Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 19:19 | SYDNEY
Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 19:19 | SYDNEY

Gauging the 'new Japan'


Malcolm Cook

13 August 2009 09:23

If opinion polls and expert opinion are correct, the upcoming election in Japan should see the evergreen ruling party, the LDP, lose control of the powerful Lower House. It would be the first time the LDP does not control at least one house. In July 2007, the LDP lost heavily in the Upper House elections and the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won 60 of 121 seats. The next Upper House elections are next year.

When thinking about what a DPJ-led government might mean, I will focus on three key policy areas and three key battles. 

Key policy areas:

  1. Administrative reform: Successive LDP governments from at least the Hashimoto Government in 1996 have committed themselves to strengthening the political oversight of Japan’s traditionally powerful central ministries. These efforts have strong popular support and were key to Prime Minister’s Koizumi’s popularity. The DPJ has promised to push these now stalled efforts even more vigourously if elected.
  2. Liberal economic reform: Again in line with public opinion, the DPJ has been particularly critical of the effects of recent 'neo-liberal' reforms in Japan and about the 'neo-liberal' American roots of the present global financial crisis that has hit Japan hard. In an attempt to regain some popular traction, Prime Minister Aso has espoused very similar views. (Most 'neo-liberal' economists might find it hard to find too many examples of their espoused reforms in Japan.)
  3. The US alliance: The DPJ is internally divided over security policy and has recently moderated its leftist language on the alliance. However, one can expect that the DPJ, while not likely to roll back recent alliance developments, will likely not support a further strengthening of the alliance or Japan’s autonomous military capabilities like the development of a conventional first-strike capability or ideas about 'nuclear weapons sharing' with the US. The DPJ’s relatively hawkish shadow defence minister, Keiichiro Asao, recently resigned after losing an internal party battle.

Key conflicts:

  1. The bureaucracy: The DPJ’s support for more aggressive administrative reform will likely bring it into direct conflict with Japan’s well-entrenched central bureaucracy, a bureaucracy that many felt helped undercut the only other non-LDP government in 1993-1994. Administrative reform efforts largely stalled after Koizumi stepped down as Prime Minister. It will be difficult, if popular, for them to be revived.
  2. The DPJ itself: The DPJ is united in its goal of taking power from the LDP. If it succeeds, then the very large ideological, policy and even personal divisions within the party may become more intense and harder to paper over. The party could 'implode' and splinter or quickly lose its new-found popularity if these divisions become very public and are seen to hamper the DPJ’s ability to rule.
  3. The LDP: If the LDP does lose, it could lead to a long period of infighting and introspection, especially as this would be an election the LDP lost more than one the DPJ won. However, in 1993-94, the LDP responded quickly to its first Lower House loss and repositioned itself. Also, the LDP and Aso seem to be witnessing a bit of a revival with their 'no change' push and faint signs of an economic recovery.