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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:52 03/09/2007
News Review #89: December 12, 2002

Japan opposition elects new leader - at a cost

Reviewed By Hitoshi URABE

"Japan opposition elects new leader - at a cost",4386,160032,00.html?
(by Kwan Weng Kin) Straits Times


The largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) keeps disappointing us. Not because of the policies they propose but it is the lack of their ability to formulate any policy at all, as the members are busy struggling among themselves to gain power within the party.

To facilitate forming a healthy opposition party was the aim when the major refit of the electoral system for the Lower House, the more powerful of the two, was put in place in 1996. The system adopted, rather complex to explain in detail, was a combination of single-seat constituencies and proportional representation.

The idea to alter the system originated from recognizing the fact that for half a century, except for a very brief period, the Liberal Democratic Party had always been in the ruling position, while the opponents were all puny and often merely acting as irresponsible dissenters, gaining no confidence of the people. Such a situation was considered undesirable by some, even those who generally supported LDP, who believed a party staying in power too long itself was an unhealthy state especially for a country claiming it subscribes to the parliamentary democracy system. Moreover, for those who did not agree with the policies of LDP, it was a nightmare to acknowledge the scant, if at all, possibility of another party to take over the ruling position.

The proponents, therefore, welcomed the new electoral system to realize, for it was claimed that the new arrangement would help bring about a bipartisan parliament system where, somewhat like U.S. or U.K., it would facilitate for two major parties to acquire confidence of the people to run a government, and in fact do so. This, it was thought, would clean up the opaque and collusive behaviors found in Japan's politics, often involving bureaucrats who have serve the same faces for a long time and, to an extent, established industries that has become intimate with certain politicians.

However, things didn't quite evolve that way. There were indeed a number of opposition parties at the time. The Socialist Party, who used to be the largest opponent of LDP decades ago, dwindled even further to become a negligible group of people, and the Communist Party remained in solitude maintaining a minimal level of supporters, while the Liberal Party of Japan, formed by a powerful but stubborn leader could win only limited level of public support. It was thus expected that the Democratic Party of Japan would develop to play the part of major opposition. Unfortunately, however, DPJ was formed by a various groups of politicians with different ideas and beliefs, and their backgrounds were much diversified in texture and style. Some were members of LDP who left it in the hope of obtaining more senior position in DPJ.

Since when DPJ was formed, quarrels and turmoil never stopped within the party. As reported in the article, it was only two months ago that they had an election to choose its leader, only to kick him out for reasons unknown to outsiders (or even to some insiders, it seems). General public was invited to participate in the election two months ago, by paying 1,000 yen to technically become a party member for the occasion, in order to, so it was explained, implement the ideas and gain support of the people. Critics commented at the time that it was a "noble" way to gather money, much better than selling tickets for boring receptions. It certainly was an intelligent scheme, as the money could purchase a certain level of expectation, even a dream, for those who paid for it, and for the party it was a simple matter of just demolishing it after pretending to respect the results for a while, like two months.

During the two months in turmoil, it was inevitably impossible for DPJ to come up with any reasonable policies or effective arguments against the ruling coalition.

Currently the feud over political issues between LDP and its "leader" Mr Koizumi is drawing more attention than that of between the ruling and opposing parties. This is absurd, as the people have no means to express their opinions on various issues because the discussions are performed within the confines of the ruling party. It would be much healthier to have opposing force sin the form of another party, in order for the peoples' views to be reflected in a visible manner, and for them to discuss issues transparently, so that from time to time there would at least be a possibility for the opponent to take over the regime. It is truly unfortunate that DPJ has not awakened to realize the responsibility many have wished them to take on.

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