Friday, 26 August 2011

Is Frequent Changes of Government of Japan a “Lack of Leadership”?

Fuji Mountain, Japan

         As expected, Prime Minister Naoto Kan has announced his resignation on 26 August 2011, which made him the fifth short-tenure leader of Japan in five year. His resignation comes after a turbulent 14 months in power during which he was criticised for showing no remarkable leadership for Japanese Government to deal with the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushina nuclear plant accident, which result in a failed no-confidence vote at the Diet in June 2011.

          However, this was not surprise news for Japanese people or other countries around the world since Japan has frequent changes of government since after the resignation of PM Koizumi as in 2006. Given this problem, there are two different views on Japan's leadership. The first view is “lack of leadership” due to frequent changes of Japanese Government. But the second view argues for the “flexible” and resilient structure of Japanese politics for attaining multiple development goals although most Japanese Governments were short-lived (roughly one year or less). The two contrasting views are elaborated as follows:

            The first view is “lack of leadership” due to short leadership time of each Prime Minister since 2006. Every premier (Shinzoh Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, Taroh Asou, and Yukio Hatoyama, and Naoto Kan) was in office for just one year at the longest, which is a very short period of time for a leader to achieve his goals and objectives laid out during the election campaign or before inauguration ceremony of the new government. After inauguration of new government, the support rate of the new Cabinet slide down very quickly due to inability to boost the stagnant economy, or controversial issues, or unfulfilled promises, and so on. Critics cite this problem as “lack of leadership” in Japan. Each Premier did not have any clear future perspective or strategy in term of diplomacy, economy, and socio-economic development to uplift Japan which is now besieged by large public debt, low-growth economy (sometimes negative), deflation, and aging society. For example, Japanese people criticized PM Hatoyama for his lack of leadership over the contentious issues in the government on administrative reforms such as postal de-privatization, budget cut, social welfare program, and his failed promise to relocate Futenma base outside Okinawa prefecture.       

            However, the second view is totally different. Frequent change of Japanese government is not a problem for Japan, but it is just normal in flexible and resilient Japanese politics, which is similar to the early Meiji period (1868-1912). Professor Ohno and Banno (2010) argue that Japanese politics in the Meiji period has a “flexible structure” for attaining multiple development goals despite frequent forming and re-forming of coalition groups (industrialization, parliament, constitution, and military expedition) in the Meiji government. Meiji politics has a feature of frequent changes of the leading groups in Government without falling into uncontrollable crisis. No group had monopolized power over a long time. The leading group (like the today’s Japanese Cabinet) could deal with multiple goals and adjust these policies, some of which left by the previous leaders. So the policy priority of each leader has evolved and solidified over time even though he was ousted or resigned from power.

           In comparison, I think that recent Japanese politics is, to some extent, quite similar to the Meiji politics. Many cabinets share the same policy concerns such as administrative reform, measures for boosting the Japanese economy, national security and foreign policy based on Japan-US security alliance, and regional cooperation (East Asian Community), and so on. For example, during LDP-led government, PM Fukuda followed up the civil service reform left by his predecessors (Koizumi and Abe). In national security context, the DPJ-led government still eventually honors 2006 agreement with the US over the relocation of Futenma airbase inside Okinawa even though it used to criticize LDP-led government or even had tried to not abide by this agreement during Hatoyama Premiership. Another recent example is that the first policy speech at the Diet on 11 June 2010 of the new Cabinet under PM Naoto Kan also “utilize the core concept in Hatoyama Administration’s New Growth Strategy” (Mulgan, 2010). So, every successive Cabinet still pursues the same fundamental strategies set out by previous Premiers. Another remarkable fact is that even though frequent changes of Japanese Government happen, no uncontrollable crisis or political chaos and violence has ever happened in today Japan while South East Asian Countries (Thailand since 2006) might suffer from political instability and violence if similar problem happen in their countries.

            To sum up, there is also flexible structure in recent Japanese politics as it was in the Meiji Period. In addition, it features resilience in Japanese politics since any new Cabinet (LDP or DPJ) always pursue multiple goal (own goals and other goals left by previous cabinets). Recent Japanese politics is quite similar to Meiji politics in the late 19th century. It reflects the “flexibility” and resilience of Japanese politics and the good leadership of each Premier with a sense of responsibility.

This baby was saved after the Tsunami destroyed a village at Tohoku region

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