One reason for the Democratic Party of Japan’s victory in the 2009 Lower House election was its call for stronger devolution. Apparently taking a cue from the DPJ’s gains three years ago, many political parties now call for establishing a doshu system, which would divide Japan into several administrative regions under regional governments. This idea would mean a revamp of Japan’s governing system.
But it would take a lot of time, energy and money to bring about such a change, and there is no guarantee the new system would make people’s lives any better. It is possible that launching such an overhaul of the nation’s governing system at a time when central and local government indebtedness totals nearly ¥1,000 trillion could wreak havoc on the nation’s already weak finances.
The DPJ government has made some progress in devolution. It has set up a consultation forum for central and local government leaders. Decisions made in the forum have binding power. While the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito were in power, they reduced grants from the central government to local governments.
The DPJ government has managed to increase grants by about ¥2 trillion — to about ¥17 trillion a year. Before the dissolution of the Lower House, the Noda Cabinet endorsed a bill to transfer jobs and personnel at regional bureaus of some central government ministries bureaus to federations of prefectural governments.
The LDP opposed such a transfer. But in the campaign for the Dec. 16 Lower House election, the LDP proposes enacting a basic law for a doshu system and then establishing doshu regional governments within five years.
In its election manifesto three years ago, the DPJ included no mention of a doshu system. But in its current manifesto, it says it will consider a doshu system from a middle- and long-term view. Komeito calls for early enactment of the basic law. The Japan Restoration Party and several other parties also urge introduction of a doshu system.
The problem is that no substantive public discussions have been held on a doshu system. Political parties also tend to talk about sweeping doshu-like reform without getting to the meat of it when the nation languishes in the doldrums politically and economically.
It must be remembered that a doshu system is not an attempt to strengthen existing local governments. Regional governments set up under the system could seem distant from local residents, and there is no guarantee that local residents could effectively control such governments. If a person under the influence of a particular central government ministry became head of a regional government, that ministry could have great influence in regional control. Wide public discussions are indispensable for building consensus on a viable governing system.