Monday, August 31, 2009

Japan’s Cute HOPE OF THE CHANGE



The general election in Japan yesterday is the third big election in the world this year, following those in India and Afghanistan. The Democratic Party won a landslide victory thanks to a widespread HOPE OF THE CHANGE, which is so cute as the young lady in this video or Akihabara animations. However, things are not so lovely and optimistic. First, just as American lobbyists in Tokyo raised a concern, a sheer number of newcomers have been elected, and their lobbying connections have been destroyed. Second, the advent of a center-left and pro-Asian leader Yukio Hatoyama, will have some effects on the nuances of US-Japanese and Euro-Japanese relations. Third, the Democratic Party has not shown their competence to govern the state. The market does not trust Japanese Democrats, and the stock price has fallen just after the election.

At the interview with NHK in the General Election Report yesterday, Agricultural Minister Shigeru Ishiba said that voters chose the Democratic Party over the Liberal Democratic Party, simply because they were annoyed with old politics, but do not give wholehearted trust to the Democrat manifesto.

Frankly speaking, I do not object to power rotation itself. This is parliamentary democracy. I am concerned with such an overwhelming majority of the Democratic Party, winning 308 out of 480 seats. Under a poorly balanced distribution of the seat, Japanese politics will fall into authoritarian poor governance. Quite a few newcomers are completely out of touch with politics, and some are apparently less competent than I! How can people trust the Diet like this?

The primary reason why Japanese voters allowed this sort of unprecedented victory of the Democrats is a backlash against reforms under the Koizumi administration. Business deregulations, including well known portal saving privatization, have broadened social, economic, and regional development gaps. The global recession spurred anger against the Liberal Democratic Party (“FACTBOX: Policy challenges facing Japan's next government”; Reuters; August 29, 2009).

But the new government does not seem to have the blueprint to reconstruct the economy, unlike cute voters expect. The market does not trust Democrat economic policy, which is increasing public spending, while cutting taxes and limiting the bureaucratic power. The stock price has dropped shortly after the election (“Yen Strengthens, Japanese Stocks Drop After DPJ Wins Election”; Bloomberg News; August 31, 2009).

In foreign policy, the US-Japanese alliance will continue to be the primary agenda, but some changes are likely. Hatoyama explores independence from the United States, while pursuing closer ties with Asia. In the September issue of Voice, a Japanese political journal, he says, "How should Japan maintain its political and economic independence and protect its national interest when caught between the United States, which is fighting to retain its position as the world's dominant power, and China, which is seeking ways to become dominant?" This will undermine Japan’s relationship with the United States and Europe, the Big 2 pillar of Japanese diplomacy (“Japan's Ruling Party Swept From Power in Historic Election”; ABC News; August 30, 2009). Also, the Democrat is critical to Japanese funding for US marine relocation to Guam (“Will Japanese Power Shift Change U.S. Relations?”; NPR; August 30, 2009).

On the other hand, American policymakers from the right to the left, accept this change, because a credible opposition party has emerged in Japan. The Liberal Democratic Party has contributed to build a long and stable US-Japanese partnership, but stagnant reforms to open the market and passive acceptance of US security umbrella without giving enough return have been irritating the American side for decades (“U.S. Poised for Change as Tokyo Leadership Shifts”; Wall Street Journal; August 31, 2009).

True, not everything is positive for US-Japanese relations under the rule of the LDP. Strong bureaucracy has been blocking Japan fulfilling the role on the global stage as mentioned in the article of the Wall Street Journal. Grassroots sentiment for a cute HOPE OF THE CHANGE is not necessarily bad.

I am concerned with the balance. Actually, I felt disgusted to see a swarm of poorly qualified LDP candidates elected in the Postal Saving election under the Koizumi administration. The Democtratic Party imitated the way the LDP did in the Koizumi Political Drama. If political pendulum swings rapidly from now on, without achieving satisfactory results, this will be a considerable loss for top industrialized democracies of the West, and also, for Asia-Pacific nations. The giant between the East and the West stands at a crossroads now.