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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:32 03/09/2007
Debate: Comment (November 10, 2003)

Comment on Prof. Purnendra Jain's Article on Asia Times

Jacob Kovalio (Carlton University, Ottawa, Canada)

(Editor's note: This article was submitted immediately prior to the general election held on 9th.)

This is in reaction to Professor Purnendra Jain's piece "Japan Votes, the World Yawns," in Asia Times.

The article's derisive take on the upcoming Lower House elections in Japan is unjustified. Just because Japanese elections do not provide the circus-like "excitement" of American presidential elections or the awful spectacle of hundreds of dead when "the world's largest democracy" goes to the polls, does not justify a dismissive attitude toward Asia's first and, together with India and Israel, most stable democracy.

The disparaging view the piece expresses regarding Japan's internal political system, specifically the LDP's Methusellah hold on power, ignores the fact that no two democracies are alike. Postwar Japan's is characterized by LDP domination which, achieved through democratic means is, of course, completely acceptable, even when considering, as one should, the warts of the "1955 system." The same goes for multigenerational political service. As for the LDP, taking a country slightly larger than France ( but 85% mountains, 70% forests, with volcanoes and earthquakes as its natural resources ) with 1,5 times the population and making it into the world's second largest economy and a technological and cultural powerhouse is not a shabby achievement by any criteria, "bottlenecks" and failures along the way, notwithstanding. The Japanese tendency to undertake internal reform in its own peculiar way is obvious regarding the "risutora" of the past decade which is beginning to give results.

As for Japan's foreign policy, the Koizumi years have not been that yawn-provoking, unless approached in chomskyite terms, meaning Tokyo does what Washington orders. Most often, that is the case when what Washington says is in Tokyo's interests. More importantly, leading or major Japanese involvement in the following cases, prove the dynamism of the Koizumi administration : the summit with (Little) Kim Jong-Il, heavy involvement in the multilateral negotiations on North Korean nuclear weapons, mediation in the civil war in Sri Lanka, the TICAD system, negotiations for FTA and friendship treaties with ASEAN, financial and security participation in the multinational intervention to build a humane political system replacing the Tikriti thugocracy in Iraq, on Japan's terms. What is regrettable in Japan's upcoming democratic exercise though is the expected low voter turnout, a negative sign of a "mature" democracy, in other words, an electorate taking democracy for granted. Being like water, democracy tends to be valued only when in short supply, or worse. Professor Jain's Australia, with its mandatory voting law, may be an example worth emulating by Japan and other democracies.

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