Early election: Koizumi is the favourite
Defined by many as "bizarre" and "going against the current", the Prime Minister is playing cards of true modernization and democracy in the country. A PIME missionary explains why.
Tokyo (AsiaNews) Today, Japanese people voted to elect members of the House of Representatives. Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, called the election suddenly on 8 August. The reason was the Senate's failure to approve the draft law for privatization of the postal system. The law had already been approved, even if by a narrow margin, by the lower House. The sudden decision of the apparently "bizarre" prime minister took everyone by surprise. Is this a dangerous gamble or an intelligently calculated risk? Above differences of opinion, all agree in defining this election as the most important after that held in 1995 and won by the Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled from that time with an absolute majority until the beginning of the nineties. Abnormal and important are then, two key words to describe this event.
Departing from Japanese political culture
Prof. Rei Stiratori, lecturer in political science at Tokai university, said the election was abnormal not so much because it was unforeseen but rather because it had been called with an authoritarian attitude. This spells a departure from the norms of Japanese political culture. Traditionally this culture, writes Shiratori, demands humility from rulers and magnanimity from the strong, virtues summed up symbolically in the saying "the stalks of rice which yield much fruit bend downwards". However it would seem that Koizumi's style of governance has departed from the traditional "norm", that he has adopted the Anglo Saxon political culture according to which "the winner takes all".
Some weeks ago, the former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, head of the political faction to which Koizumi belongs, tried to dissuade him from calling the snap election. "I already told you several times that I am the prime minister," was the premier's blunt reply.
"Rebels" and "assassins"
The bill to privatise the postal services was not approved by the upper House because 34 LDP senators, including top party officials, voted against. Koizumi, who is also president of the party, reacted by excluding "rebels" from the list of election candidates, replacing them with new figures who are in favour of his programme and well-liked by the people for various reasons. The political death of the "rebels" who contested the election as independent candidates or affiliated with new parties appears certain. Many votes will go to the new candidates, hence their nickname of "assassins".
Towards an authentic democratic system
It is not only the premier who has distanced himself from the norm; residents of large cities have done so too. In this case, the abnormality has a totally positive value. Up until the nineties, Japan's democracy was only institutional, it was not real. In 1995, a form of government was set up which has come to be known by historians because of the year as "system 55": an inseparable collusion between the Liberal Democratic Party, bureaucracy and the financial world. The "triangle of steel" without doubt produced groundbreaking results in the economic sector but it also claimed a high price from citizens in terms of social and political development.
Now the people, politically mature, have rebelled against the domination of a system which among other things, had become fertile ground for a culture of political corruption.
Koizumi probably knew how to read the signs of the times and to present himself as a leader of reform. His "hard headedness" in not going back on his plans to implement postal privatization is not without political wisdom: the Japanese postal system is the world's most powerful banking and insurance system. State-owned, for decades they offered protagonists of the "steel triangle" all the money they needed, outside the remit of effective democratic monitoring. This is one of the reasons, perhaps the main reason, for the economic crisis which has gripped Japan for 10 years. Coming out of this crisis, at least in part, is one of the merits of Koizumi's governance; he placed confidence in the economist Heizo Takenaka, who engineered the economic revival.
Two birds with one stone
In the second half of the nineties, a political system was born in Japan which we can call bipartisan, with the formation of Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan DPJ), which has 177 seats in parliament. The president is Kazuya Okada.
The opposition party has seen the snap election as an opportunity to acquire enough votes for a changed government. But media exit polls are all in favour of the LDP. If results are in line with predictions, the political audacity of Koizumi will have paid off. He would have killed two birds with one stone: above all, he will secure approval to privatise of the postal system and secondly he will be able to run his party with more clout having rid himself of his opponents.