In a Yomiuri Shimbun opinion survey conducted just after the election, 72 percent of those polled had an optimistic view of the Democratic Party of Japan, reflecting a favorable popular response to the outcome of the Aug. 30 general election.
Yet, in an Asahi Shimbun survey, only 32 percent of pollees said the DPJ could greatly change politics in Japan, versus 46 percent who thought the party could not. Asked about the reason for the party’s victory, 38 percent of those polled mentioned “people’s support for its policies,” while 52 percent did not believe that was the case.
The Hatoyama administration’s strength will be tested by its political management and policy development. Hence, it is necessary to consider several points.
First, the question arises as to whether the Hatoyama Cabinet can exercise its ruling abilities well. In the days of LDP rule, the dual-layer power structure embracing the government and the ruling party distorted the system under which the Cabinet was supposed to play a central role, and deep-seated mutual distrust between politicians and bureaucrats seriously harmed the efficiency of policymaking and execution.
The Hatoyama Cabinet includes principal figures of the DPJ and coalition partners. It will come under scrutiny as to whether it is strong enough to unify the policymaking functions under the Cabinet, and motivate public service workers to carry out their administrative tasks in accordance with the Cabinet’s policy decisions.
Second, there is the issue of raising Japan’s international status in order to promote stable diplomacy and national security policy. The DPJ referred to this issue only briefly in the last part of its manifesto. Nuclear disarmament and the elimination of the threat from North Korea are what the Japanese people long for, but the question is how they can be realized. The international community expects Japan to help ensure collective security against terrorist activities in Afghanistan through such efforts as the continuation of its refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. Could Japan retain the trust of other nations if it avoids giving a hand?
Japan should firmly maintain its alliance with the United States as the pivot of its foreign policy in years to come, while its mutual prosperity with China and other Asian countries is also important. To strengthen such ties, communication and creativity are indispensable.
Third is the implementation of the DPJ’s manifesto and the securing of necessary funds. The DPJ’s operation road map shows that the ¥7.1 trillion needed for fiscal 2010, including ¥2.7 trillion for new child allowances (plus ¥16.8 trillion, including ¥5.5 trillion for child allowances, in fiscal 2013) is to be secured by reviewing the total national budget of ¥207 trillion and digging out hidden reserves in special government accounts. Well, could that actually be possible? On top of that, tax revenues are likely to drop due to the recession.
Fourth, how can a new growth model for the country be realized? The world economy is getting out of the worst of the current crisis. But it is still faced with persisting unemployment and other unstable factors. This situation badly needs international cooperation for remedial action. It is also necessary to find a way to attain the optimum mix of market functions and public adjustment measures.
A policy of expanding consumption through redistribution of income is worth considering. But its spillover effect is so weak that the growth rate will likely decline. In such a situation, employment will drop. It will become urgently necessary to develop effective measures to promote innovations that can lead to economic growth.
Fifth, how can global environmental problems be effectively addressed? Hatoyama’s public pledge that Japan will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 appears very difficult to achieve in light of current technological standards, and there are no assurances that his pledge will lead to the participation of major greenhouse gas-emitting countries like the U.S. and China. Should things go wrong, Japan alone might face the imposition of a severe target, which would end up accelerating the transfer of industry to overseas. Japan should focus its efforts on technological innovations. Other nations expect Japan to do so.
Finally, I hope that a workable two-party system will take root in Japan so as to restore vitality to the nation’s politics. For this purpose, the DPJ should promote politics of harmony with people as well as maintain dignity as the party in power, while the LDP as an opposition party should reform itself and build up strength as a political force.
Developments between now and next year’s House of Councilors election will be worth keeping an eye on.
Shinji Fukukawa, formerly vice minister of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and president of Dentsu Research Institute, is chairman of the Machine Industry Memorial Foundation.