The governing Democratic Party of Japan of Prime Minister Naoto Kanheld a leadership convention on Tuesday, September 14, 2010. Just as in Canada and other British parliamentary democracies the leader of the majority party is also the prime minister. Mr. Kan took over from Prime Minister Hatoyama late last spring after Mr. Hatoyama was beaten into retirement by low public opinion polls only months after his party knocked the Liberal Democratic Party out of its 55-year monopoly on government here. Then he led his party into a losing lower house election in July. Mr. Kan was challenged at this leadership convention by Ichiro Ozawa, a founding member of the party, a leader of a large faction, and a shadowy fixer who has long hungered for the premiership. But lingering financial irregularity scandals have dogged him and prevented him from claiming the Prime Minister’s office. I saw the final vote tally on livetelevision in the afternoon where Mr.Kan easily trounced Mr. Ozawa. It’s a good thing, too, because if Ozawa had won the party leadership - and the premiership along with it - then he would have become Japan’s third prime minister in the last year, which is more than a little ridiculous, I think.
The premiership of Japan is typically a revolving-door kind of office. It has less to do with different policy visions prevailing over rival visions than it does with one old man after another winning the right temporarily to occupy the seat after enduring a career of quiet behind-the-scenes dealing in the shadows of other men whose only merit is their party seniority. Seniority and age count for more than individual talent and merit here. And, Japanese dislike public confrontation. Therefore they are prone to avoid the risks of public conflict through policy debates of contrasting ideas. That is why an election campaign here amounts to little more than candidates and their campaign workers patrolling the streets in cars and vans with loud speakers mounted on the roofs shouting, or playing recorded messages like, “My name is Watanabe! Watanabe of the Democratic Party! Please be kind to me! Watanabe! That’s me!”
Of course, it has to be conceded that since the culture here frowns on public debate and the law prohibits door-to-door canvassing, the candidates are left with little choice. The Internet, Facebook, Twittering, blogging etc. are only beginning to be explored, but their use in political campaigns is restricted by law. Or, rather, their use is not yet fully described by law, which for Japanese amounts practically to the same thing. Also, Japanese are naturally very conservative, so mostly they just muddle along - Japanese are aficionados of muddling along - with the old system of roving screaming announcement vans and back door deal making. Incidentally, this entrenched habit of “muddling along” has contributed to Japan’s two decades of economic stagnation and the so-called “lost generation” of workers. There is a structural inability here to take necessary, effective decisions in a timely manner.
The exceptionally durable tenures of Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi (2001-2006), and Yasuhiro Nakasone (1982-1987) are notable anomalies. Explaining them would take a whole book. Or, several books.