From the LDP to the DPJ
- hope for substantial policy discussions?

Victory of the DJP at the recent general election

The recent general election, which took place on 30 August, has caused the largest change in the post WWII Japanese politics. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost nearly two thirds of its seats won at the previous general election in 2005 and with that lost its position as the largest party in the House of Representatives and the ruling political power since its establishment in 1956. On the other hand, the Democratic Party (DPJ) won the amazing 308 seats among the total 480 seats and will soon take over the government.
The drastic change was caused partly by the present election system in Japan, according to which the House of Representatives consists of 300 representatives from single-seat constituencies and 180 proportionally elected representatives. Therefore, politicians who are badly affected by this system condemn it and express their wish to restore the old medium-sized constituency system, so as not to create too many votes for losing candidates - in fact so that they could be reelected even though they could not attract the largest number of voters in an electorate. However, the present election system was introduced to create a rivalry between two major parties and the recent result simply proved that the original intention was duly realized.

Dissatisfaction of the people with the dysfunction of the LDP

The major, and therefore much more important, reason for the change was, I think, the dissatisfaction of the people with the LDP. After the end of the bubble economy around 1990, Japan was suffering for more than a decade from chronic recession. Prime Minister Koizumi and his team implemented the American style liberal economic policy and could recover the economy by the end of his five years' administration (April 2001 - September 2006). However, the Koizumi reform policy enabled the recovery of enterprises, while the gap between haves and not-haves were drastically widening during the period. One very notable result of the reform policy is that non-regular workers increased and represented in 2008 about 35% of the total worke-force and about 70% among teenager-workers. When the world-wide recession extended to Japan in autumn 2008, they were the first who were dismissed by companies, lost jobs and not in few cases lost lodgings as well.

Already before the subprime loan crisis reached Japan, the LDP was thrown into confusion, because no leader could hold his position on a stable basis and we saw four different party leaders and prime ministers within three years.
Changes of the party leader were caused by the opportunistic sentiments among MPs of the LDP that they wanted to ensure their reelection through popular policies and party leaders. The dissatisfaction of the people culminated when a series of scandals in particular the mismanagement of the pension system and the incompetence of the LDP in solving the problems were exposed to the public.
I think that the pension system based on individual contribution cannot be sustained, because increasing number of young people refrain from paying their contribution. However, their life after aging will have to be supported anyhow by the government, like any other handicapped or impoverished people. Then, the only possible way is to finance the pension 100% by tax money, while raising the ratio of presently 5% consumption tax, as Keidanren proposed some time ago. If we abolish public insurance system, we can also abolish the incompetent Social Insurance Agency with its some 17,000 employees.
In the midst of domestic political turbulence, the recession reached Japan and the measures taken by the Government could not satisfy the people and a series of scandals caused partly by personal failures of the LDP politicians gave the final blow to the peoples' trust to the LDP.

Anxiety about the DPJ

The mistrust to the LDP, however, does not necessarily mean that they were convinced by the DPJ. There was no other alternative. I think that people were anxious about the governance of the DPJ, but this anxiety was a lesser evil compared to the anger against the dysfunction of the LDP.

The DPJ announced equally or even more drastically opportunistic policy programs. Their so-called manifesto includes a series of overgenerous policy measures such as abolishment of highway charges and provisional higher tax rates among others for vehicles as well as introduction of income indemnity to all farmers without increasing consumer tax rate. The DPJ appeared to try to attract voters by promising financial merits to everybody without mentioning increased tax burden.
The DPJ insists that it can rationalize the existing expenditures to create necessary resources, but many Japanese people are not convinced. The Japanese governmental budget is heavily indebted and the indebtedness increased by the recent shotgun budgets of the LDP government. Many policy ideas in the DPJ manifesto would by no means lesson the budgetary problem, but presumably further worsen the situation. Other programs of the DPJ, for example its public commitment of 25% reduction of CO2 over 1990, will be also subject to discussion, as we know only political targets and no details. I would like to know, how the DPJ came to conclude that such an utopistic target could be established.

All in all we can say we took a revolutionary step, but that was only a procedural step and the first of many steps. We now have to tackle the substantial issues, which have been left aside for years and decades, though we do not know how much the DPJ is capable of solving real problems.

Hope for substantial policy discussions

In this respect, I recently got to know that the DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada abolished "kisha club" system as for the press conferences of the DPJ.
Kisha club" is an especially Japanese system. For all more or less important sources of news, such as ministries, political parties, business federations and local governments, there is an exclusive club of journalists. They maintain their office in the organization concerned at the latter's expense, conduct press conference and exclude all non-members from accessing the news source. It is incredible that such an anti-press-freedom system was established and has been strongly supported by the major Japanese media companies among others nation-wide news papers and radio and TV stations.
The intimate relationship between journalists and news sources was developed through "kisha club" system and because the LDP was in power for over 40 years the journalists who were in charge of the LDP and its influential politicians exploited their close relationship to the power center to establish their status within their own companies and dominate their management.
Some of them were involved even in public policy making, though their task was to report political affairs and should keep distance with the politicians and politics themselves. Some experts say that this structure resulted in the attachment by the Japanese media to the human relations of politicians and their power struggle on the one hand and the incompetence in policy analysis and proposals on the other.

In another article of this site I complained about the lack of policy debates in the TV "wide shows". Having read the article on "kisha club", I came to believe that this problem was also caused by the lack of political debate in the Japanese media world, which was, if the theory I quoted above were right, caused by kisha club system. If this observation is right, the new DPJ government will most probably abolish kisha club system from all ministries and other governmental organizations, which will be followed by the overall abolition of kisha clubs in Japan. That will constitute the starting point of substantial policy discussions in the Japanese democratic decision making process.

The change of governments can realize many things, though we cannot concretely visualize what can happen under the DPJ government. However, the die has already been thrown and I will follow the development with great interest and anticipation.