If citizens want a better Japan, they need to turn out for Sunday’s election and vote against the old-school lawmakers and those who aim to inherit a parent’s seat as if it were a birthright, according to American businessman Bill Totten.
“If the Japanese really care about their country, they should turn out at the election in record numbers,” said Totten, the 58-year-old president of K.K. Ashisuto, a Tokyo-based computer software distribution company.
Totten has lived in Japan for 31 years and has authored a series of books. He often takes part in TV debates comparing society in Japan and the United States.
“People like to gripe about politicians, bureaucrats and the education system without doing their duty and voting,” which is the foundation of a democracy, he said, pointing out that recent elections have seen fewer voters turning out.
Totten feels Japanese citizens are no longer taking an active role in improving their society. Instead, they simply sit back and blame their problems on other people.
“Politicians have adversely affected the economy, but the root of the problem really lies in the political apathy of the citizens,” Totten said in an interview conducted in Japanese.
Reminiscing about Japan’s high-growth eras of the 1960s and 1980s, Totten said that in those days more people took their responsibility to vote seriously. Higher voter turnout created a proper balance between the Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition forces, and thus politicians were vying to meet the people’s expectations.
“Toward the end of the high-growth period, as the people started slacking off in their responsibility to go to the polls, the political system deteriorated,” Totten said. “Politicians began favoring banks and big businesses — from which they could obtain political contributions — over the interests of the general public.”
Totten attributed Japan’s current stagnant economy to the “misgovernment” of LDP-led coalitions, citing the ill-timed consumption tax hike — from 3 percent to 5 percent in 1997 — and the subsequent introduction of the “Big Bang” financial reforms.
The former dampened consumer spending, while the latter encouraged banks to freely direct funds overseas while squeezing credit to small firms and favoring large corporations or overseas speculation, resulting in record bankruptcies and unprecedented high unemployment, which further dampened consumer spending, he said.
Totten said the opposition camp are equally to blame for failing to act as a counterbalance to prevent the current malaise.
Asked what differences he sees between the LDP and the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, Totten queried rhetorically: “What is the difference between a prostitute and a schoolgirl engaging in ‘enjo-kosai’ (dating older men for money)?”
In his view, the DPJ is little more than a defected faction of the LDP, with former LDP members playing a leading role in writing party policies.
Totten expressed disgust with opposition parties’ attacks on Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori for his controversial “divine nation centering on the Emperor” remarks.
Rather than bickering over semantics, he said, opposition forces should be communicating a grander vision on more important issues, such as the consumption tax and budget deficit.
“Honestly, I think all the lawmakers up for re-election should lose in the general election,” he said. “We want better ruling and opposition parties.”
Such a result would work as a shock therapy, he said, perhaps pushing lawmakers — particularly those following in their ancestors’ footsteps, as if politics were a family business — to work harder for the sake of the people.
At the same time, he added, greater voter turnout would lessen the propensity for pork-barrel politics.
Totten said politicians should take a cue from the late Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., who suggested citizens’ happiness was the ultimate goal of society.
Totten is urging politicians to adopt policies designed to benefit not only the wealthy, but all classes of society, by collecting more taxes from the rich, banks and big companies in order to improve social infrastructure and provide a safety net.
Totten likened the present visionless Japan to the situation in the U.S. during the late 1950s, when the society enjoyed the postwar prosperity to the point that people began to lack vision and motivation.
“Then John F. Kennedy challenged the nation: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.’ This inspired Americans to do great things, including starting programs like the Peace Corps.” Totten said. “What Japan lacks and needs is such a vision. It’s about time for political leaders to provide Japan’s 126 million people with a vision to inspire them to create a healthy, well-balanced society for the 21st century.”