‘Revolutionary’ Turn in Japanese Politics?

By N. Gunasekaran

The general election for the Japan’s house of representatives was indeed an historic moment in the Japanese politics. It ended half a century of one-party rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won an overwhelming victory over the former government headed by the LDP. This transfer of power in Japan was intrinsically connected with the recent developments in the domestic, regional and global spheres.

In his election campaign speech, the DPJ president, Yukio Hatoyama, now the prime minister, asserted that the general election would be “revolutionary.” This perception may, however, be an exaggeration. Both the LDP and the DPJ represent the interests of Japan’s corporate elites. Therefore, one could not expect any fundamental change in the domestic and foreign policies of Japan. Yet the election result undoubtedly showed the desire of the Japanese electorate for major changes in Japanese polity. The DPJ secured 29.8 million proportional-representation votes in the August election, surpassing the 25.9 million votes obtained by the LDP under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in the previous election. This changed mood of the common people would have substantial impact on Japanese politics, economy, East Asian affairs and, more importantly, in the Japan-US strategic relationship.

It’s beyond doubt that the people were wary of neoliberalism. The Japanese economy, once called “an economic miracle,” is now suffering from the worst recession in its postwar history. With traditional overseas markets shrinking, Japan’s production and exports fell 40%. The per-capita gross domestic product of Japan was stagnant and stalled at $34,300 in 2007. Consequently, unemployment has reached a record high of 5.7%. Poverty is increasing while prices and wages are falling fast.

The main culprit for all these gloomy trends in economy was the neoliberal “structural reform” policies pursued by the last LDP-led coalition government, which promoted privatization and deregulation of social services, industries and the economy. Living conditions of the working masses deteriorated while big business went on accumulating huge profits. So, as it happened across the world, the neoliberal regime led by the LDP incurred the wrath of the people.

Japanese popular masses are becoming aware of the danger of military alliance with the US. The US-Japan alliance was formed after World War II, strengthened during the Cold War period and continued since then. In contrast to the current mood of people, the former LDP government tried to revise Japan’s anti-militarist, pacifist constitution to suit the needs of the “war on terror” machinations of the US and change the nature of the state as “war-ready” state.

Mirroring the growing disillusionment over the US alliance, the DPJ campaigned for “a new era in Japan-US alliance,” committed to strive for an “independent-minded and proactive foreign-policy strategy” and a “Japan-US partnership on an equal footing.” This kind of campaign drew popular support for the DPJ.

The issue of the presence of US forces in Japan also influenced the electoral outcome. More than half of the 47,000 American troops in Japanese territories were stationed in southern island of Okinawa. In 2006, the LDP government signed an agreement with the US to reduce US military on the island. Under this agreement, 8,000 marines will be transferred to Guam, a US territory in the Pacific Ocean, by 2014. But popular opinion favored the complete review of this deal and for the base to be moved to the mainland or out of Japan altogether.

The discord between the US and Japan has been increasing. The new Tokyo administration announced its decision to withdraw its refueling ships from the Indian Ocean in January. Since 2001, the Japanese vessels had been providing fuel and water to US and allied warships. To soften US concerns, Prime Minister Hatoyama promised to contribute to peace in Afghanistan in other non-military ways, such as undertaking humanitarian measures.

Since the people are increasingly impatient over the corporate and military domination by the US, the process of regional integration is getting accelerated. Japan and China are currently involved in creating an “East Asian Community,” similar to the European Union. Initially, the areas of cooperation may be in visa-free travel, public health, energy and the environment. Such endeavors would not only improve the economic and political relationships in the region, but also decrease the compulsion of the nations to be subservient to any superpower including the US.

The US has to come to terms with the changing realities and see the growing awareness of the people in Asia. The people resist the hegemonic attitudes of the US in economy and politics, and strongly dislike its military domination in the region. The US policy makers have to opt for thorough restructuring of the US foreign policy. It must be based on the democratic economic and political relations with all countries, while giving due respect to their sovereignty. This is the real meaning of the people’s verdict in Japan — the country which has been the staunchest US ally since the World War II.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2009


News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2009 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652