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Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 251
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
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ELECTION 2003: Meet the New Boss -- and the Old Boss
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====** IRIS BAKER REPLIES FROM LONDON **=======
32-year-old Nick Baker now sits in a Japanese prison. He is charged
with smuggling drugs into Japan -- a charge he vehemently denies.
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a fair trial.
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ELECTION 2003: Meet the New Boss -- and the Old Boss
Another year, another election, and sadly, another monumentally hasty
response from your armchair Japanologists.
We stayed up through Sunday night watching the results coming in: the
little grins from Junichiro Koizumi as the LDP held onto some seats out
in the sticks, the even bigger grins from Naoto Kan as his new-look
DPJ party made bigger gains in the cities. And as we finally drifted
off to sleep, it was painfully easy to predict what the papers and
the TV stations around the world were going to be saying.
Sure enough, Koizumi's apparent failure to secure the outright LDP
majority he wanted was taken as a sign that even his personal popularity
can no longer hold the wolf back from the doors of the LDP. The gains
for the DPJ -- which, by the way, we applaud -- were prematurely taken
as evidence that Japan has suddenly changed overnight and is now on
the brink of establishing a two-party political system.
When the stock market took a big dive, for resoundingly obvious technical
reasons, the "analysts" were quick to explain it as "market fears
that Koizumi's reform program will now peter out."
Utter nonsense, as it turned out. In a move that a junior high school
student could have predicted, the New Conservatives immediately threw
their lot in with the LDP, giving the prime minister the majority he
wanted. If he wants to carry on reforming, there is really not that
much to stop him.
But a far more significant flaw with the election commentary --
particularly from the non-Japanese media -- has been the hasty conclusion
that Japanese politics are now on the verge of looking like the sort of
two-party mud-fights that produce such wonderfully positive stuff in the
US and Britain.
Let's not forget that it was under a two-party system -- complete with its
"open and democratic exchange of ideas" -- that Tony Blair defied the
popular will and joined Uncle Sam in the recent invasion of Iraq. It may
be true that Japan could, after 50 years of unbroken dominance by the LDP,
be graduating towards a system where two strong parties periodically swap
power. Profoundly unlikely -- but possible.
But let's not kid ourselves: The difference between the LDP and the DPJ
is not some well-defined counterpoint of ideology. It's just a question
of who is looking more energetic, and who looks more tired.
The truth ignored by those who want to stamp the 2003 general election
as a victory for political diarchy is that Japan is not really doing so
badly under its current system. Throughout the reams of copy churned out
by the two-party media activists there is a common thread -- a sense that
Japan has "big problems" to solve and that it is only by emulating the
political systems of the "West" that such problems can be overcome.
Again -- nonsense. First of all, there is no proof at all that what is
healthy in one political environment is not poison in another. The LDP
may be rusty and dysfunctional in some sense, but it remains in an
effective symbiosis with the powerful Japanese democracy.
The second point is also regularly missed. In the sense that two-party
systems promote an exchange of ideas, debate and compromise, Japan already
has all that. The only difference is that it is all locked up within the
LDP itself. The same commentators who bemoan the lack of a two party
system in Japan are the same folks who regularly point out how divided
the current LDP happens to be.
That internal split has always represented the diarchy everyone is now so
As Pete Townshend once wrote: "Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss."
Gotta love international politics -- and international spin.
-- The Editors
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