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A Score of 50 for the Hatoyama government (Not passing, makeup test required)
—Challenges and Opportunities for the First Six Months in Power

Professor Etsushi Tanifuji
Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University

In his policy speech in October, a month after the inauguration of the new government, Prime Minister Hatoyama announced a shift from post-war politics to a politics which “protects human life and the welfare of the people”. Hatoyama expounded on this new politics, proposing concrete goals to:

  • Revitalize local communities and strengthen bonds among people based on local sovereignty
  • Develop a human economy in order to overcome the economic and employment crises
  • Build a low-carbon, nuclear-free, sustainable society
  • Establish an East Asian Community, based on an equal Japan-U.S. alliance bridging diplomacy

In mobilizing all capable human resources of the DPJ, the new Cabinet not only impressed us with its policy changes but also with its potential shift of decision-making responsibility from bureaucrats to politicians, in addition to the reshuffling of politicians. The implementation of a Cabinet Committee modeled on the British Parliament and the introduction of the National Policy Unit and the Government Revitalization Unit raised our expectations for a drastic change of decision-making in Japan. It was the expectation that true characteristics of the Parliamentary Cabinet system would be implemented; thereby the ruling party and the cabinet together would exercise a strong leadership role. Our expectations were greatly roused for a significant political change in connection with the new administration.

All these expectations raised the approval rating immediately after the start of the new government to more than 70%—bringing a revolution of great expectations. Six months later, such expectations had rapidly dissipated and the approval rating of the Hatoyama government was halved—the people today are in deep despair.

Last summer, many people cast their votes for a change in power, hoping that the existing politics or political systems would in turn be changed. In many respects, the Hatoyama government was destined to bring significant changes to Japanese politics. Looking at the individual policies, their reviews are mixed: some are pending, some underway, and others implemented but only to a modified extent. Although political and financial scandals did influence the approval ratings, the political accomplishments of this government are not so scarce that their ratings should be halved. Nonetheless, there always seems to be a sense that something is lacking in the Hatoyama government. I wonder why?

Whether the government is aware of it or not, the DPJ manifesto is full of the policies of social democratic parties in Europe, which they made in their quest for new political styles after Neoliberalism. These policies include: a new concept of public, based on collaboration between the public and the private sectors; reformation of the “economy for human beings” that provides a wide safety net for individuals; development of an environmentally-friendly economy; an energy policy pursuing sustainability; a comprehensive review of agricultural policy; development of a welfare industry centered on medical services and care; a comprehensive review of employment systems, considering the work-life balance; and the revitalization of local communities and local sovereignty. These are the new policies for the 21st Century that the social democratic parties in Europe have sought since the failure of Neoliberalism. The policies proposed by DPJ were derived from these policies including: child allowance, child rearing allowance for single mothers or single fathers, free high school tuition fees, toll-free expressways, reductions of corporate taxes of small and medium size corporations, repeal of the provisional tariff, review of special taxation measures and reallocation of budget, introduction of a farm income compensation system, review of the dispatch worker system, application of unemployment insurance to non-full-time workers, review of the minimum wage, review of national treasury disbursements, local allocation tax reform, and prohibition of revolving-door hiring of retired bureaucrats in related private-sector jobs and civil-service reform.

However, it seems that the Hatoyama government is not fully aware of the philosophy or principles which those policies were built on, nor does it share them with other members in a comprehensive way. Many policies are scattered around and are not systematized. This makes priorities on policy implementation unclear and their time schedules uncertain. As a result, statements expressing Hatoyama’s political beliefs lose their significance, as facile revisions are made repeatedly—whenever his policies are criticized. Cabinet members also make statements that are inconsistent, regularly causing confusion and diluting the significance of proposed policies. People tend to judge based solely on results—whether or not each policy has been implemented—and they increasingly lose sight of the ultimate goals of the policies and what kind of society be achieved through them. This was the first half year of the Hatoyama government.

The root cause of the government’s incoherent course is the insufficient support systems for the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Above all, the support system for the Prime Minister is hollowed out, and the Cabinet Committee which should serve as the Cabinet support system does not function either. All of these have isolated Prime Minister Hatoyama, destroying the integrity of the Cabinet and undermining his leadership.

In order to stave off a revolution of dissatisfaction, the Hatoyama government must reconfirm the goals of its new political experiments; thoroughly review contradictions among policies; redesign priorities and improve political efficiency. These steps should not be taken to win the upcoming election of the upper house, but rather they should be taken to convey to the people that the change in power is working and to have the people regain confidence in politics. If they fail to take these steps, a pervasive sense of resignation regarding politics will likely result, spreading distrust in and dissatisfaction with politics throughout Japan, and setting Japanese politics adrift. It is not only the DPJ’s but also Japan’s ability to govern that is now being challenged. The Hatoyama government now faces a crucial test.

Etsushi Tanifuji
Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University

1974 Graduated from the School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University
1981 Completed the Master’s Program and the Doctoral Program at the Graduate School of Political Science, Waseda University
1989 Assigned to serve as Assistant Professor at the School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University after serving as an instructor at Tokai University and Ibaraki University
1994 Assigned to serve as Professor at the School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University
1995 - 1997Visiting professor at the Department of Government, University of Essex, England
1997 Visiting fellow at the Centre for European Economic and Public Affairs, University of Dublin, Ireland He also served as an instructor at Gakushuin University, Keio University and Tokyo University.

[Major Fields of Study]
Politics, Political Communications and Contemporary Politics in UK

[Major Publications]
“British Political Reform in the New Century” [Shinseiki niokeru Igirisu no Seiji Kaikaku], the Waseda Journal of Political Science and Economics, Issue 358, 2005
“British Election Politics after the Thatcher government”, [Post Thatcher-ki no Igirisu no Senkyo Seiji], printed in Political Science of Communication, [Komyunikeishon no Seiji-gaku], Keio University Press, 2003
“Organizational Structural Reform Model Japan can Learn from”, [Nihon ga Manaberu Sosiki teki Kozo Kaikaku Model], Weekly Toyo Keizai, July 28, 2001
Today’s Media and Politics”, [Gendai Media to Seiji], Ichigeisha, 2005
“Who is going to be a Politician?” [Dare ga Seijika ni Naruno ka?] (coauthor), Waseda University Press, 2001