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Laundering the General Election - Japanese Style
- Manifesto Changes History -

Masayasu Kitagawa
Professor, The Okuma School of Public Management, Waseda University Director,
Manifesto Research Institute, Waseda University

The election for Japan's highest governing body, the House of Representatives, will be held for the first time in recent years. The Abe and Fukuda cabinets were not tested by the Japanese public but were merely regime changes within the Liberal Democratic Party. Since they had built no public trust, executive power was weakened to the point that power had to be abandoned. In a democracy, the party winning a majority in an election and receiving its power from the public claims executive power. This was clearly proven by Abe and Fukuda. Mr. Aso, the President of the Liberal Democratic Party, Mr. Ozawa, the head of the Democratic Party, and Mr. Ota, the head of Komeito, are merely representatives selected by the party members and are not representatives selected by the Japanese public. The upcoming general election will be "the election to select the regime according to the manifesto."

Manifesto - Standard Option

I have been promoting a campaign to change the election from "pleas and favoritism" to one about "pledges", that is, "If you elect me, I will bring benefits to your industry or organization." This type of benefit-oriented election or election rendered by the electoral power base, and through favoritism and use of billboards has been universal in Japan; voters have been brainwashed by this kind of "dominant logic." It has been five years since I proposed the Manifesto Campaign - "Election by policy - not by territorial connections, kinship, electoral power base, favoritism or billboards." During that period, there have been two general elections, two upper House elections and two nationwide local elections. The word "manifesto" is now not just an election option but has become a standard option. "Manifesto" is now part of the common vernacular.

A manifesto usually lists numerical targets, financial resources, etc., that are clearer than those claimed by ordinary election pledges and may also include some "hard and bitter" medicine for voters. The manifest can be validated after the election. Today, the manifesto must be presented within the election process.

The Manifesto Research Institute has investigated elections utilizing many questionnaires. When people are asked why they have selected a particular party or candidate, more and more cite the manifesto as being the most critical issue in any questionnaire. There is now an understanding of economic rationalism when electing a candidate or party. Some may say that a manifesto works in urban areas but the territorial connection and kinship remain strong in regional areas. Questionnaires, however, show that more people (1 point higher) in regional areas than in urban areas consider the manifesto to be a key factor in selecting the party or the candidate. In the upper House election last year, the Liberal Democratic Party lost in single-member electoral districts in regional areas with just 6 wins against 23 losses. It was an inevitable result.

You can't get away with obscure promises

In a general election, the usual obscure promises will no longer work. From a global point of view, the unilateral domination of the US is starting to decline. We are now at a historical turning point and facing the ultimate problem of how to maintain global order. Many global corporations are failing and the financial system is falling apart. In Japan, the birthrate is decreasing, the population is aging and it is apparent that the pension and medical systems that were purported to last "for 100 years" cannot be maintained. As for the security alliance, how can Japan, Asia and the rest of the world maintain peace? For environmental issues too, there is no economic system that can be sustained without coexisting with the environment. Parties and politicians are asked whether they can clearly define a national policy that integrates the environment and the economy on the same "axis." Policies have to be clearly designed and executed so that the Japanese people can believe in the future.

Both ruling and opposition parties are avoiding discussions on the future of taxation. They talk about political policies but are evasive about financial resources, that is, taxes. In this regard, the manifesto must have clear milestones and describe how political policies will be executed. The manifesto must clarify positive and negative policies; for example, "this policy will be withdrawn so that this policy can be executed" or "we must tax this project to execute that policy", etc. The manifesto must also list "bitter" medicine. The people select the party or the candidate that proposes a "responsible" manifesto featuring concrete items that may be hard on people. Japan is now cornered - its back is against the wall. The parties and politicians must demonstrate mettle and realize that vagueness no longer works.

"Scrub Japan once for all"

Ryoma Sakamoto, a high-minded patriot at the end of the Edo Period, once sent a letter to his sister saying "I want to scrub Japan once and for all." He wrote the letter in an era where, to establish the modern Meiji government, the shogunate system had to be "scrubbed". This is the origin of the name of the organization, "National Association to 'Scrub' Japan, Coming from the Regional Level by Ordinary Citizens", that I represent and whose members include eminent people from various fields and leaders from various local governments.

We have drawn up an initiative called "Eight Scrubs" (http://www.secj.jp/pdf/080928-1.pdf) in which we have declared our determination to reform Japan "from the regional level and by ordinary citizens." We compiled eight action plans and, after obtaining the signatures of 323 local government leaders and lawmakers, on September 28 held an emergency press conference to present the initiative. One of the eight plans declares a determination to abate all collusion and forbid all influence peddling by politicians. It mandates recording all "intercessions" and making complete information disclosures. In this regard, voters themselves think that intercession is a part of a lawmaker's job and must reeducate themselves. For the next general election, we want to start a civil movement to change the election from the old fashion campaign style (territorial connections, kinship, electoral power base, favoritism, billboards, name shouting, etc.) to a new format. Voters must learn to carefully review the manifestos proposed by parties and candidates. The election must be "by the public" and "for the public." This type of election will probably be the first in Japanese history. This coming election will be a "supernova" that questions how Japan should be structured in future.

Masayasu Kitagawa official website: http://www.office-kitagawa.jp/
Manifesto Research Institute: http://www.maniken.jp/

Masayasu Kitagawa
Professor, The Okuma School of Public Management, Waseda University Director, Manifesto Research Institute, Waseda University

December 1983: Elected to House of Representative (4 consecutive terms)
April 1995: Elected to Governor of Mie Prefecture (2 consecutive terms)
April 2003: Professor, The Okuma School of Public Management, Waseda University
July 2003: Representative, "National Council for Building A New Japan" (21st Century Ad Hoc Commission on Administrative Reform )
April 2004: Established the Research Institute of Manifesto, Waseda University Assumed directorship
March 2008: Established "National Association to 'Scrub' Japan Coming from the Regional Level by Ordinary Citizens" Assumed the representative position.

Major books
"Political Reform" from the Ordinary Citizen's Point of View (Gyosei)
Manifesto Revolution - To Build Autonomous Local Government (Gyosei)
Manifesto Evolution Theory (Seisansei Shuppan)