Yearender: 2010 sees political turbulence for Japan's ruling DPJ

17:23, December 20, 2010      

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In the two decades since Japan's economic bubble famously burst, Japan has had no fewer than 14 prime ministers. And, since Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Junichiro Koizumi quit in 2006, each Japanese leader has averaged less than 12 months in office.

It has been an eventful year for the nation's current leader and chief of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Naoto Kan, who took office about six months ago. He replaced Yukio Hatoyama, whose short-lived reign came to an abrupt end following a series of political bungles.

But Kan's Cabinet also seems to have been grappling with the domestic and diplomatic issues while his supporting rate almost declines along the way.


The DPJ's historic rise to power after a massive victory in the general election last year has been plagued by the ruling administration's inability to honor pledges made in its manifesto for last year's House of Representatives election.

The DPJ manifesto included plans for child-rearing allowances, income compensation for farmers, free tuition for public high schools and abolishing expressway tolls.

However, very few of these promises have been fully implemented, causing the public approval rating for the Cabinet of Kan to drop lower and lower throughout the year to the current and alarmingly low levels.

According to the latest Yomiuri Shimbun opinion survey, the approval rating has declined to 25 percent, with the disapproval rating rocketing to 65 percent with public consensus being quite simply that the prime minister "lacks leadership."

The electorate put their faith in Kan, Japan's fifth prime minister in four years, to tackle the nation's fragile economic recovery that has been troubled by decades of crippling deflation.

Public discontent over the government's economic policy is deep-seated. Even after the Diet passed a supplementary budget to deal with the strong yen and deflation, surveys still reveal that Kan's Cabinet has not dealt with the current economic situation appropriately.

Such discontent has been amplified throughout the year by the growing rifts in the ruling coalition, which lost a junior partner when the chief of the small Social Democratic Party (SDP), Mizuho Fukushima, was dismissed by Hatoyama from her Cabinet post as consumer affairs minister.

Fukushima refused to sign the government's plan to relocate the controversial U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within Okinawa, an issue largely connected to the former prime minister's downfall.

With one coalition party down, the parliament was set for further division. With Kan floating the idea of raising the sales tax before the July upper house election, the ruling party witnessed an election loss which provided the opportunity for opposition parties to stall policies in an increasingly splintered parliament.


Strained diplomatic ties with China, the biggest importer of Japanese goods, have also taken their toll on political and public perception of the Japanese government recently.

Japan's former and current leaders both pledged to chart a course less dependent on the U.S. and more open to alliances with its Asian neighbors, China in particular.

In a time when Japan is solely reliant on an export-led economic recovery, its relationship with China for its future prosperity and economic solidity is absolutely paramount.

Kan and his DPJ suffered a major setback in September when he came under domestic fire for the way in which he dealt with China' s demands to release a Chinese skipper who was held by Japanese authorities after the collision between his trawler and the Japanese patrol boats in the East China Sea off the Diaoyu Islands, over which China claims sovereignty.

Japan's handling of the issue saw its diplomatic relations with China reach the lowest level in decades and drove a wedge through the bilateral ties.

Coupled with this, the public perception of the government's handling of the situation further battered the Cabinet's ratings. It also drove the opposition parties further away from Kan's hopes of enhancing cross-party unity and collaboration.

The government did, however, managed to enact an extra budget in October, but it was passed only after an unnecessarily prolonged period of wrangling between ruling and opposition parties. And, the latter succeeded in getting Kan's justice minister to resign over comments that overtly derided his job and his party's integrity.


Kan in the past has been slated by analysts as an idealist, due to his younger days as a civil rights activist. But as pragmatism and effective resolutions are the only way forward for the DPJ, Kan's future and that of his party will hinge on making good on promises and ensuring key policies are enacted.

"Kan and the DPJ's fate will be determined by his ability to ensure the fiscal 2011/12 budget is ratified as opposition parties such as the SDP have threatened to block its passage if the Futenma issue isn't resolved," Shogo Kawaguchi, a political commentator and research fellow from Meiji Gakuin University's faculty of political science, told Xinhua.

Kawaguchi said Kan's support rate will also be decided on how he deals with Ichiro Ozawa from now on.

Following Kan's successful defeat of the ruling party's power broker in the DPJ leadership election, support for Kan's government rebounded to more than 60 percent, close to levels when he took office.

But opposition parties are now demanding that Ozawa, who faces indictment over a funding scandal, give sworn testimony in the parliament. But analysts maintain that Kan is reluctant to alienate Ozawa, because the political heavyweight heads the biggest group of lawmakers in the DPJ.

"As for Ozawa, expelling him would be tough, but it would show authority and that nobody is pulling his (Kan's) strings," Kawaguchi said. "Kan promised to clean up the image of the government -- perhaps he needs to take bold actions to restore the public's faith."

Source: Xinhua

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