Politics in Britain is characterized by a confrontation between the Conservative Party and the Labor Party. Each has its own policy platform, and voters choose between them, forcing changes in government. Likewise in the United States, the Republican and Democratic Parties alternate in power, running the government to meet citizens’s wishes.
The tension generated by the confrontation of two parties gives vitality to U.S. politics. This tension is rooted in the principle that no president can serve more than two terms, or eight years.
In contrast, there is no limit to the number of terms a Japanese prefectural governor can serve; some have been re-elected to three, four or even five terms. This causes complacency on the part of both the governor and voters, making it impossible to implement good politics. Prefectural governors should be limited to two terms.
In the Japanese national political scene, there are so many political parties that one chooses to join a governing coalition or to remain in opposition solely on the basis of the advantages and disadvantages to the party. For example, the present governing coalition is composed of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, while the opposition camp consists of the Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Communist Party and several others. Only recently, however, the Liberal Party was a member of the coalition with the LDP, while Komeito used to be in the opposition. It is impossible for people to understand how such changes occur.
The LDP has always had more seats in the Diet than any other party, and thus clings to power. Whenever an internal feud occurs within the party or a coalition partner defects, the foundation of the government is shaken, and sometimes faces collapse.
One shortcoming of a coalition government is that there is no guarantee of policy coordination or the expeditious implementation of policies. Politics based on a two-party system is easier to understand. Japan’s multiparty-coalition system blurs accountability.
In this situation, the president of the LDP becomes prime minister. The Japanese Constitution should clearly provide that the tenure of the prime minister is four years, just as the U.S. president’s term is fixed at four years. But there is no such provision in the Constitution, even though it is stipulated that a member of the House of Representatives serves for four years.
In addition to this constitutional loophole, the LDP has a rule of its own that limits the term of its president to two years, which automatically sets the term of the prime minister at two years. It is ridiculous that the rule of a political party takes precedence over the Constitution. Although I do not favor direct election of the prime minister, I think it is wrong for the Constitution to have no provision on the position of the prime minister.
Let me look at political parties in Japan from a different angle. American politics have vitality because they are based on a two-party system; Japanese politics lack vitality because there are so many parties. Moreover, because the government is run by a coalition centering around the LDP, there is no real competition among political parties. This will gradually lead to corruption.
Consider the Japan Socialist Party, whose purpose was to oppose everything proposed by the LDP. The JSP was formed in October 1955, one month ahead of the LDP. In June 1994, it entered the government under its leader, Tomiichi Murayama, but only in coalition with the LDP. For the previous 39 years, the Socialist Party had never formed a government and only opposed everything proposed by the LDP. The Socialists didn’t even try to replace the LDP regime. The JSP was not a political party, because a political party that cannot form a government is like a cat that doesn’t catch a mouse. This situation, unthinkable in the U.S. or Britain, lingered in Japan. The Socialist Party was dead at birth, and the LDP has taken advantage of this situation by running politics as it pleased.
Although certain achievements have been made by the LDP, protracted one-party rule leads to corruption.
The LDP started showing signs of corruption at the time of the Lockheed scandal in 1972, when Kakuei Tanaka was prime minister. The party ruled the nation in relative calm under his successors, but the LDP collapsed when it was split in the general elections called by Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa in 1993.
Today the LDP faces staunch criticism from the public, as evidenced by the low approval rate of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s government. Moreover, the party has been thrown into chaos as former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato tried to join hands with Taku Yamasaki in an attempt to overthrow the Mori government. This came at a time when the party must act cohesively to tackle such important issues as the rejuvenation of Japan, information technology, economic recovery, educational reform and fiscal reconstruction.
The LDP is seriously ill. The symptoms first appeared in 1972, the conditions got worse around 1987, and has become more serious since 1991.
When one party rules a nation for a long period, that party gets corrupted and starts down the path of self-destruction. We must wait another 10 years before we can hope for the political rejuvenation of Japan.
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