A Japanese Metamorphosis?

OSAKA – Yesterday’s landslide general-election victory by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) terminated the one-party-dominated system that the catch-all Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has controlled almost without interruption since 1955. For most of the last decade, the DPJ was not seen as a viable alternative to the LDP, although they appeared to form a pseudo-two-party system. Twenty years after the Cold War’s end, Japan will at last have a post-Cold War system of government.

The Japanese public, even now, remains uncertain about the DPJ’s ability to govern and is skeptical of its rosy programs of wealth redistribution, which lack solid funding. The public is also fully aware that the ideologically fragmented DPJ lacks a pragmatic, coherent foreign and security policy

Yet the DPJ will form the next government because of public disgust with the LDP. For the last four years, the LDP had shown itself to be utterly unresponsive to the key issues of popular concern: pensions, unemployment, and the fraying social safety net. Moreover, the LDP was plagued by a string of minor scandals and consistent bungling. The LDP’s need for three different prime ministers in the space of little more than a year made plain that the party’s power nucleus had melted down.

Once in power, the DPJ will immediately confront the massive bureaucracy and entrenched mandarins, which usually sabotage any efforts at administrative reform that threatens their power and vested interests. Indeed, immediately after the election, the budget estimates for the next fiscal year are due. The figures that will be presented are the result of a lengthy process, in which the bureaucracy closely consulted with LDP. So, without breaking the regular budget cycle, the DPJ will be forced to implement not only the supplementary budget drawn up by the LDP, but will also be stuck with next year’s budget, which embodies LDP policies that the DPJ has denounced.