Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What's in a name?

With his party's launch scheduled for 8 August, Watanabe Yoshimi has finally revealed its name.

Minna no tō.

Apparently the official English translation will be "Your Party." I'm not sure which is worse, the name in the original Japanese or its translation. I realize that Japanese parties have run the gamut when it comes to names, and their names often say little about the party's policy orientation: as the old quip goes, the Liberal Democratic Party is neither liberal nor democratic, nor a party. But surely the name of Watanabe's new party sets some kind of record as the worst ever name for a Japanese political party.

First, I'm simply annoyed with the English translation. Your Party isn't the name of a party: it's the negation of a party's name. Instead of an adjective that might reveal something about the party, there is the empty possessive pronoun "your."

Second, whose party is it? The Japanese suggests that it's "everyone's" party. What does that mean exactly? Given Watanabe's struggle to find candidates for his group — at this point they number five, Watanabe, Eda Kenji, DPJ outcast Asao Keiichiro, and LDP refugees Yamauchi Koichi and Hirotsu Motoko — the party's ranks hardly constitute "everyone." Incidentally, if Michels's iron law of oligarchy holds, a party that belongs to everyone is a logical impossibility. Sooner or later power will be consolidated in the hands of leaders: "Who says organization, says oligarchy."

Seriously though, couldn't they have come up with anything better? I leave it to you, my readers, to leave your suggestions for an alternative name in the comments.

To answer the question in this post's title, there is nothing in this party's name. Bad names certainly haven't paralyzed Japanese parties in the past (with an exception perhaps for the Japanese Communist Party, which may not perform as well in the general election as many expected earlier this year). In the case of the YP, a splinter party by any other name would be just as impotent. Watanabe's party seems premised on the idea that a realignment is bound to happen sooner or later, and the YP will be ready whenever that happens. It will probably stand to gain should the LDP's reformists get wiped out this month, as those reformists may gravitate to Watanabe in a bid to return to the Diet. Accordingly, the party's first real test will probably be in the 2010 upper house election than in this month's general election.

But Watanabe and his happy few are swimming against the tide. This month's election will likely continue the trend towards a two-party system. After all, the DPJ will surely gain some seats at the expense of other opposition parties.

Meanwhile, it is unclear what the YP offers to voters that the others don't. Watanabe might claim to be the purest proponent of administrative reform, but he is hardly alone. With any hint of economic neo-liberalism being played down, the YP is just another party promising to make the bureaucrats pay.


Janne Morén said...

Hm, I associate to "Minna no Nihongo". Of course, students of Japanese as a second language are not in the target group so no matter.


これは僕の政党だよ ("It's My Party!") - Party signature song would be a given, especially if they fail to gain any seats.

瀬戸生徒政党 ("Seto Lake Student's Party") - You have the freshwater marine biology undergraduate vote sewn up, and the name rolls off the tongue better than any other party in existence.

Janne Morén said...

Dumb slip of the brain - Seto is of course not freshwater. It'd appeal to marine biologists of all stripes!

Tobias Harris said...

Thank you Janne, that made my day.

Derek said...

I hate to quibble, but "minna" is often translated as "you," especially in the context of a speech where the speaker directly addresses or refers to the audience.

But whatever--the only thing about this party that remains in question is which bigger party will eventually absorb it. Watanabe will look dumb if the LDP does okay in the election, and dumber if the DPJ wins and does well at governing. He can only coast so long on his reformist rebellion and heirloom political clout.

Tobias Harris said...

Yes, well, tell that to Mr. Watanabe. "Your Party" is the official translation they provided.