Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thoughts on the Election

The phrase "virtual reality" refers to a computer-generated image that is perceived as the real thing.

In the political world, we have an election that hasn't even occurred yet, the Democratic Party of Japan acting as if it has won a tremendous victory and the Liberal Democratic Party hanging its head in defeat. Excessive expectations surrounding the election and public opinion polls reporting an overwhelming lead for the DPJ have resulted in the false perception that the votes have been counted. Some members of the DPJ are as optimistic as politicians the day after an election victory.

Of course, there are some LDP candidates who are giving their all to win their seats. But it seems as if the LDP has abdicated its role as the top political party in Japan. A lot of LDP members think that the coalition with the New Komeito Party is no longer sustainable in the face of the rising popularity of the DPJ. Their spirit was crushed when they saw the voters further distance themselves from the LDP in the July 12 Tokyo assembly elections. It's as if they're content to wallow in memories of the good old days and avoid thinking about the hardships they face right now.

The smaller parties don't seem to have much energy either. These parties play a vital role. I'd like to see more spirit from the People's New Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Communists.

I've been worried by what I've seen recently. The LDP should reflect on its record and alter its traditional course to respond to today's reality. True reflection will result in a sincere confrontation of today's problems. The fringe parties need to save this election by mustering some energy in the final days.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Voters Grow Tired of Hereditary Politics

Morita-san chimes in on the subject of hereditary politics, or seshu:

“Seshu is turning into a politically sensitive issue,” said Minoru Morita, who has written books on politics. “The trend will be toward declining seshu because such candidates are going to have a harder time getting elected.”

Here's the whole story, which focuses on former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's son having a harder than expected time getting elected to his dad's old seat. As one cab driver says in the piece, "Koizumi doesn’t really have that good a reputation around here. He didn’t do that much for us.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bureaucrats Prepare to be Bashed

I recently received a phone call from my friend and former government official H-san. He is a reserved person, a consummate gentleman. This is what he told me:

"Lately, when I meet government officials, they seem a little tense. They've been feeling this way ever since people starting realizing political change could occur, especially once the Democratic Party of Japan started talking about dismantling the bureaucracy and the mass media joined in the bureaucrat bashing. If the DPJ wins, it will join with the media to bash the bureaucrats even more. Government officials can't help but think how they should respond when this bashing begins in earnest. Are Ichiro Ozawa and Yukio Hatoyama for real? If they dismantle Kasumigaseki and the independent administrative agencies, then what will happen? If they are serious about "dismantling Kasumigaseki," as they say, then we should prepare for some awful developments. It would be all-out war between the politicians and the bureaucrats. Can Japan really afford to have that fight?"

New Administration Will Need to Calibrate Change

It's more and more likely that there will be a transfer of political power after the 45th House of Repesentatives election on Aug. 30. I don't think the Aso administration has the strength to avoid the loss of power or the destruction of the coalition between the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito Party. The public is eager to turn against Prime Minister Taro Aso and his ruling coalition. "Let's give the Democratic Party of Japan a chance to run the government" goes the general thinking. And there's really only a very small chance that this public sentiment will change a lot between now and Aug. 30.

One of the big reasons that the LDP could hold onto power for more than 50 years is that there was never a large bloc of people who hated the party. The public didn't dislike the LDP -- that's an important asset for a leader. The reason for this lack of hatred was that the LDP put value on moderation. There was a quality in the old LDP that seemed to dislike extremism of any sort and value the middle. This is why the party never inspired the hatred of the people.

But now, influenced by American extremism, the LDP is more likely to run to the extreme end of an issue. Moreover, it is no longer as able as it once was to put the brakes on extreme moves and get back to the middle. Its ability to find a balance has declined.

It's quite likely that the Aug. 30 elections will result in a coalition government of the DPJ, the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party. It's also possible that the DPJ will secure a majority on its own. If it does this, then the coalition will be a coalition in name only, with the DPJ calling the shots.

The main factor for the DPJ's success in responding to the people will be its ability to navigate a moderate path. Right after a new party comes to power, there's a tendency in politics for the new group to rush for results. The mass media will fuel that tendency by setting high expectations. It's important for the new political power to avoid this trap and set out on a path of moderated change. The wise path is to avoid sudden changes.

The top priority of the new administration will be to revive the economy. The constant flow of bankruptcies has to be stemmed. Rising unemployment has to be stopped. The new administration must quickly enact policies to stabilize people's lives and boost the corporate economy, and it will need the cooperation of economic leaders and bureaucrats. It will need to be sure that it has the support of the people. To do that, the new administration must clearly show the people that it has embraced moderation.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reflecting on Peace

The modern world is a frightening place. These days, even minor countries possess nuclear weapons. One such minor country in Northeast Asia has been openly holding nuclear tests and missile launchings. It is provoking its neighbors. This is an extremely dangerous situation.

In an age when many countries possess nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is becoming even more of a misnomer.

The United States of America developed the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. It dropped these weapons of mass destruction on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. Both cities were annihilated.

Reports on the experiences of A-bomb victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were tightly controlled under the US military occupation; the Japanese people heard about them solely through word of mouth. Only when the San Francisco Peace Treaty went into effect on April 28, 1952, (after being signed on Sept. 8, 1951) and administrative control of the country was returned to a sovereign Japan was it possible to report on the victims of the bomb.
I was a college student then. I was a student union leader and I quickly helped develop an exhibit of the atomic bomb victims to be shown throughout the country. I opened the exhibit in my hometown of Ito on the Izu Peninsula. From that moment on, I was committed to opposing nuclear weapons.

In the ensuing 57 years, I took a politically neutral position and maintained no party affiliation. For nearly 40 years, my main work has been as a political commentator. While I have not taken part in peace rallies, I have been against war of any sort. At the very core of my pacifism is the deep hurt parents experienced when they lose their sons (including my older brother) on the battlefield.

The anniversaries of Aug. 6 and 9 are upon us. And then there is Aug. 15. On these three days, the people of Japan pray for peace and pledge to never wage war again.

We are in the midst of a campaign for the general election. The timing is right for politicians to vow to uphold peace. I want all of them to recognize that their No. 1 priority as politicians is to defend that peace.

The great Eastern philosopher Confucius said, "Politics is justice." What he meant was that politics had to be based on justice. The great Western philosopher Aristotle said that the goal of politics is to realize the ultimate good, which is the achievement of happiness. And in 19th century England, William Gladstone said, "It is the duty of the government to make it difficult for the people to do wrong, easy to do right."

I believe that all these definitions of politics are correct. But I also believe that as the 20th century has brought us two horrific world wars, politics needs to be redefined. Here's my new definition: "The goal of politics should be to shield us from the worst outcomes" such as war, the loss of autonomy (and subsequent subjugation to another power), massive unemployment, runaway inflation and the destruction of our way of life.

The ultimate goal of politics should be to avoid the worst situations. And the worst of the worst is war.

A lot of politicians are running in the Aug. 30 general election. Among them are some young belligerent types to whom the words of the Greek poet Pindar apply: "War is sweet to those who have no experience of it." These hawks are in both the Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

It's easy to start a war but difficult to finish it. And a nuclear war could bring about the destruction of the human race.

The 45th election of the House of Representatives on Aug. 30 shouldn't be about which party one supports. It should be about which candidates will stand up for peace.