[Viewpoint] Lining up the mudfish

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[Viewpoint] Lining up the mudfish

He was like a salmon struggling against the current as he leapt toward the speaker’s podium. The Democratic Party lawmaker tried manfully to cling on, but Grand National Party lawmakers occupying the podium beat him back.

That’s what happened at the National Assembly on July 22.

Japanese television played the scene over and over again. I was watching at a restaurant with an assistant to a Japanese lawmaker who made just one short, careful comment on the leaping lawmaker: “He is full of energy!”

But even though Korean politics might be deemed substandard by some, politics in Japan are just as backward. Except for 10 months in 1993, the Liberal Democratic Party has been the ruling party for 55 years. Despite all kinds of corruption allegations and scandals, Japanese voters have faithfully supported this one party. People say that it would be easier to get 10 mudfish to form an orderly line than to get Japanese voters to shift their support from the ruling to the opposition party.

However, the Liberal Democratic Party is a sinking Titanic, and more than half of the vessel is already submerged. Opinion polls show that the ruling party will suffer a crushing defeat at the general election scheduled for Aug. 30.

Maybe reflecting the impending defeat, seven deputy ministers from more than half of the government ministries, including the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, resigned quietly last month. It’s a sort of exodus.

Meanwhile, officials are busy networking with Democratic Party lawmakers. Officials are digging out photos taken years back.

“I accompanied you when we visited this facility,” they say, trying to bond. Others have a close look at the bookshelves and try to figure out the taste and ideology of the lawmakers.

So what made the mudfish miraculously form a queue in Japan?

There can be many different factors, but I think the most crucial element is the constant learning, research and critical approach adopted by the Democrats.

The Democratic Party’s Secretary-General Katsuya Okada is said to be absorbed in policy research until late every night. He usually eats dinner in his office and he has kept his distance from the Liberal Democratic Party’s style of political culture that leaves everything to officials. He will travel anywhere in Japan and abroad if a field trip is necessary.

These days, he is almost always the winner of policy debates with the ruling party’s secretary general. The six-time representative is so energetic and enthusiastic that all the young politicians respect and make an example of him.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party’s Akira Nagatsuma has been focusing on investigating the problems of the pension policy. The three-time lawmaker has gathered and analyzed extensive data on the pension program over the past two years and discovered that some 50 million pension payments had been left out off official records.

He left a strong impression with voters and is now seen as an authority on the pension issue, one of the topics citizens are most interested in.

He even earned the nickname, “Mr. Pension,” and it has been unofficially decided that he will be the minister of pension reform if his party is elected.

Voters now have a greater trust in the Democratic Party, believing that its knowledge and caliber in policy management can make it the next government.

The members of the Korean National Assembly need to realize that even Japan is changing. If you have the energy to jump over and over again like a salmon, and have the energy to push someone out every time, why not use the energy to study further?

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

by Kim Hyun-ki
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