Sunday, 19 February 2012

Community Power Structure and Japan's Local Government System

1.      The study of community power structure and theory of power

There is no agreement among scholars on the concept of powers or on the theory of power. According to Torben Bech Dyrberg (1997), power is the ability to make a difference and it is vested in the relationship between the subject (the person who is in position to wield power) and the dualism between agency and its structure. Although power can have different forms, it is a crucial means of political leaders to use it openly to serve the interests of the community to which they lead or to wield it covertly to promote their personal interests. Using of covert power is called non-decision making (Peter Bachrach, 1971). Hence, the interests of local community will be harmed by non-decision of decision by its leaders. If power has two faces, how can we integrate power safely into the community power structure for the sake of common good?  

I can say that community power structures have been found in two forms, economic power and pluralistic democracy. First, according to Floyd Hunter, businessmen who have economic power are the most powerful groups in local communities. Although his reputational approach is under criticism, I think it reflect the concept of power based on money and, in reality, businessmen often stand behind politicians to give financial support in exchange for favor of business interests and in the expense of the common good of the community. Second, according to Robert Dahl, Peter Bachrach, and Theodore Lowi, community power structure have been established in the local communities through local mayoral elections. The second form of community power structure is maintained in democratic election in which pluralistic groups will be elected to be the city mayor (Robert Dahl, 1961). Thus, local politics and political resources are dominated by different groups, not just one dominant group. Responsiveness of politicians to their constituencies and voters is the basis of popular support in democracy. If the current mayor is not responsive to public demand, voters can choose another politician. Through votes, power is in the community. This is the benefit of pluralism in democracy. In addition, pluralism brings about competition among various groups of politicians who have to do their best for their constituencies. After election, community power structure is established and the subject is the mayor.  

According to Theodore Lowi (1979), public policy is the outcome of group competitions. There are four policy options: distributive, regulatory, re-distributive, and self-regulatory. However, there is a major problem for the community if self-regulatory policy is upheld by decision makers. From my view, self-regulatory is similar to non-decision of decision because there is no check and balance on decision and implementation. This will lead to abuse of power and corruption by government officials. The practice of corruption will promote the use of economic power and, by applying Floyd Hunter’s idea, power will shift from the community to businessmen who is seeking to influence leaders’ decisions by using money. Therefore, in answering to my question raised above, I shall say that we have to abandon self-regulatory policy in order to safely integrate power into the community power structure.  

2.      Japan’s Inter-Governmental Relations

Traditionally, Japanese intergovernmental relations is said to be centralized and uniform in all policy aspects. In this sense of centralization, the prefectural and local governments are the agents of the central government who establishes national policies and some regulations for nationwide implementation. This is a top-down approach of decision making. However, election for prefectural governors and city mayors at the local level and the assurance of local autonomy in Japan’s Constitution have proved to some extent that local governments does have autonomy and can enact their own regulations within the laws. There are two schools of thoughts in the study of Japan’s Inter-Governmental Relations (I.G.R). The first school of thought comes from the dominant groups who argue that Japanese government is highly centralized with basis on traditional thinking. In contrast, the second school of thought, based on empirical researches, says that Japan system is highly decentralized. Steven Reed, Muramatsu, and Nakamora have conducted empirical researches in various policy areas at the local level and arrived at the same conclusion that Japanese local governments are highly decentralized and are more like a partner of the central government as they can make political bargaining and have some discretion over national policy issues. So, we can say that Japanese government consists of two mechanisms, vertical model of control (nationalization) and horizontal model of policy coordination (localization through decentralization).  

However, I think that both views are acceptable if we think in two different perspectives. First, in the perspective of centralization, there is a dominant view that local governments are just the arm of the central Government. In addition, Steven Reed concluded that Japan is not so highly centralized as highly nationalized. This means that I.G.R is highly nationalized. In fact, in a sovereign state, nationalization is needed in administrative control by making everything into the national level and standard to maintain sovereignty and integrity of the nation and prevent political cleavage. Second, in the perspective of decentralization, Japanese local governments are highly decentralized and flexible as they can resist or adapt national policies into the community level and can also initiate innovative programs to respond directly to local needs and problems. Furthermore, this argument is strongly supported by elections of governors and city mayors by the local people. So, these leaders have to be responsive to the needs and demands of their local supporters while they are working with the central government in policy coordination and implementation. The only exception is that local governments depend on financial support from the central government.       

In conclusion, I can say that Japan’s government is highly centralized or nationalized in terms of nationalization and administrative laws since a nation feels necessary to do this for political integration. But it is highly decentralized in terms of localization and democracy due to flexibility and governor and mayoral elections. So, Japan shall keep balance between the two mechanisms and make appropriate policy consolidation for national development.

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