R+G=L: A need for another political reshuffle
Tomohiko Taniguchi (Editor-at-Large, Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.)
The unlikeliest combination now prevalent in Japanese politics can be summed up by the equation: R+G=L.
R, G and L respectively stand for (Donald) Rumsfeld, (Dick) Gephardt, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP). For the opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), almost the reverse is the case, wherein lies the rationale that another round of political reshuffle is absolutely necessary.
The Liberal Democrats, under Junichiro Koizumi's presidency, have crossed thresholds hitherto believed impassable. JMSDF oil tankers have been in operation over the last two years literally under the aegis of their Aegis-type destroyer in both the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. They have refuelled ships of the coalition forces including the US, UK, France, New Zealand, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Canada, Spain and Germany. By the end of August the oil Japan provided for free totalled a staggering amount of more than 84 million gallons.
The LDP also passed special legislation that will enable JSD forces to operate in Iraq. The first deployment, said to be scheduled by the year end, will pose a critical litmus test to the nation, as it is not unlikely that a body bag or two will be sent back home, making post-war Japan's first ever "casualties of war". Hence their foreign and defence policies are not dissimilar to Don Rumsfeld's.
But on the domestic economic front, their policies are of classic protectionism, hence Gephardtespue. They are also inward looking, for the LDP-led government allowed such trivial vested interests as those of Japanese maids and gold fish breeders to prevail in forging free trade agreements with neighbouring nations.
In the case of the DPJ, most visible is that many of its members, notably Naoto Kan (or Can, see Undercurrent #1), are friendlier toward China than to America, evinced by the contrast that Mr. Kan has visited Nanjing Massacre Museum in China whilst Shinzo Abe, Secretary General of the LDP, has never made an official trip to the country. The DPJ's economic policies on the other hand appear essentially supply-sided so long as they want to make the government smaller.
Seen that way, the general election, due on November 9, will likely make the Japanese political spectrum no less confusing. Though one cannot say for certain at this point whether another political reshuffle will occur involving both parties, and if it will, how, of note is the fact that Ichiro Ozawa, who led his own Liberal Party to be absorbed by the DPJ, did so in the belief that the populace will come to understand the oddest possible equation only after they have seen it more clearly with the parties consolidated to form a two party system.
That LDP Rumsfeldians and DPJ "self-assertivists" gather to form a party, while "little-Japan-ists" from both parties the other is possible, but not probable. Cross-party realignment - if it occurs - will be around domestic issues, for as is the case with other major democracies, foreign policies seldom sell well to the voters.
Issues such as pension and health care reforms, tax policies, and increasingly, whether Japan should allow freer flows of immigrants will be fault lines that will divide each and every one of the parties. A wild card here is the issue of Japan's constitution. Already, Junichiro Koizumi has requested that the LDP propose what amendments should be introduced into the nation's basic law. If the LDP becomes seriously committed to changing the constitution, that will undoubtedly divide the populace into two.