not think that it applies to Japan after the U.S. occupation after the war.

None of the leaders of LDP before Koizumi was a dictator. Since 1955, LDP has always had several competing faction leaders. LDP politicians are similar in that they are not socialists, but there is considerable variety among them (e.g. pro-US vs. nationalist). Different opinions toward privatization of public corporations are also usually (except this time) tolerated in LDP. LDP members compete each other at inviting public investments (mainly constructions) to their districts. That kind of activity is liable to corruption, of course, but, as I guess, Japan has had relatively low degree of corruption given the situation. The competition within LDP was supported by the multiple-seat district election system of the national lower house that was effective before 1994. The number of representatives' seats per district was between 3 and 5, election system of the national lower house that was effective before 1994. The number of representatives' seats per district was between 3 and 5, and LDP could usually win 2 or 3 of them.

The situation began changing in mid-1980s. More construction, especially in the rural regions, now does not always seem a good thing, partly considering the deficit of the national budget, and partly considering environmental issues. Also, visible cases of corruption invoked the discussion on reform of the election system. Since mid-1970s, LDP as a party endorsed the single-seat district system (It was better for LDP if it were a single uniform entity), but many of its members effectively opposed it (They did not want to help members of different factions, and they preferred the competitive situation). That issue caused political instability which pushed LDP out of office for a while, and then the reform was finally established. (To ameliorate the job security issue of the representatives, the proportional reprentation system was partially introduced.)

Consequently the character of LDP has also changed, albeit slowly. When Koizumi became the president of LDP and the prime minister in 2001,
the event still seemed to be driven by the balance-of-power between factions. But after that, he ignored faction politics and said that all LDP members should follow his policy once they elected him as its president. Old leaders resisted, but many of them have retired one by one. (Often their successors are their sons or daughters --Thus Japan may be becoming a little more aristocratic again, and this is another problem--, but the younger generation tend to follow Koizumi rather than their parents.) S. Kamei, who left LDP dissidently this time, seems to be the most powerful remaining "friend of construction companies", but not so strong as past ones. Koizumi behaves as a dictator --probably the first one-- within LDP. Now that the majority endorse LDP to rule the country, he can become the dictator of Japan. I fear that Koizumi may become one of the worst disasters to hit Japan!

(Prof. I. Yasui of UN University --a leader of environmental engineering-- writes in his personal WWW page (in Japanese, at http://www.yasuienv.net/) some comments somewhat similar to mine but more optimistic about the sense of balance of the general public.)