JIN-481 -- Will the DPJ prove to be the real alternative for the public?

J@pan Inc Newsletter
The 'JIN' J@pan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 481 Wednesday September 10, 2008, Tokyo
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As the Liberal Democratic Party election show fires up and the
five candidates position themselves with talk of increased
public spending, fiscal discipline or structural reform, you can’t
help but feel it really doesn’t mean a lot.

The number of candidates is the largest since 1971 and much
has been made of the election, but the front-runner remains,
predictably, as LDP Secretary General Taro Aso with his
platform of an aggressive increase in spending to boost the economy.
Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba is arguing along the
same lines while former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike and LDP
policy chief Nobuteru Ishihara are calling for structural reforms.
Meanwhile, Fiscal Policy Minister Kaoru Yosano wants fiscal discipline.

The election, like basically any other election being held at the
moment across the globe (read: the US presidential election) will
be won on economic grounds (okay, maybe there are a few ideological
issues involved with the US election as well). Some candidates are
calling for change, some for discipline. But when whichever
candidate takes on the leadership, will they be able to even
implement policy?

Bill Emmott is one person who doesn’t believe so. The former
editor of The Economist magazine said that the Democratic Party
of Japan could and should win in next year’s Lower House election.
He told Kyodo News that the DPJ could form a coalition with New
Komeito in next year’s election. The stagnation caused by the DPJ’s
blockage of bills in the Upper House will continue regardless of
who is leading the LDP and unless the polls completely turn around,
the public could well vote the opposition into power to get things
moving again.

‘‘If you assume Japanese politics stays as it is, with deadlock in
parliament, then I think that the economy is likely to be in
stagnation, or very slow growth, for quite a long time because I
think that the prospect for domestic demand is low, because the
government cannot borrow any more,” Emmott told Kyodo.
‘‘Consumers will not get higher wages. There will be no other
source. The economy will be dependent on export growth as it has
been for the last few years. That will be a big problem for Japan.
It needs to be led by domestic demand.’’
Emmott, who wrote on Japan for the Economist, said that former
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s stimulus package should have
been aimed at creating demand at home rather than assisting
small- to medium-sized firms.
“I want a new government to focus on the domestic economy and
market-oriented reforms including deregulation, but also deal
with poverty and inequality by using the minimum wage system,”
Emmott said.
‘‘I think that a new government should raise the minimum wage
and increase it in subsequent years because this will raise the
incomes of part-time and temporary workers. It will reduce
inequality and help to deal with a shortage of consumer demand.”

The former editor said he thought that the DPJ should gain
power in order for the reforms to be put into place.
There is no denying that the LDP is desperately unpopular but
can anyone imagine DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa as PM?
Known for his opportunist tendencies, dirty tactics and lack of
clear ideological standpoints, Ozawa may still prove to be a
stumbling block to the DPJ’s rise to power.
Last year the Economist labeled him an “increasingly ineffectual
bully.” Is this the leader that the public would choose over Aso or any
of the other candidates?
We may find out a lot sooner than originally expected. In the
meantime, the Japanese economy needs the LDP to choose a leader
who can push effective policy through parliament. But then
again, that’s easier said than done.

Michael Condon
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Written by: Michael Condon, Editor-in-Chief, Japan Inc Magazine
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