07/14/2010, 00.00
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Electoral defeat of the governing coalition and the crisis of democratic growth

by Pino Cazzaniga
Although defeated, the government currently is not at risk. Prime Minister Naoko Kan confirms the line of financial stringency. China appreciates the stability of the executive, but maintains good relations with Ozawa, the main rival within the Prime Minister’s party.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - The ruling party (DPJ: Democratic Party of Japan) suffered a heavy defeat in parliamentary elections that were held in Japan on July 11 to renew half the seats in the Upper House. It had aimed for 54 seats, but obtained only 44, on the contrary, the largest opposition party (the Liberal Democratic Party: LDP) won 51. The dramatic consequence is that the government has lost its majority in the Upper House.

Opportunity to further democratic growth.

From the legal-constitutional perspective the government has not need to be concerned because the legislature power of the Lower House is superior to that of the Upper House: If the latter does not approve a bill, it may be re-confirmed by the Lower House, and thus passed anyway. Currently the ruling party (DPJ), thanks to the overwhelming election victory in August of 2009, has absolute majority in the lower house.

However, just like last year, the problem is not a legal one rather it is a democratic one: the same people who last summer gave confidence to the DPJ took it from them this time.

"Yellow card", "thumbs down" are expressions that Japanese media have used to define the negative vote of the electorate: the criticism has not targeted the philosophy of the ruling party but its uncertainty in achieving it.

This emerged strongly in the editorial lines of the three principal Japanese newspapers: Yomiuri, Asahi and Mainichi. None of the three asked the government to resign. Instead the Liberal Democratic Party has requested the dissolution of parliament and early elections, almost as if in  revenge for their humiliating defeat last year.

Naoto Kan: an honest politician with insufficient experience.

In the press conference held immediately after the negative election results, Prime Minister Naoto Kan admitted that the DPJ's electoral strategy was biased when he mentioned the need to increase consumption tax to 10%, saying, also, that his efforts to convince the public of the need to correct the fiscal situation of the nation have failed. "My references to capital consumption has given people the impression that I raised this problem suddenly. My explanations were insufficient. " And he added: "while carefully considering the results of the elections, I intend to continue to lead the government, making a fresh start".   Kan is not arrogant, he is honest. Having been finance minister during the administration of Yukio Hatoyama, he knows how serious the situation of public debt is. During the election campaign he did not hold back from using the comparison of the economic situation in Greece. The editor of The Japan Times wrote that "the main opposition party (LDP) calls for a raise in taxes, and both parties consider increasing the tax on consumption the most efficient means to reduce the massive government deficit", which corresponds to 862 billion yen ie 168% of gross national product (GNP), worse than that of Greece which is about 130%. "The Japanese systems - writes a Mainichi analyst - as a whole will be ruined unless we begin to discuss the programs of social security, the decline in birth rates and aging population, as well as the reform of taxes to finance these programs. Kan was right to acknowledge (publicly) these problems ... and the Liberal Democratic Party, should share the responsibility for solving them. "

Everyone knows that the disastrous situation of public debt is due to 20 years of LDP irresponsible government policies.

Two hurdles in Kan’s path

In his post-election statement Kan was not only honest but also brave. Honest because he accepted his responsibilities, even if he did so a little too generously. As emphasized by the media the responsibility lies with the whole party. And he was generous, because he accepted the thankless and difficult task of continuing to govern. And he did so by not conforming to the culture of his country. In Japan, a leader who is wrong should resign.  This culture has also standardized the last three prime ministers belonging to the Liberal Democratic Party; Abe, Fukuda and Taro Aso: all three have resigned following the party's electoral defeat.

Kan decided to stay because the serious problems of internal and international policy require stability of government. When he said that he was returning to the starting line, he was thinking of the stretch of road (policy) that must be travelled until September when members of his party will elect a new president.

This road however presents two hurdles to be overcome: the difficulty in forming a coalition and a strong, although deaf opposition within the party focused on the former general secretary Ichiro Ozawa. The first hurdle is very difficult to navigate. Of the nine parties in the upper house, the one that comes closest to the DPJ is "Your Party", a newly formed party, which in the last elections won 10 seats (it only had one), but Yoshimi Watanabe, the chairman, has already said he will not join the coalition.  He has however accepted collaboration on individual issues. Which also applies to other parties. Thus, the system of partial and temporary coalition. The second, even greater, hurdle, seems unconquerable. Ozawa has left the post of party secretary in June at the request of then-President and Prime Minister Hatoyama. All admire his organizational skills, but no one knows his political philosophy. For years he was part of the Liberal Democratic Party of which he was also secretary general. As a youth, his political mentor was a former Member of the LDP who had dealings with the Japanese mafia and who dared to say "in politics, what counts are the numbers." Ozawa has established within the party a group of 150 parliamentarians who follow him faithfully.  

China satisfied with stability of Kan Government

When Kan was elected head of the Japanese government last June, the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao lost no time in contacting him directly through the new hot line. It seems that China is more comfortable with Kan than with his predecessor Yukio Hatoyama. Kan is more attentive to the language of diplomacy. Hatoyama spoke too of relations and the importance of establishing an "East Asia Economic Community”, modelled on the European system, an expression that could be construed as a challenge to the Chinese strategy.

According to a Japanese journalist of the magazine "Sentaku" (Choice), above all China wants political stability in East Asia. In an article in the Chinese journal Hyanqiu published by the state news agency Xinhua, the author Li Min writes that improving cooperative relations with neighbours is a fundamental strategy to make China strong and prosperous. Li points out that hostile relations taken by the Soviet Union toward its neighbours was one of the causes of its destruction".

Hatoyama's sudden resignation after only eight months of government, have taken China by surprise. Kan’s prudence and balance is the best guarantee of stability.

But for the same reason the Chinese leadership cultivates friendly relations with Ozawa, whose pragmatism is admired and who was recently received during his private visit to China with much deference. Therefore it is not keen to see the current secretary general of the DPJ, Yuio Edan, and other members of the party leadership to distance themselves from Ozawa. "Prime minister Kan has limited leadership," wrote a Chinese expert on Japan. "But as we admire his attitude to promote friendly relations with China, what we have to do is to have close relations with him, on a case by case basis."  

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