There’s one thing that all of Japan’s significant, existing opposition parties seem to agree upon; and that’s that none of them have any hope of overthrowing Liberal Democratic Party rule on their own in the presumed double elections of July 2016. They must combine their forces in some new manner in order to present a credible alternative that people might actually vote for.
It is not exactly an unknown technique in politics, but the Abe administration is using it in several high-profile cases, and some people, at least, have noticed. The technique is to establish supposedly “independent” panels or organizations, but appointing people to serve on those panels or in those organizations whose opinions and conclusions are already known in advance.
What follows is a party-by-party survey of what these elections mean for the twelve largest political parties in Japan. The ruling party’s 65-seat pick up was not all that it could have hoped for in light of the sky-high approval ratings of the Abe Cabinet, but it was definitely good enough to provide the basis of a stable government for the next three years.
The comedy of errors that is today’s Democratic Party of Japan never fails to – or rather always does – disappoint. Even as we are entering the official campaigning period ahead of the House of Councillors elections that may quite possibly be the last national elections for the next three years, the DPJ demonstrates once again that if by some miracle they were to suddenly return to power, they would be no more united nor coherent than they were the first time around.
For several months we had been thinking that the success of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, or NRA, might represent one of the truly under-appreciated stories of 2013. For most of the anti-nuclear crowd the NRA could never really win much admiration because they dispute a fundamental premise upon which this organization was built — that nuclear energy could ever really be safe in earthquake-prone Japan no matter how strict the regulations.
The third consecutive Japanese prime minister has embraced the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and this time it is probably for real—at least as far as entering the negotiation process goes. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used his much-awaited visit with US President Barack Obama to crow a little bit about how he was “restoring” the US-Japan Alliance after the three dark years of the Democratic Party of Japan.
After about a year of hanging about in the background, the issue of Japan’s participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations was suddenly thrust back into the front rank of political debate. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has been in favor of Japan’s participation in TPP negotiations all along, as was his predecessor Naoto Kan. However, it appears that Noda decided to soft-pedal the matter late last year as he faced the daunting challenge of raising the national consumption tax, a divisive issue within the ruling party that he saw as the bigger priority.
We still don’t know exactly why Prime Minister Naoto Kan tapped former Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto for the high-profile post of Minister in Charge of Reconstructing Areas Ravaged by the March 11 Earthquake and Tsunami, but we did discover today that he is certainly the wrong man for the job. Matsumoto was handed his important new responsibilities only a week ago, but clearly his sense of self-importance has inflated even more rapidly than his authority.
It was 39 years ago today that the people of Okinawa finally escaped from the Pacific War, but they still await a more genuine era of self-determination. The 82-day-long Battle of Okinawa in 1945 was a horror. Something like a quarter of the civilian population ― more than 100,000 by most accounts ― were slaughtered in the crossfire between an alien army determined to conquer them and an Imperial Army that had no intention of protecting them.
Times of tragedy are not something to be welcomed, but they are occasions within which able political leaders can thrive and fulfill their destiny. In ordinary times, of course, it is beneficial to have the coherence and sense of direction that strong leadership can bring, but during a severe national crisis ― when the public is confused and afraid ― these dynamic qualities become little short of necessary. How miserable it is, therefore, that Prime Minister Naoto Kan has signally failed to measure up to the challenge.