08/28/2009, 00.00
JAPAN
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Tokyo-vote: towards a political earthquake

by Pino Cazzaniga
On August 30, the country faces its most important election in 60 years. Liberals, who have had almost continuous control since 1958, risk being voted out of government. The sunset of the alliance between politicians, industry and bureaucracy. The severity of the economic crisis and the new international role of the country.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - On 21 July, Prime Minister Taro Aso dissolved the lower house and called elections for August 30. Japan is now faced with the most important elections in the last 60 years. The birth of a new Japan, capable of dealing positively with the challenges that history poses, depends on the results.  

The protagonists of the vote are the Jiminto (Liberal Democratic Party, LDP) and Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan, DPJ), the first has governed the country almost uninterruptedly since 1958, the second is the largest opposition party, founded in 1998. According to inquiries conducted by the newspaper Asahi, in Sunday's elections, the opposition party (DPJ) might gain as many as 320 seats, two-thirds of the 420 of the lower house, while the ruling party (LDP) would get around 100. A revolutionary reversal. At the time of the dissolution of the House, the LDP had 300 seats while the DPJ only 120.  

Sun sets on '55 system  

Two expressions help to focus the historical uniqueness of the event: "System '55" and "iron circle". The first refers to what political analyst Shingo Ito described as follows: "Japan is a rich nation, with a modern and stable democracy and peace. So why for half a century has it looked almost like a one-party state, lasting as long as that of Communist China?". The answer lies in the long electoral success of the Liberal Democratic Party and the 'iron triangle' that has forged with industry and with the powerful bureaucracy". This unique democratic structure is referred to by historians, precisely as "System '55" because it was formed in 1955 when the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party joined giving rise to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Curiously, its brilliant founder, Ichiro Hatoyama (1883-1959) is the great-grandfather of Yukio Hatoyama, the current president of the DPJ.  

Yoshikazu Sakamoto, professor emeritus of political science at the prestigious Tokyo University, said that "the (Liberal Democratic) party focused on pragmatism rather than on ideals or political philosophies in what can be described as a form of economic nationalism". To achieve this pragmatism, or, in more concrete terms, a global economy, the group at the top of the LDP forged links with the captains of industry and an efficient bureaucracy, forming a strong group of national power set, precisely described as "the iron circle". The most famous districts of Tokyo, after that of the Imperial Palace and those adjacent to it,  are Nagatacho, home of the official residence of the Prime Minister and the headquarters of the LDP and Kasumigaseki, where the buildings of the ministries are situated, ie the bureaucrats, who are in continuous dialogue with the creators of the economy. 

An abundant and continuous flow of money from large companies to Nagatacho was used by the party leadership to support its provincial organizations. Meanwhile, diligent bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki, in dialogue with industry, prepared bills that the government presented to parliament and, without fail, were approved of by the absolute majority of the governing party. "Japan probably would not have become an economic power - writes Takehito Yamamoto, professor of economics at Waseda University (Tokyo) - if it had not forged the so-called 'iron triangle' with business leaders and bureaucrats".  

The leading role of citizens  

In this election the alternative is not between one party and another but between a clear and strong government and a weak government, manipulated by a hidden group of powers. In other words, the Japanese people of 2009 is not the same people of the sixties.  

The popularity of Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister from 2001 to 2006 confirms this. Koizumi was a dyed in the wool conservative nationalist. This is seen in the break in relations with China over his repeated visits to Yasukuni Shinto shrine, a symbol of militarism in the '40s, and to an undermining of the pacifist Article 9 of the Constitution by sending national defence troops to Afghanistan. But he proved he both wanted and knew how to govern independently of the gray eminences of the LDP. Hence the high popularity that he has earned.  

When in 2005, his bill for privatizing the post office (the most "Bank" powerful in Japan) was rejected by the opposition of some high ranking members of the LDP (his party), he dissolved the House, expelled the rebels, called elections and swept to victory.  

The two prime ministers who succeeded him: Shinzo Abe (26 wk. 2006-12 wk. 2007) and Yasuo Fukuda (23 wk. 2007 - 1 week. 2008) resigned after less than a year in office and the current leader Taro Aso was put on the ropes by a steady decline in popularity.    

"Instead of appealing to popular opinion – says Tanefuchi Etsushi, professor at Waseda - the Liberal Democratic Party idly changed leaders from Abe to Fukuda to Aso. The people now think it is time for a radical change. They do not really have high expectations of the DPJ. People very simply, but with great determination,  want a change in power ", ie they want leaders who can govern.  

The seriousness of the challenge  

The Japanese people are highly mature. In saying this we do not refer to the older generation who, not without good reasons, supported the "system 55", or to young people who, unfortunately, are fearfully without ideals, but to men and women of middle age. Many of them have an excellent intellectual formation and given the high quality of Japanese media, are aware of the seriousness of the challenges that Japan must face without further delay.  

We will indicate one on a national level that, if not the main issue, is without doubt the most urgent, that being the economic crisis. Twenty years ago 80% of Japanese population belonged to the middle class, today the percentage has dropped to 47%.

The positive legacy of the LDP  

The collapse of the "system '55” does not mean the end of the party that created it. Some believe that its likely election defeat may be a good lesson for its "rebirth". Kazuhisa Kawakami of Gakuin University observes: "Even if it goes to the opposition, the LDP can use its great organizational power, which is higher than that of the DPJ, and enhance its efforts to listen to public opinion" and, we add, effectively collaborate with the political group that will be chosen to govern.

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