[FOUNTAIN]Winds of change from Japan

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[FOUNTAIN]Winds of change from Japan

At what point is reform possible? How do we prevent reform from colliding with those who hold vested political interests? Where is the end for politicians who do not accept public opinion? The election for governor of Nagano Prefecture in Japan earlier this month helps us understand these issues.

The election in Japan, which failed to gain much attention from Korean citizens due to relief work in the wake of Typhoon Rusa here, caught media attention worldwide after a former governor who had been removed from the post ran again and won the election convincingly. Yasuo Tanaka, a 46-year-old poet and a civic activist, had been forced to resign from the governorship after a no confidence measure passed the Nagano Prefectural Assembly.

Mr. Tanaka won the election by taking 820,000 votes, 64 percent of all votes cast -- twice the number of votes for the first runner-up.

He gained a lot of support in urban areas during his first election victory. But during the most recent election, he won not only in the city but also in rural districts.

The result was a clear repudiation of the assembly. Mr. Tanaka incurred enmity from the senior members of the assembly by stopping the construction of a dam allegedly started out of collusion between the assembly members and a local construction company, He also raised various questions relating to the Nagano Winter Olympics four years ago. The conflict between Mr. Tanaka and the assembly escalated when Mr. Tanaka attempted to revise government procedures related to public projects and the distribution of tax money. The governor continuously criticized the lawmakers, saying its projects were not helping the regional economy. The assembly leaders said the governor was too self-righteous and that he was harming reform. In the end, however, the man who took the side of the democracy won.

Five of Mr. Tanaka's rivals ran in the prefectural election as independents. The candidates knew that joining a political party would not gain them additional votes. The public showed tremendous pessimism toward the established government. Perhaps this was a glimpse of public sentiment in Japan, which has been in an economic recession for the past 10 years. It was also a warning to the central government, which has maintained its bureaucratic ways for years, failing to achieve economic change.

The residents of Nagano want policies reformed so they can participate in government decisions and achieve transparent administration. Perhaps Koreans should take this as an example of the public's desire for change.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Choi Chul-joo

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