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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: De nouvelles raisons de s’intéresser
à la politique nippone

by Patrice Jorland

New causes for curiosity in Japanese politics

Does the fall of the Liberal Democratic Party signal a new era for Japan?

Translated Saturday 13 February 2010, by David Lundy and reviewed by Henry Crapo

The average Frenchman’s or Frenchwoman’s Japanese vocabulary has been greatly enriched in recent years. To the words and expressions related to high culture, martial arts, big companies exporting consumer durables, we can add those more contemporary inventions, especially those that could be termed popular: sumo, ninja, manga, animé, cosplay, or even certain expressions and personalities from the extensive domain of the sex industry. Nevertheless, as Sino-Vietnamese restaurateurs in France have often played this card, just about everyone has become an expert in sushi, maki, yakitori and the like, which to be honest are seldom authentic. However, politics and politicians remain largely unknown. This is a shame and is worth closer examination.

Already interesting before, even if only to try to understand the implications of the alleged Japanese consensus, of which there is little, we were repeatedly led to believe, illustrated in the seemingly unshakeable dominance of conservative forces. However, the elections of 30 August 2009 brought some earth-shattering implications.

The unshakable Liberal Democratic Party has collapsed; a new and stable majority has been formed around the Democratic Party (DPJ), while the Communist Party maintains about 7% of the vote, admirable at the very least as things stand in the world today. This shock is not cyclical, but it could not occur without the emergence of a credible new force. Another element, the new government is not hiding the extent of the problems that Japanese society has been facing since long before the archipelago was hit by this systemic crisis originating in the United States. Finally, social crisis is an undeniable that unemployment statistics constantly veil. The average household income has dropped by 10% since April 1998 and 18.5% of households must get by on 1240 Euros per month. The rate of formal employment fell to 66%. Young people work mostly in insecure jobs. This reduces the number of marriages and therefore births. Government debt is 200% of GDP.

The new majority’s programme is composed of three main priorities. The first, which was immediately initiated, is to establish politicians, specifically the Cabinet, in a position of control. This involves reducing the role of senior civil servants and internal LDP horse-trading. To this end, a strategic committee has been set up under the watch of the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary General of the DPJ. The remarkable political animal that is Ichiro Ozawa is providing discipline and preparing for the Senate elections in 2010. This may seem arcane to the average French man or woman, but the expectations of the population are strong on this issue.

The other two priorities have been received with a bit more scepticism. The promotion of these policies is supposed to enable the reallocation of funding to finish infrastructural programmes and bolster public services - notably the postal service where the privatization process must be stopped (in addition to the crucial role played by offices in rural areas, enormous reserves of savings and postal insurance are involved). Reorientation, this is the third priority, to emphasise the social: family allowances, pensions, free public schools and road tolls now so high that highways and connecting bridges are barely used. The JCP, which is prepared to provide critical support, strongly favours putting an end to precarious employment. If this programme were implemented, it should be possible to base growth on environmental protection and, more broadly, on domestic demand. One reason why Japan’s policy has attracted so much attention is that the voice of Japan is so frequently that of America. Hatoyama’s government does not undermine the alliance with the United States, but limits it to the security of the archipelago. The redeployment, at the expense of Japanese taxpayers, of U.S. bases established on their territory may be reviewed. In addition, no Japanese troops will be sent abroad except under the aegis of the UN. This is why ships in the Indian Ocean supporting American wars in the Middle East are to be recalled.

Finally, Tokyo may play a more active role, which requires independence, to advance reconciliation and cooperation among Asian countries, particularly in East Asia. The proposals that were put forward at a recent regional meeting in Thailand deserve attention. We await [1] with interest Barack Obama’s visit at the end of November 2009, as concerns are being raised in Washington over the direction of this most loyal of US allies.

[1This article appeared in l’Humanité on 3 November 2009, and is being translated at this time due to its continuing relevancy.

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