Democratic Party of Japan is standing up well to the tragic earthquake and tsunami
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is standing up well to the tragic earthquake and tsunami and the Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, is gaining in stature. Despite this, the media in Japan is often too critical and people should remember the shortcomings of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) during the Kobe earthquake which struck in 1995.
Factionalism is a huge problem in Japan and this applies to the main political parties and back stabbing, power constraints, no focused hierarchy which is united, and other factors, is hindering the political system in Japan.
Therefore, prime ministers resign quickly and factions once more start to focus on their respective power concentrations. This leads to a cycle of “nothingness” and shortsightedness and it is refreshing to hear Naoto Kan stating that he will serve out his term and not resign.
Irrespective if people support the current DPJ led government or if they are loyal to the LDP or other minor political parties; it is instrumental for the political system to have stability and people in Japan and the media need to take the rough with the smooth.
Karel van Wolferen, the author of The Enigma of Japanese Power, states “Amid the horrifying news from Japan, the establishment of new standards of political leadership there is easy to miss – in part because the Japanese media follow old habits of automatically criticizing how officials are dealing with the calamity, and many foreign reporters who lack perspective simply copy that critical tone. But, compared to the aftermath of the catastrophic Kobe earthquake of 1995, when the authorities appeared to wash their hands of the victims’ miseries, the difference could hardly be greater.”
This is a fair point and the current crisis in Japan is much more devastating than Kobe in terms of the numbers of people killed, the fact that the 2011 earthquake also led to a destructive and deadly tsunami and added to this you have the nuclear factor and the fear of radiation.
This is not to understate the Kobe earthquake because this earthquake also killed many people and over 6,000 people died and this earthquake was truly devastating.
However, the earthquake which struck on March 11, 2011, is the first earthquake in the world to compose of an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. Therefore, the DPJ, which is beset with factionalism, just like the LDP, is doing a good job given the circumstances.
Karel van Wolferen, referring to the Kobe earthquake, states that “This time, Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) government is making an all-out effort, with unprecedented intensive involvement of his Cabinet and newly formed specialized task forces. The prime minister himself is regularly televised with relevant officials wearing the work fatigues common among Japanese engineers.”
The Kobe earthquake in 1995 epitomized the aloofness of the LDP and appeared to be based on consensus thinking and bureaucratic mindsets which were ill prepared to act promptly. Also, the earthquake appeared to be based on stratification because according to Karel van Wolferen many people were left to look after themselves because the main priority was to focus on people who “belonged to corporations or religious groups.”
The DPJ ended the monopoly of rule under the LDP and for bureaucratic mandarins the consensus faced a new approach because the philosophy of the DPJ is that elected officials should rule and be made accountable for their actions.
Since the DPJ took power it is clear that career officials, the judiciary, and all the mechanisms under the tight bureaucratic ship have faced power concentration issues and it is not easy for the DPJ to alter the status quo and mechanisms of power in Japan.
The American government under President Obama undermined the first DPJ leader, Yukio Hatoyama, because the Obama administration appears to look down on Japan and instead of a genuine discussion about Okinawa; it was a case of dictate and enforcing an American objective and ultimately this led to the resignation of Yukio Hatoyama.
This was an auspicious start for the new DPJ government and added to this initial setback the Ichiro Ozawa “shadow” continues to linger and he is not helping the cause of the Naoto Kan government.
Karel van Wolferen also lambasts the media in Japan because he states that “Japan’s main newspapers have mostly backed the status quo as well. Indeed, they now appear to have forgotten their role in hampering the DPJ’s effort to create an effective political coordinating body for the country. A half-century of reporting on internal LDP rivalries unrelated to actual policy has turned Japan’s reporters into the world’s greatest connoisseurs of political factionalism. It has also left them almost incapable of recognizing actual policy initiatives when they see them.”
However, despite everything the DPJ is focused under Naoto Kan and the government is being very transparent and daily briefings can be seen on television. It is obvious that some mistakes will be made during the current crisis because all governments would struggle under such an enormous crisis.
Despite this, the Kan government is thinking on its feet and the government is part of the people and if we think about the Kobe earthquake; then clearly the LDP government at the time was aloof and rigid.
The future of the current Kan administration is still uncertain because of factional politics in Japan, the Ozawa “shadow,” major economic issues which have been created by the LDP, and power concentration mechanisms are still potent within the body politic of Japan.
Yet the current leader of Japan is holding up well and decisions are being made promptly and transparency is part and parcel of the Kan administration.