Thursday, September 6, 2007

A new 1955 system?

With Typhoon Fitow bearing down on the Kanto plain, I have decided to take shelter from the storm for the evening, and so there's no better time to step back and ponder the evolution of the Japanese party system.

In the aftermath of the Upper House election, there was some talk of a political realignment as a possible result of post-election uncertainty. That talk has diminished somewhat, especially because Ozawa Ichiro has managed the DPJ adeptly, most notably by co-opting Maehara Seiji with a deputy leadership post. (Although I think the talk of a grand coalition by LDP leaders hints at a political realignment of sorts.)

An article in this week's Liberal Time, however, renews the conversation about the shape of a new political alignment. The speculation considers the usual actors. Mr. Koizumi, dissatisfied by his party's backtracking on reform (as Mr. Hiranuma's return suggests), could split from the LDP with his "children" to form the "Koizumi New Party." Joining him could be Mr. Maehara — Hatoyama Yukio is apparently convinced that he would — and Mr. Tanigaki, who has, with his faction, been effectively isolated within the LDP.

I don't think this scenario is particularly plausible at the moment. More interesting is the article's conclusion, which is called "the demise of the two-party system" and looks back to the founding of the LDP in 1955 to call for a new ruling party:
It was said by Miki Bukichi, who successfully created the "conservative fusion," "This will last ten years." The thought that the LDP has steadily exceeded its service life is strong.

Conversely, avoiding internal dissension in the midst of the suddenly changing international situation means (1) we should make a kyukoku cabinet [kyukoku, means patriotic in the sense of the salvation of the country], and (2) it is starting to be recognized that the LDP/DPJ grand coalition idea is an essential second "conservative fusion."
This might be what Mr. Ozawa has in mind — the article mentions the possibility of Mr. Ozawa's luring onetime allies from the former Tanaka faction to his side.

But the idea that a grand coalition (i.e, a new permanent ruling party) will save Japan is a dangerous illusion. In an ever more dynamic world, the homeostatic management of Japan's affairs implied by a new permanent ruling party (like the 1955 system, and the Tokugawa bakufu for that matter) is impossible, because such systems invariably focus on maintaining the delicate balance among factions (or daimyo) rather than making the good policy decisions required in a dynamic environment. Hence the Tokugawa shogunate's inability to cope with "troubles at home and abroad." Hence the suitability of the 1955 system in an international system frozed by the cold war, and its almost instant collapse in the aftermath of the cold war.

Japan needs a two-party, even a multi-party system because competition in politics as in other areas of life depends better performance from all actors, and the people's interests are served by having the government held accountable by active opposition parties (each with a reasonable chance of taking control of the government for itself).

So thank you, Liberal Time, for calling attention to 1955 and reminding us all why a grand coalition is an awful idea.


Bryce said...

Correct me if I'm wrong but hasn't Ozawa always lauded the benefits of the two party system.

Japan Observer said...

He has, but that hasn't stopped some people from speculating that his real aim is simply recreating the old LDP under his control. (This is how some interpret his actions in 1993, for example.)

Mr. Noah said...

It doesn't seem to me that a new "permanent grand coalition" a la the 1955 LDP would be stable. Japanese constituency groups' interests have diverged too much since then... Businesses need less pork-barrel and regulations, farmers need more. It seems to me that a new super-party would just lead to more fragmentation and confusion.