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Government and Economy

Time to get started! The new administration approaching uncharted territory

Hisao Tsukamoto
Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University

As a result of the general election, the administration has changed and many citizens have high hopes for the new administration that emerges. At the same time, the new administration, the new opposition party, and individual citizens are venturing into unknown territory. What awaits us all there?

The significance of this general election and change of administration

Through this general election, we finally achieved a legitimate change of administration. The constant removal and backroom replacement of administrations during the past years created unspeakably stifling and powerless feelings among the electorate which accelerated feelings of political distrust and apathy. More than anything, the hope is that through this election we put an end to this negative trend.

Further, the highest voter turnout rate since the electoral system was revised in 1996 gives great hope for the future of politics, and the proactive participation of the younger generation was salient as well. It would be a most welcome change if the current generation comes to like politics, in a positive sense, as a result of the recent developments.

Through this change of administration, the Democratic Party has succeeded in getting the mandate to implement policies that they believe are beneficial for citizens. So the question is what and how citizens have mandated.

You can regard what citizens chose in this election as the political power to determine how to create a path for a hopeful Japan. That choice, however, was not a proactive one in the least. The reason for this is that none of the parties declared a manifesto with the ideas and vision that a fundamental national manifesto ought to comprise, and which would truly represent a choice for a new administration. Instead, change itself was at the heart of the decision. Citizens are well aware, on the other hand, that the Democratic Party which has come to power as the leading party is untested. Therefore, the mandate from citizens is anything but an absolute mandate; the new administration is more like a trial administration.

General Election Winners by Party
  Elected Prior to announcement
Democratic Party 308 115
Liberal Democratic Party 119 300
New Komeito 21 31
Communist Party 9 9
Social Democratic Party 7 7
National Party 3 4
Your Party 5 4
Reform Party 0 1
Japan Party 1 0
Minor Parties 1 1
Independents 6 6
Total 480 478(2 vacancies)

(Note: The minor party here is the New Party Daichi)

Beginning a year of learning

For the new administration, the period from now until the House of Councilors elections next year is a trial period. They must demonstrate through their achievements that they deserve the full confidence of the citizens. The opposition party must prove that it is able to take control of the administration from a new position, citizens must embrace the new world created through the change of administration, and each must shape their own judgment through respective verifications. The following year will be a learning period for all involved. So, what are the lessons to learn?

1) Lessons for the new administration
As the new ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan must, above all, reflect on the significance of its becoming the responsible party and devote itself accordingly. The new administration would do well to fully demonstrate the fruits of its homework, such as was done in its Next Cabinet.

Needless to say, the DPJ must expect that the criticisms they leveled at the ruling coalition while in oposition will come right back to them now. They will come to appreciate that many facets of the matters that they themselves had criticized are actually impacted by the real pressures and difficulties in supporting the citizens of the nation while managing the administration and its policies. This goes for a party that gained the overwhelming confidence of the electorate as well. A host of issues will arise which cannot be resolved strictly according to the manifesto.

This writer takes a view that it is unfair to criticize and shoot down the items of its manifesto one by one for a party that has come to hold the reins of the administration for the first time. There is no shame if the new administration does not strictly adhere to the manifesto. Mistakes or miscalculations resulting from a lack of experience are a matter of course, and citizens will allow for them, because what they called for is change to that effect.

What citizens will not allow for is if-in response to the inevitable criticisms of broken promises, misgovernment, and the like-the administration protests obstinately or tries to conceal the issues. The administration should hold honest and frank policy dialogues involving citizens and the mass media to shed light on difficult issues. That is the stance that this political party should take after criticizing the backroom policy decisions made between the ruling party and the bureaucracy.

2) Lessons for the opposition party
Opposition parties, and particularly the former coalition ruling party, want to begin their comeback trail to win back power from the very first day. This can be a daunting challenge to consider, however, and there is also the danger that such action might be viewed as a mockery of the decision of the electorate displayed through the election, which in turn would lose still more of their trust. Today's result was brought on by the failure of the coalition as a ruling party to deliver compelling direction and solutions for the anxiety and stifling feelings that many people have across all generations. The best road going forward is not to proceed with the political condition of repeatedly capitalizing on every error opponents make, but rather establishing an administration plan for the Grand Design of Japan as soon as possible, and basing the comeback on this plan.

3) Lessons for citizens
Japanese democracy has been described as only a democracy at election time. We must break free from this mold. If we want to better our country and have hope for the future, we as citizens need to make wise changes ourselves. We must maintain the commitment and concentration that we saw in this election, monitor policy development going forward, and always have our own opinions as well. This election is only the beginning. At any rate, this is also a trial period for citizens-to determine whether or not we can maintain the current level of political thought and awareness until the House of Councilors elections next summer.

It is indeed time to get started!

Hisao Tsukamoto / Professor, Faculty of Political Science, Waseda University

[Biographical Summary]
Professor Tsukamoto was born in Shiga Prefecture in 1946. After graduating from the University of Tokyo with an undergraduate degree in law, Professor Tsukamoto earned his Master of Public Administration degree at Syracuse University. After working at the Administrative Management Agency, the Management and Coordination Agency, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Professor Tsukamoto began his current position in 2003. His specializations are public administration and policy studies.

[Recent Publications]
Ombudsman System Design at the National Level, forthcoming in 2010, Administrative Grievance Resolution & Ombudsman, Vol. 21
The United States Office of Management and Budget (USOMB): The Importance and Impact of the Administrative Management Center (2007), Administration & Information Systems, Vol. 43, 5-8