Japan is set to head to the polls for parliamentary elections on August 30, and polling suggests Prime Minister Taro Aso’s conservative party will lose power after ruling for most of the past 54 years.
Some analysts suggest that this election may herald an era of a two-party political system.
Yoichi Funabashi is the editor-in-chief of the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. He writes at the “East Asia Forum” about changes ahead for the Japanese political landscape.
Halfway through the 2004 U.S. presidential primaries, a taxi driver engaged me in conversation as he drove me from a hotel in Qingdao, in the eastern part of China’s Shandong province, to the airport.
‘In the United States, the Republicans and the Democrats appeal to the public by highlighting the differences in their policies. That is why there is dynamism in their politics,’ he said. ‘In China, with the Kuomintang in Taiwan becoming more realistic, what would happen if a two-party system was set up with the Communist Party and the Kuomintang and have the two alternate in government? By the way, what is the situation in Japan? Are there two major parties in Japan like in the United States? Are they competing with each other? What are the choices presented to the people?’
Reflexively, I responded: ‘Of course they are competing,’ I said. ‘In Japan, it comes down to a battle between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. Like the United States, Japan has free elections.’
However, I soon caught myself pondering the issue more deeply as I began to realize that it was not entirely obvious what it is that the LDP and the DPJ are competing over.
What, in fact, are the choices that are being presented to the Japanese public?
There are other questions facing Japan right now. Will it have a two-party system like the United States? Is such a system even desirable? Will the Lower House election on August 30 be a choice between promoting that trend or not?
Five years down the road, has the time finally come when I can proudly respond to that taxi driver’s question?
[…] Scrutinizing the policies presented in the campaign manifestoes of the LDP and the DPJ, there is a blurring of the differences because the LDP appears to have come up with measures that simulate those of the DPJ in areas such as child-rearing support and education policy.
In addition, the record-level economic stimulation measures taken to address the global economic crisis have led to a confrontation between ‘big government’ and ‘big government.’
[…] If an age of two-party politics is to emerge in Japan, it should be one that pits a conservative force against a liberal one.
However, it remains to be seen if a two-party system in which both parties are capable of handling government will actually emerge.
The range of alternatives before the public will only expand if opposition parties present counterproposals to policies presented by the ruling party, and if the ruling camp subsequently presents even more counterproposals.
There can be no choice without alternatives. Alternatives must involve decisions on what should be changed as well as what should not be changed.
One reason for the current confusion in Japan is its failure as a nation to respond to questions such as whether it wants to continue to depend on exports or move toward a domestic demand-based economy, whether the environment and the economy are mutually exclusive, whether it seeks to become a multiethnic society and whether it will push reform or return to square one.
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