A New Wave of Japan’s Politics by Akihiro Ogawa, Ph.D. Stockholm University

A New Wave of Japan’s Politics by Akihiro Ogawa, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Department of Japanese Studies Stockholm University August 31, 2009 On August 30, Japanese citizens chose change. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) enjoyed a landslide victory, winning 308 seats, a majority of the powerful House of Representatives’ 480 seats.  The historical victory will usher in DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama as the new Japanese prime minister in the next couple of weeks.  Meanwhile, Taro Aso, the current prime minister from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), announced his retreat already on Sunday night following the election result.  This is the first time for Japan to see a truly competitive two-party system. This result was expected.  Japanese people fully realized the inability of the current politics led by Aso.  Up through last week, numerous public polls already projected that the DPJ would win the election.  Major LDP politicians lost their seats – including Toshiki Kaifu, former prime minister, and Shoichi Nakagawa, the former finance minister who was reportedly drunk at a press conference during the G7 summit in Rome. The major trigger that generated this epochal dynamism was the frustration held among the grassroots people.  It is simply represented by the Japanese word – kakusa or social and economic disparities.  Japan, which was once known as fundamentally middle class and egalitarian with the lifetime employment system, has now totally collapsed.  Due to the spree of neoliberal politics since the early 2000s, primarily led by Junichiro Koizumi, the former prime minister of the LDP, Japanese society is devastated.  In order to compete internationally, major manufactures, including Toyota and Canon, drastically cut human resources’ costs in the domestic market, resulting in an increasing casualization of the workforce and contracting out of jobs.  The national politics has been mostly driven by the logic of business elite from Nippon Keidanren, the Japan Business Federation, a strong supporter of the LDP. Some have acquired the status of the working poor, a term used to refer to people who are employed, but are unable to escape from poverty.  Households that applied to the Public Livelihood Protection Act, the core of the postwar Japanese poverty policies, reached a record high of more than 1.2 million, according to the most recent available statistics.  The changes have led to a situation where on the other hand, some have became millionaires, living at Roppongi Hills, a high-rise apartment building in one of Tokyo’s most prestigious locations. The old politics could not do something to change this divided society; people thus wanted new politics. However, in what way do the DPJ politicians envision galvanizing the society again? There are lots of issues that the new politics must address.  However, I believe one key is to look at employment.  While the jobless rate rose to an all-time high of 5.7 percent in July, one of the emergency policy measures should be to increase employment.  How will the DPJ politicians create new employment in the society?  In which areas will they promote it?  In the longer term, employment is directly related to education – not only formal school education but also informal lifelong learning.  How will the politicians encourage people to update their knowledge and skills?  How will the politics support the efforts?  Ultimately, how will they stimulate the economy again so that the majority of people feel again happiness in their lives? On Saturday, in the last address before the election, Yukio Hatoyama, the incoming prime minister, powerfully claimed to the general public, “To re-paint history, we need to be brave.”  For the DPJ, it is indeed the first time to come into power.  They do not have any actual experience in real politics. However, Japanese people chose to change history and voted for brave new leadership. —

WHO IS A PROBLEM IN BURMA? – After the trial of Daw Aung san Suu Kyi by Mikael Gravers

The suspended sentence and the 18 month house arrest for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi came after international pressure and are probably heavily influenced by China since it has urged the international community to respect Burmese law!However, the delay of the verdict may also be a result of and internal difference within the junta. Snr. General Than Shwe who asked the West not to interfere with the Burmese judicial system – interfered and changed the verdict seems to have insisted on using a decree on subversion of the state while the more pragmatic no. 3 in the Junta, General Shwe Mann, who is designated to become president after the elections in 2010, is said to have suggested the application of ‘Burmese law’. Probably he and his faction feared civil unrest and negative international reactions – or he could see how ridiculous it is to accuse a person of subversive activities, who is behind barbed wires, without telephone or other contacts and guarded by soldiers and intelligence personnel, and of cooperation with an obviously mentally disturbed American intruder. Now, could the ‘lenient’ sentence be a signal of a dialogue? Hardly, and many Burmese speculate if Than Shwe’s astrologer again is the architect of the junta’s decisions. The number eleven is said to be the General’s lucky number and the verdict came on 11 August at 11 a.m. I suppose General Than Shwe feared internal dissatisfaction in the military as well as civil unrest. Thus he kindly allowed Aung San Suu Kyi television and newspapers in her soon 15 years of house arrest. In the end, the regime certainly agrees to keep her from influencing the elections. And The National League for Democracy will probably not participate if she and other party activists are behind bars. However, the position of the NLD has provoked critical reactions. In The Guardian (11.11.08 – not Than Shwe figures!) she was accused of moral highhandedness and poor leadership. A few days ago, Singapore’ PM said ‘she is part of the problem’, and The Economist (28.07.09) concluded that she has prevented economic development by supporting sanctions. Without economic development the middle classes remain weak and thus cannot support a democratic evolution according to the argument. The last part, I think, is unfair and neglects the military’s role in ruining the economy. Besides, middle class people may support a not so democratic military intervention against an elected but dictatorial PM as recently in Thailand. Is she and not Than Shwe and his astrologer the problem? Basically, the problem is than both opposition and the regime doesn’t move and compromise.  As long as Than Shwe’s faction dominates the military there will be no significant changes. Therefore, a coherent and detailed strategy from the NLD is badly needed in order to appeal to the younger, pragmatic officers and disperse fear of a universal revenge against the military and of foreign domination in case of a change. That many Burmese fear fragmentation, chaos and foreign domination in an unplanned regime shift is perhaps a result of long isolation, historical experience and nationalist rhetoric – yet it has to be taken seriously. The NLD must put forward a comprehensive plan which include all parties: the military, the new generation of opposition  such as The  All Burma Monks Alliance, Wave Generation, the students, and in particular the many ethnic organizations of the ethnic nationalities as well as the numerous groups and organizations in exile. Sanctions must be suspended at the first substantial positive move from the military; humanitarian assistance and development aid should be planned and implemented fast. Without a clear plan, the NLD may soon be moribund as the article in the Guardian predicted after the young generation’s rebellion in 2007. As for 2010, the military is a big step in front with their constitution even if it is a Potemkin village for a continued military totalitarian rule. Who is then the problem? Aung San Suu Kyi is definitely not. But the fact that political power is seen as a property fixed in (two) individuals – with or without astrological aid – inhibits the production of coherent political plans and reduces the political discourse to brief Orwellian ‘newspeak’ slogans. Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi are thus both part of a solution, and it is urgent to open up for a multi-voiced dialogue and process reconciliation.