- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2005

After the overwhelming electoral victory of the Liberal DemocraticParty led by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sept. 11, Japanese lawmakers have pursued ways to reflect the people’s will expressed in the election. The LDP decided to resubmit bills to privatize the postal services. This time, the Diet passed them. Mr. Koizumi went on to form a new “Cabinet to continue reform” on Nov. 1. In defeat, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) elected a new 43-year-old party president.

Some negative U.S. commentators (e.g. several articles in the New York Times) viewed the election results as running counter to what they saw as an encouraging trend toward a two-party system. The assumption was that a balance of power among political parties, especially between the LDP and DPJ, is a benchmark of democracy. To them, the overwhelming electoral victory of one party over the other indicated a declining degree of democracy. They focused on the long years of rule by the LDP, and dared to view Japan’s politics as somehow akin to the politics of China and North Korea.

However, we can see just how superficial that view is if we look at how seriously each party (the ruling and opposition ones alike) has tried to respond to the people’s will expressed in the election.

The two-party system is notsynonymouswith democracy. It is but one incarnation of democracy, proved successful in such countries as the United States and Britain. There are many other countries, such as France and Germany, that have implemented other forms of democracy.

The two important characteristics of a democracy are choice and change. It is a political system where legitimacy derives from the will of the people. It is not only the two-party system that confers such legitimacy and assures the elements of choice and change. The essential condition which supports democracy is the existence of a well-educated middle class who are guaranteed fundamental human rights, such as the right of expression. In this, Japan compares well with other advanced democratic nations.

There was a clear choice of policies in the Sept. 11 election. The LDP advocated the privatization of the postal service. The DPJ said that there were other, more important matters to deal with. The decision of the people was to grant the LDP and its coalition partner, the New Komeito Party, a two-thirds majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, which had a great impact on the direction of Japanese politics.

Choice and change characterize many realms of Japanese politics, not just this past election. Concerning choice, historically there have been many political parties in Japanese politics, conservative parties typified by the Liberal Democratic Party, and parties grounded in social democracy, socialism and Communism. The rise of the DPJ is seen by many voters as the emergence of an attractive choice.

Regarding change, some mistakenly argue that the LDP’s long hold on political power signifies the lack of change in Japanese politics. However, it is pointed out that the LDP’s hold on power results from adopting as its own the agenda of the opposition parties, such as social welfare and environmental protection, and changing its own policies from within. Remember, too, the LDP did lose in 1993.

Changing political power is one way to bring about change. However, what is important in a democracy is that whatever form change takes, it is brought about by the will of the people. Indeed, in the past election, the Japanese public gave a sizeable victory to Mr. Koizumi, thus conveying the message that it wanted to “aim toward a smaller government, and accelerate reform.” This is the change the Japanese people wanted.

Thus, it goes without saying that the politics of Japan operate under entirely different principles than the politics of China and North Korea. To deny that Japan has a vibrant democracy because power changes hands less frequently would imply the same about Sweden — where, except for brief lapses, the Social Democratic Party has maintained power since 1932. But Sweden’s democracy is hardly deficient.

Finally, it is too early to judge whether Japan is moving away from a two-party system, based only on the results of this past election. Currently, single-seat constituencies comprise an important part of the Japanese electoral system. Since such single-seat constituencies encourage a two-party system in general, the argument that Japan will take suchapathoverthe midterm is well-grounded. However, the question of whether that direction will continue lies within the choice of the Japanese people, and ultimately this is not the determinant of the level of democracy. Should the people in a certain election reject the path toward a two-party system, we must understand: So long as one is a true adherent of democracy,onewould never disregard the will of the people expressed at that moment.

Mitsuru Kitano is the Japanese Embassy’s minister for public affairs.

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