Sunday, December 5

Replacing Suga as Prime Minister will do little to resolve Japan’s political crisis | Paul O’Shea and Sebastian Maslow


Japan will soon have a new prime minister. Not because general elections are approaching, though there are, but because the leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the deeply unpopular Yoshihide Suga, abruptly resigned last week. Following a series of defeats in local elections, an Olympic Games staged against the public will, and a related fifth wave of Covid that has thrown Japan’s medical system into “disaster mode,” Suga’s approval rating fell. it had plummeted to its lowest level since the PLD’s return to power in 2012. The resignation was undoubtedly a wise decision, which put the party first.

Given how disastrous the past few months have been, one could imagine that Suga’s replacement, almost certainly a man, would have to go to great lengths to avoid a general election catastrophe. But that is not how Japanese democracy works.

The country has largely avoided the polarizing populist extremism seen elsewhere. However, the failure of the system to produce credible opposition figures capable of breaking the PLD’s hold on power has left the Japanese electorate listless. Instead of voting for extremist parties, people just don’t vote: the country has one of the lower voter turnout in the democratic world. If there is no real option, what does it mean for democracy?

In the short term, it means that while the conservative PLD could lose some seats in the general elections, which will be called before the end of November, it is still expected to comfortably hold power. The installation of a new leader will further consolidate this. In fact, the very act of organizing the leadership elections has overshadowed the general elections: with all eyes on the PLD, no one speaks of the smaller and more divided opposition parties.

In the long run, understanding how a party with an unpopular leader, who resigned after just 12 months in office, could easily win an election – and what that means for Japan’s future – requires a quick history lesson. . The PLD has ruled almost uninterruptedly since its founding in 1955, but this “democracy without competitionIt was not a foregone conclusion.

In fact, the immediate postwar years saw massive, sometimes violent protests against American military bases, and in 1947 there was even a socialist prime minister. However, in 1960 the leader of the Socialist Party was assassinated and the PLD imposed an alliance treaty with the United States through the Japanese parliament, the Diet, blocking MPs who protested in the process. With the issue of American bases and Japan’s role in the cold war resolved for a generation, and against a weakened socialist party, the PLD set out to establish total dominance. In presiding over the postwar Japanese “economic miracle”, voters awarded the party successive majorities. Meanwhile, due to the nature of the Japanese political system, the PLD lavished attention on special interest groups, such as farmers and large companies, in order to maximize the value of their votes and secure financial support for the elections. Thus, even as the PLD’s vote share declined by nearly 20 percentage points from the late 1950s to the 1970s, the party still won a comfortable majority of seats.

The combination of economic downturn and a series of high-profile corruption scandals in the early 1990s finally ended the PLD’s almost 40-year uninterrupted rule. In 1993, a patchwork coalition seized power and overhauled the electoral system, partly implementing a Westminster-style first-after-post system to establish a two-party democracy. However, by 1994, the PLD had returned to power and ruled for another 15 years.

The neoliberal economic reforms of the 1990s and 2000s increased inequality and insecurity, opening new spaces for political dissent. Several opposition parties consolidated to form the Democratic Party of Japan (PDJ), a more progressive and urban party, which toppled the PLD in 2009. Political scientists announced the late arrival of a two-party system. Chosen in a manifesto for social welfare and economic reform, the DPJ government was overshadowed by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear collapse. The PLD successfully blamed the man-made disaster on the DPJ, even though the deregulation of security measures took place under successive PLD administrations. By 2012, the PLD returned to power and the PDJ disintegrated shortly thereafter.

The PLD is a broad church and an incredibly successful vote-winning machine, but its dominance has prevented alternative ideas and new faces from emerging. It speaks volumes that the most exciting, young and dynamic candidate for prime minister is Taro Kono, a 58-year-old party stalwart born into a famous political dynasty.

Women make up less than 10% of the Diet, and Suga’s outgoing cabinet has two 21-year-old female ministers. All but one of those ministers are over 50 years old, with the exception of Shinjirō Koizumi, the son of a former prime minister. The monopoly of power in the hands of older, privileged, conservative men with close ties to big business generated material prosperity in the postwar era. Currently, it is not meeting the majority of Japanese. Precarious employment and high rates of relative poverty help explain the sharp decline in marriages and births, as well as loneliness and mental health problems.

The PLD does not represent these people, nor the millions of immigrants who, with temporary visas and precarious employment, share the lowest rung of the labor market. Yet these are precisely the voices – those of women, youth, the precarious and immigrants – that are needed to help Japan cope with the problems of a rapidly aging society, the ongoing pandemic and crisis. climate, and ultimately to steer Japan toward a more humane society.

After so many years of LDP rule, not only the democratic system is at stake, but also the future of Japan. It seems unlikely that whoever wins the race for LDP leadership and becomes prime minister will overcome these challenges.


www.theguardian.com

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