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To make a comeback, DPJ must empower supporters

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A series of scandals and other problems have hit the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and lawmakers of his Liberal Democratic Party, and appear to have started shaking the Abe administration.

We might laugh off politicians who exhibit their ignorance or shameful acts. What cannot be condoned, however, is a statement by Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi, who oversees the broadcast industry. She told the Diet that the government may order TV stations to halt their broadcast transmission if they have aired what is considered to be unfair news reporting in their programs. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe endorsed this position. This is an unprecedented attempt to intimidate the broadcast media.

Nobody is happy to come under criticism. People in power, however, need to part with that sort of self-love. Power can occasionally become corrupt and run wild, thus posing a threat to people’s lives and freedom. It is therefore the destiny of those in power that they become the subject of criticism.

It also must be remembered that the LDP, while it was out of power, deemed it only natural for media organizations to criticize the Democratic Party of Japan government for its policy failures.

In the first place, who is to judge — and how — whether news reporting is unfair? If the judgment belongs to the communications minister — who is also a member of the party in power — it is not impossible for the minister to determine that a media report criticizing his or her party is unfair. If there are people who suffer under poor government policies, to give voice to those people would be a fair news reporting. Fairness is never a concept that means maintaining an equal distance from all political forces. As long as the policies of those at the helm of the government are not 100 percent right, fair media reporting has no other choice but to include attacks on the powers that be.

Last year, LDP lawmakers participating in a meeting to discuss “policies on culture and art” not only invited a novelist touting historical revisionist views as a guest speaker but also argued that pressure should be applied on businesses sponsoring TV programs in order to tame news broadcasts criticizing the government, and that two local dailies in Okinawa should be shut down because they always lash out against the Abe administration policies.

Given that the LDP — a party that does not view such remarks by its own members as shameful — is in power and responsible for broadcast administration, it would only be natural to think that the LDP intends to use the concept of “fairness” to achieve its political purposes.

In Japanese society, it is considered a virtue to be neutral and impartial. Community centers run by local governments often refuse to rent out their facilities for groups with particular political opinions such as opposition to constitutional amendments or exhibitions of art that represent such political messages. But attempts to shield ordinary citizens from partisan discussions has the effect of spreading political apathy. The Japanese language does not have a word that corresponds to “commitment” in English. An attitude to do all you can to promote whatever political cause or principle you believe in is still exceptional in this country.

A look at the primaries and caucuses that the Democrats or Republicans are holding to choose their nominees for the U.S. presidential election can help people understand that the participation of citizens in the process of candidate selection heavily influences the political current. The commitment of grass-roots activists helps choose the presidential candidates and shape the trend of thought behind policies.

Take a look at how the Democratic Party of Japan carried out its campaigns. Contrary to its founding slogan that “citizens take the center stage,” the DPJ’s election campaigns were thoroughly controlled by politicians. The change of government that put the DPJ at the helm of the government in 2009 was nothing more than a shift in power among politicians.

In Japanese politics, commitment on the part of voters is absent. All through the political process, citizens play a passive role, making a choice from among candidates and policies presented by political parties. Therefore, political parties, once they fall from grace, often find themselves lacking true supporters ready to back them through thick and thin. At least in this regard the LDP is stronger than other parties because it has a loyal support base such as Nippon Kaigi (the Japan Conference).

Talks continue for campaign cooperation among opposition parties for the Upper House election in July. But a merger between the DPJ and Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) would be nothing more than horse trading within the political industry. If it ever happens, it will have no impact whatsoever in politics as a whole.

The DPJ’s turnaround can only be achieved by inviting broad participation of citizens in the selection of its candidates and the establishment of a policy platform, thereby creating a new energy in politics.

If the party succeeds in setting the stage for a policy debate by squarely challenging the Abe administration’s policy problems, ranging from the prime minister’s attempt to amend the Constitution to the disparity between the rich and poor and the losses incurred in stock investments by the government pension fund, the Upper House election will provide the first opportunity in a long while for Japanese citizens to express their will.

Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University.

  • Dsakei

    Hmmm…. this author is of the school of thought that the DPJ should hit back at the LDP stronger and much more often. However, such tactics are merely reactive and does not cover up the DPJ’s dearth of policy initiatives. The DPJ has to figure out what kind of party it is and put together its platform based on that. Merely listening to more people just increases confusion.

    For the record, I think the DPJ should realize that it is a centre-left, urban, more internationalist political party, and it should start championing issues like more immigration, gay marriage, multiple citizenship that would appeal to its core constituency and give this constituency true, non-LDP choice. Currently, the DPJ is just a collection of reactive, anti-LDP losers that hardly attracts anyone.

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    • Atp34

      The issue is that I don’t think even the DPJ’s members support those issues enough to invigorate their voters.

      People ask “should gay marriage be formalized” in Japan, and most people respond no, and that’s that. Same for China and Korea. They are old and traditional societies.
      Immigration gets a similar answer. Who truly supports immigration after the troubles of America and Europe? It would be hard to get even 20% of voters.
      This goes for multiple citizenship as well.

      The DPJ needs to become a credible moderate opposition with credible and POPULAR policies. Until then it’ll remain but a useful tool of the political elite.

      • Dsakei

        The DPJ have not been winning at the polls because their main motto “seiken koutai” was only exciting the first time they gained power more than a decade ago.

        Political marketing is not only about putting together policies that your current members supports. For a moribund party that the DPJ they really have to plant policy seedlings for the future and gay marriage (among other progressive issues) are really the future.

        The DPJ was the more dynamic party once (when they championed women candidates before the LDP) but while the LDP has shown that it can champion new issues under Koizumi and Abe, the DPJ has remained the same old same old party still whingeing about seiken koutai. Have you met anyone still excited about seiken koutai?

  • Atp34

    As an American who has watched these elections for a number of years, I see little difference between the DPJ and LDP.

    Call me pessimistic, but I think that the DPJ is simply a weak opposition pawn of the elite class of Japan.
    It’s almost as if they don’t try to win a “meaningful” election to bring change. What other party gets caught so off guard that it doesn’t have enough candidates for the Nov 2014 election? What other party cannot capitalize on two recessions, rising debt, and non-stop political scandals?

    In essence Japan is a one party state of economic/political elites ruling over the apathetic masses. At least in America we try to hide the fact this is true.