Lost decade of politics
Voters must cultivate seeds of future leadership.
Published August 9th 2003 in The Asahi Shimbun

"A new era has begun. This marks a new chapter, rather than a new page'' in the history of Japanese politics. That was Morihiro Hosokawa's assessment on Aug. 9, 1993, when his coalition government became the first administration not dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party since its founding in 1955.

Expectations were high for change in both politics and the nation in general under a government that had displaced the LDP after 38 years of rule and with the promise of genuine political reform. There was earnest debate at the time over various approaches to the nation's future.

In the decade since then, the political situation is still in turmoil and the credibility of politics and politicians is in shreds. People blame politics for all the nation's woes, from the flaccid economy to fears for the future.

The LDP, which slithered back into power just 10 months after Hosokawa took office, has clung to its ruling mandate by desperate effort, changing coalition parties frequently. The party's policy responses to the economic downturn, with no effort to dig up entrenched vested interests, have saddled the government with hulking debt, while procrastination on needed reforms is hindering economic revival.

Knowing improvements were essential if it was to stay in power, the LDP chose Junichiro Koizumi, an outspoken reformist, as its new president, and thereby the nation's prime minister in 2001, despite Koizumi's promise to ``destroy'' the LDP if necessary to achieve his structural reforms. But Koizumi's reform agenda lost its political momentum long ago.

The Lower House's new electoral method of combining single-seat constituencies with proportional representation, adopted under the Hosokawa administration, was supposed to catalyze a change of government. But the opposition parties have failed to grasp this opportunity by constantly regrouping under new banners.

They have failed to develop an effective strategy and the political muscle to oust the LDP again. The upshot is continued rule by the LDP through an alliance with New Komeito.

Meanwhile, voters with no party affiliation have since become a majority. Certainly, the choice of realistic policies has become much narrower. But much of the blame for voters' disillusionment with mainstream parties when the nation is beset by so many serious problems should be placed on political parties' negligence.

Consider, however, how voters are responsible for the ``lost decade'' of domestic politics. A nation's political landscape is based on voter preferences. Some people who don't like change have voted for candidates promising to keep things unchanged. Others, fed up with opposition parties, have not even bothered to vote.

The nation's voters generally hate to be jerked around. They are also considered tolerant of the lack of accountability and transparency in politics.

Recently, however, there are signs of a change of voter attitude. Criticism of wasteful public works spending and people who push for such projects is more intense than could have once been imagined. Rising consciousness as taxpayers could serve as powerful agents for political change.

Change is also coming in the political community. Legislators who first entered the Diet in 1993 have become an influential force in politics. Many in the opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) entered politics to break an LDP rule supported by the iron triangle of politicians, bureaucrats and business. More young LDP members are also putting their priority on good policymaking.

Diet members have drawn up much more legislation-492 bills in the past five years. That is triple the number from the five years preceeding the Hosokawa administration. Many were submitted by young opposition legislators.

An election is coming. Voters are responsible for cultivating the seeds of a new political future for the nation.