Wednesday, June 29, 2011

29/06 POINT OF VIEW/ Noriko Hama: Grand coalition makes a mockery of two-party politics

Special to The Asahi Shimbun

photoNoriko Hama (Photo by Atsushi Takanami)
In an almost criminal waste of previous taxpayer time, a legion of lawmakers have been engaged
in nakedly partisan political maneuvering over the so-called grand coalition between the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party.
It is completely unclear to the voters what those politicians aim to do after realizing the grand coalition or what kind of policy goals really require a grand coalition.
Such a grand coalition between the ruling and opposition parties should be regarded as a last resort under a democratic political system. The fact that lawmakers so readily embrace such a proposal clearly shows how dysfunctional this nation's politics is.
If the ruling and opposition parties cannot develop constructive and cooperative working relationships without striking a grand coalition deal, that underscores the poverty of Japanese politics.
If the two camps cannot make cooperative responses to this serious crisis unless they establish such a framework, a two-party system is simply a pipe dream.
The opposition side is totally obsessed with its political goal of returning to power, while the ruling camp is fixated on holding on power. There is clearly no room for the dynamics of a democratic political system to work properly.
Such a situation inevitably breeds political opportunism. Now, the Japanese public is feeling that both camps are using the rhetoric of effective responses to the disaster for their political gains.
Before the regime change two years ago, some DPJ lawmakers were saying they wanted to see a two-party system take root in Japan.
Immediately after the power shift, there were expectations among the public for productive competition for a public mandate between the ruling and main opposition parties and constructive involvement in the battle by other parties.
But both sides have started talking about a grand coalition with a disturbing lack of discretion and prudence. Politics should not be a plaything of these irresponsible politicians.
Germany was ruled by a grand coalition of major parties between 2005 and 2009. But it is hard to say that the alliance gave strength to the country's politics.
The current situation in Japan apparently reflects the fact that Japanese politicians don't understand that politics and government exist, and are allowed to exist, only to serve the public. In other words, these politicians lack professionalism.
There are ways for an opposition party to play a constructive role in policy making. After decades in power, the LDP must have accumulated a great deal of expertise on working effectively with bureaucrats and scraping up funds to finance policy programs.
If the LDP shows its political maturity by offering to provide the DPJ with all its expertise for running the government, the public perceptions of the opposition party could change dramatically.
The LDP, however, is acting as if it had never been in power and criticizing the misguided policies it introduced in the past.
The DPJ, on the other hand, is acting is if it had long been ruling the country even though it has been in power for just two years and trying to defend all the policies in place. This is a really bizarre political situation.
I hope both the ruling and opposition parties consider seriously what the role politics, as the ultimate service provider, is expected to play in this nation at the moment and how they should behave in order to accomplish their missions.
They should pay attention to the frustration being felt by Japanese voters, who are trying to live with such petty and ugly politics while straining to keep their senses.
(This article was compiled from an interview by Kishiko Hisada.)
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Noriko Hama is professor of international economics at Doshisha University. After serving as head of the London representative office of the Mitsubishi Research Institute, she assumed her current post at Doshisha University in 2002.

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