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Japan’s National Policy in Transition -2-


Lecture by Sadaaki Numata, Executive Director,
Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership
Japan Cultural Center of Hawaii, Honolulu
August 22, 2007


5. The Upper House election

(1)

In the Upper House election held on July 29, the seats of the LDP-New Komeito coalition was reduced from 134 to 104, with the LDP wining only 37 seats, while those of the oppositions were increased from 106 to 137, with the DPJ winning 60 seats. Thus has emerged an anomalous “distorted parliament” where the opposition parties led by the DPJ control the Upper House and the Lower House remains under the control of the LDP-New Komeito coalition. This means that bills now require the approval of the main opposition DPJ, or have to pass the Lower House for a second time if they are rejected by the Upper house, or if 60 days have elapsed since they are first passed by the Lower House. However, it is unusual for bills to be passed by the Lower House for a second time, and there can very well be stalemates.

(2) Does this herald a tectonic change in Japanese politics? Is Japan going to have a system of two parties competing on policy and alternating in power? My intuitive reaction is “not just yet”, and the situation at best remains fluid. Let me try to give you a flavor of the comments made by the media and other circles.
(a)

Prime Minister Abe’s intention to win the people’s endorsement of his nationhood agenda got distracted by the mounting public distrust of the government due to the problem of the unidentified pension records, gaffes by cabinet ministers and scandals involving politics and money. Some argue that he appeared out of touch with the real concerns of the people. In contrast, Ichiro Ozawa, Leader of the DPJ, zoomed in on issues such as the frustration of those missing out on decent jobs and the growing urban-rural disparities. Ozawa’s strategy was based on the recognition that Japan is effectively divided today into two groups, that is, winners in the structural reform and globalization drives and losers feeling left out and discarded by such changes.

(b) One could argue that the voters acted to register their disappointment at Prime Minister Abe’s administration and express their hope for political change, but did not go far enough to vote in a DPJ government under Mr. Ozawa. Prime Minister Abe has vowed to reshuffle his cabinet and move on. There will be important tests in the weeks and months ahead.
- Prime Minister Abe is going to face the test of whether he can carry forward his nationhood agenda in such a way as will meet the bread and butter concerns of the people. Some influential business leaders continue to call for the continuation of market-oriented reforms.
-

The DPJ has shown that it can fight and win an election. Now it is being put to the test to show that it is fit to govern.

-

The parliamentary system is being put to the test of whether it can continue to survive the tough tug-of-war between the ruling and opposition parties.

-

Some have called on the LDP and the DPJ to make mutual accommodations on major policy issues. One leading national newspaper suggested that the DPJ might take some responsibility for running the country --- perhaps by establishing a grand coalition--- to avoid a crisis in the governance of the nation.


6. Policy issues

I wish that I had a crystal ball that tells me how things may turn out. Let me at least try to give you some idea of what the key issues are.

(1)

Pensions
The existing scheme will give an average salaried worker, with a wife who is a full-time homemaker, around 60% of his take-home pay as a combined total of a basic pension and an earnings-related supplement, if he keeps paying contributions equivalent to 13.58% of his annual income. This generous system will be difficult to maintain in the face of the declining birthrate and the rapidly aging population. The ruling parties have proposed that workers pay more contributions (18.3% of their annual income) but also that the tax-financed portion of the basic pension be increased from one-third to one half. However, as to how to finance the latter portion, they have kept mum on whether they will raise the rate of consumption tax (currently 5%). The DPJ proposes to set up a minimum guaranteed basic pension for people below a certain income level, which is to be financed entirely out of the consumption tax, but has ruled out raising the rate of consumption tax for the time being. Thus there is ambiguity on both sides as to exactly how the pensions system may be financed.

(2) Constitutional revision / collective self-defense
(a)

Both the LDP and the DPJ contemplate amending Paragraph 2 of Article 9 to explicitly legitimize the Self-Defense Forces, but their approaches are somewhat different, with the DPJ putting emphasis on collective security measures led by the United Nations. Also being mooted is the possible inclusion of values such as global environmental conservation, the right to one’s privacy, the right to know and the right to life and life ethics.

(b)

The passage last May, despite DPJ opposition, of the National Referendum Law stipulating the procedures for revising the Constitution was to be followed by the establishment, in the next session of the Diet, of panels consisting of members of both Houses to examine issues relating to constitutional revision. The submission and deliberation of a constitutional revision bill, however, has been frozen for three years. The panels have been set up in theory, but the deliberations are being stalled due to procedural wrangling between the ruling and opposition parties.

(c)

A panel of experts has been examining since last May certain types of contingencies (for example, use of a missile shield to intercept ballistic missiles aimed at an ally, and the staging of counterattacks when a warship from another country sailing with a SDF vessel is attacked on the high seas) to see whether the use of the right of collective self-defense might be allowed under such circumstances. The panel is expected to report to the Prime Minister some time this autumn, but it is not clear when or whether it will lead to legislative action.

(3)

Antiterrorism Law
One key and pressing issue is the bill to extend the special antiterrorism law, which will expire on November 1, so that Maritime Self-Defense Force ships can continue providing fuel in the Indian Ocean for naval vessels of those countries involved in counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan. Ichiro Ozawa, Leader of the DPJ, reiterated his opposition to the extension when he met Ambassador Thomas Schieffer of the United States, insisting that the U.S.-led operation has not been directly authorized by the U.N. Security Council. This MSDF activity has been highly appreciated by 11 countries including the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, and Pakistan, whose vessels have been refueled to the tune of 480,000 kiloliters. Some influential members of the DPJ have expressed their support for the continuation of the operation as well. The DPJ has also demanded the repeal of the Iraq Special Measures Law with a view to immediately withdrawing the ASDF wing based in Kuwait carrying out airlift activities of U.N. and Multinational Force personnel and cargo into Iraq to help the reconstruction of Iraq.


7. Conclusion: personal musings

(1)

When I became a junior diplomat in 1966, there was the internal Berlin Wall between the right and the left. There was also a strong fear of being entrapped in American wars. It was impossible to talk realistically about the revision of the Constitution, the right of collective self defense or the dispatching of the JSDF abroad.

(2)

Today, the policy debate is taking place between two major centrist blocs, and the outcome is not likely to veer wildly from the policies that Japan has pursued so far. Nor is there likely to be any major change in Japan’s stabilizing role that I have described as a constant.

(3)

Globalization poses to us political, economic and strategic challenges, and we are sometimes pulled in two directions by outward-looking and inward-looking demands. External policies cannot be divorced from internal policies. That is why, from time to time, we come to a reflective interlude where the extent of our external engagements is debated, including the question of how closely Japan should follow the U.S. lead. We need to engage in serious dialogue as to how best Japan and the United Stated can work together on regional and global issues of mutual interest while garnering sufficient domestic support.

(4)

For the Japan-U.S. partnership to be truly durable, it is important for us to develop further the habit of informed dialogue and reasonable debate. This requires conscious efforts to understand the real concerns of your interlocutors. This is especially the case when we deal with emotionally charged issues that have to do with wars, past and present.

(5)

It is not just the diplomats and governments but the businessmen, professional groups, civic groups and grass-root organizations, students and youths and other citizens that keep our relations alive. It is their interactions and networks that provide the underpinning of Japan-U.S. partnership.

(6)

When I visited the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles last May, I realized anew how Japanese Americans have come to establish their positions of respect and influence in the multi-ethnic society of the United States. People in Japan should have a better understanding of this. The Japanese Americans, for their part, may not be quite up-to-date about the nation whose DNA they share. It is through bridging this gap that the Japanese Americans can play even more constructive roles, as important actors in civil society, in strengthening Japan-U.S. relations. We at the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership are very happy to have been cosponsoring the Japanese-American Leadership Delegation Program to this end.

(7)

Having come to Hawaii after an interval of 25 years, I see why the Japanese people feel welcome and relaxed here. I started today talking about an iceberg. It seems to have melted away. Thank you for your warm hospitality.

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