[Viewpoint]A lesson from Japan

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[Viewpoint]A lesson from Japan

What were Korean politicians thinking when they watched the devastating defeat of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the Upper House elections? Many of the same causes that doomed Japan’s ruling party can also be applied to the ruling party in Seoul.
Let’s first read the words voters expressed to the Japanese media. A self-employed man in his 60s from Sapporo, who supported the Liberal Democratic Party in the Lower House elections in 2005 but voted for the opposition candidate this time, said, “The coalition of the Liberal Democratic and the New Komei parties made a fool of the people by mishandling the pension system.”
A housewife in her 50s from Sendai, who also turned her back on the Liberal Democratic Party, said, “I hated to see the party push ahead with its policies just because it had more lawmakers, not by using dialogue and persuasion.”
A female employee, 27, living in Shinjuku, Tokyo, said with indignation, “I could no longer tolerate the improper remarks of the Liberal Democrats,” and a male voter in Wakayama, aged 71 but still working, said, “I voted for the opposition Democratic Party because I was worried about the headstrong way the Abe administration runs state affairs.”
This long-time LDP supporter said, “I voted for the Democratic Party, hoping the opposition party would take care of the people’s standard of living.”
The situation is the same in both countries.
People feel unsure about their future due to the poor management of the pension system, while their economies are in serious recession. The thoughts and actions of the politicians, both Korean and Japanese, fall well short of the people’s expectations.
Just like the Shinzo Abe administration, Korea’s Roh Moo-hyun administration recorded soaring support ratings in the beginning.
The high ratings may have demonstrated the people’s simple wish that the government improve their standard of living. But the politics focusing on the people’s standard of living were set aside. As the people’s expectations and trust plummeted, so did the poll ratings for both leaders.
When he was elected in September of last year, Prime Minister Abe offered a fairly future-oriented slogan, “building a new country.”
But the area he focused on was far different. Because he became prime minister with support from the conservatives, he was preoccupied with pleasing them.
At his first press conference, the main issues were the sanctions against North Korea and a restructuring. He pushed his policies forward because his party had numerical superiority over the Liberal Democratic lawmakers. He advocated democracy only in words, consistently pushing self-righteous policies.
Abe pursued the revision of Article 9 of the Peace Constitution as his first and foremost priority. Yet it was not future oriented, either.
Although Japan’s economy is allegedly recovering, most Japanese people are reluctant to spend much money.
According to the Japanese media, the average income is not much different from what it was seven years ago. The reality is that because of the financial reform, such as the reduced budgets for public construction projects, the domestic economy has shrunk instead. The Japanese people’s “fatigue over reform” has grown in intensity, so the people voted down the LDP.
Even after his defeat, Abe insisted on following his own way, saying, “I still have the duty to do my best to carry out reform.”
This reminds us of the situation when President Roh clung to things unrelated to the people’s livelihood, such as the construction of an administrative capital and the liquidation of the past, even after returning to his office after his impeachment in 2004.
If politicians stick to a policy like the liquidation of past wrongdoings as the Roh administration has done, or overlook the people’s standard of living, saying economic records are good even if the economy is bad, they will have no other choice but to receive stern judgment from the voters.
Voters are not as foolish as politicians think.

*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Dong-ho
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