When the Liberal Democratic Party was in power, officials of business and other organizations, including local governments, often sought contacts with LDP lawmakers to petition for particular policy measures. As an inherent part of the political process, the system spawned so-called “tribal” lawmakers, who conveyed the petitions to bureaucrats and influenced the latter’s decisions. In return, the lawmakers could expect votes from people linked to interest groups.
Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa has set up a new system to handle petitions. The DPJ’s prefectural chapters will compile all petitions from local governments and local-level organizations, and the DPJ party committees will do the same with petitions from national-level organizations.
Mr. Ozawa, 14 deputy secretary generals (seven from each Diet chamber) and other party officials classify petitions as either: to be sent to the prime minister; to be sent to ministers or parliamentary vice ministers; or not to be sent to the government.
Since the DPJ plans to identify those who have made petitions and publicize how the petitions have been handled, the system will increase transparency and help eradicate “tribal” lawmakers. But it will also have the political effect of forcing most interest groups to stop supporting the LDP and to rely on the DPJ. This could increase the number of organizations supporting the DPJ at election time.
One problem with the new system is that it may reduce chances for DPJ lawmakers to listen earnestly to complaints and requests from various groups and individuals. Thus lawmakers’ ability to help resolve people’s problems may suffer.
More important, the system will concentrate power in the hands of Mr. Ozawa. The prioritizing of petitions by his office may supersede decisions by the administration’s Government Revitalization Unit, which examines budgetary requests. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama should be reminded that a dual decision-making system won’t really help in the development of representative democracy.