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Prime Minister Noda the no-sider can have no one on his side

by Noriko Hama

Special To The Japan Times

So yet another Japanese prime minister comes out of the woodwork. One gets so tired of talking about revolving doors, merry-go-rounds, musical chairs and passing the parcel.

In fairness, Yoshihiko Noda is a lot less objectionable than some of the other revolving persons we have had to accept as prime minister in the past. Even though he calls himself a loach, he seems to be more normal than is the norm for those denizens of the Japanese political establishment. That said, there is one thing that I, for one, find most objectionable about what is apparently Noda’s basic approach to the prime ministership. And that is that he has declared himself a no-sider.

The declaration came in the wake of his successful bid for the leadership of his own Democratic Party of Japan. Having secured that position and therefore the prime ministerial ticket as well, Noda went on to say that there should be no more feuds, infighting and backstabbing. “Let this be the no-side moment,” he said.

Ending the silly infighting is fine. There is nothing objectionable in that. Yet a politician who takes no sides is a cipher and a contradiction in terms. You are a politician because you have a certain set of principles. You try to rally people to your side. A politician who can wave no banner to show which side of the divide he belongs to cannot hope to be trusted by either side of the argument.

Why on earth should we bother to exercise our vote if politicians take no sides?

No-sider politics is what insider trading is to business ethics. It is a violation of the fundamental rules of the democratic process.

If the party in government takes this kind of nonposition, it has only itself to blame if it finds itself on the losing side of a one-sided game with the opposition. It will expose itself to attacks from the blind side.

If Noda continues to be preoccupied with no-side politics within his own party, his policies will get sidetracked and careen off the rails. That kind of sideshow is not something that we want to be forced to watch.

“Who is on my side, who” were the words uttered by Jehu, the king of Israel in the Old Testament, as he confronted the seductress Jezebel.

How can Noda hope to make a similar call in his own time of need and hope to find supporters when he himself has taken no side?

A no-sider’s side is one that no one can belong to because no one knows where that side is. The kinds of adversaries Noda is likely to meet on his prime ministerial path may not have the ensnaring powers of Jezebel, but he could still do with some supporters in his moments of need.

Yet if he has no side to which he can call people to arms, even would-be supporters will not know where to go. It could be that a no-sider may not need to fear the emergence of enemies of Jezebel’s caliber in the first place. This is a comforting thought of sorts, but the other side of the coin is surely that he cannot hope to attract many friends of very fierce loyalty either.

Benjamin Disraeli served as British prime minister in the late 19th century. He certainly did not want for high-caliber enemies. And he certainly was no no-sider. He knew exactly which side he was on. For it was he, of course who said: “Now I am on the side of the angels.”

It is to be hoped that Noda will end up on that side as well.

Noriko Hama is an economist and professor of Doshisha University Graduate School of Business.