Political system damaged by DPJ's aversion to bureaucracy
The first thing the Democratic Party of Japan should do before the Dec. 16 House of Representatives election is review its past three years and two months in power. Can the DPJ do serious soul-searching on the plethora of issues it has mishandled and reflect the lessons learned in its campaign pledges for the upcoming election?
The public approval rating for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was as high as 75 percent when it was inaugurated after the 2009 lower house election. Public approval of the current administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has declined to just 24 percent, showing how the public's initial high expectations of the DPJ were dashed after the change of government.
Under the DPJ government, the nation's politics have continued to suffer from confusion and stagnation, and this is not just because the Diet is divided. It is mostly because the party is incapable of managing the government.
This was symbolized by the DPJ's failed manifesto for the last general election. After reviewing its pledges, the party concluded that only 53 of them--including making tuition at public high schools free--had been implemented during its tenure. The figure represents only about 30 percent of the 170 original promises.
The DPJ has many things to reflect on. Among its blunders, it was extremely optimistic to believe it could secure 16.8 trillion yen a year just through tweaking spending plans. It also suffered a setback in seeking to cancel construction of the Yamba Dam in Gunma Prefecture because it made the decision without consulting parties involved.
The DPJ's misguided "politician-led policymaking" have caused the administration to repeatedly malfunction.
DPJ should reflect on blunders
Its budget screening initiative turned out to be nothing more than politicians playing to the gallery by bashing bureaucrats, and the process squeezed out only a limited amount of fiscal resources.
Based on an opposition-like stance, the DPJ took a hostile of view of bureaucrats and shunned the bureaucracy in deciding and carrying out policies. This weakened both the political and bureaucratic systems because public servants only awaited instructions from ministers, and politicians were not informed of important matters.
This problem became particularly apparent following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, when Prime Minister Naoto Kan's Cabinet failed to respond promptly. This caused confusion in helping the people in the disaster-hit areas and in dealing with the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Politicians are supposed to fully utilize bureaucrats and try to bring out their best.
When it comes to nuclear energy, the DPJ initially said operations of reactors should be resumed once their safety was confirmed. However, the party abruptly proposed an infeasible zero-nuclear power policy instead, and caused widespread confusion due to insufficient coordination with the United States and domestic local governments that host nuclear power plants.
On the economic front, the DPJ could not propose an effective growth strategy even though it promised to revive the nation's economy. It also failed to work together with the business community.
Under the slogan "from concrete to people," the government has slashed spending on public works projects from 7.1 trillion yen for fiscal 2009 to 4.6 trillion yen for fiscal 2012--a decrease that has battered local economies.
Furthermore, because of other problematic policies such as those for budgetary handouts, the general account appropriations in the initial fiscal 2012 state budget have swollen to 96.7 trillion yen, including budgets for restoration from the Great East Japan Earthquake and related expenditures, from 88.5 trillion yen in fiscal 2009.
With the issuance of deficit-covering bonds having exceeded 30 trillion yen every year in recent years, government finances have deteriorated steadily as shown by the fact that the outstanding balance of government debts is expected to reach 709 trillion yen at the end of this fiscal year--a drastic jump from fiscal 2009's 594 trillion yen.
Former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, meanwhile, has failed to take responsibility even after his former secretaries were found guilty in September 2011 of charges of violating the Political Funds Control Law, tarnishing the public's image of the DPJ as a clean party.
Persistent intraparty wrangling
Within the ruling party, there was nonstopwrangling between pro-Ozawa and anti-Ozawa party members regarding DPJ's policies.
The intraparty disarray stemmed mainly from the party's failure at the time of its 2003 merger with the Liberal Party, in which top priority was placed on cobbling together non-Liberal Democratic Party political forces without the spadework of reconciling political ideals and key policies among them.
An opposition party can cover up intraparty policy differences, but a party in power, charged with implementing policies, cannot.
The split within the DPJ in early July over the issue of raising the consumption tax rate showed the party's internal contradictions had reached a critical point.
None of the party executives, including Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi, made any move to assume responsibility for the party's split.
The DPJ's policymaking process continued to falter as shown by a decision to abolish the Policy Research Committee, which was subsequently reversed by another decision to reinstate the panel, ostensibly to beef up its functions.
Although animated intraparty discussions were held, they often ended up failing to reach a timely conclusion.
DPJ legislators frequently turned their backs on what had earlier been decided within the party, revisiting issues that had been settled once.
And because the party did not take minutes of its meetings, intraparty discussions failed to be cumulative, resulting in superficial debates. Almost every time policies were discussed within the party, its immature political culture was brought to light.
In addition, the DPJ's confused handling of diplomatic policy harmed the country's national interests.
The muddle involving the issue of relocating functions of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture because of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's mishandling of the matter weakened the Japan-U.S. alliance and created distrust among the people of Okinawa Prefecture. The scars remain unhealed even now.
The diplomatic blunders of the DPJ administration were exploited by neighboring countries, as shown by the ramming of Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels off the Senkaku Islands in September 2010 by a Chinese fishing boat, the sudden visit in July 2012 by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to the northern territories off eastern Hokkaido and the visit in August this year by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to the Takeshima islets.
Noda's historic achievements
Nevertheless, the DPJ-led administration can be credited with the historic achievement of realizing the passage of legislation on comprehensive social security and tax system reform.
Although the major opposition LDP played an important role in the legislation, the driving force behind the reform was the resolve of Noda, who risked his political life fully realizing the danger of a split in the party.
The prime minister also gave full play to his leadership in bringing the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture of Kansai Electric Power Co. back online and announcing his support of Japan's participation in multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations.
Noda should be credited for attaining a degree of results in spite of the pile of "adverse legacies" left by the administrations of his two predecessors, Hatoyama and Kan.
On the diplomatic and national security front, the Noda Cabinet rightly revealed Japan-U.S. secrets, including one on Japan's tacit agreement to allow U.S. nuclear arms to be brought into this country, and relaxed Japan's three-point principles concerning weapons exports.
These had been long-pending tasks that the LDP and New Komeito did not accomplish when they were in power, and they can safely be called positive results of the change of government.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 18, 2012)