September 17, 2005


Japan to go boldly backward for a while (BRAD GLOSSERMAN, 9/18/05, Japan Times)

Oddly, the new picture looks a lot like the old Japan: domination by a single party -- the familiar Liberal Democratic Party (LPD) -- without a credible opposition. The election itself was strangely familiar, too, in that it was driven by personalities -- at least the prime minister's -- rather than by any serious discussion of policies. The result is not likely to be great change.

However, with Koizumi remaining as prime minister, the ship of state will maintain its present course. Things will get interesting in a year, when the time comes to pick a successor -- if the prime minister keeps his oft-repeated promise to step down when his term is up. [...]

Koizumi took office promising to reform the LDP or smash it. He ended up smashing the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ): It lost about a third of its seats in the ballot, plunging from 175 to 113. DPJ President Katsuya Okada dutifully resigned when the results were known. The front-runners to replace him are two former party presidents, Naoto Kan and Yukio Hatoyama, neither of whom was able to turn the party's fortunes around in the past. This time is unlikely to be any different. The question now is whether the damage to the DPJ is fatal. [...]

With nearly 300 members in the Lower House, policy coordination will be more difficult than ever and, as noted previously, Koizumi has destroyed the factions that performed that internal function.

Optimists counter that Japanese policymaking will become more transparent. Again, I'm skeptical. The only certainty is that it will take time for a new mechanism to emerge, whether it be some new "backroom" where deals are made or a more transparent means of policy formulation.

That delay means the U.S. must be patient as it tries to restructure its alliance with Japan. Tough decisions will not be made as politicians throughout the country try to figure out how to assert their interests in the new political environment. Ironically, then, the "mandate" for the prime minister -- which should facilitate bilateral relations -- means that Washington is going to have to cool its heels for a while.

Japan's neighbors, especially China, must also reconcile themselves to this new political reality.

It's a great personal victory for one man, but hard to see how it will make much real difference in the long run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 17, 2005 9:50 PM
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