Japan’s Treacherous Bureaucrats

Prime minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party has fallen on hard times, owing to a wave of scandals. But a closer look at the government's problems reveals the role of Japan's entrenched bureaucrats, who have more or less allied with the opposition to subvert civil-service reforms.

Much has been made of the massive defeat Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party suffered in the recent election to Japan’s Upper House. But, as the smoke dissipates from that vote, it has become clear that the real victor is neither the leading opposition Democratic Party (DPJ) nor the electorate. Instead, it is Japan’s bureaucrats who are celebrating.

The aim of these entrenched mandarins is to block Abe’s plans for extensive civil-service reforms intended to inhibit them from parachuting into lucrative post-retirement jobs in the public corporations and private firms that they once regulated. They also want to stop Abe from dismantling and privatizing one of their central fiefdoms, the Social Security Agency. In this struggle, the mandarins are aligning themselves with the DPJ, at least to the general public’s eye, because it has proposed merging the Social Security Agency with the National Tax Agency, a move that would ensure government jobs for the former’s employees.

The LDP’s declining vote is attributable largely to Abe’s mishandling of pension fund issues, particularly his late admission of knowledge last December about 50 million “lost” pension files. This followed other minor scandals concerning the misuse of political funds, which had led to two resignations and the suicide of one of Abe’s cabinet ministers.

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