DPJ must be responsible, live up to expectations
People's dissatisfaction with the Liberal Democratic Party's politics and their expectation that a new administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan can bring "change" has ushered in a historic change in power in this country.
The DPJ romped to a landslide victory in the House of Representatives election Sunday, handing the LDP its most devastating defeat since the party was formed.
This is the first time since the end of World War II that an opposition party has won a single-party majority in the lower house and brought about a change in administration.
DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama, who is expected to be named prime minister in the special Diet session to be convened soon, will bear the heavy responsibility of managing the country.
Disappointment and weariness
The largest cause of this sea change in public sentiment lies in the LDP itself.
Policies taken by the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, which espoused the importance of market principles, widened disparities in society, devastated the country's medical and nursing care services and impoverished many rural areas.
Koizumi's successors--Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda--abruptly resigned as prime minister.
Prime Minister Taro Aso, who took over from Fukuda, suffered a string of self-imposed setbacks with verbal gaffes and other blunders that raised questions about his ability to serve as prime minister before he could correct the policy line taken by the Koizumi administration.
The LDP lost its status as the largest party in the House of Councillors after a thumping defeat in the 2007 election. Subsequently, the LDP's support organizations and industrial groups that traditionally supported the party began to increasingly distance themselves from the LDP.
In short, it can be said that the LDP's historic defeat was brought about by the collapse of its structural reforms that went too far, its leaders' failure to live up to their responsibilities and their lack of leadership ability, the alienation of its traditional support base, and weariness and disappointment with the administration that had been in power for a long time.
In addition to criticizing the LDP's failings, the DPJ wooed discontented voters by putting forward policies including support for households, such as a monthly child allowance for families and a gradual phasing out of highway tolls, as well as adopting election campaign tactics that included fielding a diverse range of candidates.
In the previous lower house election, the LDP was blessed with strong and favorable winds whipped up by the postal service privatization debate and the divisions wrought by the party's decision to put "assassin" candidates on the official party ticket to run against those LDP members who opposed the Koizumi-led postal reform drive and were forced off the party ticket.
The winds of change then took a sudden turn, swinging behind the DPJ, which advocates a change in power--and the favorable conditions have remained since the dissolution of the lower house, culminating in heavy damage to the LDP's junior coalition partner, New Komeito, too.
This development should be interpreted as meaning that the overwhelming sentiment among voters was to give the DPJ a chance to hold the reins of power, despite anxiety in the electorate about how a DPJ-led administration might fare.
Despite the DPJ's landslide victory, however, it does not mean voters have given the party an open-ended mandate.
Review election pledges
A new cabinet to be formed by Hatoyama is to carry out policy measures based on the schedule presented in the DPJ's election manifesto. However, the new government should not stick to its "election" pledges so much so as to destabilize people's lives.
Its most important task is to put the Japanese economy, which is now in the process of recovering from a serious recession, on a steady road to recovery. Given the deteriorating employment situation, public spending on economic pump-priming measures must be continued seamlessly.
When drafting the next fiscal year's budget, the new administration needs to give top priority to boosting the economy.
In the realm of foreign and security policy, the change of government will not be accepted as an excuse to tear up international agreements. The new government must seek to achieve consistency in this country's foreign policy and firmly maintain the Japan-U.S. alliance.
Since it does not have a single-party majority in the upper house, the DPJ will start talks soon with the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party about the formation of a coalition government.
One major concern is the huge gap between the DPJ and the SDP regarding their basic policies on foreign and security affairs, including the participation of the Self-Defense Forces in international peacekeeping activities.
A political situation in which a small party can use its casting vote to push around a major party would be extremely harmful. The DPJ should approach the talks determined to scrap plans for a coalition with the SDP if they cannot reach an agreement on fundamental policies.
The DPJ has set a goal of "bidding farewell to bureaucrat-led policy-making."
But the DPJ should not be under the illusion that bureaucrats will dance to the party's tune simply by establishing a politician-led "National Strategy Bureau" or by assigning a bevy of lawmakers to positions within each government agency or ministry.
Lawmakers will be scrutinized for their ability to use bureaucrats to serve their purposes, rather than to act hostilely against bureaucrats. Lawmakers should know that only when they win the trust of bureaucrats will they be able to effectively implement policies.
Can LDP make comeback?
The LDP was formed in 1955 through a marriage of conservative parties to counter the Japan Socialist Party, which in that year merged the rightist and leftist socialist parties.
The ideological clash between the LDP and JSP that was dominant in those days has since evaporated, and the JSP the nation knew then no longer exists. The LDP's crushing defeat in Sunday's election completed the demise of the so-called 1955 political system that centered around the LDP and the socialists.
The LDP must brace itself for an extended period in the opposition camp. The party will need to dust itself off and rebuild itself almost from scratch if it wants to be a viable political party that can occupy the position of one of the two major political parties--together with the DPJ.
The LDP was temporarily ousted from power in 1993 in the wake of money-for-favor political scandals. Since then, it has remained at the helm of the government by forming coalitions with the JSP, Komeito and other parties.
The LDP has been forced by the voters to start over--after having neglected to reform itself.
The party will be pressed to drastically change everything from its political philosophy to its policies and its structure under a new party leader who will replace Aso ahead of the upper house election next summer.
The LDP must present healthy, sound policies and bolster its ability to counter the DPJ-led administration if it wants to be a key player that can level criticism at the government.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 31, 2009)