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2012年1月18日 (水)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 15
EDITORIAL: Japan in desperate need of a true leader

If we get a new prime minister this year, it will be the seventh in seven years.

The possibility of such a change is not small at all, as the momentum for a Diet dissolution and Lower House election is growing as politicians battle over the government's plan to raise the consumption tax rate.

After a succession of six prime ministers resigning in the same number of years, Japanese politics has completely lost its focus.

Last year within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, voices loudly demanded the resignation of then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Even those within his own party supported the no-confidence motion against him.

His successor, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, won the party leadership by pushing for higher taxes, but some DPJ lawmakers repeated their objections again late last year, and some even left the party.

The Liberal Democratic Party no longer has any semblance of a ruling party.

LDP politicians are acting as if the party had nothing to do with this country's enormous fiscal deficit, and they insist on yammering about the DPJ's breach of its manifesto. The LDP's actions border on the ridiculous.

With politics in such a state, it is little wonder that the recent support rate for the DPJ and the LDP combined, two major parties that make up nearly 90 percent of the seats in the Lower House, didn't even add up to 40 percent.

With an overwhelming majority of the electorate saying they support no party, can this really be called a "two-party system?"

Recognition of the times

In September this year, the terms in office will expire for the leaders of both parties, DPJ President and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki.

It will be a good opportunity to contemplate the essence of political leadership so that politics in this country can be rebooted.

An LDP veteran lawmaker once said: "The only thing postwar politicians had to decide was the general direction of this country: anti-communism, emphasis on the economy, and the Japan-U.S. security alliance. That was all. For the rest, bureaucrats drew up the blueprint."

In an age when politics was on "autopilot," the role of politicians was the "redistribution of expanding wealth."

However, our country is now seeing the progression of an extremely aging society, the extent of which is unprecedented around the world.

Fewer people are working.

Despite the rocky waters of globalization, we cannot find the key to new economic growth.

The divide between the rich and poor, as well as the divide between the young and old, is widening.

Politics is faced with the tough task of "redistributing the burden."

Yet, lawmakers continue to rely on bureaucrats as if we were still in the "autopilot' age. The lawmakers also continue to borrow more money and do their best to muddle through.

This means we are bypassing our own problems and simply dumping them onto future generations.

Political party leaders must first get a good grip on the times we live in.

Then they must brace themselves so that they can fundamentally change our political system into something appropriate for governing this country in this age.

To recreate our society, some drastic changes are essential. For example, a true shift away from bureaucratic leadership to real political leadership is needed, as is a move toward decentralization.

The electorate has already changed along with the times.

The proof lies in the fact that industry organizations are losing their vote-drawing powers not just in the cities but also in rural areas.

As the needs of the voters became more diverse, the electorate became fragmented like grains of sand, and the positions shift like sand dunes.

Respond to change

Politicians are unable to cope with these ephemeral changes.

The single-district system of the Lower House contributes to the parties' tendency to choose leaders they hope can gain wide support, but that is merely a window-dressing tactic aimed at winning over a fickle electorate.

It is impossible to support anyone or any party if they don't have the means with which to recognize and realize what voters want.

It is only natural that voters should write off political parties and politicians that are out of touch with the times.

It is understandable that politicians like Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto are growing in stature when national politics is in such a dire state.

Hashimoto's criticism of the huge Osaka Town Hall organization is extremely easy to understand.

His push to eradicate the wasteful double administration that exists in Osaka--Osaka Prefecture and Osaka city--seems to be in accordance with these times of the shrinking economy

He is always looking for new enemies and using the heat of that friction as the energy source to move forward. Such an approach is dangerous because it risks preventing rational thought and contemplation.

However, his style definitely gives the voters the impression that something is happening in politics.

Existing parties, whatever their party platform or policies, are ingratiating themselves to Hashimoto. This is a pathetic sight.

Prime Minister Noda is asking the public to accept an increased burden as part of the tax and social security reform. That is a step forward in facing up to the changing times.

The country must adamantly achieve government reform and move forward.

The prime minister should take the argument he used to override the anti-tax raise voices within his own party late last year, and repeat the discussion in the public domain in plain sight.

The voters will take notice only when the prime minister steps into the hot seat.

Power to move organizations

How will LDP leader Tanigaki respond?

If he says, "I have always championed tax reform up front and center," then he should clamp down on those within his party who demand an early dissolution of the Diet, and achieve tax reform by leading the way ahead of the DPJ.

If he can achieve that, then he will secure a place in history.

A leader is someone who recognizes how the times are changing, puts forth clear goals, builds a strategy to achieve those goals, and moves organizations and the unsung people who work hard outside the limelight to realize those goals.

That is leadership, and leadership requires experience.

A political culture that casually throws away its leaders in short succession is hardly conducive to producing good, worthy people.


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