[Viewpoint] You won - now for the hard part

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[Viewpoint] You won - now for the hard part

The Democratic Party of Japan has successfully taken power, winning the largest number of seats in the Diet in the history of Japanese elections. Some called the landslide victory an “earthquake” and an “electoral revolution.” Such excitement is no exaggeration, since every election since 1955 has been held with the assumption that the Liberal Democratic Party would remain in power.

The massive landslide owes to the citizens’ disillusionment with Koizumi-style reforms that focus only on economic efficiency.

Under the principles of capitalism, irregular employment and poverty grew, and the gap between the rich and the poor was aggravated. The conventional politics and constant corruption scandals of the Liberal Democratic Party also infuriated the people.

The citizens could no longer tolerate the abuses of power that became routine for the Liberal Democratic Party.

The frequent change in prime ministers, from Abe to Fukuda to Aso in the last three years, also happened without the consent of the voters, and the ruling party made the citizens feel politically impotent.

In contrast, the Democratic Party worked to convince voters to turn to their side with realistic policies that would have clear effects on their lives.

But these policy proposals were only secondary to the desire of citizens to break away from a prolonged political quagmire under the Liberal Democratic Party. Therefore, the victory of the Democratic Party is more of a judgment against the Liberal Democratic Party rather than the result of active support from the voters.

With the nationwide movement to oust the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party is expected to attempt considerable changes in how state affairs are conducted.

Foremost among them is that policy making will shift from the bureaucrats to the politicians.

The ruling party plans to establish the State Strategy Bureau and the Administrative Reform Committee to draft future national policy and take charge of administrative tasks, respectively. Some 100 representatives will join the Cabinet and take over key posts.

If things go as planned, fundamental changes in policy making, and even Japanese politics itself, are inevitable.

Foreign relations are likely to experience considerable change. The Democratic Party is a conservative party, but compared to the Liberal Democratic Party, it takes a relatively moderate and pacifist line. Therefore, Japan’s foreign policy, which focused mainly on relations with the United States under Liberal Democratic Party governments, is expected to become more inclusive, valuing Asia along with the United States.

Notably, the Democratic Party emphasizes a more equal Japan-U.S. alliance and greater international contributions. It takes a progressive stance on the Yasukuni Shrine and comfort women issues, and we can hope for improved relations with Korea. On the North Korean nuclear issue, the new Japanese government is expected to make a slight shift toward using carrots and sticks together for a certain time rather than pressuring the North with sanctions alone.

Nevertheless, there are expected to be limitations to how these policies are implemented, despite the eagerness of the new administration.

The Democratic Party is made up of groups and factions with various ideologies and political goals, including former Socialists and former Liberal Democrats. This wide spectrum of views means the possibility of severe ideological struggle within the party in the course of the policy-making process.

The Democratic Party is totally dominant in the House of Representatives, but it does not have a majority in the House of Councillors. For smooth policy planning, the Democratic Party has to form a coalition with the Social Democratic Party or the New Komeito Party, and that coalition will be a factor that could hinder the independent policy-making ability of the Democratic Party.

Its lack of experience drafting and implementing policies could also cause confusion in the early days of the administration. While it is anti-bureaucracy, it’s doubtful the party’s politicians are as capable as bureaucrats. Excessive political considerations could lead to populist policies.

The Democratic Party has defeated Japan’s longtime ruling party and taken power, thanks to the people’s call for a change, but its real test begins now.


*The writer is a professor of political science and diplomacy at Kyungpook National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ha Se-heon
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