End the yearlong gridlock

by Hisahiko Okazaki

First of all, I would like to express my respect to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda for his swift decision to step down. My view on Prime Minister Fukuda since he came into office is that his strongest point lies in his humility.

Constantly compared with his late father, Takeo Fukuda, who had enjoyed the expectations of conservatives as a politician following in the footsteps of the Nobusuke Kishi administration, Yasuo Fukuda is a person able to look at himself objectively. It was the same when he resigned as chief Cabinet secretary in 2004. He knows when to quit without clinging to power and his position.

As Fukuda mentioned, his decision to quit this time grew out of the split Diet, itself the result of an unintended drawback in the process of drafting the Constitution during the postwar Occupation.

Under the parliamentary government system originated in Britain, politics is supposed to be conducted by striking a balance between the government’s right to dissolve Parliament and Parliament’s right to submit a no-confidence motion. The mistake in creating an Upper House, which cannot be dissolved by the government and has nearly the same power as the powerful British-style Lower House, became apparent half a century after the Occupation when the LDP’s control over the upper chamber ended for a while.

The only way to resolve this situation is to create a system or a mental attitude favoring an agreement that crosses party lines on matters of national interests.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean to support the war on terror in Afghanistan is a vital issue that concerns Japan’s national interests. With the United Nations’ resolution on U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq expiring at the end of this year, assistance for Afghanistan will amount to Japan’s only support for America’s counterterrorism strategy.

If Japan terminates this assistance, Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s immediate, frank reaction can easily be imagined. Termination would also be a matter of great concern for the policy of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, although he plans to prioritize relations with Japan amid a variety of options.

The Democratic Party of Japan, led by Ichiro Ozawa, now dominates the Upper House. It is understandable that its top priority is to win the next general elections and that the party is trying to drive the government into a corner at all costs with the aim of scoring points. National interests, however, should take precedence over party interests. Can a person who does not understand such a thing be called a statesman?

I would like to see the next administration firmly promote the extension of the Antiterrorism Special Measures Law authorizing MSDF’s refueling operation in the Indian Ocean.

I have more expectations from the next Cabinet. Although former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is described by the media as having walked off the job, he had no intention of doing so. It was his ill health. In the previous Diet session, he resolved long-standing LDP issues such as amending the Fundamental Law of Education, establishing a national referendum law necessary for amending the Constitution and upgrading the Defense Agency to a ministry status. He was planning to implement them with various administrative measures.

Prime Minister Abe ordered a blue-ribbon panel to accelerate revision of the government’s interpretation of the right of collective self-defense. Completing its debates during the summer of 2007 on four contingencies in which the right should be exercised, the panel was scheduled to meet Sept. 14, 2007, to wind up its discussions. But Abe came down with an illness two days earlier. It was truly regrettable that the reform drive ended one step short of resolving these issues.

Nobody ventured to explain a logical reason — perhaps because of the lack of courage and intellect — for the mood of passive resistance to Prime Minister Abe’s courageous attempt to break away from the habitual thinking that, more than a half-century after World War II, has blocked the reforms set in motion.

I remember the words of a grade school teacher and recipient of the Hakuho Award, which honors organizations and individuals for outstanding achievements in children’s education: “I have encouraged children to turn Japan into a beautiful country. Today’s mood does not allow me to say those words to the children. What should I do?”

It is a strange phenomenon. Remnants of Occupation-era thinking, which negates “country first” thoughts, and remnants of the Japan Teachers’ Union education philosophy, which benefited the communist bloc during the Cold War, have shrouded Japan the past year like smog, though there are no longer intellectual arguments to defend either.

I earnestly hope the next Cabinet, or the effective results of the latest political event, will usher in a ray of hope on the edge of this dark cloud.

Hisahiko Okazaki is former ambassador to Thailand. This is an English translation of a Japanese article that appeared in the Sept. 5 Seiron column of Sankei Shimbun.